William Sweetland Diary

William Sweetland Diary

Scope and Content:
Daily diary kept by Magistrate William Sweetland at Bonavista, 1850-1853. The volume contains entries with his views on a myriad of topics, including world politics, religious doctrines, and Newfoundland politics and justice. A large proportion of the entries relate to local matters. He offers comment on the seal and cod fisheries, his business and professional responsibilities, including his work as Magistrate and as a surveyor of properties, social matters and family affairs.


Biographical Sketch:
The Sweetland family name has been traced by Spiegelhalter in Devon, and is believed to have originated from the English place named Sweetlands Farm (Devon). By the 1770s the family had a presence in Newfoundland, documented through court cases and parish records, with Henry Sweetland (1734-1791) in Ferryland by 1773. He appears to have been a businessman, operating under the name Sweetland & Co., and may have later been involved with David ( - 1796), likely his brother, at Ferryland and Caplin Bay (now Calvert). They owned a number of vessels, and were involved in the West Country / Newfoundland trade.

There is also evidence of a company known as Sweetland and Hill, listed as anchor smiths and coal merchants at Topsham, Devon in the 1770s, and of their ownership of a number of vessels involved in the Newfoundland trade. Both David and Henry were also involved in this business.

David Sweetland married Hannah Hill at Topsham in 1768. Their children, David (1774-1829), John Hatswell ( 1775-?), Ben (1777-?), Henry (1778-1791), and Samuel Hill ( 1783-1785), were all born there, suggesting that the family may have resided in England, with David making easonal visits to Newfoundland. His wife Hannah died in 1785 and was buried at Topsham, where David Sweetland was also buried in 1796.

Henry Sweetland (1734- 1791) married Anne Carter, daughter of Robert Carter and Ann Wyley, and widow of Samuel Hill, of Topsham, Dorset, England. Henry and Anne had at least three children, Henry, (1787-1849), William, (1788 - 1864) and Benjamin, (1789 -1884). Henry Sweetland Sr. died in 1791 and by 1800 his widow Anne had married Matthew Morry (1750-1836) of Ferryland.

William Sweetland, the author of the Sweetland Manuscripts, was born 29 June 1788 at Ferryland, the fourth son of Henry (1734-1791) and Ann, daughter of Robert Carter, merchant of Newfoundland.

William married Priscillia Ann Morry of Ferryland on the 15 February1810 and later that year on 19 November their first son, William Henry Morry (1810- ?) was born. In 1813 their second son, Matthew Morry(1813-?), was born. Two years later a third son, Ben (1815 - ?), was born, followed in the same year by a daughter, Ann (1815-). All of their children were born in Dartmouth, England. Five years later their mother, Priscilla, died in England.

The following year Sweetland & Co. purchased a property at Caplin Bay (now Calvert) consisting of a stone house, a store, 60' x 40', a wharf 30' x 100,' a cooperage, 4 more stores, cook room, stable, forge, stone barking house, main wharf, 2 stages, oil house, flakes, beaches, property on the south side of Caplin Bay, Cape Broyle and at Brigus South as well. This is probably the site of the large Georgian house the Sweetlands built at the east end of the Old Woman's Pond. Part of that house still survives today and is occupied by the Power family.

William continued to spend time in Newfoundland, probably living in St. John's, and in 1826 was acting as agent for William Vallance, a Water St. Merchant. A year later Sweetland & Co. sold the plantation at Caplin Bay and moved away from there. By 1830 both William and his brother Benjamin had both become magistrates and William was acting as the agent for the assignees of Christopher Spurrier's business in Placentia Bay after it went insolvent.

By 1834 William was appointed as magistrate and clerk of the peace at Ferryland and December 15, 1836 he was appointed as magistrate at Bonavista. Three years later he married Elizabeth (Newell) Alexander, widow of William Alexander, a prominent merchant at Bonavista.

Sometime during his years in Ferryland, William Sweetland began writing a two or possibly three volume history of Newfoundland, and it appears that the work was completed after he moved to Bonavista. The volumes were never published. He also wrote for the Royal Gazette under the pen name W. Avalonis in the 1860s.

Through the course of his career at Bonavista William Sweetland was Deputy Surveyor for the Northern District, a Justice of the Peace and Stipendiary Magistrate, a Commissioner for the Board of Roads, a Customs Preventive Officer, Registrar of Deeds and a member of the Board of Education. Sweetland lived at Bonavista until his death on 20 February in 1864 at the age of seventy-five.

Sometime between August 1834 and April 1837, William's brother, Benjamin Sweetland, and his family moved to Trinity, Trinity Bay. Baptisms for six of his children are recorded in the St. Paul's Anglican records there, the last one in September of 1850. By 1864 he is listed as a stipendiary magistrate there and judge of the Labrador coast and Lovell's Directory [1871] records him as a lawyer at Trinity.

Benjamin Sweetland lived to be 95 years old. He died in Brooklyn, New York about May of 1884. His wife, Tryphena (Gaden), pre-deceased him at Brooklyn in August 1879.

You may also download a pdf transcription of the Sweetland Diary at https://dai.mun.ca/PDFs/sweetland/SweetlandDiary.pdf

Other Diary Collections:
William Button Diaries
Lester Diaries
James Ryan Ltd. Diaries, Bonavista