CRUSE, THOMAS, independent settler in Newfoundland; b. c. 1599, fl. 1677.
The little that is known of Cruse’s life comes from a deposition which he made in 1677. as part of the evidence collected at Totnes in the Privy Council’s inquiry into the dispute between the fishing industry and the colonists. Its object was to establish whether a governor should be sent to the island and fortifications erected in case the French, then settled in Placentia (Plaisance) Bay, should attack the English fishery. At this time Cruse described himself as a merchant of Ashprington, Devon.
Cruse had first visited Newfoundland more than 50 years previously when, he said, there were but two or three inhabitants there and no governor; in fact the colony at Cuper’s (Cupids) Cove must have been already established and governed by John Guy or John Mason. About four years before the arrival of Sir David Kirke in 1638, Cruse returned to Newfoundland and settled in Bay Bulls, a harbour south of St. John’s, much frequented by English fishermen. There he remained 18 Years, doubtless living mainly by the fishery but dependent, with his fellow settlers, on visiting fishing ships for supplies since the barren land yielded insufficient food to support them.
Before 1638, according to Cruse, settlers and fishermen alike pursued the trade without hindrance, paying neither tax nor imposition. After Kirke’s arrival all inhabitants were compelled to pay rent for their homes and fishing places. Kirke brought about 30 servants with him to enforce his demands. In 1640 Cruse agreed to pay a yearly rent of £3 6s. 8d. with a hog or a further 20s., for his house and land. Kirke also forced the settlers to hold licences for the keeping of taverns, although the sale of alcohol in Newfoundland was forbidden by the Western Charter of 1634 which had introduced regulations for the conduct of the fishery. Cruse himself held such a licence for which he paid Kirke £15 annually. About 1653 Cruse returned to England and of his life there we know nothing, save that he was a merchant.
Cruse’s deposition shows an intimate knowledge of Newfoundland with its sparse settlements, not far apart but isolated by difficult terrain or frozen harbours, making a governor and a fort worthless because inaccessible. Above all, his evidence, like that of his fellow witnesses, reveals the bitterness felt by West Country fishermen against Kirke particularly and organized settlement generally. In 1677 when the London and Bristol merchants demanded government protection of the industry through the appointment of a governor, the men of the West Country ports opposed any interference in the trade that was their livelihood. To Cruse and many others, settlement and government were identified with the decline and eventual destruction of the industry.
There are copies of Cruse’s deposition in the PRO, S.P. 29/223, no.126 and in the Plymouth Central Library, MS 360/76. For the background to the inquiry see: PRO, Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1613–80. CSP, Col., 1675–76, 1677–80. C. B. Judah, The North American fisheries and British policy to 1713 (University of Illinois Studies in the Social Sciences, XVIII, nos. 3–4, Urbana, Ill., 1933). Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld.