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National Library of Wales journal

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Cyf. 33, rh. 4 2005

A Welsh landlord on a Canadian frontier : David Owen of Berriw, Cambridge and Campobello, 1754-1829 /

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A WELSH LANDLORD ON A CANADIAN FRONTIER:
DAVID OWEN OF BERRIW, CAMBRIDGE
AND CAMPOBELLO, 1754-1829
Introduction
One of the least known episodes of the early settlement of the Maritimes of
Canada is the attempt by various members of the Owen family from near
Berriw in Montgomeryshire, Wales, to create a landed estate on the island of
Campobello, in New Brunswick province, Canada. This picturesque and
heavily forested island of some fourteen thousand acres with its spectacular
sunsets is located in the southern part of the Bay of Fundy, as shown in the
maps found in a review of William Owen's original colonization scheme.1,2 In
its northern extension this bay has some of the highest tides in the world, and
around Campobello the turbulent, swirling waters with 26ft high tides create
an even more challenging environment for sailors. Although the southwest
part of the island lies less than a quarter of a mile from the town of Lubec on
Moose Island, the northern most part of Maine, it was not connected to this
part of the United States by a bridge until 1962. For over a century from
William Owens's attempted colonization of the island in 1770-1, several other
members of the Owen family from near Berriw in Montgomeryshire tried to
administer the lands that that had been initially granted to William Owen and
his three nephews in 1767. This essay describes the work of David Owen (Plate
1) in reviving and developing the Campobello grant sixteen years after William
Owen left the fledgling colony. Since David Owen had a distinguished
academic career in Trinity College Cambridge before arriving on the island in
1787, his long sojourn on Campobello has always been puzzling and his life
and character is still marked by many unresolved questions and controversies.
The Context of David's Arrival
William Owen's colonization scheme on Campobello was initially effective.
After less than a year in occupance he left the island in May 1771 to seek fame
and glory in the navy when he heard rumours of a new war with France.3
Although he had to wait several years for war to materialise, he was taken back
into the navy in 1776, saw action in the conclusive British naval victory over
the French in India, but died tragically a few days later in August 1778.
Meanwhile, back on Campobello all but nine of the thirty eight settlers he had
left behind became increasingly disillusioned. They tried to return to England
in late 1772 but perished at sea when their ship, the Snow Owen, was wrecked
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