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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:13 AM
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[St. John's] The History Of St. John's

St. John's is a city with a very long history by North American standards so I thought it would be useful to have a thread where information, quotes, and links to articles relating to the history of St. John's can be posted. Since there is already a historical photo thread, I wold ask that only photos relating to articles or relevant information you want to share should be posted here. I want to include anything considered recent history as well (e.g. including the 20th century), especially from the perspective of topics commonly discussed on SSP, such as architecture and urban development, aspects that are of interest to urbanists as well as historians.


It appears some people are a bit sketchy on the real history of St. John's, and sometimes there is inacurate information on the internet. Sometimes myth is confused with fact.

I recently saw and commented on this bit of information posted in the Canada forum:

Quote:
St. John's Newfoundland is the oldest English founded city in the America's. It was established in 1497. Incorporated as a city in 1583.
I also found a website where the above information was presented as fact. We don't always know historical information accurately, but at least we know enough that we don't have to present myth as if it were fact.

Some actual facts include the following:
  • Newfoundland was only "discovered" by Europeans in 1497, and even this is contested as being factual.
  • Newfoundland was only claimed for Britain in 1583, and that was before the notion of the British Empire or colonies even existed. At that time, Sir Humphrey Gilbert is believed to have sailed into St. John's harbour. Therefore it eventually became known as Britain's oldest colony.
  • Permanent settlement of St. John's is believed to have taken place sometime after 1600, before that it existed only as a seasonal fishing harbour, a name on a map referring to the harbour location.
  • St. John's was incorporated in 1888, before that it was governed by the colonial or British governments who did not trust in the concept of local or municipal government.
  • St. John's was not incorporated as a city until 1921.
  • St. John's may have been considered as a city by other standards well before this though.
Feel free to disagree if I get something wrong, I am not claiming to be an expert on Newfoundland history by any means, but enjoy researching and finding out new things about the past.

And the thread is for discussion of course, and not just presentation.

Last edited by Architype; Feb 21, 2013 at 12:33 AM.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:25 AM
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I believe John Cabot's/Giovanni Caboto's landing in Newfoundland is disputed only to the extent that there is a possibility it happened in Bonavista and not St. John's - but that one I don't know.

The rest is true enough. The only thing that usually bothers me about the "1583!!!" crowd is that they fail to realize St. John's existed as, at MINIMUM, a sizeable seasonal settlement for the better part of a century before the British took it over. As early as 1527 we have North America's first letter being sent from St. John's (San Jeham, Sao Joao, etc. it was known by many names back then) to England.

The British took over St. John's and pushed out the Bretons, Basques, Normans, French, and others who had been living here, at MINIMUM, during the spring, summer, and fall, for decades. They didn't come found a town in pristine wilderness.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:26 AM
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Here is a site I found which has some detailed information about St. John's history.
I will try to quote a few things from it later.

http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist.../chapter03.htm
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:28 AM
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Originally Posted by SignalHillHiker View Post
I believe John Cabot's/Giovanni Caboto's landing in Newfoundland is disputed only to the extent that there is a possibility it happened in Bonavista and not St. John's - but that one I don't know.
Yes, but ask the Cape Bretoners about that, that's why it's called the Cabot Trail, and if you look at the descriptions by Cabot, it seems to suit the landscape of Cape Breton better.

I was always taught it was Bonavista of course.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:30 AM
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Yeah, that's one I've not studied so I can't offer anything about his landing. I would say, however, that L'anse aux Meadows should settle any argument about where in North America Europeans settled first (that we know of).
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:37 AM
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Originally Posted by SignalHillHiker View Post
Yeah, that's one I've not studied so I can't offer anything about his landing. I would say, however, that L'anse aux Meadows should settle any argument about where in North America Europeans settled first (that we know of).
L'anse Aux Meadows proves the Vikings were here long before any other Europeans (we suppose), so that is an important claim no one can dispute, but it is not relevant to St. John's history per se, as it's nowhere near St. John's - unfortunately.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:42 AM
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From the link I posted:

Quote:
The first authentic record of St. John’s is given in a letter to King Henry VIII., by John Rut, in 1527, who was at that time employed on a fishing voyage. . . .



The city of St. John’s (since 1839 St. John’s has been called a city, owing to a Protestant bishop being at that time appointed—it is not incorporated) . . .

http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist.../chapter03.htm
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 12:56 AM
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And here is a link I posted in the general development thread, it is a Geography thesis which goes into great detail about development in the city from 1977 to 1997.

It is lengthy, and the first parts are a pretty general examination of it's purpose and about urban principles, but becomes more specific in content as you read on.

