"Listen," said Aunt Sue. "Someone's got to go
to Newfoundland and find Annie before
it's too late." Someone turned out to be me,
accompanied by my husband Gary, who is always up
for an adventure, and that’s how we two mainlanders,
me a British Columbian and Gary a New Brunswicker,
wound up traipsing through the cemeteries of Bonavista
in the summer of 2007. Although we never found
Annie's grave, we found much, much more. We found
Annie Saint is my great-great-grandmother. It was
her daughter, Margaret Caroline Beaumont Saint, my
great-grandmother, who had left her British Columbian
offspring with a handful of clues and the injunction
that Annie must be found. I was seven in 1963 when
Margaret passed away, so the evidence came to me as
sketchy memories of family history. Still, I aimed to
make a go of it.
Margaret had said that as a child growing up in
Bonavista she had attended school in a building that
had also served as a church and that in winter she had
walked across a body of frozen water to get there. She
was 13 when her mother Annie died. After Annie’s
death, her father James had gathered his sons about him
and headed west for BC. She, Margaret, had been sent to
live with her aunt in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, but when
she was old enough she lit out after them, stopping
briefly in Red Deer, Alberta, before arriving at her final
destination, Vancouver, when she was 18 or 19 years old
in 1888 or 1889.
We had thought that finding Annie would be a simple
feat and that we’d be joyfully Skyping our success back
to expectant Aunt Sue. Margaret had been born in 1870 and, it being 13 years afterwards that Annie had died,
we had thought we’d find a gravestone inscribed with
something like this:
Annie Saint Relict of James Passed to a Better Place ___/___/1883
But, after four hours of trekking through the
cemeteries of Bonavista, we hadn’t. We had, however,
found a clutch of very frail and elderly Saint gravestones
in the boneyard of the Memorial United Church of
Bonavista so, after respite - soup, sandwich and plentiful
rumination - we headed back there for closer inspection.
A scaffold had been erected up the side of the church
where craftsmen were undertaking restoration work. We
exchanged friendly g’days and got back to looking for
The Saint stones are at the back, precariously perched
in a line along the edge of the existing parking lot.
Nubby, well-worn bases of some stones long since
broken are almost grown over with grass. One, broken
at the base in more recent times, lies face up, its
inscription facing the sun by day and the starry heavens
by night; and there are others with no markers at all, but
the undulation of the ground - the rises and depressions
- indicates that they are there.
Roughly in the centre of the Saint gravestones that yet
stand is a crypt containing the remains of Charles Saint,
who died in 1840, aged 76, and who was, therefore,
born in 1764. Viewed from a distance, and the stones,
laid out in their more or less row-like fashion, give the
distinct impression of a bird, Charles’s crypt being the
body, and the other, much smaller stones, arcing out to both sides like wings. One, flying in the direction of the
church, is noticeably shorter, however, so the effect is of
a broken-winged bird.
I found myself standing at the exterior wall of the
church where the tip of the wing of stones is cut off,
staring suspiciously at the spot where they disappear.
“Yeah, bones have been found in the basement when
folks have done work down there,” offered a voice from atop the scaffold.
“Really? What is directly above this area?” I pointed at
“That’d be the minister’s office.”
“Yeah, this isn’t the first church built on this site.”
No more needed to be said, but it would be
interesting to determine the date the current church,
The Memorial United Church of Bonavista, was built.
I was pretty sure it was after 1883 and that if Annie’s
wasn’t one of the now unmarked graves, her bones were
probably under the church - possibly right under the
current minister’s desk and chair.
Had we really come up empty? Not in the least, for
who were all the other Saints buried along with Charles?
Relations that I hadn’t even known I’d had the day
before. Amongst the several that yet stand, there was
Sarah, wife of James Saint, who had died aged 24, and
there was John Beaumont, who had died aged 26. There
was little Sarah-Annie, daughter of Annie and James
(possibly my Annie and James?), who was four years and
three months old when she passed. And there was James
Saint, Esq., J.P., a merchant, who died aged 67 in 1873
and his relict - his widow - Thirza, who died aged 77 in
1883 - the same year as Annie. Who were they? Solving
this mystery would, undoubtedly, help to solve the
puzzle that was my great-great grandmother, the illusive
The next day we headed to the Bonavista Museum,
which is housed in the Ryan Premises, a National
Historic Site, and the staff there proved to be most
helpful. I put in a request for archival information on
the Saint family and was later mailed rich genealogical
information that sorted out the folks in the graveyard1;
and, because a Saint had once owned it, we were sent to
Mockbeggar Plantation, which is really a fishing room of large proportions and which, since 1980, has been a
Provincial Historic Site. We were also told that the Saints
had been planters, probably using indentured Irish
servants for labour.
