The Campbells of Little Bay Island, Newfoundland

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Location: Little Bay Island, Newfoundlandmap
Surname/tag: Campbell, Welsh
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Narrative Geneology of the Campbell Family

As remembered by Fanny Campbell Abrahamson[1]. Note, John, the patriarch, seems to have been born in St. John's Newfoundland, where he met Elizabeth, but this narrative centers around Little Bay Island, or Islands in Twillingate.

John Campbell and Elizabeth Welsh

John Robert Campbell lived in Newfoundland in the early 1800's, supporting himself as a fisherman in the waters around Newfoundland and the Grand Banks area of Labrador. He had been a friend and associate of a young woman of the area for about six years but had never reached the point of marriage, although she and their respective families and acquaintances believed the relationship would eventually develop into marriage. However, Elizabeth Welsh, the daughter of a fisherman from Ireland, came to Newfoundland to visit relatives and caught John Robert's attention. He fell completely in love with her. She was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman and yet modest and intelligent. They married and in time produced nine: children, Dan, James, John, Albin, Henry, Peter, Lucy, Mary Ann and Salina.

In her early 40's Elizabeth was found to have cancer of the uterus[2]. lt was necessary for her to go to St. Johns for the operation. It was rather late in the year to be traveling such a distance over the open sea in a sailing vessel and she and John Robert had to consider the hazards involved. Hence they decided that he would stay in Newfoundland with the younger children to prevent their being orphaned and deprived of both parents should the boat be lost at sea. Dan, the eldest son, would accompany his mother to St. Johns and would at the same time buy the years supply of food for the family. It developed that the next two sons, James and John, also wanted to accompany their mother to St. Johns. So, on a lovely fall morning John Robert took his beloved wife, Elizabeth and their three oldest sons to the dock where they were to board a boat for St. Johns. By our standards it was a small boat, but for that time it was considered sturdy and reliable, though subject to the whims of any prevailing wind since it had no auxiliary power of any kind. John Robert was a very devout man, though of no religious denomination. He pressed into his wife's hands a copy of the Bible, urging her to read it daily during her absence.

Elizabeth recovered well from her surgery and on another lovely, unseasonably warm morning, she and her sons and the family's supply of food for the coming year began their journey home. John Robert knew what day they were to start for home. He was up early scanning the sky anxiously and pacing the shore near their home. His anxiety increased as he observed the rapidly skidding clouds building up and the winds beginning to increase. He told the family that he hoped the boat had not left harbor for, if it had, they had seen the last of it and its passengers and cargo. True to his fears, the boat was lost at sea and all on board died. Also lost were the barrels of salted meat and fish, tubs of butter, barrels of flour, molasses and other staple food items that were to supply the families of that small community for the coming year. Every family in that community suffered the loss of at least one member of its family, plus its winter's supply of food and faced great hardship.

There was no public assistance available to them and they had to rely on themselves to make it thru the year. John Robert assessed his family's needs and compared them with the pitifully small supply of food left over from the previous year. It was a year of almost constant hunger for all of them but, due to his management of their resources and to a supply of fish from the sea that he was able to get on occasion they survived. During this period the usual conflicts between the members of the community were magnified by the suffering and deprivation all were experiencing. John Robert became the local arbiter of differences for he was known as a fair man, not relying on his personal opinions but, rather, turning to the Bible for guidance. This reputation as a fair judge of matters stayed with him for the rest of his life and he was known all over that part of Newfoundland as someone to turn to in case of dispute.

He lived to be 89 years old but never remarried. His daughter, Mary Ann, whose fiancée had also been lost at sea with her mother and brothers, later married and moved to Harbor Grace[3]. I don't know about Lucy and Salina but believe they married and lived in Corner Brook Newfoundland. I don't know what became of Henry but Peter married Helen Roberts and Albin, our grandfather, married her sister Martha Roberts.

Peter Campbell and Helen Roberts

Helen and Martha were from Wales. Their father had been the youngest son of the family by a second wife and was his father's favorite. Welsh law required that the family lands be bequeathed to the sons in a certain order according to their age, but did not stipulate how the monies were to be bequested. As a result, upon the death of the family head, it was found that the monies had all been bequeathed to the favorite youngest son. Upon learning that his older brothers planned to go to court over the matter and not wishing for the family to be involved in such a matter, he left Wales, abandoning his inheritance. He boarded a whaling vessel and learned the whaling trade which he followed for many years. When he married, his wife requested that he no longer work at this hazardous occupation so he settled in Newfoundland, making his living as a fisherman. They produced seven children, Martha (who married Albin Campbell) Elizabeth, Louise, Lucy, Miriam (died as a child), Helen (who married Peter Campbell) and David. He died when his oldest daughter Martha was only sixteen, so this family too experienced the hardships of poverty.