I will quote some things from it later :

(pdf file, warning, large file: )

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/o...18/MQ54967.pdf
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 1:13 AM
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Also, these to go along with the first link on early history I posted above:

http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist...land/index.htm

http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist.../chapter01.htm

http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist.../chapter03.htm

Note: These were written before the discovery if the Viking settlement.

Last edited by Architype; Feb 21, 2013 at 1:45 AM.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 1:30 AM
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This looks like an area suited to a person with a history degree, such as myself.

Just a couple points of interest on the discovery by John Cabot:

-We can confirm that at no point in his life was he ever referred to as Giovanni Caboto. This was likey the creation of Italian scholars who wanted to accentuate the role of Italy in the discovery of the new world.

-I HIGHLY suggest checking out "The Cabot Project" being carried out by Dr. Evan Jones at the University of Bristol. He is trying to reconstruct the research of one, Dr. Alwyn Ruddock. Ruddock was the quintessential oddball historian, though highly respected. She was researching for a book which she planned to publish in time for the Cabot 500 in 1997. However, her research seems to have spiralled out of control, perhaps stumbling across before unseen documents. She included notes of her discoveries in reports/updates to the would be publisher. Unfortunately, she died before her work could be finished and she ordered all of her work destroyed, including any historical documents that may have been hidden insider the many boxes of paper she had for the project. A lot of people have heard of this by now, and whether or not it's true, it could offer a whole different perspective on the history of discovery which relates directly to Newfoundland and St. John's

One of the most intriguing mentions of her findings which were not destroyed (as they were possessed by the publisher) was that Cabot may have planned to over-winter in Newfoundland on the return leg of his second trip in 1499, at Carbonara, an Augustinian monastery established by monks who would have accompanied Cabot across either on the first or second trips.

The other part of the theory is that there is no coincidence to Cabot embarking for the voyage from Bristol, rather than a Channel port or even Dorset or Plymouth where most new world settlers came from. This one says that Britol fishers had been "secretly" fishing off the Newfoundland coast since the 1300's. They knew the route, thus, the reason Cabot sailed from Bristol - with men who knew the route.

The often viewed claim that Britain discouraged settlement in Newfoundland is not true. The British actually would have encouraged some settlement in prominent fishing areas in order to secure them and prevent the French from accessing the best harbours. The French often did the same, leaving a man or two behind to protect huts and wharves.

There were also numerous attempts to colonize the island early on, particularly in the 1620s with John Guy at Cupids, and later Lord Baltimore at Ferryland (which ended with starvation, scurvy and complete social collapse). The British were more concerned with uncontrolled settlement. They wanted to control their people and ensure the law, which they could not if people ran off to every nook and cranny of the island... which is exactly what happened. Settlement of St. John's was much more civil. There is evidence that the British did not support settlement of St. John's, which I concede, however, it should be noted that many of the people trying to settle there and along the coast between St. John's and Bonavista were Irish. England did not want the Irish Catholics on their island, but English merchants often hired Irish labour because it was cheaper.

St. John's itself owes its growth not just to being a sheltered harbour but also being at the center of English territory which stretched from Trepassey to Bonavista. Eventually, the English came to control more area as English people spread along the coast, including into French territory along the south coast.

The fact that St. John's never grew the way Boston, or other New England colonies did, probably owes to the lack of agriculture possible and the resulting lack of hinterland markets for goods that would be manufactured and produced in St. John's.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 1:36 AM
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this stuff is fascinating!!! I probably wont have anything of substance to add but I will be following along!
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 1:56 AM
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^ Yes it's fascinating, thanks for giving us a new(er) perspective on some of these things Trevor3.

I can't understand though how John Cabot would not have had an Italian name if he was born in Italy.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:07 AM
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Well, here's what Wikipedia says, it seems he was "Zuan Chabotto", and not Giovanni Cabotto, as you said.

Quote:
Only one set of documents has been found bearing his signature. These are Venetian testamentary documents of 1484, on which he signed as "Zuan Chabotto", "Zuan" being a form of "John" typical to Venice.[3] That he continued to use this form in England, at least among Italians, is supported by two letters referring to him that were written by others in London in 1497.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cabot

And - I have heard about the destroyed documents, it's absolutely incredible that someone would do that unless she was in doubt about some of her facts and thought they might be misinterpreted.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Architype View Post
^ Yes it's fascinating, thanks for giving us a new(er) perspective on some of these things Trevor3.

I can't understand though how John Cabot would not have had an Italian name if he was born in Italy.
He likely did, if he was in fact Italian. There is a case to be made that he was actually Portugese or Spanish and possibly never set foot in Italy in his life. Though I can't remember much of that theory. Maybe I'll dig up some of my old notes and see if I can find it.