Being a naïve mainlander from British Columbia, the
words planter and plantation were deeply disturbing and
I, naturally, thought of the cotton and sugar farms in
the Southern States and the salt plantations in the West
Indies, and I wondered if I really wanted to find out
anything more about this lost family of mine.
But I rallied.
The Bonavista Historical Society and the Town of
Bonavista have done a fine job getting information
about their historic structures out to the public, so it
was relatively easy to find out about both the Memorial
United Church of Bonavista and the Mockbeggar
The current church, built between 1918 to 1923, is
actually the fourth of four Methodist churches to have
been built on the site, the previous three opening their
doors in 1812, 1851 and 1871.2 The congregation that
had started out as a small number of stalwart souls
had expanded over the years so that successively larger
churches were needed to meet the members’ needs.
Then, in 1925, two years after the current church
opened, the United Church of Canada was formed as a
merger of four protestant denominations, including the
Methodist Church of Canada.
A quick read of Charles Lench’s book, The Story
of Methodism in Bonavista (1919), confirmed my
supposition that my relatives had been Methodist3; and,
not only had they been Methodist, but Charles’, the
patriarch whose remains lie in the aged crypt, together
with Thomas Bass, to whom he had been apprenticed
when he first came to Newfoundland,4 were amongst
the first residents of Bonavista to welcome Methodism
into their homes and the community prior to the year
1800.5 Charles had also purchased pews in 1823 for the
first church built on the site.6 Since then, the Saints had been involved in the construction and, most probably,
the maintenance of each of the four successive churches
to be built at this location.
However, that being said, the “Methodist feet” of my
Newfoundland ancestors were obviously left far, far
behind when they arrived in BC. Margaret loved fashion
- gowns, gloves, hats, shoes, jewelry - and she was an
excellent card player, hosting many boisterous card
nights at her home; and her daughter, my grandmother
Helen Katherine Beaumont Maddison, was a lover of
the fox trot, smoked du Maurier cigarettes, drove a red
Alpine sports car (later traded for blue), often with its
top down, and loved to have a tipple when evening
Information on the Mockbeggar Plantation was
Four buildings currently sit on its grounds: a lovely
old residence, a seal-oil-extraction building, a huge
two-and-a-half storey saltbox, and a much smaller store.
Believed to have been built around 1733, the saltbox,
barn-red, is possibly the oldest surviving structure on
the coast. Over the years it has served as a salt fish store;
salmon packing house; salt store; fish dryer; barter shop;
residence for the owner while the current stately home
was being built; temporary Methodist Church in 1871
while the third in the succession of Methodist churches
in town was being constructed; and headquarters for the
Salvation Army Corps in 1886.7
I would add school to this list since Margaret had said
she attended church in a building that also served as a
school. This must be the building to which she referred.
O’Dey’s (Old Days) Pond is situated behind Mockbeggar.
Could it be the body of frozen water she walked over to
get to school?
The next questions were how the Saint family had
acquired Mockbeggar Plantation, which family
member had purchased it, and when the transaction had taken place. Charles had arrived in Newfoundland
as an apprentice, a young man without experience or
enough earned or inherited property to be the head of a
household, circa 1780. So how had the Plantation come
into the family?
It was through Charles’ second eldest son, whose
pillar-style grave marker stands tallest amongst the
remaining Saint gravestones, my great-great-greatgrandfather,
James Saint, Esq. J.P. - Esquire and Justice
of the Peace. A Bonavista merchant, he had purchased
it in 1851 from John H. Warren. Previously owned by
a succession of Poole merchants, Warren was possibly
the first Newfoundland owner, making James the
second.8 Therefore, the story of Mockbeggar is the story
of the evolution of the Newfoundland fishery from an
industry controlled by merchants in England to one that
developed its own merchant class.9
James still owned Mockbeggar in 1871 when the
multi-purpose building had served as a Methodist
Church, and when a mighty revival had taken place in
it to reawaken the religious spirit of the community, and
also, possibly, to raise funds to finance the church that
was under construction in town.10 When James died in
1873, he left Mockbeggar to his eldest son Jabez, my
great-great-granduncle, who built the handsome twostorey
residence that is still there today.
The genealogical information mailed to me by the
Bonavista Archives was invaluable. It put the family
tree together, and showed me how I fit into it - who my
direct ancestors were. It turned out, of course, that I had
already been to their gravesides and had seen evidence
of their handiwork.
Although Charles, my great-great-great-greatgrandfather,
was the first permanent settler in
Newfoundland from his Dorset-based family, prior
generations may have been involved in the seasonal
fishery. What became of Thomas Bass, the man who
apprenticed him, is unknown, but perhaps he was an
uncle or cousin.
