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Authority record

Saunders-Sweetman (family)

  • Family
  • 1744-

Saunders & Sweetman, an Irish-based mercantile company, was involved primarily in the Newfoundland fish trade, with headquarters in Poole, Waterford, and Placentia, Newfoundland. Like many businesses of its time, the corporate ties in the Saunders & Sweetman firm were reflected in marriages between heirs.

Saunders & Sweetman originated in a business established at Placentia, Newfoundland circa 1753 by Richard Welsh, New Ross, Ireland. William Saunders (17? -1788), a resident of Bideford, Devon, became involved with the Newfoundland trade as a clerk in the employ of Welsh. By 1744 Saunders was living in Newfoundland, where he leased pasture at Point Verde. Saunders eventually became managing agent for Welsh's firm at Placentia. Saunders also married one of Welsh's daughters.

Following the death of Welsh and his son, Saunders, as son-in-law, received a partial inheritance. By 1772, he had established his own firm, William Saunders and Co., with premises at Poole and Placentia. By 1786, William Saunders and Co. had become one of the most prosperous businesses in the Newfoundland trade and the leading mercantile house in Poole, with several ocean-going vessels, a presence in a dozen southern European fish markets, and Newfoundland premises at Great and Little Placentia, Point Verde, Paradise, and Marticott Island. Saunders also had a farm at Brule. The firm traded for provisions with Qu‚bec merchants and with New England merchants via Marmaduke Hart, St. John's.

After William Saunders' death (1788), his younger brother Thomas entered into partnership with Pierce Sweetman (fl. 1770-1841), formerly employed by William Saunders as agent at Placentia. Pierce Sweetman, a Catholic, was the son of Roger Sweetman, who had married one of Richard Welsh's three daughters. The firm became known as Saunders and Sweetman. The business expanded its connections to the markets of southern Europe, especially Bilboa and Oporto, facilitated by the close cultural and religious links between Catholic Iberia and Ireland. The company hired hundreds of men yearly from southeastern Irish ports to work in the Newfoundland fishery. Many families living in the Placentia area today attribute their presence to the firm's recruitment activities.

When Thomas Saunders died (1808), the business dissolved and the firm's holdings were advertised for sale. The Sweetmans acquired the property and continued operations on their own. By now, Pierce's brother Michael was in charge at Placentia. Pierce Sweetman settled in Waterford, but continued to direct company affairs from there. In 1813, Pierce sent his son Roger to Placentia to revitalize operations.

In the 1820s, Pierce Sweetman began outfitting vessels for the annual seal hunt, an enterprise hitherto prosecuted mostly by St. John's concerns and firms on the northeast coast in closer proximity to the seal herds. In 1841, Pierce Sweetman died and the business passed to son Roger.

Roger Sweetman continued the trade, despite increasing competition from local firms. The firm remained a major mercantile presence on the south coast and parts of the southern Avalon peninsula, although the migratory fishery was replaced by the resident fishery and few servants from Ireland were required at Placentia. The firm finally terminated operations in 1862, with the death of Roger F. Sweetman.

The Saunders and Sweetman family were an extremely successful family business, outlasting most of their English and Irish contemporaries in the trade. Their activities also illustrated a religious cooperation unusual among interest groups involved in the Newfoundland trade, as the Sweetmans were prominent Catholics and the Saunders, respected Anglicans.

Rennie family

  • Family
  • 1812-

William Frederick Rennie (1812-1902), miller and civil servant, was born in Scotland in 1812, son of David Stuart Rennie, merchant and senior partner with Rennie, Stuart & Co. (located at St. John's). Rennie was the stepbrother of William Epps Cormack (1796-1868), who made the first journey across Newfoundland. He married Caroline Broom Williams (d. Circa 1840) in 1835; they had three children: David, Mary, Caroline; he married Catherine Thorburn McNab in 1842; they had eleven children: Helen (1843-1922), Frederick W. (1845-1932), James Gower (b. 1847), Emma Hoyles (b.1850), Jean Catherine (b. 1852), Archibald McNab (d. 1920), Robert John (b. 1856), Jessie McNab (b. 1858), John Bowring (b. 1861), Hugh William Hoyles (1863-1932), Andrew Bogle (b. 1865). Rennie died at St. John's 5 February 1902.

Rennie was educated at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. In 1832, Rennie, along with his brother James, relocated to Newfoundland and established a flour mill on Rennie's River, St. John's. In 1848, the mill was leased to a local Scottish farmer, and Rennie entered the civil service.

Peyton (family)

  • Family
  • 1749-

The Peyton family played a prominent role in the early European settlement of Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland, and particularly within the bay and river of Exploits. Three generations of the Peyton family are represented in the fonds: John Sr. (1749-1829), John Jr. (1793-1879), and Thomas (1828-1912).

