My Early Research

The Newells of The Dock

(the early years)


John Philip Newell

© 1996 (Do not copy or redistribute this document)


This document represents an updated (1996) summary of research first conducted in 1971 for a course in Rural Settlement at Memorial University [a photocopy of my original family tree is included at the end of this document].  The course was taught by Prof. John Mannion who had all the students in the class draw up a family history. The information was collected from my father (John Newell Sr.), Harold Newell (a retired school teacher and ardent genealogist) and a number of other relatives. Unfortunately, all the original sources have subsequently died so I must now rely on my notes and a collection of family documents. I have supplemented this material with a variety of historical accounts from other researchers, local newspapers and stories told in the local store when I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s.


The Dock is the western part of Bareneed, a small community situated on the north shore of Bay de Grave (an arm of Conception Bay) Newfoundland. The nearby community of Cupids, on the opposite shore of Bay de Grave, was the site of the Guy colony which was established in 1610 and Port de Grave, several kilometres east of Bareneed, was an established fishing harbour when Guy established his colony. Given its location near the head of Bay de Grave (a less desirable fishing location) it is likely that the Dock was settled later than these other sites.

The first reliable evidence of the Newell family in The Dock is a copy of a land grant to Philip Newell dated 1785 that I still have in my possession. It states:


“Philip Newell 175 yards from NE to SW bounded SW by Samuel Dawe on the NE by Thomas Sullivan 68 yards from HWM [High Water Mark] to the N by W bounded N by the woods. 1 stage 2 flakes 1 home 1 garden 1 meadow_____


          Cut and cleared agreeable to the act of Wm 3.  [King William III]  Chap. 25, Sect 7 ____________ date of Entry 1785 ________

The foregoing is a true Copy taken from the records this 28 day of Jan 1820 by me

                                                                             For Matthew Stevenson

                                                                             Registrar &


                                                                             Michael Kelly”


The Act refereed to in the grant was put forward in 1698 by King William III to encourage the trade to Newfoundland. Section 7 of the Act states “Provided always that all such persons as since the 25th of March 1685 have built houses and stages that did not belong to fishing ships since 1685 shall peaceably enjoy the same without any disturbance from any person whatever” (Prowse, 1895, p. 233). The date of entry of 1785 relates to a date when the claim was registered in some fashion. Unfortunately, we are not told where the grant was recorded or by whom [few records have survived from this period].

This Philip Newell was my great-great-great-grandfather. I have drawn a blank on tracing where Philip was born. He may have been born in Newfoundland, since he was well established there in 1785, in which case there would have been at least one earlier generation living in Newfoundland. Harold Newell suspected that Philip’s father’s name was James based on an entry in the records of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Harbour Grace (My family is Anglican). In 1784, at St Paul’s, a Philip Noel married a Amy Batten and at the same time a William Batten [brother to Amy?] married Mary Noel [sister to Philip?]. Parents James and Anne Noel.

The conclusion that this Philip Noel was Philip Newell is based on strong circumstantial evidence.  Philip Newell named his eldest son James and Philip’s other son John named one daughter Mary Ann, a second daughter Amy and a son William. The land in the Dock was granted to Philip Newell in 1785, just a year after Philip Noel was married which would also seem to fit. Philip Newell was still alive in 1820 which would indicate that he was most likely between 20 and 40 in 1784. In the late 18th century the closest Anglican church to The Dock was at Harbour Grace so it would not be unusual for Philip Newell to be married there.

Additional support comes from the fact that Philip Newell was referred to as Philip Noel in a survey of property owners in Conception Bay taken in 1807 (CO 199.18, Return of Possessions Held in the Conception Bay, taken from Seary et al., 1968). The first three names in the list under Port de Grave are Samuel Dawe 1785, Philip Noel 1786 and Thomas Sullivan 1802 [see names of adjoining property owners in grant]. This document clearly list the property owners in Port de Grave from west to east starting in the Dock. The Philip Noel referred to here is clearly the Philip Newell of our grant. The date listed in the survey is the date of entry of the claim (see Proclamation in the Royal Gazette of Sept. 27, 1810) which provides support for the proposition that Philip received his grant around 1785.

