History of Exploits

NL GenWeb

Oral History

Notre Dame Bay ~ Exploits District

History of Exploits

The history of Exploits Island was researched by CLIFF LILLY of Exploits Island. The image is of the schooner "Fog Free Zone" from the Nov/98 issue of the Downhomer. She was constructed by the Manuels on Exploits Island in 1907.

The information was written by CLIFF LILLY and transcribed by BEVERLY WARFORD. While we have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there may be typographical errors.

Fog Free Zone

1762A Shipmaster by the name of Scott landed on Exploits and build a fort.
1768Exploits was marked on a map which John Cartwright had.
1806The Register of Fishing Rooms for Exploits began.
1820Thomas Smith Surveyed a map of Exploits harbour. A church was marked on it.
1835John Peyton moved from Exploits to Twillingate where he later died.
1842A school wes built to serve the Protestant population. A Wesleyian Church was opened.
1845Census taken population 326.
1849John Foote started up a sawmill at Exploits.
1869Census taken Population 535.
1870Edward Evans and his wife Caroline Ball moved to Northern Arm.
1874Census taken population 623.
1877The first linking of the two Islands, A wooden drawbridge was opened.
1880's A road was built around the harbours, workmen were paid 25 cents per day.
1888Thomas Winsor built the "Tor-House" still there today.
1897The first Salvation Amy Officer, Captain J. Baggs came to Exploits.
1899A new wooden bridge was officially opened on Sept.4. l899
1901Twenty seven people were then employed at a lobster packing plant. A Salvation Army School was built at Exploits.
1902Josiah Manuel was operating a sawmilll up at Charles Brook.
1903The local Doctor H.K. Aberton died and was buried at Exploits.
1933Harry Hutchings hauled his house from Charless Brook to Brown's Arm. The men from Exploits helped out.
1943William Wells (and Richard) moved from Swan Island to Exploits.
1945A new concrete bridge was officially opened.
1946A new Church of England school was opened
1947A new United Church School was opened, still standing today.
1953Harold Windsor and Nelson Baker were drowned walking from Lewisporte to Exploits.
1961George Budgell's house burnt down.
1969The United Church was officially closed, there were around 200 people there.


Exploits (Burnt Islands) is one of the older communities on the North East coast of Newfoundland. The Harbour takes its name from what was years ago considered the mighty majestic River Exploits. The islands are located approximately midway between latitude 45 and 55 north and is slightly west of longitude 55 west. The coastline around the two islands has a total distance of roughly 14 miles. The land on these two islands is very mountainous in nature, with soil being very thin in most places. There were parts of the islands on the back of the community which were very heavily wooded at one time.

There is not a great source of information regarding the early history of Exploits that has been recorded, only what has been passed down by word of mouth generation after generation by the families of the small fishing community.

It is said that in 1762 a shipmaster by the name of Scott was on Exploits Island and built what looked like some kind of a fort. A short time after a party of Beothuck Indians came, saw the building and stopped and would not go any nearer. Scott then proceeded to go and greet them, unarmed. Scott went up to them and shook hands. Suddenly, an old Indian, in pretended friendship, put his arm around Scott’s neck and at the same instant another Indian stabbed Scott in the back.

It is difficult to say when the first settlers arrived in Exploits, but fishermen did extend their fishing north into Notre Dame Bay before 1713. It was settled in the very early years by the English who came to Newfoundland because of the abundance of fish. They came primarily from the Devonshire part of England. Also there were fishermen who came from other parts of Newfoundland in the summer time to fish. At first Exploits was used only during the summer time.

In 1820 Thomas Smith surveyed a plan of Exploits Burnt Island Tickle on which a church was marked in the Lower Harbour. That building was still there when I left Exploits in the early fifties, at which time it was used as a barn. For about five years Exploits was the home of the well known Beothuck Indian “Shanawdithit”, locally known as “Nancy”. She was captured by John Peyton and lived with him in Exploits. Later she was taken to St. John’s, where she died.