John Peyton Sr., fisherman, trapper and trader, was born in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1749. He married Anne Galton of Wimborne Minster, Dorset and they had two children, John and Susan. He died in Newfoundland in 1829 and was buried on Exploits Burnt Island.

Peyton arrived in Newfoundland in 1770 with Captain George Cartwright. He established himself as a furrier and salmonier in the Exploits bay and River region, but these activities brought him into conflict with the aboriginal Beothuk. Peyton is alleged to have behaved brutally toward the then dwindling tribe, taking violent reprisals against them for pilfering his salmon stations and fishing premises. In 1812 he brought his nineteen year old son John to Newfoundland and took him into his partnership.

John Peyton Jr., civic official, trader and magistrate, was born in Christchurch, Hampshire, in 1793, the son of John and Anne (Galton) Peyton. He married Eleanor Mahoney of Exploits Burnt Island (formerly of Carbonear) on 21 February 1823 and they had six children: Ann, John Henry, Thomas, Elias, James, and a child who died in infancy. John Jr. died on 25 July 1879 and was interred in the family plot on Exploits Burnt Island.

John Jr. was raised and educated in Wimborne Minster, Dorset. He was employed for three years as a clerk at Somerset House, London. In 1812 his father brought him to Newfoundland where he became established in managing the salmon and furring business along the Exploits River, and in cod fishing and shipbuilding in the Bay of Exploits.

In 1818 John Jr.was appointed the first justice of the peace for northern Newfoundland and the coast of Labrador. In 1832 he was commissioned to conduct the first recorded census of the Twillingate and Fogo district. He conducted another census in 1836. That year he was also made a stipendiary magistrate for the region. At this stage he moved with his family to reside in Twillingate, while maintaining his salmon fishing rights on the Exploits River.

In marked contrast to his father, John Peyton Jr. is noted for his efforts to establish friendly relations with the Beothuks. He is especially remembered for sheltering and protecting Shawnadithit, the last known survivor of the Beothuk, at his home in Exploits Burnt Island. He is also renowned for his long service as a justice, magistrate and prominent public servant in Notre Dame Bay.

Thomas Peyton, fisherman, civil servant, magistrate and member of the House of Assembly, was born at Exploits Burnt Island, Notre Dame Bay in 1828, the second son of John Jr. and Eleanor (Mahoney) Peyton. He married Ann Pearce of Twillingate. He died in 1912 at Twillingate.

As a young man Thomas managed the family salmon fishery on the Exploits River. He was later employed as deputy land surveyor in the geological survey of Newfoundland by Alexander Murray and was subsequently appointed as a fishery warden on rivers in Notre Dame Bay. He served as a justice of the peace and as a magistrate. Thomas Peyton became the Liberal member in the House of Assembly (MHA) for Twillingate 1889-93.

Like his father, Thomas Peyton was a distinguished public servant in the Twillingate district. He was credited with the discovery in 1875 of copper deposits in Green Bay which became the Hall's Bay Mines at Springdale. Peyton has also been recognized for his efforts to conserve salmon stocks.

Oke (family)

  • Family
  • 1833-1968

The Oke family documented in the fonds are the descendents of lighthouse builder and inspector Robert Oke, an English immigrant who had initially been employed at Burin by the Slade mercantile firm. The Oke family established several family businesses in Harbour Grace and in St. John's.

William Robert Oke (1833-1894), son of Robert Oake, established Oke's Carriage Factory and Undertaking Rooms in Harbour Grace in 1856; the business was relocated to Duckworth Street, St. John's. Four of Oke's sons were involved in the business: Robert Kammay, John Carnell, William Carnell, and Edward Landgon; the name of the firm was changed to William R. Oke & Sons, Builders (1885) to reflect their involvement. William R. Oke & Sons constructed carraiges, wheelbarrows, cartwheels and caskets.

Following the St. John's Great Fire (1892), the factory, which was uninsured, was completely destroyed. A son, John Carnell Oke, reestablished the business on Prescott Street as John C. Oke & Sons, later renamed Oke's Carriage Factory (ca. 1900). Gordon Jeans Oke, son of J.C. Oke, entered the business as a partner in 1906 and assumed full control of the firm in 1931.

After World War II, the Oke family phased out carriage production, although the coffin factory remained in operation until 1968. In 1968, following 62 years in the trade, Gordon Oke retired and the business closed.

O'Mara family

  • Family
  • 1835-1925

John O'Mara (1806-1867), merchant, office holder, was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1806 and settled in Newfoundland. On 3 November 1831, he married Mary Allen (1813-1854), daughter of Mary (Shannon) and Michael Allen, who owned the St. John's farm known as Allen Dale. The O'Maras had twelve children. He died on 28 July 1867, and was buried in Belvedere cemetery.

