Cod, Money and Power: How the Devon Babbs found their way to Newfoundland

Today, I focus on the motivation behind Devon’s connection to the island of Newfoundland in Canada. Today Newfoundland and the peninsula of Labrador have been merged into a single province aptly named Newfoundland and Labrador (NL).

The history

Newfoundland was discovered by John Cabot in 1497, who had set out to find Asia on a voyage paid for by the King of England. In addition to Newfoundland, John Cabot found very fruitful fishing waters and returned to England with this news.

Replica of John Cabot’s ship Mathew that was used in the discovery of Newfoundland.

While the exact place he landed is in some dispute, one of the three places claiming the title is St. John’s which is where we find John Babb in 1681-2. An earlier record lists Thomas Babb of Newton Abbot as doing business in Newfoundland in 1584 at a time when roughly 3,000 others were sailing back and forth.

News of the discovery unleashed flocks of Mariners determined to take advantage of abundant hauls of fish in the area. Those mariners chiefly came from what the article refers to as the “West Country” and the places it mentions are all from Devon. Men would come over and spend 2 summers and a winter before returning home. Some no doubt fell in love and started their own families there. It is their descendants we now find there.

Devon excelled in the Newfoundland fishing trade more extensively than any other English County. They are said to have been the only county where profits were being made in the trade. As an example, in 1699 alone:

London (2003) sent 71 Ships to Newfoundland
Bideford (367) sent 28 ships and 146 boats
Topsham/Newton Abbot (264) 34 ships and 17 boats
Dartmouth (41) 17 ships
Bristol (496) 12 ships
Foole 11 ships.
All the other counties only sent 1 or 2 ships.

Additionally, we are able to see a connection between London and Devon. It is believed that Thomas Babb Mariner (1575) and Thomas Babb of the Hopewell (1620) are themselves from Devon.

The numbers in parentheses are the number of Babbs in the specified locations.

A secondary article links Totnes (64) to this trade at roughly the same time as when Geoffrey Babbe was their mayor. The article also references a connection to the Duck Family which provides yet another connection to Doddiscombsleigh (41). Geoffrey was already associated with Newfoundland (215) in previous documents.

I am of a growing opinion that these families are all interconnected and that the thing that allows us to see their connection is the sea. Devon is a uniquely Babb place and Devon is also uniquely intertwined with the sea.

While we miss certain details to unequivocally name the exact persons who connect these disparate pedigrees, it is safe to say that the Babbs of Doddiscombsleigh, Totnes, Newton Abbot, These Isles of Shoals and Newfoundland are one in the same tree. The preponderance of the evidence is simply too great to ignore.

I’m still working through the various available documents and once complete will present my findings.

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