In the late 18th century the majority of the population was illiterate and the spelling of a name depended on the person who wrote it down.  Some old documents use Nuel, which is a phonetic approximation. In all these cases the official who wrote it down likely got the name second hand. The name Noel is clearly not phonetic. Could the u in Nuel be mistaken for an o?  Harold Newell who found this reference seemed certain that it was Noel. If we are dealing with the same person then there are two possible explanations. The first is that it was a mistake on the part of the person making (or copying) the entry and the second is that the family name was changed sometime between 1785 and 1816.

A possible explanation for a name change could be the adoption of an anglicized name during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815). French privateers captured a number of Newfoundland ships during this period (see Prowse, 1895. p. 389).  At one time there was a small battery of cannons in the Dock which must date back to no later than this period [These cannons were still there when I was a boy].

Many of the early settlers in Conception Bay came from southwest England; however, Harold Newell suspected that the Newells came from Jersey, Channel Islands and my uncle Ted even mentioned Ireland. All of these locations had connections with Newfoundland in the 18th century. The Jersey fish merchants were involved in the Conception Bay fishery and had close connections with southwest England and many boats coming to Newfoundland from England stopped in Ireland to pick up crews. Handcock (1976, p. 22) states that “Devonshire and Jersey settlers tended to favour places such as Harbour Grace, Port de Grave, Bay Roberts and Cupids” [communities surrounding Bareneed]. Seary (Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland) indicates that the Newfoundland Newells are from England or Ireland and that the Noels are from England (Devon) and Jersey.

By the late 1700s there were several families of Newells (and Noels) living in Newfoundland (see Seary). Most, like our Philip, were “planters” which in the Newfoundland context indicated that they were small independent fishermen who held land. They lived in Newfoundland year‑round as opposed to many migratory fishermen who traveled to Newfoundland to fish then returned to England in the fall. They generally owned their own fishing boats and sold their catch to merchants who transported it to England. They frequently had one or two servants (indentured employees not servants as we know the word) to assist in the fishery. The migratory fishery had peaked prior to the American Revolution and by the early 19th century the migratory fishery was almost dead and most fishermen stayed in Newfoundland during the winter (see Matthews, 1973, p. 191-194). Philip’s father may have been a migratory fisherman while his son was one of the new planters.

In a census of Conception Bay taken in 1817, Philip “Nule” of “Bear Need” [the Dock was frequently included as part of Bareneed] was listed with four children and one man servant (at that time servant indicated an employee). He was described as “well off” (extracts from this census provided by Prof. Gordon Handcock, Memorial University). For a good description of life at that time I would recommend a book called “Hope and Deception in Conception Bay” by Sean Cadigan. In the census of 1817 the merchant that Philip got his supplies from was listed as “Nutol & Cawly” (the Nutol is likely Nuttall, who were Harbour Grace fish merchants, see Cadigan p. 71). In later generations the family dealt with the Jerritts of Brigus. Further research on this topic might be useful since fishermen frequently came from the same area as their merchant.

There is also a reference to a Mr. Nuel of Bareneed in some church (SPG) documents dated 1816. It states that he had worked on the Labrador and so could translate for some Indians [possibly Inuit] that had been brought to Bareneed from Labrador. These “Indians” later died in Bareneed. [As a boy I had often heard stories of the Indians buried under Greenland’s Store in Bareneed.] In later generations the Newell’s rooms in Labrador were at Rover Island (53 33’N, 55 59’W) near Indian Tickle.

Regarding Philip’s siblings, if any, I have no information. Family tradition indicates  that he had relatives in Burnt Head, Conception Bay. The 1807 survey of Conception Bay list a I. Noel at “BurntHead” (also a John Noel at Brigus) and Lovells Directory of 1871 list four [adult men] Newells (John, Isaac, Robert and George) at Burnt Head [unfortunately, Lovell missed the Dock]. Again, we have evidence for a name change. The community of Burnt Head was abandoned early in this century. There were also Newells in Harbour Grace and St. John’s around 1800 (see Sean Cadigan’s book). Tradition says that we are not related to the St. John’s Newells or the Newells that now live in North River.

