Sir David Kirke (c. 1597 – 1654) was an adventurer, colonizer and governor for the king of England. He is best known for his successful capture of New France during the Thirty Years' War, and his subsequent Governorship of lands in Newfoundland. A favourite of Charles I of England, the fall of the crown during the English Civil War led to his own downfall, and it is believed he died in prison.
Kirke was the son of Gervase (Jarvis) Kirke, a wealthy London-based merchant, who had married a Huguenot woman, Elizabeth Goudon, and was raised in Dieppe, in Normandy. He was the eldest of five sons, followed by Lewis, Thomas, John and James.
In 1627 Kirke's father and several London merchants formed the Company of Adventurers to Canada to encourage trade and settlement on the St. Lawrence River. When the 30 Years War broke out later that year, the company financed an expedition, which was commissioned by Charles I of England to displace the French from “Canida.”
Accompanied by his brothers Lewis, Thomas, John, and James (sometimes Jarvis), David Kirke set off with three ships, probably in company with a fleet bringing settlers to Sir William Alexander’s colonization attempt at Charlesfort in Acadia. Kirke may have stopped at Ferryland, the colony of George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore on the east coast of Newfoundland on the Avalon Peninsula. The force then sailed the Saint Lawrence River to Tadoussac. He seized one supply ship going to Quebec and then sent Basque fishermen to Samuel de Champlain demanding the surrender of the fortress town. Champlain rejected the demand because he was expecting relief from France, and Kirke decided against an attack. Kirke's ships turned back for England, but en-route they encountered the French supply fleet of four vessels under Admiral Claude Roquemont de Brison, capturing them after a short engagement. Having been born in France, this action was considered treason and the Kirke's were burned in effigy when the news reached Paris.
A second invasion fleet, of six ships and three pinnaces, left Gravesend in March 1629 with Jacques Michel, a deserter from Champlain, acting as pilot on the river. Champlain sent a party from Quebec, now on the point of starvation, to meet an expected relief fleet under Émery de Caën, Unknown to Champlain, de Caën which also bringing word that peace had been declared in April by the Treaty of Susa. Although the party did meet de Caën in the Gulf, they were captured by the English on their way back to Quebec. Kirke, now aware of the desperate conditions at Quebec, sent Lewis and Thomas to demand their surrender. Champlain, having no alternative, surrendered on 19 July 1629.
Impressed with the achievement, Company of Adventurers applied for letters patent giving them the sole right to trade and settle in Canada along the St. Lawrence. Sir William Alexander complained that such a patent would infringe upon the land granted to him under the Great Seal of Scotland in February 1627. The two groups compromised by joining forces; Alexander would establish an Anglo-Scottish colony at Tadoussac, holding all the land within 10 leagues on both sides of the river, while the Company would have the right to free trade and use of the harbours.
However, Champlain argued that the seizing of the lands was illegal as the war had already ended, and agitated for the return of the lands to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations of their exit from the Anglo-French War, in 1632 Charles agreed to return the lands in exchange for Louis XIII paying his wife's dowry. These terms were signed into law with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and the lands in Quebec and Acadia returned to the Company of One Hundred Associates.
Governor of Newfoundland
It is believed that Kirke visited Ferryland as he published a report on the island of Newfoundland in 1635. Kirke was impressed by the island's fisheries, and in 1637 he asked the king for a land grant. In November 1637 Kirke and his partners were granted a royal charter for co-proprietorship of the entire island. A portion of Newfoundland, the Avalon Peninsula, had already been granted to George Calvert, but he was accused of abandoning his colony before his death in 1632 and the lands given to Kirke. There were stipulations in the charter designed to reduce conflict with migratory fishermen; there was to be no settlement within six miles of the shore, fishing rooms were not to be occupied before the arrival of the summer fishing crews, and a five per cent tax was to be collected on all fish products taken by foreigners.
Kirke was installed as the Proprietary Governor, and arrived in 1638 with 100 colonists. The original governorship of the Avalon Peninsula had passed to Baltimore's son, Cecilius (Cecil) Calvert, who had installed William Hill as governor. Kirke seized the governor's mansion, then occupied by Hill. In January 1638, the king also granted Kirke a coat of arms, “For the greater honour and splendour of that Countrey and the people therein inhabiting … to be used in all such cases as Armes are won't to be by other nations and Countries.” In 1639, Kirke renamed the colony the Pool Plantation. Over the next several years, Kirke erected forts at Ferryland, St. John’s, and Bay de Verde, and collected tolls from all fishing vessels.
Kirke was granted the rights to "the sole trade of the Newfoundland, the Fishing excepted", and it was this later clause that caused considerable trouble. At the time the Grand Banks of Newfoundland were being fished by many European nations, and Kirke's 5% tax gave the advantage to the English. A number of West Country merchants thrived on the fish trade. Represented in London by Kirke, Barkeley and Company (with several of his brothers at the helm), Kirke used the land rights to support the fish trade, in conflict with the charter terms. By 1638 strong ties between Ferryland and Dartmouth, NS had already been set up, and the entire trade network south of St. John's was brought under a growing Kirke commercial empire.
These moves led to considerable animosity with the West Country merchants. The planters and migratory fishermen agreed that Kirke was reserving the best fishing rooms for himself and his friends. In addition, he was accused of opening taverns, which were disruptive to the settlers' work. But before these charges could be investigated, in 1642 the English Civil War broke out between the king and parliament.
Arrest and death
The war ended in 1651, and the Kirkes, as royalists, were on the losing side. Although the merchant's complaints were put aside during the war, the end of the war brought them forward again, and Kirke was no longer protected by the crown.
In 1651 a team of six commissioners led by Maryland merchant John Treworgie were sent to Ferryland to seize Kirke and bring him to England to stand trial. His lands were acquired by the Commonwealth. Kirke was found not guilty and re-purchased the title to his lands in 1653. His wife, Lady Sara Kirke, returned to Newfoundland to oversee his business and reclaim his property. However, fresh charges were brought against Kirke by Cecil Calvert over the title of the lands around Ferryland. Kirke is thought to have died awaiting trial in the original Southwark jail, The Clink, as early as January 1654.
Treworgie was granted governorship in 1653, already in Ferryland at that time (apparently never having left). The next year he and two other commissioners were arrested by James Kirke for holding position of lands rightfully owned by the Kirke's, and an unpaid debt of £1,100. Treworgie maintained that Kirke's possessions had been returned to his wife, but was nonetheless found guilty in a first trial. A personal plea to Oliver Cromwell resulted in a second trial, and although the outcome is lost, it is assumed he was found not guilty as Treworgie continued to serve as governor until 1660. In 1660, Treworgie returned to England to ask for another term as governor and the six year's salary he claimed he was owed. He never returned to Newfoundland.
The Restoration in 1660 re-opened the debate over the ownership of Avalon between the Kirkes and the Calverts. This time Cecil Calvert was successful in gaining the royal patent on Avalon, but he never took up residence. David Kirke's brother, now Sir Lewis Kirke, demanded compensation for improvements made at Ferryland by the Kirkes. Lady Kirke petitioned Charles II to make Lewis' nephew George the governor of Newfoundland, an arrangement suggested by the Newfoundlanders themselves, but the king did not appoint any resident governor.
Lady Kirke and her children were still in Ferryland in 1673 when a Dutch fleet sacked and burned the settlement. A decade later, in 1683, Sir John Kirke, whose daughter had married Pierre-Esprit Radisson and who was himself a member of Prince Rupert’s Hudson’s Bay Company, asked the king for compensation for the losses incurred in the conquest of Canada in 1629, claiming that the French had never paid for the return of the lands. The last known reference to George Kirke dates from 1680, when he was proposed as a collector of the toll levied on all boats fishing in Newfoundland waters.
Lady Sara Kirke managed the Pool Plantation at Ferryland throughout this period. Between 1651 and her retirement in 1679, Sara and her sons developed a number of plantations at Ferryland and Renews. During raids by Dutch ships from New Amsterdam in 1665 and 1672 they lost property. As late as 1696, three of Sir David Kirke's sons, George, David Jr. and Phillip, remained substantial planters on the Southern Shore.
The Coat of Arms granted to Kirke was lost during the civil war. During the aftermath of World War I the Imperial War Graves Commission in Europe asked what arms should mark the graves of soldiers from Newfoundland. During the subsequent investigations, the Arms were rediscovered, and in 1928 they became the official Coat of Arms of Newfoundland and Labrador.
|Governor of Newfoundland
- Herald's Visitation of the City of London 1 Dec 1631 (British Museum Add. MS 5533)
- Marquis, Thomas Guthrie. “The Jesuit Missions: A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness” (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1964) 18.
- The First English Conquest of Canada by Henry Kirke, Second Edition, Sampson Low, Marston & Co Ltd, London 1908
- "David Kirke and His Brothers (1597–1654)", Place Royal, Musée de la Civilisation
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- "Sir David Kirke and the Newfoundland Plantation", Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
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- "Sir David Kirke, Governor of Newfoundland, 1638-1651", Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
- Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004
- "John Treworgie, Governor of Newfoundland, 1653-1660", Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
- "TREWORGIE (Treworgy, Trewerghey), JOHN, merchant, colonizer, governor of Newfoundland", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Fish into Wine. The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century by Peter E Pope. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2004
- Biography at Government House The Governorship of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online