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The Fitzpatricks of Bell Island

Updated May 4, 2008

Francis Xavier Fitzpatrick

309 Carruthers

Pangman, SK S0C 2C0


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Based on conversations with my Uncle Tom (Thomas) Fitzpatrick and recollections of my aunt Mag (Margaret) Hibbs, family tradition indicates that the first of the Fitzpatricks to settle on Bell Island was a Michael (Mick) Fitzpatrick. Mick was born in Waterford, Ireland about 1750 and had raised a family there by the early 1790s. Apparently, by now, his wife was deceased and his several daughters were either married or grown. During this period the native Irish Catholics were in almost constant conflict with the English ruling authorities. These “troubles” culminated in the Wexford Rebellion of 1798. This rebellion was put down very harshly by the British and those suspected of involvement or sympathy for those involved – particularly young Irish men – were in an uncertain and dangerous situation. Whether for purely economic reasons or for the sake of his young sons, Mick decided to emigrate to America with them. Having reached Nova Scotia – their first stop – one son (James?) chose to settle there. Mick and the others sailed on to St. John’s. There was a sizable community of Irish here who would provide the newcomers with advice and temporary shelter. Settlement in Newfoundland for Irish Catholics was still illegal despite the fact that many had already settled around the bays. At any rate, Mick and his sons found it prudent to move on to Bell Island which is mostly surrounded by sheer cliffs and had no real habitable beach area except at Lance Cove. On reaching here they found that all the good building locations had all been taken so they moved on near the center of the island. Here – present day Lance Cove Road – they claimed and cleared land for farming and built the first of several tilts. A “tilt” was a rough shelter constructed from unpeeled logs arranged vertically, boughs, moss and sail cloth to keep out the rain. After several years they were well settled in to this location. A second son (Patrick?) now decided to acquire land across Conception Bay in the Bay Roberts area where prospects were supposedly better. Family tradition also has it that in the first decade of the 1800s another son (Michael?) was “impressed” into the British navy. During most of this time the British were at war with Napoleon and they were having great difficulty keeping their fighting ships supplied with sailors. The navy created “Press Gangs” which “recruited” young men against their will. One day when Michael and several fellow fishermen were fishing off Lance Cove they were approached by a long boat from a British Man O’ War anchored nearby and taken on to the warship . He was never heard from again. There is no additional information about Mick but we know his youngest son John married Bridget Kelly in 1822. Bridget lived on Bell Island with her parents Owen Kelly and Esther (Casey). Owen, like Mick, was from Waterford while Esther came from around the head of Conception Bay. John’s family (see report) included three sons. The oldest was Michael (born 1830) who seems to have married a girl from Portugal Cove – Frances Churchill – and probably moved on to St. John’s. The land eventually passed on to the two younger sons Matthew and Owen and remains, to this day, with their descendents.

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