Guy, John

Culture: European - English
Sketch of John Guy. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (MF 231- 4.07), St. John's, Newfoundland.
Sketch of John Guy. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (MF 231- 4.07), St. John's, Newfoundland.

John Guy was born in Bristol, England in 1567. He was a merchant and during his life served as a sheriff, Mayor of Bristol and a member of Parliament. John played a major role in the London and Bristol Company which set up the first English colony in Canada at Cupers Cove (Cupids) in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. He was the colony's first governor.

A New Start

On May 2, 1610, the London and Bristol Company received a charter from King James I of England allowing them to start a settlement in Newfoundland. In August of the same year, a group of colonists led by John Guy arrived at Cupers Cove and began building the new colony. By this time, Newfoundland had been visited by fishermen from Europe every summer for over 100 years, but they arrived in the spring and sailed home at the end of the fishing season. The settlement at Cupids was the first European settlement in Newfoundland since the Vikings had visited the island over 600 years before.

Settling Cupers Cove

Thirty-nine people spent the first winter at Cupers Cove. By the next spring, they had cleared land, and built two houses to live in, a storehouse for their supplies, a work house, two saw pits and a blacksmith's shop. They had also built six fishing boats and a 12 ton ship called the Indeavour.

More Settlers

John returned to England in the fall of 1611. He left his brother Philip Guy and William Colston in charge of the colony. In the spring of 1612, he returned to Newfoundland and brought 16 women settlers with him. During that summer the pirate Peter Easton was causing a lot of trouble in Newfoundland. John was trying to set up a second colony at Renews but because of the pirates he decided it was too dangerous. In August he brought all the settlers at Renews back to Cupids.

A Busy Year

John made sure that the settlers at Cupids were kept busy that year. They built more houses, a saw mill, a grist mill and a fort to keep out the pirates. They also fished, cleared more land, and planted crops. In October, John led a group of settlers on a voyage into Trinity Bay to meet the Beothuk people. On November 6, 1612, John's men met, shared a meal and traded with a group of Beothuk in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay.

Sixty-two people spent the winter of 1612/1613 at Cupers Cove. During that time the settlers worked cutting wood, hunting, trapping and exploring the country. Eight people died that winter, probably all from scurvy, and on March 27, Nicholas Guy's wife gave birth to the first recorded English child in Canada. In April 1613, John boarded a ship bound for England.

Back In Bristol

Although John was expected back in Newfoundland in the fall of 1613, he did not return. As far as we know, he never visited the Island again. John did not get along with some of the London merchants involved in the London and Bristol Company , and within a few years he had left the company. Still, his strong leadership between 1610 and 1613 had laid the foundation for English settlement in Newfoundland.

John remained interested in English settlement in Newfoundland. Apparently his brother Philip spent many more years on the Island, and John later received a grant of land somewhere in the bottom of Conception Bay which he called Sea Forest Plantation. As a member of Parliament, John also fought for the rights of the English settlers in Newfoundland.

John Guy died in 1629 and was buried at St. Stephen's Church, Bristol. In his will he left his land in Newfoundland to his sons Thomas, Robert and William.

Guy's Letter to Sir Percival Willoughby-October 1610

John Guy Meets the Beothuk



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