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Article Published July 14, 2001
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
Priceless old letters return “home” to Newfoundland
Between 1816-1831 in Twillingate on the isolated, ragged northeast coast of Newfoundland, Richard Newman took quill in hand to copy 55 of his personal letters into a book.
As of just a scant time ago, the yellowed pages are finally back in Newfoundland in the hands of the provincial archives, after serendipitous discovery in a small, Massachusetts used book store and a chain of possession by generous spirits.
The original buyer gave the letters to a friend Babs St. Pierre who loaned them to co-worker Marcel Charpentier of Newburyport, Massachusetts.
“Both Babs and I felt that the letters belonged to the people of Newfoundland and that this is what Rich would have wanted. We were of the belief that they belonged to the people of Newfoundland and needed to be preserved and made available to the people. We are thrilled to be a part of returning Richard back home. Babs always felt that she was a temporary custodian of the letters,” says Marcel.
“The first time I read the letters, I was completely captivated. It really is a privilege to hold in your hands the thoughts and feelings of a man scratched out on paper almost 200 years ago.”
Thus began a quest that eventually involved Natalie Hyde in Cambridge, Ontario.
“I wish everyone who has possession of old papers or letters was so concerned about their preservation and protection,” says Natalie who has painstakingly transcribed every letter and indexed every surname and posted it on the Internet http://www.huronweb.com/genweb/nfdata/main_080_3.htm#hist One can only speculate why Richard Newman copied his letters. It was not a task he relished and he suffered with rheumatism, to boot. “I have a great dislike to writing letters ...” he wrote in a postscript to an 1829 letter to his brother Harry in England.
Marcel has a theory about Richard’s motivations. “I think at first it was for business reasons. He was involved in a touchy exchange with his employer (Thomas Colburne) over a situation Richard wanted nothing to do with and I believe he was transcribing the letters to cover his behind should the situation get out of hand. But later he includes wonderful personal letters to his family in England loaded with names and interesting events of the time. He adds a human touch to the history of Twillingate and puts faces on names that are otherwise only mentioned in old census and church records.”
Richard Newman was married to Mary Hall. They had at least four known children: a son, Frederick who died young and daughters: Frances, Selina and Priscilla.
Marcel and Natalie have yet to locate descendants of Richard Newman. “He is an ancestor one could be proud of. If such letters of my ancestors came to my attention, I would be beside myself. He was an intelligent man of integrity.”
Marcel has French Canadian roots and his wife of 22 years was a Holden with roots in Bell Island. “So I guess you can say that we have some pretty strong ties to Canada, but this is not the reason for donating the letters,” he says. “There are things that transcend borders and national affiliations.”
Sparked by the Newman letters, Marcel is currently helping with a cultural exchange program involving his son and his school mates at River Valley Charter School in Newburyport who are linking with school children in Twillingate, Newfoundland.
The adventure of the return of the long-lost letters from Natalie’s point of view goes like this.
“When Marcel first e-mailed me, I became very excited. Any information from this time period in Twillingate is rare. To stumble across 55 letters was almost too good to be true. Marcel seemed genuinely concerned with making sure that the book would be valued, preserved and protected. I was extremely impressed with the caution they took handling rare and original documents.”
Natalie has been researching her father’s side, the Rose family from Farmer’s Arm, Twillingate for about 15 years. Research in the Notre Dame Bay-Twillingate area of Newfoundland can be frustrating at times, she says.
“Many records have been lost or destroyed especially in church fires. The Church of England in Twillingate, for example, has only an eight-year record of baptisms from 1816 to 1824. Fifty years of family connections have been lost through a fire in St. Peter's Church in 1879,” she says.
Marcel Charpentier can be contacted by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Natalie Hyde can be contacted by e-mail email@example.com
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