Atlantic Mariners: The Irish Kennedy's of Newfoundland

Look at a globe of the world from the top down. Sail west and slightly south once out of any harbor in Southern Ireland and you are within a few degrees of the North 50 latitude. Chart a straight course and stop at first land.

Welcome to Newfoundland

"Aye, aye Skipper," they checked the skies, and shoved off. It was before 1680 and it is not known how many trips across the North Atlantic they made over the next 200 years perhaps at first returning home to southeast Ireland after every fishing season but eventually settling in outports on the island of Newfoundland. Sailing to their homeland only to take their young men off the quays of Ireland to where the could find plenty of fish and small plots of land to garden. Newfoundland had both of these resources the fishing grounds of the Grand Banks and unsettled territory. They fished from boats like their familiar Wexford Herring Cot. Some returned home for religious rituals to marry or baptize their children in their native parishes after having stayed in Newfoundland for two summers and a winter to work the fishery. The British crown opposed permanent settlement on the island Colony although this policy became increasingly unenforceable. Before 1700, migrating Kennedys were marrying and intent on settling permanently in Newfoundland. Terrence Kennedy (1730) had settled in Crocker's Cove as a planter before 1755 and with a number of Irish considered under his employ. He was among the earliest Irish to come and settle inspite of the hardship and challenge of living in an outport community.

A picture of the Carbonear shoreline in Conception Bay, Newfoundland from the postcard collection at The Rooms Provincial Archives NL

The Conception Bay 1805 Plantation Book for Crocker's Cove Carbonear, Newfoundland has the record of lot 927 owned by Edward Kennedy in 1796 being given to his three children Terrence, Nicholas, and William Kennedy. Land is also gifted to a Terrence Kennedy, possible brother of Edward or perhaps a nephew. The deed to the plantation at Crocker's Cove records the lot size as 122 x 198 and property as consisting of 1 stage, 1 flake, 2 houses, 2 gardens, and 1 meadow. Also recorded in 1796 is Edward Kennedy gifting lot 933 to sons Terrence ,Nicholas, and William another property measuring 170 x 101 which consisted of 4 houses and 6 gardens. The next recorded entry 934 shows the Kennedy brothers purchasing from William and John King in 1802 an adjoining lot that measured 45 x 140 and which had 1 house and 1 garden. This amounts to 7 houses and roughly 400 yards of waterfront property in Crocker's Cove. Sounds incredible a plantation of 7 houses and 400 yards of shoreline. This is a 1912 photo of what it was like to live and work in Crocker's Cove in the 21st century. It is difficult to imagine how these families sustained themselves. A tribute no doubt to the endurance and fortitude which they inherited from their ancestors.

A family plantation was a cluster of homes with small gardens close to the beach where there would be a fishing stage and flake houses used in the process of drying Cod fish. Like other outport communities in Newfoundland working in the fishery was the main source of employment for Carbonear residents. From the time of its settlement to beyond the turn of the 20th century, the economic livelihood of this town would depend not only on the ebb and flow of the sea but the flow of political policies of first British naval admirals, then colonial governors and later those of the provincial lawmakers and the Canadian government.

The property of Edward Kennedy and his wife Florence had been in the family's possession for more than 40 years (that is before 1756) . The 1755 Colonial records show that Terence Kennedy was ordered banished from the Island and his house burnt as prosecution for having Mass said and for having been married by a priest in his home. His wife Mary Kennedy was used as witness against him and those who attended the marriage ceremony were fined the cost of damages for the house razing as punishment for having been present. It is unclear whether Terence was actually forced to leave Crocker's Cove for a time. Perhaps he was Edward's brother and Edward held the property for him while Terence and Mary Kennedy took refuge in another cove across the bay or went back to Ireland until the colonial governor cooled off.

The action brought against Terence Kennedy by British Governor Dorrill is an example of the general persecution which the local Irish Catholic population faced and part of a larger crackdown aimed at stemming what was viewed as an unwanted preponderance of Irish Catholic residents by some of the local English planters. In the aftermath of the American Revolution the British relaxed enforcement of penal laws in Newfoundland and with religious tolerance prevailing some Catholic records can be found. There is the recorded marriage of Ter'nce Kennedy and Mary Clarke in 1783, though it is recorded on a slip of paper and inserted with records of that time it may have occurred earlier.

After the death of Edward Kennedy in 1796 , there are Terence, Nicholas and William in Crocker's Cove. In 1798, there arrives a Partrick Kennedy who leases the fishing room of the late Nicholas Juer on the Northside of Harbor Grace. Nicholas Juer had died in 1779 at the old age 106 having once been a complaintant about the growing RC population to Gov. Dorrill in 1755. The 1805 Will of James Juer sells the plantation situate at Harbour Grace now in possession of James Rew KNIGHT, Thomas MAGHAR, Mary CONDON, Richard KEANS, Patrick KENNEDY, Stephen BENNETT and William RICHARDS to John BELLEY until the testators daughter Ann {Juer} reached the age of 21 or marries. The History of Harbour Grace recorded a poetic description by William Pynn detailing in 1806 that "near Kerry Lane we meet several houses where Matthew Kennedy, Stephen Bennett, James Knight, Richard Cain, Thos. Magher, Widow Condon, James Kenedy have their residences." This indicates a relationship between Matthew, Patrick and James Kennedy.

