Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

"So Fond of the Pleasure to Shoot": The Sale of Firearms to Inuit on Labrador's North Coast in the Late Eighteenth Century

Academic journal article Newfoundland and Labrador Studies

"So Fond of the Pleasure to Shoot": The Sale of Firearms to Inuit on Labrador's North Coast in the Late Eighteenth Century

Article excerpt

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

WHILE THE INTRODUCTION of firearms on the Labrador coast in the late eighteenth century has been commented on in earlier studies, details remain unclear in the extant literature about the role Moravian missionaries played in first prohibiting and later encouraging the sale of firearms in their stores at Nain, Okak, and Hopedale. (1) The radical change of policy in 1786, which suddenly permitted the sale of firearms and related supplies to Inuit after a 15-year-long absolute refusal to do so, especially requires further clarification. As a hunting people, it is not surprising that Inuit desired guns for the more effective killing of seals, caribou, and other staples to their diet. (2) The accessibility of guns among southern traders in the 1770s and early 1780s and the continuous movement of Inuit to the south to obtain firearms, gunpowder, and lead forced a change in Moravian policy. The present paper details the context and process of change, as revealed in the Moravian records at the archives in Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Muswell Hill (London), England, and thus addresses some of the unanswered questions in the literature.

After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, in which the King of France "cede[d] and guarantie[d] to his said Britannick Majesty, in full right, Canada, with all its dependencies, as well as the island of Cape Breton, and all the other islands and coasts in the gulph and river of St. Lawrence," Governor Hugh Palliser of Newfoundland sought to localize and contain Inuit as loyal subjects and trading partners in the north while the British ship fishery was being developed in the south of Labrador. (3) From 1771 on, Moravian missionaries established themselves among the Inuit on the Atlantic coast north of Cape Harrison to effect their conversion, as they had done since 1733 in Greenland. The Moravian effort to keep Inuit apart from European influences was supported for a while by Palliser's successors, since such containment fit the British mercantile and strategic plans for Labrador. (4) Land grants in Nain, Okak, and Hopedale of 100,000 acres each secured a relatively large land base for Inuit habitation and subsistence near Moravian settlements. (5) From the beginning of the Moravian presence, trading stores were attached to the missions to encourage settlement and evangelization near the Moravian missionaries.

But a bounded Inuit settlement area in the north remained far from being the containment that was originally envisioned. Continued British and French mercantile attraction in southern Labrador and in the Strait of Belle Isle and a less restrained lifestyle in the south for Inuit who did not wish to comply with the Moravian religious and moral requirements shattered the dream of strictly localized communities. The attempt of missionaries to preserve Inuit subsistence and lifestyle, albeit in a Christianized way and with trading relations to the Moravian stores, required continued mobility for hunting and fishing by kayak, umiak, and European-style boat at sea and by dogsled during the winter. This mobility also facilitated continued access to the south, especially where southern traders offered a wider variety of goods than the Moravian stores as well as better means of hunting (firearms) and travelling (sailboats) desired by many Inuit in the north. The non-restrictive trade conditions imposed on Moravians by an Order-in-Council of 1769 permitted continued opportunities for Inuit middlemen employed or supplied by European traders from southern and central Labrador, who engaged in business relations with fellow Inuit in the north. Inuit were thus not required to trade only with Moravians. (6)

Hopedale and the southern Inuit were already involved in a Labrador trading network that had been established well before Moravians arrived there in the 1770s. (7) Jens Haven, writing about Arvertok [modern spelling: Agvituk], the pre-Christian Hopedale, describes it as a place that:

   is very well known and famous among them [the Inuit], and whoever
   has lived a winter in Arvatok [a variation in spelling] boasts
   about it as if he had lived in London or Paris. … 
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