If he was Italian he was either Zuan Chabatto or Juan Cabotto. Or he could be Spanish, in which case Cabot could be an anglicism of the Spanish place name "Cabo".
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:17 AM
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Something tells me he was not thought of as an important person in history at the time. That would likely explain why so little is known factually of his background, unless he really was a shady character.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:17 AM
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Wow... I had no idea he wasn't Giovanni Caboto! I thought that was his real name and we just made it English to suit our own needs (which I disagree with, and it's why I try to write Giovanni Caboto, ha!)
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Architype View Post
Well, here's what Wikipedia says, it seems he was "Zuan Chabotto", and not Giovanni Cabotto, as you said.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cabot

And - I have heard about the destroyed documents, it's absolutely incredible that someone would do that unless she was in doubt about some of her facts and thought they might be misinterpreted.
This is actually a particular "case study" that we talked about a lot in class. With respect to intellectual property, she probably viewed her findings as her belongings and not wanted anyone else to get credit for the discoveries that she had made. It's actually common practice, especially within history academia since finds of this magnitude are rare, to not allow any of your findings to reach the public until you have everything completed and are ready to submit to a peer reviewed journal. Colleagues at the same unversity are often completely in the dark with respect to what everyone else is working on because there is a fear of having your work hijacked or leaked to someone else with similar interests and having them beat you to the punch.

You can certainly make a case that she may have doubted her findings but, more likely, she did feel worried about being misinterpreted. If she hadn't tied up all the loose ends she would be leaving herself open to criticism upon cross-examination. Publishing, even posthumously, could ruin her reputation if this were to have happened. Though reputation means little to you after you are gone: A) Historians are an odd bunch, and B) it could cast doubt on all her work over her entire career, and who wants their legacy to be a lifetime of doubted work?
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:34 AM
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^ Well, could someone else re-research the information that she had gathered? Are the same resources that she had used ultimately available to other people, or did she destroy actual artifacts of history?

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Continuing with the general topic of St John's history; we can continue on with whatever subject under the general heading, anyone, as it's impossible to keep a chronological linear discussion anyway -

Quote:
Up to 1811, St. John’s consisted of one long, narrow, dirty street, with irregular blocks of low wooden buildings, interspersed with fish flakes. In the above year, however, important alterations were made by Admiral Duckworth, who was then Governor, under authority of an Act of Parliament, the “ ships’ rooms ” were divided into building and water lots, and measures were adopted for the general improvement of the town. From this period the place began to rise into importance, for until the year above named no building could be erected in any part of Newfoundland without the permission of the Governor, in order to prevent settlement.
http://www.electriccanadian.com/hist.../chapter03.htm

^ No mention here if he then created Duckworth Street and named it after himself, or if that came later.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 2:42 AM
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Originally Posted by SignalHillHiker View Post
Wow... I had no idea he wasn't Giovanni Caboto! I thought that was his real name and we just made it English to suit our own needs (which I disagree with, and it's why I try to write Giovanni Caboto, ha!)
Yes I thought so too, until I read Trevor's post and consulted Wikipedia, which is also not that infallible.

It all seems a bit murky, just like trying to research my own family history. "We all came from England" . . ."oh, where exactly?" . . "don't know, they didn't think that was important enough to pass down". I have only been able to trace one ancestor for sure to Hampshire; the rest has to be pieced together from common sense and circumstantial evidence.

Last edited by Architype; Feb 21, 2013 at 3:22 AM.
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Old Posted Feb 21, 2013, 3:28 AM
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^ Well, could someone else re-research the information that she had gathered? Are the same resources that she had used ultimately available to other people, or did she destroy actual artifacts of history?
Absolutely, though the problem is that she was the first historian to come across the documents and recognize their importance in 500 years. What are the odds of stumbling across them again? And she came across them while searching for other documents that weren't specifically related to her find. She also didn't leave any clues as to where they were found, it could have been in any museum or backroom of an old merchant house anywhere in England. It's also possible she possessed the actual artifacts/documents and had them destroyed. That could have been some sort of intentional act to protect her findings from anyone else, or inadvertant, not realising that they were still in the boxes with her research.

As for who Cabot was, he could have been anyone really. Nothing is known about his life before the voyages really. All the evidence is circumstantial at best and has never been definitively linked, though it is accepted in the public eye. Everything we know about the voyages come from a few letters that have been preserved. No official records as such, or royal proclamations or decrees, etc... The things you would expect after "discovering" a new land are nearly totally absent, all odd to say the least.
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