There is not a great source of information regarding the early history
of Exploits that has been recorded only what has been passed down by word
of mouth generation after generation by the families of the small fishing
It is said that in 1762 a shipmaster by the name of Scott was on Exploits Island and built what looked like some kind of a fort. A short time after a party of Beothuck Indians came saw the building and stopped and would not go any nearer. Scott then proceeded to go and greet them unarmed. Scott went up to them and shook hands. Suddenly, an old Indian, in pretended friendship, put his arm around Scott's neck, at the same instant another Indian stabbed Scott in the back.
It is difficult to say when the first settlers arrived in Exploits but
fishermen did extend their fishing north into Notre Dame Bay before 1713.
It was settled in the very early years
by the English who came to Newfoundland because of the abundance of fish.
They came primarily from the Devonshire part of England. Also there
were Fishermen who came from other parts of Newfoundland in the summer
time to fish. At
first Exploits was used only during the summer season.
In 1820 Thomas Smith surveyed a plan of Exploits Burnt Island Tickle on which a church was marked in the Lower Harbour. That building was still there when I left Exploits in the early fifties, at which time it was used as a barn. For about five years Exploits was the home of the well known Beothuck Indian "Shanawdithit", locally known as "Nancy". She was captured by John Peyton and lived with him and his family in Exploits as a housekeeper. Later she was taken to live with William Cormack in St.John's where she died in 1829.
In 1838 Exploits had a population of 256 of which 236 were Church of England, 10 Wesleyans (Methodists) and 8 Roman Catholics. The Wesleyans congregation began with three families. Those three families helped build the Church of England church in the community; When a Wesleyan minister came for a service in 1841, the Anglicans would not let them have a service in the church. As a result they broke away and a short time later had built their own church. At that time there were two merchants John Peyton who moved from Exploits to Twillingate in 1836 but still had his business there and George Luff. A school that was built in 1842 by 1845 had an enrollment of only thirty-seven students as many Children did not go to school in early days although Exploits had a population of 326 people at that time.
When the first school was built is not known, but a school Master and Church layman by the name of William Mosdell was stationed there in 1823. He was the one that married Eleanor Mahaney and John Peyton, Jr. in February of that year, because no Church of England minister was stationed there that winter.
Exploits was indeed breathtaking to see in its beauty with wooded hills interspersed with barren rocks, and with fishermen's wharves, fish-drying flakes and dwellings of various styles and colours lining the rugged shoreline from one end of the harbour to the other A Harbour that once sheltered anywhere from twenty to forty sailing schooners on their way to and from the fishing grounds on the Labrador coast.
Almost every house had a fenced garden around it where would be grown an assortment of vegetables and those vegetables were stored in a root cellar for the following winter. Life was always a struggle against the elements of time. The men usually planted and trenched the potatoes if possible before sailing to the Labrador and then dug them after their return in the fall, the women usually did the curing of the fish. Unlike some communities, in Exploits there was very little class distinction among the residents. The merchants, fishermen and clergy were all on the same level therefore no elite.
The oldest tombstone that I knew was in the Lower Harbour Cemetery with a date of 1812. When John Peyton Sr. who was born in 1747 in Christchurch, England died in Aug of 1827 at Upper Sandy Point, his body was carried by boat to Exploits and was buried in the Cemetery in the Lower Harbour. When his son, John Jr. died at Back Harbour, Twillingate on Jul.25,1879 he was brought to Exploits and buried in the same grave with his father, A flat granite slab was placed on top of the grave. Which can be seen to this day.
By the middle 1800's the Manuel brothers were getting established in Exploits and for many decades they were the leading merchants of the community. Joseph Manuel married Elizabeth Milley of Exploits and they had 7 sons and 5 daughters. Each of the seven brothers owned their own schooner. Josiah Manuel built the "Fog-Free-Zone", he also built the schooners Merrywidow.. Molly.. Janette.. C.L.B... Kerage... Nine L ... and many more.
George Sceviour was also a schooner builder. He would go in the bay in
the winter months and find a good sheltered cove, build cabins for his
workmen and himself. Sometimes their families would also go. There he would
cut and saw timber and planking and build schooner hulls from the models
which he had prepared before leaving home. In the early spring there could
be seen a flotilla of new schooners
hulls loaded with extra spars and additional timber on their way to Exploits.
There the spars would be sat, the cabins completed, and the sails fitted
to be ready to sail for the Labrador in June. A Church service was held
and the Clergy would always bless the fleet before sailing .
The period between 1860 and 1910 appears to have been the most prosperous time on the Islands of Exploits. Things were booming in both the inshore and the Labrador fishery. Although Exploits participated mainly in the Labrador Fishery., inshore fishery was also important and the highest value for fish was in that time period.
During times of world crisis Exploits did its share reacting to such crisis. My records show that 17 men enlisted in World War I and 25 men & women enlisted in World War II. A list of World War I includes the following: Mathias Ball, Jack Budgell, Dorman Butt(Killed), Harry Hutching (Killed), Harry Lacey(Killed), Herbert Lacey, John Lanning, Paul Lilly, Harry Luff(Killed), Samuel Manuel(Killed), Albert Milley, Gordon Rowsell(Killed), Cyril Sceviour, Daniel Sceviour, Bramsone Stride, Cecil Stride, and Albert Wells.
A list of
World War II includes the following: Wilbert Budgell, Thomas
Budgell, Garfield Dart, Lloyd Jefferies, Bramwell Jefferies,
Marie Jefferies, Elihus Jones, Gordon
Lacey, John Lanning, Abraham Lilly, Harry Lilly,
Harvey Lilly, Telsie Lilly, Frank Lilley, Herbert Manuel,
Selby Manuel, Allister Milley, Clyde Purchase, Harold
Sceviour, Terry Snelgrove, Arch Wells, Cyril Wells,
George Wells, Ralph Wells, and Tony Winsor.