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Military History

Fort Point

Three Gun BatteryThe first military fortification in Trinity was located at Admiral’s Point, now called Fort Point, and was begun in 1744. A battery of fourteen twenty-four-pounder cannons were set in a strategic array to cover the narrows and bay near the harbour entrance, with another four six-pounders covering the outer shore. This was an effort to prevent the enemy landing and attacking from the rear. In 1748 this fortification was improved to include riveted parapets, a storehouse and a magazine, the northwest side was protected by a musketry step and parapet with angles which would allow for coverage of the beaches where small vessel landing was possible. Parapets are the walled areas which allow for the forts artillery to be protected from attack while they attack through breaks in the walls. These will often hang over the ideal landing or attack areas with breaks to allow for artillery attack to defend the fortification (Aspects of the History of Trinity, Reverend Edmond Hunt, pg 48).

During the first number of years the fort at Admiral’s Point was in operation there was a barracks on site which allowed the site to be garrisoned by an officer and other regular members of the Royal Artillery. According to one source the Admiral’s Point Fortification was garrisoned by an officer and 15 men of the Royal Artillery (Hunt, 48). While another source, Lt. Griffith Williams, wrote in 1765 that “from 1745 to 1750… Feriland, Carbonier and Trinity Harbour's each had an Officer of Artillery with about 18 to 20 men and an Officer of Foot and 30 men. There were also 200 small arms at each place for the use of the inhabitants.” (Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador CD, Fort Point) This means that the British Army and Navy forces took an active interest in Trinity Harbour, and the others mentioned, due to their importance in trade and stored supplies. Trinity had been razed on two previous occasions by French Forces; this had occurred when the port had not been set up as a major merchant area and only really housed fishermen and their servants in the seasonal fishery. French raids on Old Perlican which were initiated by Pierre Le Moyne d’Lberville in 1697 led these merchants, many of them from Poole, to relocate to Trinity. Trinity was ideal because it was more easily defensible and it had a large safe harbour, this encouraged its development from a fishing harbour into a supply center for fishermen and planters in the general area, and in further distances. (The Story of Trinity, Dr. Gordon Handcock, pg 15)

By 1715 the Trinity Harbour area, including Trinity (Trinity Proper), North-West arm (Trinity East), South-West arm (Goose Cove, Maggoty Cove and Fort Point) had a year round population of 115 which included two Justices of the Peace, (Jacob Taverner and Frances Squibb) and a Church of England Missionary by 1730 (Rev. Robert Kilpatrick). (NL Encyclopedia CD, Trinity). A permanent population had started to form and were demanding of services that they had become accustomed to in England.

The battery of 1744 was erected to protect the growing population of the Trinity Harbour area, and the increased trade that was occurring there. The trade happening was mostly in Newfoundland fish and European supplies. Reverend Henry Jones reported in 1747 that Trinity then acted as the “Centre of trade, not only for this bay but all ye Northern Harbours whose effects are, for ye most part, brot hither” (Handcock, 198). By 1800 there were 826 inhabitants in Trinity Harbour, with about 400 of these in Trinity Proper. Archaeologist Roy Skanes, who worked at the Fort Point site, believes that while the construction of the fortification had been approved by the British Fleet it was probably several years later before it was actually started.  It was then a fortification which consisted of 3 batteries with 18 guns, a storehouse, powder magazine and a barracks that apparently could house 224 soldiers and a pavilion for 9 officers, this was much larger then the approximately 52 men stationed at the Fort by the fleet. The Fort was comprised of the foresaid buildings and a series of parapets, palisades and an infantry step (Handcock, 17).

French Occupation

Fort Point 1748The British had a strenuous relationship with the French in Newfoundland from 1662 to 1904, being at war for much of this period, but they did break for peace on several occasions, including an allegiance to each other against another enemy. During the first part of this period the French Governor was based at Placentia where they had constructed a fortification, at this time the French did own much of the easternmost part of Canada by right of discovery while Britain had owned Newfoundland under that same right. The French tended to be aggressive to the larger British settlements from Cape Race to Cape Bonavista. Some records say that there may have been a fortification at admiral’s point and gun hill as early as 1706, but this may not be accurate data (Hunt, 47). The 1748 document related to the fortification at Admiral’s Point shows a twenty-two gun array in three groups with 3 aimed at the narrows to shoot enemy vessels on broadside, 15 seaward and 4 at an angle to prevent landing on Savage Cove. (Hunt, 47-48).

Trinity had been captured and razed by the French two times prior to the invasion in 1762.  During these two occupations the town wasn’t as popular as it was during later occupation. At the beginning of April 1697 French forces burnt two settlements in the harbour, capturing 6 men from one of the settlements. All other citizens fled and in 1705 the French forces under De Montigny, based in Placentia, attacked and burned the town (Handcock, 61). This second attack on the town was quite unfortunate because the Merchants trading in Newfoundland requested Trinity Harbour be fortified between 1702 and 1705, perhaps this accompanied by the destruction of a port with a growing merchant population is what finally influenced the later construction (Handcock, 61).

