War of 1812  -  Celebrating 200 years

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Mercantile Headquarters

Benjamin LesterBenjamin Lester, son of Rachael Taverner of Bay de Verde by her marriage to Francis Lester became the most influential individual in Trinity. Towards the end of the 18th century he was the most powerful and wealthiest merchant in the Newfoundland trade both in England and Newfoundland. His advice was sought and heeded by Newfoundland Governors and occasionally Prime Ministers of England. He dominated Poole politics serving as Mayor, 1781-83 and Member of Parliament, 1790-96.

Until 1776, Lester spent his summers in Trinity and occasionally overwintered. He married Susannah, daughter of Jacob Taverner. Benjamin's children - a son and four daughters - were born in Newfoundland but later taken to Poole for education and upbringing.

Lester left Trinity for good in 1776 after the Americans offered a bounty for his capture however agents kept his business in operation until he died in 1802. At the time of his death he owned the largest mercantile establishment and trade in Newfoundland and was the wealthiest active merchant in the Newfoundland trade. In Trinity he owned five plantations or fishing rooms and twenty-three dwelling houses. He owned nineteen other fishing rooms and twenty dwellings in twelve other settlements in Trinity Bay and other capital assets in Bonavista Bay.

In Trinity, he served as Justice of the Peace and Naval Officer. He was also the Chief Inhabitant when Trinity was captured and occupied by the French in the summer of 1762.

Trinity twice before had been captured and burnt by the French forces that were based in Placentia during the Anglo-French Wars (1689-1713) however the occupation of 1762 was somewhat different from these two previous engagements. Trinity by this time had become a principal port in the English-Newfoundland fishery and hosted summer populations of 2,000 people.

In 1762 the French did not take any prisoners and kept good order among the inhabitants. They permitted them to carry on fishing and confined destruction to the burning of ships and boats, fishing properties (flakes, stages and wharves) and military installations. Lester kept a daily diary while he was a merchant in Trinity and recanted the daily occurrences that took place during the French occupation in Trinity.

William KelsonWilliam Kelson, agent for the Slade merchant firm in Trinity, assisted with the establishment of the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers (LTVR) in anticipation that during the war of 1812 that there could be an attack from American privateers. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) American privateers captured many vessels off the Newfoundland coast and attacked places like Bay Bulls and Catalina.

He headed up a committee with Thomas Jenkins, William Brett, Capt. Richard Ash and Joseph Gover as members. Kelson supervised the reconstruction of the fort and also organized and commanded a local volunteer force known as the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers consisting of 50 men. They sometimes drilled and trained on Nuddick Hill, sometimes at Fort Point. In September 1812, they were joined by a company of British marines who helped the volunteers practise military exercises.

A signal system was established by Kelson whereby watchmen at the Fort could alert the LTVR in Trinity should enemy ships be observed approaching. On such an occasion the watchmen were to fire a cannon.

A story is told that one Sunday morning while Morning Prayer was being said in the Parish Church a shot was heard from the Fort. Kelson jumped up in the midst of the worshippers and shouted "To Arms. To Arms. The enemy is on us." The congregation panicked. The volunteers were mustered only to discover a false alarm. Two mischievous youths had crossed to Fort Point, and while one distracted the watchman, the other fired a gun.

Another story is told that a zealous Kelson on another occasion, ordered shots be fired on an approaching ship which failed to show her colours. The first shot took away her jib stay, the captain quickly ran up the Union Jack and the House flag of Robert Slade & Co. the Poole firm that employed Kelson.

This was the last recorded episodes that took place at Fort Point as a garrison.

To read William Kelson's diary please visit www.trinitymerchants.com.


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