John Guy (governor)

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John Guy (died c. March 1629) was an English merchant adventurer, colonist and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1621 to 1624. He was the first Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland and led the first attempt to establish a colony on the island.

Early life[edit]

Guy was the son of a tradesman of Bristol.[citation needed] He became a merchant and was admitted to the corporation of the city in 1603. He was sheriff of Bristol for the year 1605–06.[1]


In 1608 Guy and other members of the Society of Merchant Venturers decided to act upon a letter received by the mayor from Chief Justice Popham concerning the colonisation of Newfoundland. Since John Cabot had discovered the island and Sir Humfrey Gilbert had formally taken possession of it for Queen Elizabeth, the merchants of the city had a special interest in Newfoundland, but there had been little attempt to exploit and colonise the island. The merchants decided not to embark on the scheme without the co-operation of King James I, which was forthcoming.[1] Guy visited the island in 1608 to scout possible locations for a settlement, selecting Cuper's Cove (present day Cupids) as the site of the colony.[citation needed] In 1609, he put forward a proposal "to animate the English to plant [or colonise] in Newfoundland." The merchants of Bristol and London took up the idea with enthusiasm and a list of contributions was made out with Guy and others subscribing twenty marks a year for five years. On 27 April 1610 James I granted a charter to Henry Spencer, Earl of Northampton, keeper of the privy seal, and others including John Guy and his brother Philip Guy, which incorporated them as the "Treasurer and Company of Adventurers and Planters of the Cities of London and Bristol, for the purpose of colonising Newfoundland, and comprehending as their sphere of action the southern and eastern parts of the new found land between 46° and 52° N. L."[1]

Guy was appointed governor in 1610 by the London and Bristol Company and arrived at Cupers Cove in August of that year with colonists, grain and livestock. Thirty-nine colonists spent the winter of 1610–1611 in the colony. During his governorship the colonists built and fortified the settlement, explored the area and planted crops. Guy returned to England in 1611 leaving William Colston and his brother Philip to manage the colony. Back in England, he was treasurer of the merchant venturers from 1611 to 1612 and then returned the next year with more livestock and female settlers.[1]

In 1612 the actions of the pirate Peter Easton convinced Guy to abandon a second colony established at Renews in the spring of that year and strengthen the fortifications at Cupers Cove.[citation needed] In Autumn 1612 Guy led a voyage into Trinity Bay in an attempt to contact and establish a fur trade with the Beothuk, the native inhabitants of the island. On 6 November Guy's party met, shared a meal and exchanged gifts with a group of Beothuk somewhere in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay.[2]


Guy returned to England in April 1613 and probably never returned to Newfoundland. Five years later a visitor to Newfoundland wrote that the Bristol citizens had "planted a large circuit of the country, and builded there many fine houses, and done many other good services".[1] Guy became disillusioned due to the lack of support from the London merchants and remained in Bristol though he later received a grant of land in Newfoundland which he named Sea Forest. John Mason was appointed the second governor of the Cuper's Cove colony in 1615.[citation needed]

In 1618 Guy became mayor of Bristol and was a member of the merchant venturers' court of assistants in 1620 and 1621. He was elected Member of Parliament for Bristol in 1621. In a debate on 27 February on the scarcity of money he spoke of the abundance of English coin in foreign parts, and recommended that the exportation of money should be forbidden. He received and wrote several letters about the interests of the merchant venturers company. His colleague John Whitson wrote in October 1621 on the "business of Sir Ferdinando Gorges' referring to the restraint of trade with New England as a result of articles and orders of the president and council for New England, which the merchants "in noe sorte did like". In February 1622 Guy wrote about his 'conference with the lord treasurer and others concerning the new imposition of wines and composition of grocery. He was master of the merchant venturers in 1622. In 1624 he was re-elected MP for Bristol. He was a member of the court of assistants again from 1624 to 1628.[1]

Guy probably died in about 1628, as his name then disappears from the books of the society. It has been said that he died in 1628 and was buried in St. Stephen's Church, Bristol but the register books of the church contain no such entry between 1628 and 1636 and there is no monument to him in Bristol.[1]


Archaeological excavations indicate that Cupers Cove continued to be occupied throughout the 17th century, and was never abandoned. Today the town of Cupids has a population of about 800.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g * This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Guy, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004

External links[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
John Whitson
Thomas James
Member of Parliament for Bristol
With: John Barker
Succeeded by
Nicholas Hyde
John Whitson