Fort Point 1762The French occupation occurred during the first installation period at Admiral’s Point, it occurred on July 17th, 1762 when Admiral de Tierny entered the harbour with his vessels (Hunt, 49). The fort at the start of the Seven Years War had fallen into a state of disrepair because the fortification had been abandoned by the British during a period of peace (Hunt, 49). Local merchants and principal inhabitants aided in the restoration of the fortification by donating heavy timbers (150 wharf sticks) and labor (21 men) for use in constructing 1150 palisades. The Chief Merchants and Agents of this time who did participate in the restoration were: Joseph White (agent Thomas Clark); Devonshire, Reeves and Webb (agent Capt. Thomas Webb); Benjamin Lester, Mr.  John Hobb (agent), Robert Hutching (agent) and Captain John Lemon, with the principal inhabitants being John Sweet, Thomas Warden, Thomas Lambert, and Benjamin Taverner (Handcock, 17-18). The approach of the French had been reported from St. John’s, the location previously taken by the French, and only a skeleton population remained in Trinity, many of the inhabitants and families having gone North to hide out in smaller harbours and backwoods (Hunt, 49). Although the Fort had been re-fortified prior to the Seven Years War, many of the people, servants and fishermen, refused to stand at arms at the Fort which had been abandoned by the English a few years previous (Handcock, 16). When the French did arrive only eighteen soldiers under the control of an officer were apparently at the Fort (THS Vertical Files - 1.84, *L de Vau, ..2) and some say it was surrendered without a shot fired on either side (Hunt, 49). Fort officials apparently did attempt to organize a defense of the Fort but none would go, independent fishermen and servants, they felt that this was outside of their obligations (Handcock, 16). Some state that if the attempt had been made in years previous, when the Fort was garrisoned, the town probably would not have fallen to the French Fleet (Hunt. 49).  At the time the Fort was occupied by the French, 50 men according to some records, and 50 to 200 French soldiers were sent into the town and were billeted at the homes and stores of the locals, depending on the account (Hunt, 49; Handcock, 16). The remaining French forces stayed on board the navy vessels. The total force under Chevalier de la Motte Vaouvert is approximated at 250-300 men (Handcock, 16). The stores of the town were guarded by the French and they used their liaison, Benjamin Lester, to acquire many food stuffs such as livestock and other goods. During this period of occupation Benjamin Lester was the Chief Magistrate and the most influential resident of the town, due to his political and trade power most likely, therefore he became the chief hostage and liaison (Handcock, 16 -17)   During this period, the Admiral commissioned the guns and the fortification on Admiral’s Point be destroyed. He was possibly a benevolent enemy because the amount of destruction caused by de Tierny was limited, but there is also a story regarding Benjamin Lester about the lack of destruction in the town (Hunt).

It was said that upon arrival of the French in Trinity Harbour, Lester, who was a cultured British merchant, invited de Tierny for supper at his premises in Trinity where he wined, dined and entertained the French Admiral to a great extent, Hunt writing on the subject even supposes Lester used more then molasses and wine to get the French Admiral on his side (Hunt). Regardless of what happened, the French Admiral and the principal hostage, Lester, became close during the duration of the occupation, and when the Admiral decided to take a tour of the town and survey the possible spoils, after giving his word to Lester he would not destroy any of Lester’s properties, Lester’s man, as was instructed by Lester, told the Admiral that almost the entirety of the town was Lester’s property, thus preventing the Admiral to destroy any of the properties, because he had given his word.  This most likely did save the town because due to the close proximity of the various properties fires could have spread quickly causing an unintentional razing of the town. (Hunt)

With regards to Lester’s connection with the French Admiral there is also a story related to the “Family Cow”. The French Admiral who apparently received livestock from Lester, it is rumored gave back a cow which was a family pet to the Lester’s, although it is written in Lester’s diary that the cow in question was returned to being lean and poor quality and the French refused to take her (Handcock, 17).

Lester did however help supply the blacksmiths which were used to split, stake and destroy the fort, the stores were emptied and some of the cannons split then rolled off the cliff ledge and into the harbour (Hunt). They then burned the buildings that remained on the site before they left to return to St. John’s to help defend the town in there from the British Expeditiary Force who were on their way down the coast to take back St. John’s.

Some researchers say that the invasions in Newfoundland occurred because of the French losses in Eastern Canada just prior to this event, and the French forces knowing they had lost the war they attempted to gain leverage by taking important Newfoundland ports to use as a bargaining power in the upcoming peace talks. Others say that it was most likely an attempt to irritate the British forces and to interrupt their trade in Newfoundland and other areas (Hunt).

 The French were successful in taking the four principal ports in Newfoundland belonging to the British: St. John’s, Carbonear, Harbour Grace & Trinity. The former three had previously been well garrisoned with active fortifications in earlier years, but eventually the British abandoned these fortifications, although small numbers of soldiers would man them for periods with the cooperation of the citizenry of the towns (Hunt).