Helen Roberts Campbell and Peter Campbell lived many years in Newfoundland and produced a family there. Peter worked as a fisherman. They were very proud people who tried to ignore the facts of their early humble existence and when he retired they moved to Boston Mass. and pretended that Peter was a retired minister.

David, the only boy, married and produced three children (that is Edmund Roberts, Louisa Roberts, and Martha Bell Roberts). A diptheria epidemic in his community took the lives of his children along with the lives of many other children there. The community would quaranteen any family that had a case of diptheria and no-one could enter or leave such a house. As each child died a neighbor would prepare a small wooden cusket, and push it through the front door. The father would put the small body in the casket, nail on the lid and push it back through the door and it would be taken away for burial. David was never able to get over the trauma of nailing the lid on the caskets of his children and frequently mentioned it in later years. However, he and his wife remained in the area and raised another family. I have no information of Elizabeth, Louise or Lucy Roberts.

Alban Campbell and Martha Roberts

Our part of the family is descended from Albin and Martha. Albin had been a whaler, a very hazardous occupation in those days, since in order to capture a whale it was necessary to approach it in an open boat (operated by hand-oars) and sink a harpoon in a vital spot by hand The response of the whale was unpredictable and many good men were lost when the violent response of the whale they had so harpooned swamped their boat and left them at the mercy of the sea. When Albin and Martha were married in 1872, he changed occupations and settled in Newfoundland where he built and operated a lobster cannery on Little Bay Island. They made a modest living with each member of the family taking a turn working in the cannery. At four years of age a child would take his place at the end of the assembly line where it would be his chore to use his tiny fingers to remove the neck of the lobster and place it in its proper place in the can. As the next child became old enough to take his place in line the other one would move up in the line. It was a warm loving family arrangement, with the demands on the children geared to their age and abilities and they all grew up with a strong feeling of their own worth and value to the family.

Albin was the first lobster canner to line his cans with paper and, as a result, his canned lobster won the blue ribbon at the Liverpool England fair and he received a contract to supply Buckingham Palace with lobster.

After 17 years Albin began to realize that the Lobster was no longer plentiful in those waters so he began a search to find a place to move that could supply his cannery. He found that the waters around Gull Island would meet his needs. Under the conditions of that time Newfoundland was a British Crown Colony and it was possible for him to occuply the island on a special arrangement with the British government

He and Martha had produced nine children by than and were crowded into a five-bedroom house they owned on Little Bay Island, not far from where his cannery was located. He hired a man to help him and, using 2 cross-cut saw, they hand-sawed the cannery in half, loaded it onto his sailing vessel and took it to Gull Island. There he converted it into a large home for his family. As all fishermen of the time did, he located the dwelling near the bay and built a dock for his rowboats and dorries just off the front porch. This meant that the well, from which they got all their fresh water was some distance away. A large barrel was placed by the back door that had to be filled from the well daily. Each morning certain of the children were required to place a yoke on their shoulders, from each side of which hung a water pall and make repeated trips back and forth from the well with pails of water until the barrel was full. Not a bad summer job, I imagine, but difficult in he winter. He also built pens to house the pigs, cattle and sheep he expected to bring to the island. The pens were located so that when the tide came the water would come up part-way into the pen. As a result, all of the animals, including the pigs would bathe daily in the sea-water, and no member of the family had seen a dirty animal until leaving the island and observing how animals were cared for in other places. He built a steam-powered saw mill to supplement the income from the cannery by selling lumber.

After building a new cannery, making arrangements to buy lobster from the local fishermen, and putting out lobster pots of his own in the waters around Gull Island, he was ready to move his family. He was able to rent his house on Little Bay Island out for $2.00 per month so loaded his family and household goods onto his sailing schooner, the Mary Ann (named for his sister) and set out for Gull Island. By the fall of 1889 they were settled and ready for winter.

There would be no school available to educate the children so it was decided that the oldest boy, John, then about 17 years old, would teach the children. He was of small stature, being about 5'3" tall and weighing about 130 pounds and was very near-sighted. Glasses to correct his problem were not available to them there at that time so it was many years before he was ever able to see very well. He was, however, studious and the children responded well to him. All of them grow up with a good knowledge of reading, writing, spelling, arithmatic, and the histories of England, the colony of Newfoundland and of the Royal family of England.

The home had no running water nor any form of inside plumbing, neither did it have the familiar outside toilet so common in the early rural areas of the United States. Instead, chamber pots were provided in each bedroom and their contents were buried early each morning. During, the day such needs of personal hygiene were met with in the privacy of the nearby woods and promptly buried.

The kitchen floor, made of birch planks, was scrubbed daily with sand and then was covered with a light layer of white sand from the beach.

