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HomePort is pleased to host materials related to the descendants of Ann and James Pitts of Lance Cove, Bell Island, Newfoundland. James was born in 1735 in Kennford near Exeter, Devon, England arriving as a teenager in Newfoundland by 1751. They had three sons - John (1783-1825) married Elizabeth Picco (1786-1826), James (1784-1870) married her sister, Frances Bartlett Picco (1786-1864), and William (1787-1869) married Ann Juer (1794-1869).

John Pitts drowned in Conception Bay in 1825, and his wife Elizabeth
died the next year. The remaining children, lived with their double cousins (Aunt Frances & Uncle James Pitts) and relocated to St. John's, Newfoundland where the children grew up in a large combined family. Capt. William Pitts and his family remained on Bell Island.


The original Lance Cove family had nineteen grandchildren of which fourteen survived and married. Nine of those marriages are known to have produced sixty-four descendants who comprised the fourth generation. Those nine families with family sizes indicated were:
The Ebsary descendants through Mary Pitts and her cousin Belinda Bartram Pitts who married Ebsary brothers, appear to be well documented and their grandchildren alone numbered over fifty.

A pattern of sisters marrying brothers, or cousins seems to have begun with the Picco-Pitts marriages on Bell Island, and continued with the Ebsary and Knight marriages. Double marriages continued into the next generation when Lydia Gertrude Pitts married Robert Chelsea Ayre and her sister Mary Julia Pitts married his brother Frederick William Ayre. These marriages produced seven sons and three daughters and thus many Newfoundland Ayre descendants have Pitts ancestry.

Descendants include individuals whose careers are recorded in the Newfoundland Encyclopedia:

Three Pitts descendants Gerald Ayre, Eric Stanley Ayre and Bernard Pitts Ayre, were members of the Newfoundland Regiment and died at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916. Ethel G. Dickenson (1860-1918) a descendant, is remembered for her wartime nursing career, and her selfless concern for others that led to her own death from the Spanish Flu.

James Pitts Memorial and Pitts Family History - Newfoundland describe special commemorative projects.

 A Daily News (St. John's) article published February 10, 1958 by Grace Sparkes states:
"His [E.J.Pratt's] roots go much deeper. . . for through his mother's family he can trace back to a generation of Newfoundlanders, Joseph Pitts, who was here in 1678.  The story of Pitts' harrowing experiences when he was taken prisoner on his way back from Newfoundland . . ."
The article sparked research into a possible connection between Joseph Pitts who was in Newfoundland in 1678 and James Pitts who arrived in 1751.  Although no documented connection between the two has been located yet - they were both from Exeter area and with the same surname likely shared a common ancestor at some point. Possibly more research will indicate if the connection mentioned by Sparkes was close kinship or more distant clanship.

The story of Joseph Pitts, the teenage Newfoundland fisherman, captured on the high seas by pirates in 1678 is of Biblical proportion and remains a classic tale.  Published in England in 1704 and retold in shorter form by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould in 1908 the story is a part of Newfoundland history as well as the heritage of the Pitts families with roots in Devon. Covering his fifteen years in slavery and his travels throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Europe the story is compelling.

The epic as told in his own words began in 1678 when Joseph was age 14 or 15,

"when my genius led me to be a Sailor, and to see foreign Countries."
After several short voyages he left his Exeter home aboard the Speedwell with George Taylor, Master bound for
"the Western Islands, from thence to Newfoundland, from thence to Bilboa and from thence to the Canaries"

Attempting a return from the fishing banks of Newfoundland, they are overtaken near Balboa by Algerian pirates who took the crew into captivity delivering them after further piratical ventures at sea to the slave market in Algiers where young Joseph Pitts was sold into slavery.  The next fifteen years of his life as a slave included travel to Tunis, Egypt and both Mecca and Medina with his third master, Eumer who had purchased him from his second master, Ibrahim.  With some diplomatic assistance he escaped and reached Leghorn (Italy), making a 700 mile walk through Germany in winter and eventual arriving in England, where he was thrown in Colchester Prison (for resisting  impressment into King's Service) until he could prove his identity through Sir William Falkener. 

The heartening story of his return to his father John Pitts' home and his enduring religious conviction throughout his ordeal, make the epic worth retelling.

The history of British relations with the "famous and warlike city of Algiers - the scourge of Christendom" from its origin as a piratical state, to the abolition of Christian slavery by Lord Exmouth in 1816 is well documented in correspondence of diplomatic agents and consuls at Algiers from 1600, preserved in the British Public Records Office.  Essentially a terrorist state, Algiers was a constant problem for European citizens.

Few Westerners visited Mecca, or knew much of Islam in the 1600's, thus Joseph's experience was published in 1704, as A Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mohametans. A 1971 reprint by Gregg International was the source for this material as well as Baring-Gould's, Devonshire Characters and Strange Events (1908).  A modern analysis of captivity narratives published in 2001 places Joseph's story in the context of other published slave stories from the era in Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England.

The story of James Pitts family in Lance Cove, is well told by Lloyd C. Rees through An Outport Revisited.


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