MG 281 – Nimshi Crewe Collection
Nimshi Crewe was, in his lifetime, an unrecognised genius. Even today, those in the archival community who know of him seldom recognise the vastness of his thinking and research in regard to the history of Newfoundland. The problem preventing his full recognition as the important contributor to our collected knowledge of Newfoundland history is that, like many people of great intellect, his thoughts and his papers were in complete disorder to anyone but himself.
At The Rooms, the modern-day iteration of the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland, of which he was one of the founders, most of those papers generated during his period as an archivist (his government career in fact began as an auditor with the Commission of Government’s Revenue Department before Confederation, in which role he was my father’s mentor and nominal “boss”) are to be found in the Manuscript series MG 281. This series alone occupies dozens of boxes of papers catalogued as best as anyone was able according to the primary topic of his thoughts at the time that these notes were made. But he seldom thought linearly, or was able to focus his attention on just one topic at a time, so in consequence it is necessary to thumb through box after box and page after page in search of articles pertaining to the subject of one’s current enquiry.
However, as I have discovered in the last year or two, Nimshi’s hand written notes, and typescripts made from them by a number of unfortunate copyists who were expected to make sense of his ramblings, are spread all over the collections at The Rooms, because he worked at one time or another on every topic of interest to the Public Archives of Newfoundland.
My interest in Nimshi began when he came around to my grandparents house on Quidi Vidi Rd. to meet my father, his former colleague, during our occasional summer vacations in Newfoundland in the mid-1950s. Even then, I knew as a child that this person was different, in both a positive as well as an odd sense! Only later, when I began my work on the family history, did I discover that as a result of these summer encounters with Dad, Nimshi had worked diligently with Dad Morry and Aunt Jean through the late 1950s and most of the 1960s assisting them in researching the history of the Morrys, Carters, Windsors and their kin, but also exploring theories that he had which he believed connected these families through an unbroken bloodline to the Kirke and Baltimore families who originally founded Ferryland. While the latter theory later proved unfounded, it nevertheless formed a part of the reason for his enthusiasm in assisting in our family history research, so we can be grateful that Nimshi’s broad-ranging imagination did take him into these previously unexplored waters.
I have now (2018) been collecting bits and pieces of Nimshi’s notes and letters that are most relevant to my line of research and, over time, will attempt to systematically place copies of them here for the benefit of future researchers.
Unfortunately for a reader of this page hoping to home in quickly on a topic of interest, I find myself completely unable to imagine a sensible order in which to present Nimshi’s works. Chronology is of no use, because he would frequently begin to work on a topic, only to be distracted by some other currently more interesting investigation, and only return to the first subject of his curiosity years later, if at all. Therefore, I intend to simply present the papers I have copied, along with the reasons for my interest, and my interpretation of them, just as they are found on my computer, and later make an attempt to order the result by topic.
General Research on Ferryland
Nimshi wrote extensively for various local magazines and newspapers that shared his interests in the history of Newfoundland and was frequently sought out to prepare an article on a specific topic. This two page synopsis of the history of Ferryland is undated and also lacks his name as author, though its appearance in his papers most likely proves his authorship. There are elements of Ferryland’s early history that are not well known, such as the encounters between George Calvert and the French during his first full visit to his colony, and the frequent attacks by the Dutch and French after his departure and right up to 1762. Unfortunately, the account fails to mention in the latter case the important roles of Robert Carter and his wife Anne Wylly in defence of both Ferryland and the colony as a whole.
The number at the end of this file represents my method of dating articles of known vintage, in this case, 11 April 1968.
This represents one of many memoranda to file by Nimshi which I will present here. Note that he was very good about cross-referencing the subject of his memos to multiple files which he believed had bearing on the subject. That said, items that were meant to be attached when filed were not always copied along with the memo. Such was the case here unfortunately. The subject census transcript is missing. Should I eventually find it in my other photos of Nimshi’s notes or in future meanderings through the MG281 file collection I will add it here. The 1675 Census of Ferryland mentioned was the “Sir John Berry Census” found in the Colonial Office records on Microfilm 1. A transcript of it is now found on the NGB website (http://ngb.chebucto.org/C1675/1675berry.shtml) Only the names of the Planters were given, not their families and not their servants, nor Bye-boat Keepers, if there were any of them at that early date.
An obituary in the St. John’s Telegraph, 7 August 1872, of John Stephenson, Sheriff at Ferryland. Not a Morry relation.