Albin and Martha rose at 4:00AM and children rose a little later. They worked long hours of every day and retired at dark. Household and personal needs were taken care of by the ingenuity of the family and by hard work. Wool from the sheep they raised was carded, spun into yarn by Martha, and knit into garments by the girls of the family. Purchased yardages from St Johns were fashioned into garments. Shoes, except for those for dress-up wear, were hand made. Soap, candles and yeast were all made by Martha who was something of an expert and was noted as 2 good cook who baked the best yeast bread in the area. Butter, flour, molasses (no sugar) hard-tack biscuits and salted meats were purchased by the barrel from St. Johns once a year.

The first year on the island they planted a large garden, hoping to raise enough vegetables to feed the family with some fresh foods. Everything sprouted well and grew rapidly as the soil was rich and the rain plentiful. However, just as summer was beginning, the icebergs from the North came into the bay, chilling the land and freezing their entire crop. This was an annual occurence and they were never able to raise a garden on Gull island. However, on the back side of Gull Island, away from the path of the icebergs, was another small island that could be reached by rowboat. There they succeeded in raising each year a good garden that would not be frozen just as it was beginning to mature.

Their greatest fear was fire, against which their only defense was the caution of each one on the island. Each child was carefully taught and supervised and as a result the family was never the victim of a fire on the Island.

Albin never permitted anyone to disturb Martha's rest, not even in the case of sickness. One of the older children was required to care for any emergency that might come up in the night.

While on the island Martha and Albin produced four more children, which Martha delivered in the local manner, on her hands and knees in front of the fireplace in the living room. The baby was handed to a neighbor woman if one were there or to one of the older girls and then Martha went upstairs to bed.

Albin had received much learning from the local Indians in their healing arts and was skilled in the use of local herbs, roots, and bark. People came from all over the area to have him treat their ills and he was even required on some occasions to set broken bones or to deal with severed fingers or toes. Dr. Grenfell, a Newfoundland physician of some note, made it his business to come and meet Albin and to commend him for the concern and skill he demonstrated in treating the sick and injured.

About 1905 one of the boys, Daniel, brought a balsam tree to the island as a gift for his mother and planted it near the pathway leading to her flower garden near the small creek that ran through their front yard. In 1979, one of William's sons, one Albert Campbell of Buffalo New York, returned to the island to see what it was like. The Balsam tree, which began as the only one of its kind had multiplied until the whole island was covered so densly that Albert and his companion could not walk inland from the beach.

In time the children all drifted away from the island except Elmer, who was in bad health, and remained with his parents until his death as a young man of what was then known as “water on the brain"

In their retirement years Albin and Martha moved to Corner Brook, Newfoundland to be near to Louise and her family. In 1922, at the age of 72, Albin, who had never experienced a sick day in his life, cut his hand on a stovepipe while helping set up a stove, contracted tetanus and died on Christmas day. Martha now widowed at 74, began supporting herself by taking in laundry and continued to do so until her death ten years later. She was in good health and was accustomed to taking a daily 2 or 3 mile walk with her granddaughter. On one of these walks, a vehicle, (some say a streetcar) struck the grandaughter and she died a few hours later. Martha never recovered from the shock of this accident and the girl's death and died a few weeks later of a heart attack.

Albin and Martha's Children


John never married, went to Alaska during the early gold-rush days and lived out the rest of his life panning gold. On one occasion [he and a?] companion made a "strike" up near Point Barrow. Bowing to the wishes of his companion, who felt that they lacked the funds and equipment to develop their find, he agreed to sell the "strike" to a mining company for an undisclosed amount of money. The buyers worked the claim for many years, taking millions of dollars worth of gold out. At 88 years of age, John came to Portland, Oregon for dental work as he still had all his teeth. He spent one year with his sister, Fannie, and then returned to his cabin in Ruby Alaska. He died at the age of 90, one month after experiencing a heart attack and being hospitalized. He left what few things of value he still possessed to the Alaska Pioneer Prospector Home, where he had expected to stay if he ever became unable to care for himself.


Louise the second eldest, who had been her mother's companion and helper in the family home, married Samuel Windsor, moved to Corner Brook and produced eight children.

William Henry

William Henry was very musical and inclined to dodge work if possible, but his father was alert to his devices and managed to keep him busy. He married Maude Rideout who was much admired by his sisters, and they produced eight children. William tended to have a cavalier attitude toward his responsibilities as a provider and kept his family in his father's home until Albin tired of the matter and insisted that he care for his family himself. He then moved to St. Johns, where he followed the carpenter trade but continued to be involved in many hair-brained money-making schemes which he financed with “loans" from the other more serious-minded members of the family.


Samuel was a willing worker but a very morose individual, who never married and always expressed resentment that he had been brought into the world. He followed his brother John to Alaska where he spent his life as a gold prospector.


Ezra married Minnie Guininnen in Butte Montana where he was working as a diamond driller in the copper mines. In time he learned to make diamond drills. They produced two daughters, one of whom married an eye specialist named Harvey Hamilton and they live in New Westminster, Canada.


