Silver Coin from Henry VII’s Reign is Oldest English Coin Found in Canada
Newfoundland is a large island off the east coast of Canada. Recently archaeologists discovered a silver coin there which was minted during the reign of the first monarch of the House of Tudor, Henry VII. This is likely to be the oldest English coin ever found in Canada, if not the entire continent of North America.
The Daily Mail reports that it is a half groat, or a two-penny piece, and this silver coin was found this year in Newfoundland, a former British colony. It was minted at the end of the 15th century, somewhere between 1493 and 1499, which makes it over 500 years old! Henry VII ruled England between 1485 and 1509, and is widely credited with restoring the honor, power and stability associated with the English crown, and peacefully handing over the crown to his successor, Henry VIII.
A better-preserved example of a Henry VII half-groat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public domain)
A 500-Year-Old English Coin that Sparks the Imagination
In a press release by the Government of Newfoundland, site supervisor and head archaeologist, William Gilbert, who discovered the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site all the way back in 1995, was quoted as saying, “Some artifacts are important for what they tell us about a site, while others are important because they spark the imagination. This coin is definitely one of the latter. One can’t help but wonder at the journey it made, and how many hands it must have passed through from the time it was minted in Canterbury until it was lost in Cupids sometime early in the 17th century. This is a major find and I am proud of my team for all their hard work.”
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William Gilbert with the English coin. Gilbert discovered the historic site in 1995 and continues to lead the dig as the site supervisor. (Chris O'Neill Yates/CBC)
Establishment of the Colony
The coin likely traveled to the former colony sometime after it was put under British control in 1610 but it was later lost. The merchant adventurer, John Guy from Bristol, had established the site under the then English emperor, James I, who was the first Stuart king. It would become the first English settlement in what is now known as Canada, as Guy and the first group of settlers cleared the land, fished, farmed, and explored for minerals.
They also tried to establish fur trading with the Beothuk (Beothuck) people, who were the indigenous people on the island at the time, who subsisted by hunting-gathering. The Beothuk resisted contact with European settlers for a long time, moving inwards as waves of settlers came ashore, and on the whole, the Europeans failed consistently to establish contact with the Beothuk.
However, John Guy and his party were successfully able to establish contact in 1612, but the ways of the Europeans bred violence with the locals. Since the Beothuk did not use firearms as part of their culture, the struggle for power was one-sided, and the settlers were successfully able to establish supremacy in the spheres of hunting and warfare. Due to a period of overhunting caribou as an alternate means of avoiding starvation, the population of caribou went extinct, and the Beothuk people began dying due to starvation.
Beothuck drawings by Shanawdithit (the last known member of the Beothuck people) representing a variety of subjects. (Library and Archives Canada)
Other native tribes, also pushed to the margins, began competing with the Beothuk people too. By 1769, two successive governors passed legislation that made it legally impermissible to practice ill-treatment and discriminatory behavior against the Beothuk people, but it was too late. By 1829, they were officially declared an extinct population.
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The Cupid Cove Site and The Way Forward
Steve Crocker, Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation, says, “The historical significance of the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site has long been known and its value to the local tourism industry is proven. It is incredible to imagine that this coin was minted in England and was lost in Cupids over a hundred years later. It links the story of the early European exploration in the province and the start of English settlement.”
In 2001 an Elizabethan coin was discovered at the same site. It was dated to the 16th century, somewhere around 1560 or 1561, and was considered the oldest coin found in Canada, until now. In total, a massive 150,000 artifacts have been found at the site, which now has an interactive museum known as the Cupids Legacy Centre, reports The Winnipeg Sun. Research on the coin is underway, as the plan is to put it on display by 2022 during the tourist season.
Top image: Images of the English coin minted sometime between 1493 and 1499 and discovered at the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site in 2021. Source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
By Sahir Pandey
Atlantic Briefs Desk. 2021. English silver coin dated at more than 500 years old discovered at Newfoundland archeology site. https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/lifestyles/english-silver-coin-dated-at-more-than-500-years-old-discovered-at-newfoundland-archeology-site-100656324/.
Chadwick, J. 2021. Rare 'Henry VII half groat' that was minted in England more than 520 years ago is discovered in Newfoundland - and is likely the oldest English coin EVER found in Canada. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10194899/Rare-Henry-VII-half-groat-likely-oldest-English-coin-Canada.html.
Luther, A. 2021. Rare English Coin Discovered at Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site. Available at: https://www.gov.nl.ca/releases/2021/tcar/1110n01/.
TCP. 2021. Archaeological dig in Newfoundland unearths what could be Canada's oldest English coin. https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/archeological-dig-in-newfoundland-unearths-what-could-be-canada-s-oldest-english-coin-1.5660356.