In 1838 Exploits had a population of 256 of which 236 were Church of England, 10 Wesleyans (Methodists) and 8 Roman Catholics. The Wesleyans congregation began with three families at first. Those three families had helped to build the Church of England church in the community, but when a Wesleyan minister came for a service in 1841, the Anglicans would not let them have a service in the church. As a result, they broke away and a short time later had built their own church. At that time there were two merchants, John Peyton who moved from Exploits to Twillingate in 1836, but still had his business there and George Luff. A school that was built in 1842 by 1845 had an enrollment of only thirty-seven students as many kids did not go to school in those days although Exploits had a population of 326 people by then.

When the first school was built is not known, but a school master and church layman by the name of William Mosdell was stationed there in 1823. He was the one that married Eleanor Machaney and John Peyton, Jr. in February of that year because no Church of England minister was stationed there that winter.

Exploits was indeed breathtaking to see in its beauty with wooded hills interspersed with barren rocks, and with fishermen’s wharves, fish-drying flakes and dwellings of various styles and colours lining the rugged shoreline from one end of the harbour to the other. A harbour that once sheltered anywhere from twenty to forty sailing schooners on their way to and from the fishing grounds on the Labrador coast.

Almost every house had a fenced garden around it where there would be grown an assortment of vegetables which were stored in a root cellar for the following winter. Life was always a struggle against the elements of time. The men usually planted and trenched the potatoes if possible before sailing to the Labrador and then dug them after their return in the fall. The women usually did the curing of the fish. Unlike some communities, distinction among the residents, the merchants, fishermen and clergy were all on the same level, there was no elite.

The oldest tombstone that I knew of was in the Lower Harbour Cemetery with a date of 1812. When John Peyton, Sr., who was born in 1747 in Christchurch, England, died in August of 1827 at Upper Sandy Point, his body was carried by boat to Exploits and was buried in the cemetery in the Lower Harbour. When his son John Jr. died at Back Harbour, Twillingate on July 25, 1879, he was brought to Exploits and buried in the same grave with his father. A flat granite slab was then placed on top of the grave.

By the middle 1800's the Manuel brothers were getting established in Exploits and for many decades they were the leading merchants of the community. Joseph Manuel married Elizabeth Milley of Exploits and they had seven sons and five daughters. Each of the seven brothers owned their own schooner. Josiah Manuel built the “Fog-Free-Zone” pictured above. He also built the schooners “Merry widow,” “Molly,” “Janette,” “C.L.B.,” “Carriage,” “Nine L” and many more.

George Skiver was also a schooner builder. He would go in the bay in the winter months and find a good sheltered cove, build cabins for his workmen and himself (and sometimes their families would also go) and there he would cut and saw timber and planking and build schooner hulls from the models which he had prepared before leaving home. Then in the early spring could be seen a flotilla of new schooner hulls loaded with extra spars and additional timber on the way to Exploits. There the spars would be sat, the cabins completed and the sails fitted to be ready to sail for the Labrador in June. A Church service was held and the clergy would always bless the fleet before sailing.

The period between 1860 and 1910 appears to have been the most prosperous time on the Islands of Exploits. Things were booming in both the inshore and the Labrador fishery. Although Exploits participated mainly in the Labrador fishery, the inshore fishery was also important and the highest value for fish was in that time period.

During times of world crisis Exploits did its share reacting to such crisis. My records show that 16 men enlisted in World War I and 24 women men and women enlisted in World War II. A list of World War I includes the following: Mathias Ball, Jack Budgell, Dorman Butt (killed), Harry Hutching (killed), Harry Lacey (killed), Herbert Lacey, Paul Lilly, Harry Luff (killed), Samuel Manuel (killed), Albert Milley, Gordon Rowsell (killed), Cyril Sceviour, Daniel Sceviour, Bramstone Stride, Cecil Stride and Albert Wells.

A list of World War II includes the following:

Wilbert Budgell, Thomas Budgell, Garfield Dart, Lloyd Jefferies, Bramwell Jefferies, Marie Jefferies, Elihus Jones, Gordon Lacey, Abraham Lilly, Harry Lilly, Harvey Lilly, Telsie Lilly, Frank Lilly, Herbert Manuel, Selby Manuel, Allister Milley, Clyde Purchase, Harold Sceviour, Terry Snelgrove, Arch Wells, Cyril Wells, George Wells, Ralph Wells and Tony Winsor

© Cliff Lilly, Beverley Warford and NL GenWeb
Exploits District