Skip to Content

Habitants, Soldiers, Sailors, and Servants: The History and Archaeology of the French in Placentia Bay, 1662-1714

Amanda Crompton

The French establishment of a colony in Newfoundland would fundamentally alter the nature of the French presence on the island. Prior to the colony’s founding, the French presence in Newfoundland had been a seasonal one only, in which the French fishers who had come to the island’s shores stayed for the summertime only. Any overwintering was likely unintentional. But with the advent of colonization, in Plaisance (now Placentia) in 1662, the French presence changed substantially. Colonization continued to bring seasonal fishermen to Plaisance, but they now shared space in the harbour with the permanently-resident owners of fishing plantations (or habitants). Colonization brought an administrative presence to the colony as well, and so Plaisance was home to the first garrisoned fortification in Newfoundland, as well as civilian colonial administrators. Plaisance quickly grew to be the largest settlement in French Newfoundland, as well as the most important administrative, economic, and military centre for the French on the island. Settlement outside of the colony grew after 1662, and we see the spread of small, family-based fishing settlements into Placentia Bay in particular after this time. Though small, and poorly documented, these settlements were nonetheless an important part of the French experience in Newfoundland. French permanent residence was more or less brought to an end with the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, as the French were subsequently prevented from living on the island permanently. This presentation will explore what we know of the history and archaeology of the resident French in Newfoundland– the habitants, soldiers, sailors, and servants, who all made Placentia Bay their home– and what happened to them after they were forced to leave.

Listen to Amanda Crompton’s lecture: