The Legend of Princess Sheila
The story of Gilbert Pike and Sheila NaGeira is a legend. (A legend is a story that many people believe to be true, but there are no historical facts to prove it.) There are several versions of this legend, but all versions tell the story of Sheila NaGeira, a young Irish woman, who became known as the "Carbonear Princess."
A Journey From Ireland
As the story goes, Sheila was a member of a wealthy Irish family. She was sent to France to get away from the invasion of Ireland by the forces of Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was a descendant of the old Celtic kings of Western Ireland, which made her family even more open to attack. In one version of the story, Sheila's father was Sir Hugh O'Conner, and an heir to the Throne of Connaught (Connacht). Sir Hugh was thought to be a traitor to the Irish cause, because of this he sent Sheila to France to keep her out of reach of the Irish freedom fighters.
Saved by a Pirate?
Travelling across the sea was very dangerous at that time. When Sheila's ship sailed into the English Channel between England and France, it was captured by Dutch pirates. All the passengers and crew were brought on board the Dutch pirate ship. The pirates took everything that was valuable and sank the Irish ship.
Luckily for Sheila and the other prisoners, Peter Easton, who was at that time a privateer, came to their rescue. He seized the Dutch pirate ship after a short hand to hand battle and rescued the prisoners. Queen Elizabeth had given Captain Peter Easton the right to be a privateer and to take a fleet of three ships to Newfoundland to keep British law in the colony. As a privateer, Peter Easton carried a "Letter of Marque" from the Queen. The Letter of Marque allowed him (in the name of the British Queen) to fight and capture ships belonging to countries that were enemies of England.
Since his ships were on their way to Newfoundland, Peter Easton took the freed people with him.
Sheila and Gilbert
On the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, Sheila fell in love with Peter Easton's Lieutenant, Gilbert Pike. Sheila and Gilbert were married ten days later. They arrived in Newfoundland as husband and wife.
Gilbert Pike left Peter Easton's crew because Peter decided to become a pirate. (Unlike privateers, pirates attacked ships and stole for their own benefit. They even attacked ships from their home country.) Sheila and Gilbert became settlers in Newfoundland. They lived in Harbour Grace for a short time, but then moved to nearby Mosquito and later to Carbonear.
The Carbonear Princess
Although the truth of this story is hidden by
centuries of time, Sheila is known to all in the area as the
"Carbonear Princess". According to the story, she became a model
woman settler and her husband became a successful fisherman. During
that time, there were few women in Newfoundland, and there were
none with a royal background. As a result of her heritage and due to
her great qualities of leadership, she was held in high esteem. She was
said to have been a "good woman" who cared for her own family
as well as the sick and poor in her community.
Legends are Important
The story of Princess Sheila and Gilbert Pike is a legend which cannot be proven true, but the story still has an essential role in history. People and events that become part of legends are important for two reasons. First, legends that have been passed down through families are often based on true events and can lead archaeologists and historians to evidence about the past. Second, the legends that people tell, are like mirrors. They show a lot about the people who are telling the stories. The stories show what the story tellers think is important or interesting.
History of the Princess Sheila Legend
Dr. Philip Hiscock, who is an Assistant Professor
of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has written
an article tracing the history of the Princess Sheila legend.
Click here for a PDF copy of the article by Dr. Phillip Hiscock about the Princess Sheila legend. (The article is copyrighted and is made available with the permission of the Journal of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. Please note that the article was written for an academic journal and that the reading level is difficult for the average elementary school student.)
Dr. Hiscock says the story is based on an oral tradition in the area. The first written version of the Princes Sheila story that he could find was by William A. Munn. The story was contained in an article about Harbour Grace written by William A. Munn and published in the Newfoundland Quarterly in 1934. The second important written version of the legend was a 338 page book by P.J. Wakeham called Princess Sheila: a Newfoundland Story which was written in 1958. Although both stories are about Princess Sheila, the two stories are very different from each other.
William A. Munn retold a simple story that he had heard while he was growing up in the area. In his version, the story took place in the early 1600s. On the other hand, Mr. Wakeham took a story that he had heard and wrote a ‚??romantic‚?? book about it, adding details to make the story ‚??more interesting.‚?? In his version the story took place almost 100 years later.
Legacy of the Pike Family
Tradition links the site of Pike House in Carbonear with Princess Sheila. People of the town believe that the house is over 200 years old. The old plantation book for Conception Bay shows that the Pike family had large plantations in the area in the late 1700's and early 1800's.
A headstone was discovered near the Pike House. Mr. Wakeham said that the headstone reads: "here lies the body of John Pike who departed this life July 14th, 1756, also Julian his wife. Also Sheila Nageria, wife of Gilbert Pike and daughter of John Nageria, King of County Down, Ireland, died August 14th, 1753, at the age of 105 years." The dates correspond to the dates that Mr. Wakeham used in his book. However, they do not match the dates in the earlier version of the story by Mr. Munn, who wrote that Sheila was married in the early 1600s.
The headstone still exists and has been examined by experts, who were unable to see the words relating to Sheila Nageria. The Kiwanis Club of Carbonear, in cooperation with the Johnson Family Foundation, has established a park and a story board devoted to history of the Pike – Soper family, and have placed the headstone on display. Many people visit the park which is maintained by the town of Carbonear. They want to see the park and the story board because they are familiar with one of the most interesting legends in Newfoundland history.
Is the Story True?
Unless documents are found that can tells us that these events really happened, we will never know for sure if the story of Princess Sheila is true. However, people love to tell about this exciting and romantic story which explains the beginning of one of the oldest families in the region.