CUMINGS, ARCHIBALD, Newfoundland merchant and customs official; b. c. 1667; d. some time after 1726.
Archibald Cumings was evidently of Scottish origin, but no details about his early life have been found. He began trading at St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1698 and acquired property there and at Ferryland; his losses in the French winter attack of 1704–5 were heavy. In March 1706 he was appointed government agent for prizes in Newfoundland, probably in association with the Campbell brothers. In October 1708, as part of the policy of building up a small body of royal officials in Newfoundland, Cumings was given the additional post of customs officer by the commissioners of the customs. This office was created in an attempt to curb illegal trade in Newfoundland; however, as the vice-admiralty court, created at the same time, failed to materialize [see Smith], Cumings was powerless to do anything more effective than report. In connection with his new appointment Cumings left for England on 25 Oct. 1708, and so was not present when the French captured and destroyed St John’s the following winter.
During the next few seasons, Cumings spent much of his time in England. He made several reports on Newfoundland to the Board of Trade; like John Moody, who later became deputy-governor of Placentia, he recommended the fortification of Ferryland (Forillon) instead of St John’s. In 1710 he claimed to have remitted, as tenths and perquisites of the Admiralty, £2,000 from Newfoundland for prizes; for this he eventually received £100 plus expenses. With Francis Nicholson, Moody, and the Campbell brothers, he was consulted in 1712 about the possible treaty settlement with the French, and he expressed the view that they should not be given any fishing rights in Newfoundland or be allowed to fortify Cape Breton. Cumings’ report from St John’s in October 1712 was the first to stress the bad fishing which was to plague the fishermen in eastern Newfoundland for some years; his news in October 1713 was little better. In February 1715 he had a four-page pamphlet, Considerations on the trade to Newfoundland printed and laid before the Board of Trade. Cumings believed that Newfoundland should have a governor and a proper legal system, so that the colonists there “may be governed a[s] Brittains and not live like a banditie or forsaken people.” Cumings also proposed that there be some system of entry and clearance for shipping in Newfoundland to help curb the illegal trade.
By 1715 Cumings felt that he had served long enough in Newfoundland; and in 1716 he was appointed customs officer at Boston and prize officer for New England. He served there actively for a decade, and submitted several useful reports on the fishing off, New England and in the Bay of Fundy (Baie Française). A false report of his death was circulating in 1723, but he is last heard of at Boston on 23 Aug. 1726.
Archibald Cumings showed considerable tenacity in his Newfoundland duties. As customs officer the most he could do was report on the fishery and on trade with the colony, but he did this fully and well. As prize officer he was able to act by getting condemnations when the commodore of the convoy was present. Once the war was over, prizes and the emoluments from their disposal disappeared, and this almost certainly helped him decide to move to New England. On the Newfoundland situation, Cumings was shrewd and forthright; he always spoke up for the colonists and was a strong protagonist of the institution of a civil government and judicature. His opinion was respected by the Board of Trade, though he did not succeed in eradicating its prejudices against the Newfoundland settlements.
Archibald Cumings, Considerations on the trade to Newfoundland (London, ). PRO, B.T. Journal, 1704–1708/9, 1708/9–1714/15, 1722/23–1728; CSP, Col., 1704–5, 1706–8, 1708–9, 1710–11, 1711–12, 1712–14, 1714–15, 1716–17, 1717–18, 1719–20, 1721–22, 1722–23, 1724–25, 1726–27; C.T.Books, 1710; C.T. Papers, 1702–7. M. A. Field, “The development of government in Newfoundland, 1638–1713,” unpublished m.a. thesis, University of London, 1924. Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld. Rogers, Newfoundland.