Pursuing the Baltimore-Kirke-Sweetland Link
As mentioned above, Nimshi spent a great deal of effort and time attempting to prove that there was a direct link still in Newfoundland, through the Sweetland line, to David Kirke and George Calvert (Lord Baltimore), the original founders and settlers of the Ferryland area. This was not his theory alone but rather evolved from family lore passed down through the Sweetland line to Joyce Dunfield (Mrs. Heber Angel). She was a rabid believer in this theory and passed the bug to Nimshi, who did the best he could to prove its authenticity. In fact, even though he eventually was in touch with historians and other experts on the Baltimores and Kirkes who refuted the ostensible connections between these two founding families and hence destroyed the basis of this theory, I’m not at all sure that Nimshi was ever convinced that it was a false rumour. In fact, in his own handwritten notes it became clear that he believed that if he could prove the premise of this history his reputation would be made and he himself would go down in the history books as the person who added this important element to the history of Newfoundland.
Below I present the first of many pages of notes by Nimshi on his reading of the evidence provided to him by Mrs. Angel.
There seems to be evidence in these pages, or Nimshi’s interpretation of them, that William Sweetland, who was born in Caplin Bay and married Priscilla Morry (hence the Morry connection to this whole affair) was perhaps the originator of the whole theory. Nimshi further suggests that William Sweetland compiled the original documents whilst he was a magistrate in Bonavista about 1845. That is to say, at more or less the time that he was compiling his own three volume unpublished history of Newfoundland.
In his notes on page 4, Nimshi mentions the copies of gravestones in St. Saviour’s churchyard in Dartmouth (though he does not specify the location) that Dad Morry received, as we now know, from his Aunt Josie [Morry] Gray. Nimshi was not aware of the person responsible for taking down these transcriptions evidently. He was only interested in the mention of the children and grandchildren of William Sweetland.
Keeping in mind that this was written in 1959 when Nimshi was just beginning his collaboration with Dad Morry and Aunt Jean on the Morry ancestry, it is interesting to read how hesitant Dad Morry was at that time concerning the exact identity of the Matthew Morry buried in Forge Hill cemetery in 1836 and the Anne Morry who died in Caplin Bay ca 15 Sept 1838. He did not seem to realise that Matthew was his 2nd great grandfather and Anne [Carter] the second wife of that Matthew. Interestingly, Nimshi had no doubt at all about who these people were.
Nimshi came to the “obvious” conclusion that the name Silly that appears on the gravestone in St. Saviour’s churchyard should have been Lilly or Lilley, as this is how it appeared on the manuscript he was transcribing. What he seems to have not suspected is that William Sweetland either did not know the surname of his daughter’s husband (the family having been essentially estranged after the death of his wife Priscilla Morry Sweetland), or he may have inadvertently written it incorrectly in his original family tree, or that the unknown person who re-transcribed that tree sometime in the early 1900s, being a Newfoundlander and familiar with the name Lilly but not Silly, may have altered the spelling of the name. There is every reason to believe that the correct spelling was indeed Silly.
Nimshi concludes his notes at this time saying: “I feel the manuscripts may be taken as substantially correct, and that the discovery of this Kirke descent is the most important Nfld. history discovery in its field ever made.” One can easily see why he clung to his credence in this information long after it was discredited by other American authorities.
Nimshi showed this putative family tree back from the Sweetlands to Kirke and Baltimore in 1959 and recorded the observations that arose at that meeting (see below). Although their conversation revealed little to support or refute the theory, it did once again show the rather poor knowledge of the family history that Dad Morry possessed at that time. For example, he thought that the Matthew Morry with the large family including many sons was the man who came from Dartmouth and married Ann Carter as his second wife when in actual fact this was the son of the original Matthew Morry. The number of children is also exaggerated. It was not 21 but rather 14. There are other matters of lesser importance that are dubious as well, for example the suggestion that Dr. Nicholas Brand lived for a while in the old David Kirke house. That was destroyed long before Brand ever came to Newfoundland.
Brief mention of a visit by an American historian from Baltimore with whom Nimshi had been corresponding on this subject and who paid a visit in 1966 to follow-up. This note gives no indication that Castagna had already burst Nimshi’s bubble on the theory.
Part of the task of establishing if there really was a connection between the Sweetlands and the Kirkes and Baltimores depended on proving that the Sweetlands arrived in Ferryland in time to have been contemporary with the Dobles and the Bengers, with whom they were ostensibly intermarried. One document Nimshi found in the Colonial Papers to assist in this dating is shown below. It indicates that Henry Sweetland (and interestingly Nicholas Brand, seen elsewhere many times in these pages) was appointed by the Governor to serve as a Justice of the Peace in 1790. Of course this gives no indication of his tenure in the Colony at that time except to say that he was a well-established business person, since only such people were selected as JPs.
The Windsor Family
Another of the Southern Shore families in which Nimshi took an abiding interest was the Windsor family of Aquaforte. His interest was spurred, not only because of the prominent place this family played in the early commercial development and settlement of the area, and the later political shenanigans in which they were involved, but also because he was constantly egged on by Captain Tom Goodyear, an amateur family historian who was perhaps the foremost expert on the Windsors, his wife Jessie Henderson Windsor’s family. Some of the correspondence that passed back and forth on this topic is included below.
In this handwritten note Nimshi provides a transcript passed onto him by Tom Goodyear of the obituary of Henry Winser found in the Harbour Grace Herald, 25 December 1850. It is always hard to know who an article like this refers to because the Windsor family used three spellings of their name almost interchangeably, the other two being Winser and Winsor, and because they tended to use the same three or four forenames. As it happens, this obituary coincides (with a minor error on the date) with the death of my second great grandfather, Capt. Henry Winser.
The obituary in the Daily News on 22 December 1906 of Victoria [Winsor] Morry, who died the previous day at the home of her son-in-law, George Le Messurier. Her full name was Maria Victoria Matilda Winsor.
Howard Morry Memoirs
Nimshi was constantly probing Dad Morry to tell him what he knew about the early history of Ferryland. Although he knew a great deal on this subject, all of Dad Morry’s information came down to him via oral history. And all oral history has to be taken with a grain of salt because of its propensity to be altered and enhanced with the retelling. Dad Morry was no more guilty of this than any other oral historian but it is a fact that he was fond of telling stories that did not always stand up to close scrutiny.
The first three pages were assembled by Nimshi for an article submitted to Michael Harrington at the Evening Telegram and that article appeared in an almost unabridged form (see image above). An example of how oral history can contract time was the suggestion by Dad Morry that his grandmother and her brother used to see the sailors from HMS HAZARD going into the woods to collect wood. But Catherine White, his grandmother, was only born in 1813 and the HAZARD overwintered in Ferryland Harbour in 1812 (she was there to stave off any possible American attack). Her brother, John, wasn’t born until 1829. In all likelihood the tale came down to them from the previous generation and was passed on and thought to be a first hand account.
Further to the matter of the HMS HAZARD overwintering in Ferryland Harbour, as mentioned above, Nimshi did track down proof of this occurring at least once. Here are Dad Morry’s letter to Nimshi from Sudbury in 1964 in regard to this and a number of related matters, Nimshi’s notes on the subject, and a copy of the newspaper clipping that he found and copied for Dad Morry.
And a Transcript in Word format of the above.
There is an old gravestone in the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Cemetery in Ferryland that has caused much confusion amongst amateur historians like Dad Morry. This stone, is dedicated by Robert Powls to his late wife Bridget and her mother, also Bridget, surname Morry. The elder Bridget was reported on the gravestone to have been 106 years old when she died on January 20th 1872, meaning that she would have been born about 1766.
This has led to much speculation as to who the husband of the elder Bridget would have been, the problem being that Matthew Morry, the only known immigrant ancestor of the Morrys of Ferryland, would have been the only potential candidate as the husband and it was already known that his wife during her entire life was Mary Graham of Dartmouth. Mary died in 1796 and thus there was no possibility of Matthew marrying this Bridget prior to his second marriage to Ann Carter. Dad Morry complicated matters further by suggesting that it was the younger Bridget who was married to Robert Powls who lived to be 106. He also somehow arrived at the conclusion that the man’s name was misspelled on the gravestone and should have been Powell and that he was a descendant of the Lord Baltimore’s agent of that name. I hope that Nimshi did not take this testimony as accurate in view of how many errors this little note conveyed.
Conventional wisdom, albeit not based on a great deal of factual evidence, is that the man, Robert Powls was a sheriff in Ferryland who came over from Nova Scotia with his wife and mother-in-law and that their surname was in fact Morey, not Morry, the spelling on the stone simply reflecting the local spelling of that surname at the time of their respective deaths.
Here is another example of “facts” conveyed to Nimshi by Dad Morry that may be nothing more than local lore or Dad Morry’s assumptions, putting two and two together and getting something other than four. The woman named Cummings who Dad Morry remembered personally may or may not have been descended from the man who signed the Petition asking the government to arm Isle aux Bois in 1708.
In this tidbit of Ferryland lore, Dad Morry is explaining to Nimshi the occupancy of the house once occupied by Dr. R. Jardine Freebairn. I don’t know how much credence to put in Dad Morry’s information because most of the purported former tenants would probably have been alive before Dad Morry was born. The house in question which, sadly, no longer exists, was identified as a historical property by the Newfoundland Historic Trust in their 1978 book, “Ten Historic Towns” (the drawing above is from that source). They referred to it as the “Freebairn/Coffey House” but never explained who Coffey was in their brief account of the property, nor did they mention any of the names mentioned by Dad Morry as previous occupants.
