Why Ferryland Self-Describes as “The Birthplace of Religious Tolerance”

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Long before Ferryland was making international news for a mammoth iceberg parked in its dreamy shores this year, it was making news in Europe for being the only human settlement on the Southern shore on the “Colony of Avalon.”

Ferryland was founded by Lord Baltimore way back in 1621; the same bloodline* the American city of Baltimore was named after.

Story goes, Lord Baltimore and his wife found the weather on The Avalon so miserable, he packed up his belongings and headed south. The region he fled to became the modern day state of Maryland. His actual name was George Calvert, so yes, the quaint Irish Loop town of Calvert, was also named after this man.

But this area was being fished from long before anyone, including Calvert, dared to colonize it. In the 1500s, Spanish, French, and Portuguese fishermen sailed across the Atlantic to fish off its plentiful waters, and by the 1590s, Ferryland was a super popular fishing harbour.

The Portugese called it Farilham and the French, Forillon. How it became Ferryland, who knows, but the place is riddled with Fairy folklore, so Ferryland’s not a bad fit for a name.

Come 1610, the London and Bristol Company were granted charter to Ferryland. They sold a chunk of it to Sir William Vaughan, a Welsh writer and “colonial investor,” who sent a few poor Welsh folk to try and colonize Renews. It failed badly because they tried overwintering in NL in mere man-made shacks. Perhaps that’s the origin of the colloquial phrase, “By’s, I’m Froze ta det!”

But that botched settlement, and others, didn’t deter George Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore, who obtained the holdings from William Vaughan in 1620. The Charter of the Avalon officially created the Province of Avalon and gave Lord Baltimore complete authority over it.

He chose Ferryland as the homebase for the settlement. It became the first sustained English settlement on the Southern Shore, and Calvert employed a pirate named John Nutt to ward off, or warn his settlers about French Ships possibly looking to overtake their colony.

Calvert didn’t go to Ferryland for years after its colonization. He sent Captain Edward Wynne and a group of Welsh colonists in 1621; they started building a settlement there upon landing in August, and sent back word of solid potential for Lord Baltimore to establish a fishery there, and the production of things like salt, hemp, flax, timber, hops, and iron.

That was all well and good, but one big reason Calvert was so into the British colonisation of the Americas was to create a refuge for persecuted Catholics. He was directly responsible for the fact that Roman Catholicism in Ferryland dates back to 1627; 157 years before the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic church in Newfoundland.

After King James I died, Calvert was himself a victim of a crackdown on Catholicism that required Baltimore to step down from his cherished position in office. This only bolstered Baltimore’s steps to ensure the religious freedom and needs of his colonists, be they catholic or protestant, and he made arrangements for priests to head to the colony in 1625.

Calvert named this chunk of Newfoundland “The Avalon” after the place where Christianity is said to have been introduced to Roman Britain. It was the historian R.J. Lahey who famously called Ferryland “The Birthplace of Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Worship” because Ferryland was, on account of George Calvert, the first place in British North America where an English speaking Roman Catholic priest held mass.

It was July 1627 when Calvert finally made his way to the colony, and he took two secular priests with him, one Protestant and another Catholic. He enforced a policy of free religious worship in Ferryland, despite the persecution Catholics were facing in Europe, and allowed the Catholics to worship in one part of his house and the Protestants in another.

This pissed off the resident Anglican priest so much he and Calvert fought and fought until Calvert put that priest on an England bound Ship.

* This word was changed from the original article from MAN to BLOODLINE, as it was George’s son Cecil who officially founded Maryland.

About Author

Chad Pelley

Chad Pelley is an author, songwriter, and journalist who wrote for publications like the Globe & Mail and The Telegraph-Journal before founding The Overcast. Now he spends 25 hours a day keeping up with his email, and has no time to be his former self.

4 Comments

  1. Points of clarification:
    1. George Calvert’s son founded and colonized Maryland, in particular, Baltimore.
    2. It was George Calvert’s wife who couldn’t tolerate the harsh winter and also wanted to be closer to her son. George didn’t want to be apart from her, so he went to Baltimore with her.

    • Hi Marie, big history buff here! You’re more or less correct on point 1. However not point 2! If anything, that’s a lie to make George feel more “manly” or a family decision. There are many documented letters of George saying Ferryland was not what he was led to believe it was, and pretty miserable, and eventually leaving it to “hardier fisher folk than I?”

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