Diary from Magdalen Islands
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CA MNBM ID2187
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1 July 1777 - 31 December 1777 (Creation)
- Gridley, Richard, Colonel
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The Magdalen Islands or Îles de la Madeleine are located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They were administered from Newfoundland until 1774 when they were transferred to the province of Quebec. The islands were populated predominantly by Acadians fleeing deportation from Nova Scotia by the British in 1755.
In 1760, Col. Richard Gridley (1710-1796), a military engineer from Boston petitioned the British Government for the a grant of the islands to carry on a seal and walrus fishery. Granted only a temporary permit, Richard Gridley and his business partner, a Mr. Thompson, set up headquarters at Amherst, now Havre-Aubert, the southern most island in the Magdalens. He employed a foreman and by 1763 had settled 12 families there, with 5 houses, 6 vessels and all the equipment to make oil from the blubber and produce barrels for transporting it. They raised their own vegetables and other produce.
His ships included two schooners, the "Lovely Sally", the "Redland", the brig "Peggy" and another vessel, "Magdalen". Blubber was rendered to oil at Amherst but most of the operations were carried on at the east end of the islands where the walrus were most plentiful.
In 1763, the British Board of Trade refused to grant Gridley's petition for the Islands. In spite of this refusal, he and his sons continued to fish there. He continued to petition the British government to grant him the islands until 1777 when he joined the American forces in the Revolution. Thereafter his son, Samuel, a merchant in Bristol, England, continued to petition for a grant in his own right but was never successful.
The fishery remained uncontrolled, especially during the American Revolution and, as the price of oil in Europe increased, so did the intensity of the hunt. By the mid 1790s, the walrus had been completely annihilated. In 1787, Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839), a British admiral, warned the Legislative Council of Quebec that the fishery was in danger from overexploitation, especially from American "foreigners". His solution was that they grant the islands to him. Eventually, on 7 May 1798, Isaac Coffin received letters patent as seigneur of the Magdalen Islands.
Isaac and his descendants had many difficulties trying to control the activities of the largely Acadian population. In 1903, Sir Isaac Aristron Coffin sold the Islands for $100,000.00 to the Canadian based Magdalen Islands Company.
Byron Clark, Gleanings On The Magdalen Islands
Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vols. IV and VII
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This fonds contains the original and a photocopy of a diary kept by a foreman of Richard Gridley who was living on Amherst, in the Magdalen Islands. The diary provides a glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of Amherst in 1777, describing daily activities such as farming, and cutting wood. They made barrels for the crews of Richard Gridley's vessels and also for the Acadian settlers. Each entry begins with weather conditions of the day and usually mentions which vessels had been sighted at the time.
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Donated by Romaine B. Lawrence, Middleboro, Mass., 1960
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J.C. Webster collection, S197, F421 contains a copy of Isaac Coffin's letters patent for the Magdalen Islands. Dr. Webster of Shediac, New Brunswick purchased this item from Louis Coffin, of London England in 1945 for the sum of £15 sterling.