Based on the census of 1817, Philip and Amy had four children. The eldest son was James and the second son [my great-great-grandfather] was John Newell (17??‑1855) who married Patience Porter (1801‑1874) of Blow me Down [another small community near Port de Grave]. Philip had two other children, likely girls since they never inherited land.

The period in which Philip lived in the Dock was a turbulent one. In addition to the Napoleonic Wars there were frequent disturbances that occasionally reached Bareneed. In 1800 there was a mutiny of between forty and fifty members of the garrison at St. John’s “with a declared intention, as appeared by a letter left behind them, of putting every person to death who should attempt to oppose them” (Prowse, 1895, p. 418). Twelve of these mutineers who were captured were sentenced to death. In 1812 there was a “small-pox” scare in Conception Bay (Royal Gazette, June 11, 1812). Prowse (1895) states that “in the winter of 1815 the capital and all the outports were in a state of actual starvation” and in February, 1817 a gang of starving men raided a merchant at Bareneed (Cadigan, p. 58).

Philip’s son John (my great-great-grandfather) and his wife Patience had six sons (John, Richard, Nathanel, Henry, Philip and William Henry) and 3 daughters (Annie, Mary Ann and Grace). Harold Newell was a descendent of Nathanel. Two of Henry’s  decedents, Verick and Lorne, still have a summer house at the Dock.

The mid 19th century was truly the best of times, the worst of times in Conception Bay. In the 1850s Bareneed was prospering. The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland (Vol I, p. 130) reports that “by 1857 six sizeable vessels were reported in Bareneed employed in the Labrador fishery, and next to Brigus, Bareneed claimed the largest take of seals (over 20,000) reported that year”. In 1860 a new Church of England Church was built in Bareneed “a very handsome, commodious and wellbuilt structure” (Royal Gazette, reported in EN Vol I, p. 130) and in the early 1860s Mr. Richards, a merchant in Bareneed, built a grand new house with materials brought from England [in 1912 this house was purchased by a descendant of Philip]. However, this was also a period of serious religious and political riots in the neighbouring communities of Harbour Grace, Bay Roberts and Harbour Main (Gunn, 1966 and Prowse, 1896, p. 484). Stories of this period survived up to the time of my childhood in Bareneed, a century after the events. Local tradition says that the government ordered firearms confiscated from local Catholics but that their neighbours held the guns for them [many Catholic families in this area were long-time residents and not part of the influx of Irish settlers that occurred in the 1840s and 1850s]. In addition, it is reported that after this period many Catholic residents of the Port de Grave peninsula moved further inland and founded the community of North River.

John Newell’s will of 1855 divided up his property as follows:


” 1st and first I give unto my son Richard Newell the west part of the room  [the “room” indicates the land] and after his death to be his wife Mary Ann’s so long as she remain a widow with her children, But if there is no child and she should  marry again she is to have no part of the property but to be equally divided between the remaining brothers.


2nd I give unto my son John Newell, the middle part of the room Nathaniel to have the next part to the east of John. Henry to have the east of the room Philip and William Henry to have the house and westermost part Jointly and in case of either death the youngest to take charge.


3rd  My wife Patience to have the room upstairs and a servant girl to attend her. All the fishing gear to be at the disposal for use of the mother, and after her death for the use of the remaining children.


4th that the room be equally divided & not to be sold or taken for debt, but shall at all times be for children’s children.


5th John to have one bed and one sheep. Philip to have three pound ten for a bed at the mothers request. Nathaniel to have 1 sheep & bed William Henry 1 bed & 1 sheep. Philip 1 sheep. daughter Grace 1 sheep, Horse and cart for the use of the family. The mother to be supported by all her sons. the east kitchen garden to be divided between John & Nathaniel.


Should my wife Patience marry again she is to have only her own clothing no part of the property.

The landing place for the use of the east room.