In 1802, it is James Kennedy in Carbonear purchasing lot 881 measuring 19 x 50 with 1 house and 1 garden from Nicholas Marshall. In 1803, he cleared out an area measuring 33 x 33 from the woods and put a house and 2 gardens on it and in 1803 he purchased from Andrew Harrigan lot 860 measuring 40 x 42 which consisted of another house and garden. This would add another 100 yards to the total Kennedy waterfront premises consisting of 10 Kennedy Houses and over 500 yards of waterfront property in Crocker's Cove, Carbonear , Newfoundland in 1805. A map of the plantation owners in Crocker's Cove in 1805

shows McCarthy, Clarke, amongst neighbors. James Kennedy was said to have been from a large planter family in Carbonear with 10 servants in their employ. This sounds very much like Terence Kennedy who in 1755 was a planter in Carbonear along with a John Kennedy. James Kennedy was born about 1761 and died about 1827 he held the local liquor license as a publican and was also constable in Carbonear. He married Anastasia Wells who had been shipwrecked in Newfoundland on her way from Wales to North America. They had six children one daughter Ellen Wells Kennedy would marry Thomas Marks who was once c Customs Agent in Waterford, Ireland. He would later venture as partner with Sir Cunard in the establishment of the famous Cunard Shipping line. The families went mostly to St. John's and Boston, Massachusetts. Ellen Marks was a skilled poet and has a volume somewhere having poems also published in Boston papers during the 1860s. James and Ana Kennedy are buried alongside in the Northwest Cemetery in Carbonear with all other Kennedys in the RC cemetery.

It was at this time that Terence Kennedy of Crocker's Cove has his own schooner built. In 1809, he registers the Ranger for the fishery a 65 ton vessel. He likely received help in building the vessel from the Pitts family of Belle Isle. It is the 44 ton fishing ship Three Brothers which is Captained by Terence from 1800/1807-1811 during which time both Francis Kennedy of Wexford and James Kennedy had taken charge of the Three Brothers. From 1811-1815 Terence Kennedy is listed as captain of the Belle Isle, a 90 ton schooner built and owned by John, James and William Pitts of Bell Island in 1820. Around 1814 William Kennedy, who I believe is son of Captain Terence Kennedy and Mary Clarke and brother to Julia (1809-1892) settles in Lance Cove, Bell Island alongside George Hiscock who marries a Clarke, perhaps cousin of Wm. Kennedy. The Carbonear Kennedys take root on Bell Island and are said to name Kerry Head after their Irish county of origin. This would indicate the Crocker's Cove Kennedys as having Kerry ancestry. As descendants of Julia Kennedy (1809-1892) this would have our maternal Kennedy line from Kerry and her husband Nicholas Kennedy (1807-1881) would have our paternal line from Wexford, Ireland.

It was 1807, Nicholas Kennedy and Grace Young sailed out of Rosslare Harbour in Wexford along with another Kennedy windjammer in search of better fishing grounds across the Atlantic. The winter crossing was difficult and when Captain Kennedy's wife Grace gave birth at sea he decided to put in at Harbour Grace, Conception Bay Newfoundland not far from where the Crockers Cove Kennedys were located. The other Kennedy windjammer continued on toward the original destination of New Bedford, Massachusetts but instead landed at Newburyport in Essex County and fished off Cape Cod.

Born at sea our progenitor Nicholas Kennedy was baptized May 29, 1807 at Harbour Grace Roman Catholic parish and in 1831 married Julia Kennedy of the Crocker's Cove Kennedy clan. I am their great, great, great, great granddaughter and if you have read this far I suspect you are a descendant as well.

There has been at least one report in our family lore that the Kennedys leaving Wexford had been involved with Wolfe Tone and the 1798 rebellions, one called the Rising of the Moon. This makes for an interesting story but with little hard evidence it will likely remain simply family lore. These Kennedys were cod fishermen in large part, involved in the Labrador seal hunt, small merchants trading provisions, and many Captains (skippers) of their own vessels making runs across the Atlantic and down to South America. Ferrying passengers on Bowring's Red Cross line to New York, piloting for Boston Harbor, in the Panama Canal, and carrying typical cargo of the day including rum. They were ordinary men and women but active in the political, religious, and social affairs of their communities. See Carbonearism. Hard work was their staple, a better life and education for their children their aim, and like the Kennedy Clan motto "Avise la fin" (Consider the End) they left an indelible mark within each of us to find our own course in this world. Clear skies and smooth sailing mates.