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GLEDHILL, SAMUEL, lieutenant-governor of Placentia (Plaisance); b. 7 April 1677, at Horbury, near Wakefieid, Yorkshire, younger son of Robert Gledhill, cloth-dresser, and Isabella (Atkinson); d. 1735 or 1736.

Educated at Wakefield Grammar School and privately, Samuel Gledhill ran away from home before the age of twelve to join the army but was brought back again. Later, with his parents’ consent, he entered the navy and served Captain (later Admiral Sir) Hovenden Walker as his secretary. Gledhill went to Spain, where he was kidnapped, and was sold as a slave in the West Indies. After his release he returned to Spain and Italy. Commissioned lieutenant in 1702 and lieutenant-colonel in 1707, he served in England and in the Low Countries; at the siege of Douai he was wounded and taken prisoner by the French.

In 1702 Gledhill had married Isabella Richmond of Carlisle, by whom he was to have at least nine children. In 1710 he contested a parliamentary seat in Carlisle, but without success. In 1712, however, he was made lieutenant-governor of Carlisle with the substantive rank of captain in General Stanhope’s regiment of foot. When peace came, Gledhill found that life as a half-pay captain did not suit him; he fell out with his wife’s family and spent some time at The Hague before receiving an appointment, through the patronage of the Duke of Argyll, as lieutenant-governor of Placentia, Newfoundland, in succession to Martin Purcell, who, in 1717, had replaced John Moody.

On the voyage out to take up his new post, Gledhill and his family were shipwrecked off Ferryland Head on 3 Sept. 1719, but were rescued and eventually reached Placentia. Gledhill was armed with sufficient capital to buy the rights to many houses and fishing-rooms which Moody had acquired when the French left Placentia. As lieutenant-governor of Placentia, Gledhill was nominally responsible to Richard Philipps*, the governor of Nova Scotia and Placentia; on his arrival in Newfoundland, Gledhill took over command of two companies of Philipps’ regiment, and received an allocation of £2,500 for additional fortifications. In 1720, however, Philipps issued orders that the garrison at Placentia be reduced to a single company of 40 men and that the inhabitants of Newfoundland be induced to transfer to Nova Scotia. Gledhill had to acquiesce in the establishment cut, and the fortification works were left unfinished, but he refused to display proclamations that the inhabitants were to leave unless he was ordered to do so by the secretary of state “in whose province lies this land.”

The value of Gledhill’s official salary and allowances he later estimated at £688 15s., but he was determined to exploit his position to the full. By 1727 he had 24 properties and a capital of over £11,000. Many of his “plantations” were in the names of his eight children – including three daughters born in Newfoundland, named Placentia, America, and Carolina. He invested heavily too in ships, and in 1727 he wrote to a relative, “I’ve so disposed my Affairs, that from what ever Corner of the Compass the Wind Blows, it shall serve some one of my Children’s Vessels, each of which is to be an owner.”

In 1726 his wife and children went home, and his wife died soon after reaching England. In his rambling letters and notes, Gledhill frequently comments on his solitary state; eventually, however, one of his sons, Joseph, rejoined him and was edged into the captaincy of Gledhill’s company. Joseph also, assisted his father in many business ventures. In 1731 Gledhill claimed a community of 30 households with a winter population of 179 (plus the garrison), almost all of whom depended on him in some way. His new warehouse monopolized domestic commerce as well as the trade with the summer fishing population of some 2,000 men. He divided up Great Beach and leased it and other shore properties annually for fishing stages and cook-rooms. Some of his boats were manned as fishing vessels by members of the garrison, others were hired out to visiting fishing captains. His ships traded across the Atlantic and he had a man of business in London. He even began shipbuilding at Placentia.

When he first arrived in Newfoundland Gledhill was assiduous in suggesting improvements, such as the construction of a road between Placentia and St John’s, and several times he met costs for his men when supplies went astray. As he became increasingly absorbed in business, however, he gave less attention to Fort Frederick at Placentia and its garrison, and often failed to answer official letters, claiming never to have received them.

Although Gledhill paid little attention to the orders of his superior, Philipps, he made use of his position as lieutenant-governor when dealing with the commodores of the annual convoys to Newfoundland. Gledhill refused to acknowledge the superior authority of the convoy commodores, whose supervisory visits he resented, maintaining that he was responsible only to Philipps. Gledhill collaborated closely, however, with the fishing admirals who normally dealt with disputes arising during the fishing season.