At the same time I do appoint John & Willam Batten executors of this my last will and testament to which I have set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of January in the year of our Lord

one thousand eight hundredth and fifty five.


                                                                             John Newell

Witness John Ryall

             John Dawe”


Map of Newell land in the Dock c. mid 1800s (info on James and John in colour added)


My great-grandfather was John Newell (1828‑1908) who inherited the middle part of the “room”. He married  Caroline Wells of Salmon Cove and they had seven children. Their names, dates of birth and locations at the time of their fathers death in 1908 were:

  • Patience 1861 (Nova Scotia)
  • Henry Walter 1865‑1892 (Drowned)
  • Albert 1868‑1941 (my grandfather, Nova Scotia)
  • Mary Ann 1872 (Gloucester, )
  • Elizabeth 1874‑1973 ( John’s)
  • Edith 1876  (Boston, )
  • Eliza 1880  (Bareneed, later moved to Boston)

The Newfoundland census of 1874 was the first in which the Dock was separated from Bareneed. In that year there were 143 residents of the Dock all of which were born in Newfoundland. There were 31 families and 34 children in School. The various families of Newells likely accounted for a third of the population at this time. Over the years the original “room” of Philip had been divided and extended further back into the woods so that each family now had a long narrow lot extending back from the water. According to the census there were only 16 acres of improved land in all of the Dock so the community was dependent on the sea.  Apart from one schooner (possibly belonging to John’s brother Richard) with a crew of seven most of the fishing was done from small boats.

The population of the Dock peaked in the 1880s (166 in the census of 1884) and slowly decline following this. This was likely a result of a decline in the fishery since the reported catch of cod for the Dock in 1891 was less than half of what it was in 1871. This was offset somewhat by an increase in agricultural production, with the acres of improved land doubling over the same period (still only 35 acres). Based on a letter to the St. John’s Evening Telegram (March 28, 1883) complaining of poverty and destitution in Bareneed, conditions in the Dock may not have been good during the 1880s; however, this may have simply represented a political statement. In 1883 there was a riot at Harbour Grace associated with a parade by members of the Orange in which four men were killed. However, in the following year (1884) there was good news with the opening of the railway to Harbour Grace, which passed within a few kilometres of the Dock. Conditions in the area heated up in 1886 with reports of a gold find in the Bareneed Hills!!

By the turn of the century all of John’s family except the youngest daughter had left Newfoundland. John died in 1908 an left an estate valued at $150.00. His house in the Dock was torn down in 1919. This was around the time that a new road was built through the Dock and most of the original houses, built along the water, were moved back to the new road.

My grandfather, Albert (1868‑1941), was the only surviving son. Between 1898 and 1899 he worked as a ships carpenter on a ship called the Cap Breton out of Montreal. In December, 1899 he married Clara Andrews (1878-1951) of Port de Grave  and moved to Cape Breton, N.S. where he was a foreman in the coal mines at Sydney Mines. Albert did well in Cape Breton and in 1914 they sold their property in N.S,  returned to Newfoundland and purchased a house in Bareneed.


List of Early Newells in The Dock

Note: Consult my new paper on “the Early Newells” in this section of the Web Site for the most recent information on the early Newells.

Generation Name Parents Born/Died Married
I James Anne
II Mary James William Batten
II Philip James Amy Batten
III James Philip (1786-?) Margaret
III John Philip (1793-1855) Patience Porter (1800-1874)
IV Philip James
IV Elizabeth James
IV James James
IV Richard James (1816-?)
IV Abraham James (1820-1878)
IV Amy John (1821-?)
IV Mary Ann John (1826-?)
IV Richard John (1824-1908) Selina Jane Wells (1834-1906)
IV John John (1828-1908) Caroline Wells (1836-1922)
IV Nathanel John  (1831-1912) Virtue & Margaret Tucker
IV Grace John (?-1814 Eli Mercer
IV Henry John
IV Philip John (1840-1925) Flos
IV William Henry John


My original 1971 Family Tree [see new section on ‘The Early Newells’ for updated information].