Another summer, another field season! While I couldn’t really write much last summer in the field, because I was working in CRM in Ontario, this year I’m back in Newfoundland doing my own research. You know what that means…updates from the field, as far as the eye can see! I’m really looking forward to getting back to some research surveys rather than just digging test pits as fast as possible in the sun (as important as CRM is).
Today myself and my husband Ian joined my supervisor Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson in the outport community of New Perlican, in Trinity Bay. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember when I did work at one of the cemeteries in New Perlican in 2017 (you can find those posts HERE and HERE). Part of my dissertation research for PhD is looking at the development of the burial landscape in New Perlican, which has been settled by European settlers since the 17th century, and how those burial spaces changed in relation to the settlement and the churches through the centuries to today. Today’s trip, however, was just to visit the site of the Bloody Point cemetery…a site which we suspect could date to the 17th century!
Bloody Point, listed as a municipal heritage site in New Perlican for its cultural and aesthetic value. It appears in multiple stories in the community, including stories of battles between the French and English, or the English or French and Beothuk. Legends say that the blood from those battles stained the red rocks, more practically explained as caused by the reddish staining from iron oxide in the rocks, but the name stuck in oral history (Heritage NL 2021). Located at the west entrance to the harbour, the point is also home to a historic burial ground of great significance.
The burial ground, officially recorded Borden Number ‘ClAi-12 Bloody Point 2 Burial Site’ in that province’s archaeological records, was first surveyed in 2019 by Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, Maria Lear, PhD student Rita Uju Onah, and then-MA student Elsa Simms, as part of a larger interdisciplinary project between the New Perlican Heritage Committee, Heritage NL, Student Life, the Folklore and Archaeology departments at MUN, and MUN’s Centre for Social Enterprise, School of Business, and the Office of Public Engagement (mouthful, right?). You can find Shannon’s entire blog post about their survey HERE. As a PhD student researcher associated with New Perlican through my fieldwork, I’m involved in the project now too!
Lewis-Simpson et al (2020) wrote in the interim report that their preliminary survey included a field survey and ground penetrating radar survey (GPR) which supported the idea that here were burials in the area. Their survey identified 19 grave markers and at least two burials noted by GPR. It is hypothesised based on the field stone markers and historical evidence, that the site “predates the 1832 consecration of St. Mark’s Church and associated graveyard” (Lewis-Simpson et al. 2020:2). Based on our discussions regarding the site, and the 1600s founding of New Perlican as an early fishing station in Trinity Harbour, it is likely that the site dates to at least the 18th century and possibly earlier. If we can find evidence that it dates to the 17th century, it will be the first confirmed C17th English settler burial ground on the island!
While I did participate in the 2017 survey of the St. Mark’s burial site survey and cleaning, I hadn’t been out to Bloody Point yet, so today’s excursion with the Heritage Committee was as much for everyone to see the site as it was for me to know to get there (I was mostly tagging along, actual meetings were also happening!). Of course, because we had to go outside, it was pouring down for most of the drive, and the entire time we were there!
After meeting at the municipal building to find the rest of the team from Heritage New Perlican and the PAO (Provincial Archaeology Office), we drove the short distance down the side of the harbour to the site. Bloody Point is perched on a hill, nestled between the divots of long-disused root cellars and terraced from old gardens and houses. The settlement itself has a number of burial grounds but based on the location, the evidence from the gravestones themselves that predate the earliest burial at the nearby St. Mark’s Cemetery of 1823, indicate that this site is one of the older ones, if not the oldest.
Unfortunately it would be impossible to tell an exact date for the site without excavating the burials that are located there, but it is important not to dig up graves for our own interest. Today when burials are exhumed, it is because the work needed to be done, whether that be part of a salvage/rescue excavation or because someone didn’t report graves and dug into the site for construction.
The gravestones at the site were predominantly field stones. That means that they are made from pieces of stone found locally which have been used as a grave marker. Typically, these stones are relatively flat on either side and are shaped at the top into either a semi-circle or flat top. This type of marker does not usually have an inscription, but you can tell the care that people put into finding and cutting the stone in order to mark the graves of their loved ones. Field stones might be used as markers because there was no one around to carve a ‘traditional’ gravestone, the family didn’t have enough money for a gravestone, or the individual(s) involved may have been illiterate and had no use for a marked stone. There are a number of reasons, but these stones are as important to understanding the site as any with inscriptions may be!
There was one gravestone with an inscription, made from limestone or marble, located at the far west extent of the site. Because of the lighting and rain, all I could make out was: “In memory of / JAMES M….” but there definitely were more letters than that. I’ll have to check again when we return to the site! This stone was a little about the north row of grave markers, with a broken base. If the stone was set directly into the ground it may have been hit and broken from the bottom of the stone, which has since sunken or been removed. It will be interesting to see a date on the stone, as if it were set into a key instead of right int the ground, it would be a lot later than it looks based on the iconography! I’m guessing later C18th to early C19th. It was very exciting to see a stone that would have been imported either from the UK, or carved in St. John’s and brought out to the area. If it was carved in town, the base might have a carver’s name that we could trace…but we’d have to find the base to figure that out.
After a very soggy visit to the site, we returned to the municipal hall for a lovely lunch from a bakery in Heart’s Content (which I admired from afar as a celiac human), and attended the beginning of the Heritage New Perlican meeting. I briefly chatted about what I’m hoping to look at with my research in the community, and that I’d of course be more than happy to do a graveyard walking tour for their Heritage Day later this summer! It was wonderful to be able to visit one of my sites in person, and even more so, know how to get there for my survey in a few weeks. For some reason, I was expecting to walk through a lot of trees? I’m really looking forward to going back for my survey soon, and learning more about the history of the town and the burial grounds for my walking tour in August…and my dissertation research!
**Special mention of the day goes to Dark Star Coffee Roasters. On the way out to the site, we stopped to pick up Shannon, and then dropped into the adorable cafe Carbonear for some coffee for the road. They had such an adorable cafe, if you’re in the area definitely drop in! Their website tells me that they are housed in the former Carbonear Telephone Exchange building, which was constructed in 1929 with hand-poured concrete. If we hadn’t had a meeting, I’d totally have been hanging out there for a while, it was such a cool spot!
2021. Bloody Point Municipal Heritage Site: New Perlican, NL. Heritage NL Heritage Property Search. Website: https://heritagefoundation.ca/heritage-property/bloody-point-municipal-heritage-site/
Lewis-Simpson, Shannon, Lear, Maria, Onah, Rita, and Elsa Simms
2020. Interim Report: An Early European Burial Ground at Bloody Point 2, New Perlican. Unpublished report.