Gledhill’s activities were bound to bring him into collision with the Board of Trade and Plantations and with the English merchants concerned in the Newfoundland fishery. The latter were determined to cheek the activities of the Newfoundland settlers, to maintain prior rights to shore facilities, and to control commerce in the colony. At various times between 1722 and 1727 complaints against Gledhill were made by merchants of London, Bristol, Poole, Dartmouth, Bideford, Barnstable, and Whitehaven. He was accused of monopolizing the trade in wines, spirits, and woollen goods, of maintaining the beaches as his private property and charging high rates for their use; his shipbuilding project was also condemned as it would exhaust the supply of raw materials used for building stages and cook-rooms. It was claimed that he removed from their houses persons he did not like, and filled Placentia with Jacobites, Irish papists, and transported felons. A former member of the garrison, Thomas Salmon, brought serious charges against him: Gledhill, he claimed, had driven him out of his fishing business, seized his house, and cruelly treated his wife and daughter. Gledhill managed, however, to find witnesses to discredit Salmon.

By 1727 the complaints against the lieutenant-governor began to be taken seriously, and in 1728 the Board of Trade reported to the Duke of Newcastle that “so disorderly a person could not be allowed to continue.” Gledhill’s pay was stopped and in May 1729, when Captain Henry Osborn* was designated governor of Newfoundland and commander-in-chief, Gledhill was put under his orders and instructed to come home. He duly appeared with witnesses and evidence at the end of 1729, and, after hearings before the privy council committee, he was restored to his command on 11 June 1730. After his return to Newfoundland with reinforcements for his depleted company, in August 1731, there was less friction with the authorities at home, perhaps because Newfoundland – at last – had a permanent governor to whom the lieutenant-governor of Placentia was directly responsible. Gledhill could no longer play off his absent superior, the governor of Nova Scotia, against the annual convoy commodores. Moreover, after his return in 1731 Gledhill had to share his local influence with the newly appointed justices of the peace. In the fall of 1731 George Clinton*, the first of many royal officials to hold the double position of governor and commodore, reported that Placentia was difficult to manage: “these are a set of people that no one person living can please.” But by and large Gledhill, now old and prosperous, gave no more trouble. In 1733 the governor, Lord Muskerry [MacCarthy] made no complaints about him.

Samuel Gledhill seems to have been absent from Placentia in September 1735 and had died before 26 May 1736, when his son, Captain Joseph Gledhill, took over his depleted and decrepit company, and the poorly maintained Fort Frederick. How much of Gledhill’s fortune survived him does not appear to be known.

Samuel Gledhill represents a stage in the development of settled authority in Newfoundland. As a military officer with a limited income from the government, he took some responsibility for local government, but was soon attracted to set up as landowner, merchant, and monopolist. Undoubtedly he exploited his position at the government’s expense and was guilty of many technical offences against trade regulations. How far he was guilty of oppression and cruelty as well is hard to say, though he was certainly arbitrary in his treatment of competitors. His naive letters and autobiographical sketch show him to have been pleased with his success. His example demonstrates clearly that it was possible for an individual settler, established in a newly acquired part of Newfoundland, to build up a substantial locally based commerce and a large private fortune.

D. B. Quinn

W. H. Chippindall, Memoirs of Lt.-ColSamuel Gledhill, lieutenant governor of Placentia and commander-in-chief of Newfoundland from 1719 to 1727, to which is prefixed a connected narrative of his life by his descendant, Colonel W. H. Chippindall (Kendal, 1910). PRO, Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1720–45; B.T.Journal, 1718–22, 1722/23–1728, 1728/29–1734, 1734/35–1741; CSP, Col., 1719–20, 1720–21, 1722–23, 1724–25, 1728–29, 1730, 1731, 1735–36, 1737; C.T.Papers, 1720–28; C.T.Books and Papers, 1731–34, 1735–38. Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld. Prowse, History of Nfld. Rogers, Newfoundland. [C. G. Head, Eighteenth century Newfoundland . . . (Toronto, 1976).]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

D. B. Quinn, “GLEDHILL, SAMUEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gledhill_samuel_2E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gledhill_samuel_2E.html
Author of Article:   D. B. Quinn
Title of Article:   GLEDHILL, SAMUEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 15, 2024