Charles had married twice. His first wife, Mary
Abbott, bore two sons: Charles, in 1804, and James, the
future purchaser and owner of Mockbeggar, in 1806.11
His second wife, Hannah, bore four children: two
daughters, Hannah and Amy; and two sons, William
Ellis and Thomas.12
Mary Abbott is, therefore, my great-great-great-greatgrandmother
and, if my supposition is correct, both
her sons, Charles and James, are my great-great-greatgrandfathers.
First cousins were known to marry fairly regularly
back in the day, and this is possibly what had happened
in my newly found family. James and Annie were most
probably first cousins, each of them having Charles
Saint and Mary Abbott as a set of grandparents.
When Gary and I later looked for their marriage
certificate at The Rooms, none was found, although
birth and/or baptismal records for all ten children
that Annie bore were readily available.13 Perhaps the
marriage record did not survive. There is also the
possibility that if a minister was not available to perform
the ceremony when the couple was ready to marry, or,
if the Methodist Church did not accept unions between
first cousins, that the couple had been married by a
Charles and Mary’s eldest son Charles married Jane,
who, sadly, has come down through the generations
without a recorded surname.14 How often women have
been effaced so that it is only by thoroughly researching
the men in their lives that we get a glimpse of them.
Jane bore ten children, however, and her second eldest
daughter, born April 19th, 1837, was Arianna.15
Charles and Mary’s second son James married Thirza
Beaumont, who bore seven children, and Thirza’s
second eldest son, born in the same year as Arianna,
1837, was named James after his father.16
Charles and Jane’s gravestones are not to be found.
Perhaps they are numbered with those that have been
knocked down in past years and who now appear as
nubs overgrown with grass or, perhaps, their remains
are under the walls of the old church. James and
Thirza’s, however, are prominent amongst the Saint
stones that remain (James being the merchant who
purchased Mockbeggar in 1851).
And Arianna? Yes, she is most likely the Annie for
whom this quest was undertaken.
The Bonavista Archives list James’s wife - James,
the son of James and Thirza - as Arianna Caroline
with no last name given.17Annie was her moniker, an
endearment. And her last name? If she is the daughter of
Charles and Jane, as suspected, it was Saint at birth and
did not change with her marriage.
It’s been four years since my first visit to Bonavista
looking for the grave of my great-great grandmother
Annie Saint - a lark turned quest that unearthed a
richness of heritage I would have never have thought
possible. As a result, I have developed a deep love and
affinity for the land and people of Newfoundland, which
now hold a special and dear place in my heart and
Many Newfoundlanders have set their sights on
far horizons and left their Island nest on betterment
migrations, or simply for far-flung adventures. Some
return in their own lifetimes. Others return generations
later when their descendants, drawn to their roots, find
their way home.
Margot Maddison-MacFadyen, a PhD candidate in
Interdisciplinary Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland,
currently resides in Prince Edward Island. Interested in reclaiming
local histories of the maritime Atlantic, she also writes poetry and
1 Crystal Randall. Letter, with accompanying genealogical records
of the Saint family numbering 18 pages in total, to author. (Bonavista
Historical Society, Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador, 2007).
2 "Memorial United Church." The Town of Bonavista: Landfall of
Cabot. (Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador, n.d.).
3 Charles Lench. The Story of Methodism in Bonavista. (St. John’s,
Newfoundland: Harry Cuff Publishers, Ltd., 1985), 57-58.
4 Dorset Record Office, England. April, 1803. Charles was
apprenticed to Thomas Bass until 1785 when he was twenty-one years
5 Lench, 59.
6 Ibid, 46. Thirty people contributed funds for the pews. Four of
these persons were women. Charles, whose donation was the second largest, paid £10 for pews in the body of the church and contributed
another £4 with Mrs. Skiffington. Sarah Abbott, whose contribution
was the largest, paid £20 for pews in the upstairs gallery.
7 "Mockbeggar Plantation or Room." The Town of Bonavista: Landfall
of Cabot. (Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador, n.d.).
8 Mockbeggar Plantation: Provincial Historic Site.” (Government
of Newfoundland and Labrador: Department of Tourism, Culture and
Recreation. Published by the Minister, n.d.).
10 Lench, 112.
11 Saint family genealogical records. (Bonavista Historical Society.
Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador), 1.
13 Gary and I conducted our search in The Rooms, the Provincial
Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador which are located in St.
John’s, on the 14th and 15th of August 14-15, 2007.
14 Saint family genealogical records, 2.
16 Ibid, 3.
17 Ibid, 12.