Amelia was a frail and solemn little girl. She found the island lonesome and longed to go to the United States. She found work as a cook to a wealthy family in the United states, following her sister Fannie who had pioneered the way a year earlier. They stayed close to each other and often worked in the same household, Amelia as the cook and Fannie as the maid. In time they found work together in the home of a Doctor (a neurosurgeon) in St. Paul Minnesota. There she met and married Alexander Will by whom she had one son named Campbell Will.


Fannie was a tomboy whose great joy was to lift her long skirts and leap nimbly from row-boat to row-boat where they were moored, bobbing in the water at the dock. (Incidentally this was at great risk to her own safety and frowned upon by her father). She stayed in Newfoundland until 1907 but then at the age of 24 she ventured to the United States where she was later joined by her sister Amelia. After Amelia married she returned home to the island in response to her mother's wishes as she was finding it very lonely with her family gone. Fannie; finding it lonely [she, struckout] later returned to the United States and settled in Butte Montana where her brothers Daniel and Chesley were working in the copper mines. The brothers also operated a rooming and boarding house and she cooked for them. One evening her brothers took her to a dance and then got interested in their own activities and, forgetting she was with them, left her alone with no one to attend her home. Butte was a very rough mining city and she was afraid to go home alone so she selected one of the young men who seemed to her to be reliable and asked him to escort her home. This was Charles E. Abrahamson whom she married after a brief courtship. They produced three children as detailed below.


Elmer was the one who stayed home and died at an early age.


Daniel was the independent thinker of the family and experienced frequent encounters with his father because of wishing to change the way things were done. Poor Albin, loaded heavily with the responsibilities of a rapidly growing family, found it difficult to think in any terms other than those of getting the jobs done in the most familiar way possible. When Daniel was 16 he encouraged his father to make use of the steam power used to saw the lumber to pull the logs into place instead of hauling them into place with a hand-held tool. At first Albin did not wish to take the time to try but eventually allowed Daniel to demonstrate. After seeing the success of Daniel's theory he took great pride in the boy's inventiveness and incorporated others of his work-saving ideas into their routine.


Lucy lived six days and was kept on a block of ice in the storage shed until the ground thawed,to enable them to dig her a proper grave To the best of my knowledge this is the only time this family ever made use of the ice available to them. They were so locked in to the prevailing methods of preserving foods by salting it down or drying it that they never gave a thought to using their bountiful supply of ice,

Chesley Meyer

Chesley Meyer was a very brilliant child who taught himself to read at the age of three, by bringing the bible to his older brothers and sisters and asking them to tell him what the words were. Before any of them realized what he was really doing he was able to read. After moving to the United States and mining for a while he began to follow the carpenter trade and eventually mastered the entire craft including the reading and preparing of blueprints.


Fred was a favorite of the family - a thoughtful and considerate boy with a cheerful unruffled disposition. He died at the age of nine of Tetanus. He and his brother, Chesley had been carving little boats from pieces of wood and had decided to destroy one of them. Just as Chesley raised the axe to chop up the little boat, Fred changed his mind and reached for the boat. It was too late to change the descent of the axe which chopped off one of Fred's fingers. Tetanus (lock-jaw) was the scourge of that area and he succumbed to it, dying after a lengthy illness. The incident left its mark on Chesley, who blamed himself and never really recovered from his shock and grief over the accident. In time he married a lovely Swedish girl (widowed with two children) named Ruth and they produced one boy, Robert.


Arthur lived six days. People of that time seemed to accept the deaths of a certain number of infants without assigning any reason the death.

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  1. This narrative was supplied by Karen Rahal. The pdf of the photocopy is linked. Karen notes: "It was given to me by a man named LC Campbell in Seattle. His grandmother was Ruth Hilder Engaborg. Chesley Myers Campbell was her second husband. LC's father was her first husband's son but he took the name Campbell because he was raised by Chesley Campbell. So LC is not related by blood to the Campbells but he happened to have a box of things belonging to his step-grandmother Ruth and this story was in the box!"

    I have transcribed this, doing my best to maintain the original spelling and punctuation, with the exception of page numbers and headers. Those I have modified for typographical clarity. There are some spellings in this text, and preferred names, that diverge from the contemporary records. Eg. Albin vs Alvin, Helen vs Ellen. Elmer vs Richard. None of these seem likely to result in significant confusion. Where there are apparent errors in this text, I've made a note of them.
  2. The year seems to have been about 1862, inferring from the birth records of Daniel and James' children.
  3. Mary Ann, whose fiancée had also been lost at sea with her mother and brothers, later married and moved to Harbor Grace This seems to be wrong. Mary Ann married a Solomon Wiseman, and stayed in Little Bay Islands, where she died in 1907.

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