Heart’s Ease Beach

The abandoned community of Heart’s Ease Beach, located between Gooseberry Cove and West Random Head, was amongst the earliest European migratory fishing stations in Newfoundland and is believed to have been frequented from the early 1500s by French Basques and from the late 1500s by English migratory ships from the south of England. Sir (Captain) Richard Whitbourne of Exmouth, Devon, first visited the site between 1582 and 1614 and recorded an incident in which a band of Beothucks raided an English fishing ship from Topsham in Devon. In 1615 Captain Whitbourne sent his own fishing ship, the 75 tonne Seraphine of Exmouth, Devon, with 48 men under Captain Hilley, to Heart’s Ease Beach. The site was so well known that it appeared on an early 1621 English map of Newfoundland as “Harts Easse”. It occupies a relatively sheltered location and its large shingle beach for drying salt cod near once productive cod fishing grounds made it a most attractive fishing site over the centuries. In 1991 L. Dean found Maritime Archaic Indian stone tools there and these have since been confirmed by archaeologists to date back approximately 4000 years. Before the arrival of the Beothucks in Newfoundland circa 50 A.D., Heart’s Ease Beach would undoubtedly have been frequented by the Dorset Eskimos.

By the late 1500s the English largely displaced the French, Spanish and Portuguese migratory fishing fleets along the east coast from Trepassey to Bonavista. Throughout the 1600s and the first half of the 1700s Heart’s Ease Beach was often frequented during the seasonal summer fishery by at least one or more English migratory fishing ships. These ships were primarily from south England ports at South Devon and Dorset. For example, in 1675 The Edward of London fished there and in 1677 Samuel White of Poole in Dorset fished there in the Willing Mind with 45 men. By this date there were no permanent settlers (planters) residing at Heart’s Ease Beach, although there were small numbers of English planters residing at Trinity, Old and New Perlican, Scilly Cove (Winterton) and at several other Trinity Bay locations. In total there were 25 planters, six wives, 20 children and approximately 125 fishing servants in Trinity Bay by 1675.

By 1696 the small resident population of Trinity Bay, including 24 planters, was concentrated primarily in those communities referenced in the preceding paragraph. In that year there was one unidentified planter or an English based bye- boat owner fishing at Heart’s Ease Beach with 12 men and two shallops (small fishing boats) and they produced 1000 quintals of dried cod. A number of these men likely overwintered at nearby sheltered locations in winter tilts.

In the winter of 1696-97 the French attacked and burnt many early settlements on the old English shore including those at Trinity Bay. Heart’s Ease Beach was known to the French, and during these raids they captured 40 early settlers from various Trinity Bay locations, including Heart’s Ease Beach, who were overwintering (tilting) at various locations throughout “Baie de la Sounde” (Random Sound). By 1700 many of these communities had been repopulated and in 1702 a planter by the name of Henry Jefferies fished at Heart’s Ease Beach with 10 servants, six of whom overwintered. In 1705 the French again attacked and burnt several buildings at Heart’s Ease Beach, probably those of Henry Jeffries. He later moved to Trinity and was still residing there in the 1720s.

Records of the population and fishing vessel activity at Trinity Bay over the 1702-1750 period are incomplete. However, over the 1723-1738 period Captain Joseph White’s vessel the Joseph and Elizabeth of Poole fished at Heart’s Ease Beach under masters Joseph White and David Jones. During this period as well a Captain Richard Wright, likely of Poole, England came into possession of the main fishing room on the south side of Heart’s Ease Beach and later sold it to a Johnathan Thaine who was residing at Trinity in 1708. This main fishing room remained in the possession of the Thaine family of Christchurch, Hampshire, England until 1765 when it was purchased by Benjamin Lester of Trinity and Poole for five pounds. Documents note it was occupied by John Baker when it was sold.

Around 1750 this John Baker and wife Grace, likely of Trinity, moved to Heart’s Ease Beach and became the first permanent settlers in the community. By this date it had functioned largely as a summer fishing station and occupied seasonally by early residents of older settled Trinity Bay communities such as Trinity itself. The 1753 census shows John and Grace Baker and his family of two boys and two girls (including John (Jr.), Elizabeth and Joseph?) residing there with three fishing servants. This also marks the beginning of permanent settlement in the Western Random region. In the same year three other planters from Trinity (Thomas Lawrence, Thomas Degrish and Michael Dunphy) fished there with 16 Irish and nine English servants of which 10 Irish and six English overwintered in 1752. These four planters occupied four fishing stages.

John Baker (Sr.) likely died around 1775 after which the large extended Baker family of his son, John (Jr.) and his first wife Elizabeth Rogers and his second wife Mary Piercey contributed to the further growth of the community. John (Jr.) died in 1808 and was interred at Trinity. Between 1754 and 1790 the only other known family residing at Heart’s Ease Beach was that of James Pinson (Pinsent) who died there in 1788. However, a number of new family surnames and residents arrived there from about 1805 onwards. In 1807 James Baker Langer was born out of wedlock to Thomas Langer of Heart’s Content and Mary Baker, a daughter of John Baker (Jr.). This James Baker Langer remained at Hearts Ease Beach before marrying and moving to Gooseberry Cove circa 1835.

In 1812 Mary Baker had a son, Robert Baker Dodge, out of wedlock to a John Dodge of Trinity. This Robert Baker Dodge remained at Heart’s Ease Beach and, after marrying, established the Dodge family line in the community. In 1814 Mary Baker married a William Hull of Heart’s Content who moved to Heart’s Ease Beach. In 1812 her widow mother, Mary, married Charles Pitcher and established a Pitcher line at Heart’s Ease Beach. Several sons of John (Jr.) and Mary Baker, including Robert, Thomas, James, and Henry also established family lines in the community. At least two sons, William and Joseph, settled elsewhere, with William moving to Heart’s Content and, at least, one of William’s sons, Robert, moved back to Heart’s Ease Beach.

