PEYTON, JOHN, fisherman and trapper; b. 1749 in Christchurch (Dorset), England; m. 12 Dec. 1788 Ann Galton of Wimborne Minster, England, and they had a daughter and a son; d. 1829 in Exploits, Nfld.
John Peyton arrived in Newfoundland as a youth, resided for a while in Fogo, and once travelled on the coast of Labrador. By 1781 he was residing, at least during winters, at Lower Sandy Point, in the Bay of Exploits, a locality which lay along one of the main migration routes of the Beothuks. Here he was engaged in salmon catching and the fur trade in partnership with Harry Miller. A few years later, Peyton struck out on his own and seems to have had some degree of success. In summer, he likely reside at Exploits, on the more northerly of the two Exploits Islands; in winter, he probably continued to live at Lower Sandy Point. He owned his own schooner, and references to him in the papers of several merchants represent him as an independent and successful trader.
Although Peyton was but one of many fishermen and furriers who had contact with the Beothuks, he was among the most prominent. Allegations and circumstantial evidence in a number of different sources suggest that Peyton behaved brutally towards them. An inquiry conducted by naval officer George Christopher Pulling in 1792 produced much testimony that hints at his activities. Evidently Peyton participated in several excursions into Beothuk territory in the 1780s and 1790s, each bent upon reprisal for various thefts of goods. Peyton’s behaviour and reputation incensed John Bland, the magistrate of Bonavista who took a great interest in the Beothuks. In 1797 Bland claimed that Peyton had “rendered himself infamous for his persecution of the Indians” and that “the stories told of this man would shock humanity to relate.” He recommended that Peyton be expelled from the Bay of Exploits.
Bland also noted that Peyton was then residing near Poole, in Dorset, evidently conducting his Newfoundland trade through hired hands. Indeed, until 1812 Peyton maintained his family in England. In that year, both his daughter and his wife having died suddenly, he decided to bring his 19-year-old son John to Newfoundland and take him into partnership. Young Peyton had, like his father, been raised in Christchurch, and he was educated at Wimborne Minster Boys School. He had served three years at Somerset House in London as a junior clerk. In 1818 he was appointed justice of the peace for northern Newfoundland by Governor Sir Charles Hamilton*. His early career entailed some contact with the Beothuks but on a more positive level than that of his father. Nevertheless, confusion in the facts and details of the lives of the two Peytons has often resulted in the younger being tarnished with a reputation earned by his father.
The last expedition to the Beothuks that John Peyton Sr took part in was led by John Jr, who in 1818 had represented to Governor Hamilton that he had suffered extensive injury to his fishing establishments occasioned by the pilfering Beothuks over a four-year period. The governor empowered him to search for his stolen property and to capture one of the Indians in order to gain an envoy who might later serve to establish friendly relations. Accordingly, in March 1819 the Peytons and some men struck inland. They came upon three wigwams and about a dozen Indians. A woman, Demasduwit*, was captured, and there was a scuffle between the elder Peyton and an Indian man which ended with the Indian being shot.
There may be some irony in the fact that the last known Beothuk, Shawnadithit, and John Peyton Sr lived under the same roof during the last few years of their lives. Shawnadithit was captured by William Cull, an erstwhile servant of Peyton Sr, in 1823. She was given into the care of Peyton Jr and became a servant in the Peyton household at Exploits for five years. John Peyton Sr died in 1829, aged about 80 years. John Jr spent most of his later years in Twillingate. He died in 1879 and was interred in the family plot at Exploits.
BL, Add. ms 38352: ff.1–44. Dorset Record Office (Dorchester, Eng.), D365, F2–3, F8–10; P227/RE3–18. Hampshire Record Office (Winchester, Eng.), Christchurch parish records, 1682–1804 (transcripts at Maritime Hist. Arch., Memorial Univ. of Nfld., St John’s). PANL, P5/25; P7/A/6. G.B., Parl., House of Commons papers, 1793, no.4393, First report from the committee appointed to enquire into the state of trade to Newfoundland; no.4407, Second report. . . . C. R. Fay, Life and labour in Newfoundland (Toronto, 1956). Howley, Beothucks or Red Indians. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895), 385. F. W. Rowe, Extinction: the Beothuks of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1977).