O'Mara's business interests were diverse, and included general merchandise, shipping and the seal fishery. O'Mara was active in the Liberal party, and held several offices, including commissioner of roads for St. John's (1847), health warden (1847), and Roman Catholic Central Board of Education trustee(1853). O'Mara was also active in the Benevolent Irish Society (BIS).

David William O'Mara (1846-1884), magistrate, was born in St. John's in July 1846, son of Mary (Allen) and John O'Mara. He married Mary Elizabeth Geddes in 1875; they had seven children. He died at Ferryland on 31 August 1884.

After completing his education in St. John's, O'Mara studied law in Dublin, Ireland. He was appointed justice of the peace for Ferryland District in 1873, and served as justice and stipendiary magistrate for Ferryland, where he resided until his death. O'Mara also served as the returning officer for the 1878 general election.

John Thomas O'Mara (1851-1893), pharmacist, was born in St. John's, son of Mary (Allen) and John O'Mara. He married Mary Josephine Murphy (1808-1879); they had eleven children. John O'Mara died on 26 May 1893.

O'Mara apprenticed under the Scottish pharmacist, Thomas McMurdo. In 1874, he established his own pharmacy on east Water Street, St. John's, reportedly the first pharmacy opened by a native Newfoundlander. The pharmacy was lost in the Great Fire of 1892. O'Mara immediately reopened his business in his wholesale warehouse on King's Road; he later relocated to Rawlin's Cross. O'Mara was active in the BIS and was the first native Newfoundlander to be elected president of the Society.

Peter Alban O'Mara (1881-1964), pharmacist, was born in St. John's, son of Mary Elizabeth (Geddes) and David William O'Mara. He married Margaret Feehan Cooney; they had ten children. He died on 30 December 1964.

In 1906, O'Mara acquired the West End Drugstore, located on Water Street West, St. John's, and expanded the premises in 1908. The building is now a pharmacy museum, Apothecary Hall, which also houses the Newfoundland Pharmaceutical Association Archives. O'Mara was a member of the Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, City Club and BIS.

O'Brien Family

  • Family

Thomas O'Brien was the first O'Brien to arrive at L'anse au Loup, Labrador from Bonavista, Bonavista Bay in the late 1850's. He married Margaret Hogan from St. John's and had four children. Following Margaret's death, Thomas married Elizabeth Ann Barney of L'anse au Loup and they had five children. The O'Brien family has since continued for many generations.

Manuel (family: Exploits, N.L.)

  • Family
  • [176-]-

The community of Exploits was initially settled by Europeans in the mid- to the late-eighteenth century. The settlers were attracted by a thriving fishery which they supplemented by sealing. The first census (1836) reported a resident population of 220.

In 1857 there were two merchant families operating out of Exploits: the Manuels and the Winsors. By the end of the 1880s, the Manuel family became involved with the export of Exploits fish to Portugal and Spain.

In the mid to late twentieth century, the community of Exploits has been virtually abandoned. Just two residents remain. The Manuel family has remained prominent in other areas of Newfoundland.

Lyall Family

  • Family

Ernest Wilson Lyall, who is the author of; 'An Artic Man' was born in 1910 at Island Harbour on the Labrador Coast. One Year later his family moved to Port Burell, NMT. He joined the Hudsons Bay Company in 1927 and over the next nine years was posted in Cape Smith, Port Burwell Pond Inlet, and Artic Bay where he met his wife Nipisha. They lived in Fort Ross between 1937 and 1949 when they moved to Spence Bay. The Lyalls have lived there since raising eleven children. Ernie and Nipisha Lyall were presented with the Commissioners Award on August 8, 1979, to honor the roles that they had played as energetic, progressive leaders in their community.


  • Family
  • [18-]

The Lester-Garland family, an English-based merchant family, was involved in the Newfoundland fish trade in the second half of the eighteenth century, with primary headquarters in Poole (England) and Trinity (Newfoundland). Like many businesses of the time, the Lester-Garland familial ties were reflected in the Lester-Garland enterprises. The principals in the Lester-Garland family were Benjamin Lester (1724-1802), brother Isaac Garland (1718-1778), son John Lester (d. 1805), son-in-law George Garland (1753-1825), grandsons Benjamin Garland (later Benjamin Lester, died), George Garland Jr. (d.) and John Bingley Garland (1791-1875).

Benjamin Lester (1724-1802) was born in Poole, Dorset, the son of Rachael (Taverner) and Francis Lester. His mother, Rachel, was the daughter of William Tavernor, Bay de Verde (Newfoundland) and his father, a former mayor of Poole, was involved in the Newfoundland trade. Lester married his cousin Susannah, daughter of Jacob Taverner (Trinity). He had six children, including one son, John, who survived him.

Following the death of his father (1737), Benjamin Lester relocated to Newfoundland where he was employed by his uncle, John Masters, a Poole-Newfoundland merchant, and Irish partner Michael Ballard. Lester became an agent for Masters at Trinity. By 1748, he was himself a leading planter and merchant, having received the substantial Trinity fishing premises, "Taverners" from his father-in-law. By the early 1760s, Lester and his brother Isaac were in partnership: Benjamin purchased Newfoundland codfish from planters and fishermen whom he also supplied with fishing gear and provisions; Isaac managed the Poole end of the enterprise by securing vessels, shipping supplies and fishing servants to Newfoundland and marketing incoming cargoes of Newfoundland fish, oil and pelts.

Benjamin Lester returned to Poole in 1767, but he continued to visit Trinity regularly to direct the company's Newfoundland operations. By the early 1770s, the Lesters owned an ocean-going fleet of 12 vessels and established mercantile premises at Trinity, Bonavista, Greenspond, and Tilting. They constructed vessels at Trinity and New Harbour, Trinity Bay, and became involved in the offshore fishery on the Grand Banks as well as the salmon fishery and the cod fishery along the French Shore and the Labrador coast. They also employed large numbers of men in cutting wood, trapping furs, and sealing.

After the death of Isaac Lester in 1778, Benjamin Lester continued the Poole-Newfoundland operations. By 1793, he owned 20 ships, the largest fleet operated by an English-Newfoundland merchant in the eighteenth century. He also accumulated substantial property in Poole, including Mansion House, Stone Cottage and two country estates.

One of the major concerns of Benjamin Lester was the continuation of his company as a family business under the Garland name. Son John had little interest in the Newfoundland trade and no male heirs. Daughter Amy married George Garland (1753-1825), who was employed as Lester's counting-house manager in Poole. As Lester became increasingly involved in British politics in the 1780s and 1790s, Garland assumed more direct responsibility for the trade. By his will, Benjamin Lester left the Newfoundland trade in half shares to his only son John Lester and to George Garland, to be operated as Benjamin Lester and Company. He also arranged that much of his Poole property should go to his eldest grandson, Benjamin Lester Garland (1779-1839), on condition that he would take the Lester surname. Benjamin Lester Garland changed his surname to Lester and received his inheritance, but took no interest in the Newfoundland trade. The firm Benjamin Lester & Company continued until the death of John Lester in 1805 when George Garland assumed control. In 1819, Benjamin Lester was replaced in the firm by his brothers, George Jr. and John Bingley Garland (1791-1875), first Speaker for the Newfoundland House of Assembly.

Sons George Garland Jr. and John Bingley Garland were sent to Trinity to manage the company's Newfoundland assets. In 1821 John returned to Poole where he managed the Poole headquarters until his return to Newfoundland in 1832. Following the retirement of his father (1822) and the departure of George Jr. from the family business (1830) and his death without heir, John Bingley Garland became sole proprietor. He established a partnership with St. John's merchants George R. Robinson and Thomas Brooking. He returned again to Poole following a brief political career, and dissolved his partnership with Robinson and Brooking. The Garland premises at Trinity operated under a variety of names until 1906 when it was purchased by Ryan Brothers (Bonavista).

Leavitt (Family, Saint John, N.B.)

  • Family
  • 1746-

The Leavitt family were merchants, shipowners and shipmasters, resident in Saint John, New Brunswick. Jonathan Leavitt (1746-1811) came to Saint John from New Hampshire in 1762 and was one of the first English-speaking inhabitants. He served as captain and pilot on vessels belonging to the firm of Simonds, Hazen and White prior to the American Revolution. Jonathan married Heprabeth Peabody and they had eight sons and two daughters. Jonathan's brothers Daniel and Francis joined him in Saint John where they were involved in the coastal trading as partners of Francis Peabody until 1810. Jonathan prospered as a shipowner and mariner and upon his death left a considerable estate.

Jonathan Leavitt's son, Thomas (ca. 1795-1850) continued the family business. He inherited a half-interest in the family home, ownership of four choice lots in Saint John, as well as a seventh part of a large landholding on the Miramichi River. In 1817, Thomas was admitted as a merchant freeman in the city of Saint John and from that time played an active role in the business life of New Brunswick. In 1822, he married Mary Ann Ketchum and they had four sons and three daughters.

In the 1830s and 1840s, Thomas acted as agent for the Liverpool Association of Underwriters along with a number of New York marine insurance companies. In 1835, he was appointed the US consul for Saint John. He was a founder of the City Bank (1837) and later, president of the Bank of New Brunswick. Thomas Leavitt died 24 October 1850.

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