Other families taking up residence at Heart’s Ease Beach (including nearby Long Island) after 1810 included James and Joseph Hiscock of the Trinity area circa 1812; Thomas and Catherine Delaney of Trinity circa 1819; Thomas Hiscock from the Trinity area circa 1825; John Hodgions from Trinity circa 1829; James Vick from Trinity circa 1830; Patrick Herring from Trinity circa 1830; Thomas George from Heart’s Content circa 1830; Stephen and Sarah Warren from New Perlican circa 1830; and John Farrell from the Placentia district circa 1835. A number of these families and several others only resided in the community for several years or more and prosecuted the inshore fishery.

By 1836 the population of Heart’s Ease Beach totaled 35 individuals in eight houses. Its population increased to 53 individuals in 1857 when its householder families were those of James Baker, Robert Baker (Sr. and Jr.), John Baker, Robert Dodge (Sr.), and possibly Charles Pitcher (Sr.). After this date its population peaked at 68 in 1874 and declined thereafter to 39 residents in 1884 and to only seven in 1901. In 1873 the recorded householders were Robert Baker, Henry Baker, George Baker, William Baker, John Dodge, Joseph Dodge, Eli Dodge, and Robert Dodge (Sr.). One of the last resident Baker family members (Joseph of John 1828-circa 1870) passed away there in 1892 at the age of 38 years.

Baker family members who left the community over the years included William of John (Jr.) who moved to Heart’s Content circa 1815; Thomas of John (Jr.) who moved to Southport circa 1832 from where Baker family members moved to Hodge’s Cove, Clarenville and Weybridge; James of William of John (Jr.) who moved to Rider’s Harbour circa 1860 and then to Snook’s Harbour circa 1875; Jacob, his son, James, and  brother William of James Baker of John (Jr.) who moved to Black Brook, Random and Northern Bight respectively circa 1880; James Baker of John  of James of John (Jr.) who moved to North Harbour, Placentia Bay circa 1895; and Elias of Robert of William of John (Jr.) who moved to Elias’s near Butter Cove circa 1870 and then with his sons to Hatchet Cove Point circa 1920. Elias’s son, Moses, moved to Dark Hole (Hillview) circa 1918 and then to Deer Lake; Henry of James of John (Jr.) moved to St. John’s circa 1880 where he died in 1907. William George Baker, one of the last residents born at Heart’s Ease Beach, was born there in 1875 of George and moved to Caplin Cove.[ Note: John (Jr.) refers to John of John (Sr.).]

Similarly, a number of Dodge families moved from Heart’s Ease Beach to other communities in the post 1860 period. Robert Baker Dodge (Sr.) of John Dodge died at Heart’s Ease Beach circa 1872. Three of Robert’s sons, Eli, John and Joseph stayed at Heart’s Ease Beach and died there over the 1880-1923 period. Another son, Matthias, moved to Little Harbour, Random circa 1875 and his other son Robert (Jr.) moved in his late years circa 1890 to Hillview where two of his sons had married circa 1890. This out-migration was largely driven by family linkages and economic considerations.

In 1859 the first schoolhouse at Random serving Southport, Gooseberry Cove, George’s Cove, Butter Cove and Heart’s Ease Beach was constructed overlooking picturesque Heart’s Ease Beach. It also served as an Anglican church until circa 1880. George Vardy of Grates Cove and Clay Pitts was its first teacher and Anglican layreader. There was also a tippling or drinking house at the community during its early settlement period. An old graveyard, known by locals as the old French graveyard, was located on the south side of the beach, but over the years it was eroded completely by wave action. The first Anglican cemetery, likely dating from circa 1820, is located above the north end of the beach on the south side of Jack Baker’s Hill, and at least two known headstones lie buried in the underbrush. This hill, which overlooks Heart’s Ease Beach, has appropriately long retained the name of the first permanent settler of both Heart’s Ease Beach and the Western Random region.

The community’s two last residents [Joseph and Mary (nee Short) Dodge] passed away in 1923 and 1924 at the respective ages of 83 and 87 years. All of the present day Baker, Dodge, and Langer families of Random together with a large number of other individuals within and beyond the Random region can trace their ancestry to Heart’s Ease Beach. Somewhat ironically, this once historic community was one of the first communities at the Random region to be abandoned in the wake of social and economic factors which arose concurrent with the evolution of the Random region’s economy and society, especially over the 1850 -1920 period.  Out-migration and an aging population were major factors in the community’s decline, not unlike what is currently happening in many rural communities throughout our province.

Notes:

1. The writer is a direct descendent of John and Grace Baker of Heart’s Ease Beach.

2.  The community of Little Heart’s Ease has often been confused with Heart’s Ease Beach and its old name “Hartes Easse” in several more recent local publications.  These state that Little Heart’s Ease was an early English migratory fishing vessel anchorage, but this is in error.

3. Heart’s Ease Beach was always a predominantly Anglican community. Over the 1750-1820 period it was served by the Trinity Anglican parish; from circa 1820 to 1865 by the Heart’s Content Parish; and from 1865 to circa 1880 by the New Harbour Parish. The new Anglican Parish of Random was established circa 1880 incorporating Smith’s Sound and Random Sound headquartered at the “Crossroads” at Gooseberry Cove where a new church, manse and school were also constructed about this date which served residents of the Anglican faith at Southport, Gooseberry Cove, Heart’s Ease Beach, George’s Cove, Butter Cove, Clay Pitts and Little Harbour. The school chapel at Heart’s Ease Beach was then closed.

4.  This article is subject to further correction and revision.