Trinity was targeted because of its strategic placement as an important trading center and an easily defendable port, some say the French had intended on holding the principal Newfoundland ports until the spring, they initially did not think that the British would react as quickly as they did, preventing them from going through with their plans to settle themselves in control of these major fortifications, and trading towns and cause major problems for the British in the surrounding ports, and limit the trade available to England from Newfoundland (Hunt).

1812 - Fort Nicholas and the LTVR

In 1812 a Royal Engineer’s report provided an update on the fortifications held in the Colony and in 1813 Captain David Buchan, R.N. of the H.M.S. Adonis and Captain William Balamey R.N. of the Comet established a signal system which operated from Skerwink Head, English Head, Horse Chops, Old Perlican, Salvage Head and Gun Hill. This signal system was set up to warn the various ports of the approach of an enemy, or most likely any vessel assumed to be hostile. During this period a minor fortification was re-established at Fort Point, by donations from the two major merchant firms at that time, Slades and Garlands, who provided cannons (Handcock, 17-18). Kelson’s carpenters, those employed by the Slade and Kelson firm were the ones to build the gun carriages used in 1812, they also mounted the 5 guns, 3 nine pounders and 2 twenty four pounders (Handcock: Merchant families and Entrepreneurs…., 128)

By 1820 this fortification was re-built or at least repaired and a local militia group was created to deal with the possibility of attack. It was feared that American privateers were active off the coast of Newfoundland, which is evidenced by the diaries descriptions of boats being captured by privateers, and they would try to capture some ports. (Hunt,- American privateers were active from 1775-1783 during the Revolutionary War). In answer to this fear the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers (L.T.V.R.) was created under the control of William Kelson, an agent for the firm Slade & Kelson, who controlled the Artillery section of the group, while the Infantry group was under the leadership of Frederick Jenkins. The group was armed by the British Government, although many of the firms did give labor and guns, because the implementation of re-fortification and manning the fort was in an effort to prevent anyone from taking the port. The group adopted the practice of keeping a watchman on the Point at all times to keep watch for the approach of the enemy (Handcock, 18). The L.T.V.R. were not the only individuals however to guard the Fort at this time as in September 1812 a squadron of British Marines were in the area, and actually paraded several times at the Fort with the L.T.V.R. (Handcock: Merchant families and entrepreneurs…., 128). The third installation was under the control of by Captain J.T. Nicholas, from the H.M.S Egeria, in 1820, of which he was the name sake.

There are several amusing incidents with reference to this Fort and especially its occupation by the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers. When a vessel was coming into the harbour at one particular time, and was not showing its colors (flag’s indicating who’s vessel it was and from what country) Kelson fired upon the vessel. On his first shot he hit the boat and carried away her Jib Stay, the captain then quickly hoisted the house colors and the Union Jack, before another shot could be fired. (Handcock: Merchant families and entrepreneurs…, 128-129). The vessel was owned, by Robert Slade & Co, which is the company that employed William Kelson as its lead agent in Trinity, the firm there under the title “Slade & Kelson” (Handcock, 18).

Another of these humorous occasions was when two youth crossed the harbour during Sunday church service and while one distracted the watchman on duty the other fired the cannon, the firing of the cannon indicated to the members of the congregation, especially the leader of the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers, Mr. William Kelson who stood during the service upon hearing the sound of the cannon’s fire and shouted, “To Arms! To Arms! The enemy is upon us!” The congregation was panic stricken as they rushed out of the church (Handcock, 18).

William Kelson kept a diary as part of his work with the merchant firm of Slade & Kelson and wrote the following excerpts pertaining to the work at Fort Point.  

Slade & Kelson Diary, 1812

Sunday 9th Augt – About 30 men enroll’d themselves to serve at the Battery at the Southside when call’d upon.

Monday 10, Augt – About 20 men met & enroll’d themselves to serve as part of a company of volunteers_ schooners Mary & Cosmopolite retd loaded with fish- removed a nine-pounder gun and three carriages from Mr. Garlands wharf & placed them on the top of the Hill at Southside.

Monday July 20th – The Active still lies alongside the wharf, Galloper sail’d for the sound for ?. Held a meeting at the House to bring forward….?

Tuesday July 21st – Sail’d the Brig Amy, Bloomfield (?) for Barrow Harbour in Bonavista Bay with a fine Breeze from the Westward_ Arrived the Schooners Active and Mayflower from St. John’s began wrecking a Battery on Fort Point at the South Side_ Under direction of W. Kelson, H. Jenkins, Wm Butt, Richd Ash & Jasn Gover being the committee appointd at the foresaid meeting.

Saturday July 25th 1812 – Erected a flag staff on the Fort Point at the South Side. Wet weather with the wind to the southward_ very little fish caught one of Mr. Garlands Shallops came in from St. John’s.

Tuesday 8th Septr 1812 – The Marines paraded on the Fort Point at the South Side and part of the Loyal Artillery Volunteers were with them. Ship’d fish on the Gannet Fine weather.

Sunday 25th Octr 1812 – Weather Cloudy fired the Guns at the Fort & the Muskets on the site to celebrate the day of the Kings Coronation.

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


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