- This is a somewhat unusual house in Newfoundland being built half of stone and half of timber. Its date of construction is undetermined but it is erected on what was once the Tessier property. Peter and Lewis Tessier came to Newfoundland from Newton Abbot, Devonshire, and conducted a large mercantile business in St. John’s at the end of the 19th century. They were descendants of Baron de Tessier who fled the excesses of the French Revolution to settle in England. Peter Tessier married a daughter of Robert Carter of Ferryland. Their son, Charles, built an elaborate estate, Germondale, on Waterford Bridge Road. It was demolished in the early 1970s. Peter Tessier may have constructed a stone house on the Ferryland property as a country retreat. It is thought the timbered upper section was added around the turn of the century, possibly by Dr. R. Jardine Freebairn who owned and occupied the place until his death 8 September 1934 at the age of 71 years. A native of Bronhill, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, Freebairn spent much of his life as a medical doctor in Ferryland where he also acted as magistrate. A daughter, Jessie, married Hedley Bret of St. John’s.
The Holdsworth House
Photo Edited by Dr.Peter Morry
The origins and the respective owners of the Holdsworth House was a matter of some interest to Nimshi Crewe and he consulted with Dad Morry repeatedly on this topic. He was able to dig up in the newspaper archives at his disposal a number of advertisements pertaining to the efforts of the Holdsworth family to divest themselves of this and other properties that they had acquired during their tenure as the leading merchants on the Southern Shore.
This first document, dated 1961, is a partial transcript of a newspaper advertisement found by Nimshi in the Royal Gazette, 5 Dec. 1837. Unfortunately, because of his narrower interest at the time in the Holdsworth House, Nimshi neglected to completely transcribe this long advertisement that described in greater detail other properties that they were attempting to sell, including the premises “in the tenure” of the Sweetland family in Caplin Bay. The wording is key. It implies that the Sweetland house and lands did not belong to them outright but rather were the property of Henry Holdsworth and his kin as late as 1837. Yet subsequently the Sweetland family made efforts to sell this property through Thomas Graham Morry acting as their agent. It must be assumed that somehow the Sweetlands did eventually come into actual possession of the house and property being advertised, whether at this time or later.
In the next document, a typed note to file dated January 8, 1965, Nimshi goes over this discovery briefly and then discusses the information he obtained from Dad Morry on the Holdsworth property. As was often the case in these exchanges, either Dad Morry gave Nimshi misleading information or Nimshi misunderstood the information he was being given. First of all, Matthew Morry (neither Sr. nor Jr.) did not buy this property, his son John Henry Morry and John’s partner and brother-in-law, Peter Paint Le Messurier bought it between them for their joint business interests.
Neither Matthew Morry ever did move from Caplin Bay to Ferryland as far as can be proven. Also, Dad Morry was not born and raised in the Holdsworth House because at that time the house was still in the possession, with some caveats as to its ownership and use, by his grandfather, John Henry Morry. Dad Morry’s father, Thomas Graham Morry, had built his own house on the back lane (the house which still exists with the crossed whale bones in front) when he returned from his adventure as part of the Canadian Militia forces sent out from Montréal to Fort Garry to quell the Red River and Riel Rebellions. Thus it was in this house that Dad Morry was born and raised.
It is also recorded here that Dad Morry gave to Nimshi a Sheraton wine cooler originally belonging to the Holdsworths and that Nimshi had it restored and then gave it to his son. I am sure that it was Dad Morry’s intention in giving his historical artifact to Nimshi that it be donated to the Newfoundland Museum, not kept for personal use. Nimshi was honest about recording what he did with the cooler in this official note to file but I wonder if he informed Dad Morry and obtained his permission to retain it personally rather than donate it.
This is a handwritten note dated in]]a year later on the same subject. Here again, Nimshi mistakenly conveys the information that the Holdsworth property was purchased by Matthew Morry. I am sure he took Dad Morry’s word on that and had not seen the actual Bill of Purchase and Sale, which is not only on file at the Provincial Archives, but early copies of which are in possession of a number of family members. Dad Morry almost certainly had one of these copies but must not have read it carefully and absorbed its meaning.
The next document is another typed note to file and simply reiterates in briefer form the gist of the above notes. This note was written on the 29th of August 1968, seven years after the first one, indicating the abiding interest that Nimshi had in this subject.