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The Battle of Foxtrap
Source: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

My family's connection to the Battle of Foxtrap is via my great-grandfather James John Butler. He was embroiled in this because the railway company chose his land to install a turn-around wye and a watering station. This required the expropriation of quite a bit more property than just a railway easement and he was most upset. A photo of James John Butler can be viewed via the Batten Family photograph link on the Genealogy page of this site.

Of all legends and incidents associated with particular communities in Newfoundland, perhaps the most famous is the "Battle of Foxtrap'' or the "Battle of Foxtrap Bridge'' as contemporary newspaper accounts described the series of civil disturbances which greeted the building of the railway around Conception Bay from 1880 to 1882. "In 1881 the inhabitants of the south shore of Conception Bay, believing that all unutterable evils would happen to them if the line went through their lands, stoned the engineers, took away their instruments, and drove them from their work. The inspector of police, Mr. Carty, and the police magistrate, [Prowse], with only eleven men, were left to contend with a mad, excited crowd of about five hundred men and women armed with guns and every variety of weapon. The arrest of the ringleader at the point of bayonet, and firm action of the police authorities, eventually restored order. All this unseemly, dangerous disturbance was directly caused by the unscrupulous fabrication of falsehoods to stir up these poor, ignorant people to oppose the railway.''

In Prowse's view the Foxtrap incident was sparked by a vicious rumour, spread by railway opponents, that a toll gate was to be erected to tax all pedestrians and vehicles; furthermore, it was claimed, valuable farm land and horses would be subject to taxation and some other parcels of land would be annexed. Despite assurances from their member in the House of Assembly, Joseph Little, their clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Coley, and the local schoolmaster that this was not the case, the local residents, believing people to be in the paid employ of the interests of the railway, continued their rioting for five days, beginning on July 26,1881.

St. John's newspapers, virulently partisan on the issue of the railway, had a field day with the events. In a survey of newspapers chronicling the event, Eric Moon writes that the Morning Chronicle nailed the news of the riot with "a four-decker headline:''

Armed Resistence to the Railroad
Fox Trap to the Rescue
Native Amazonian Troops in the Field
Latest News from the Front.
Observer, an eye witness who commented in the paper, wrote of
"One ancient virago, with arms bared, hair streaming wildly behind
[leading] ... the troops, brandishing the fork with which cod are
thrown on the stages, and [declaring] ... that she will let daylight
into the stomachs of these invaders".
The Chamber of Commerce, in its annual report, condemned the action of the railway while the Telegram waggishly congratulated "General Prowse, Inspector Carty and the gallant little army under their command'' and later proposed creating "the Order of the Broomstick. .. the arms to consist of three middle-aged women rampant, on a red ground, with Fox Trap Bridge in the distance, and the General returning from the field of gore with captured broomsticks''.

The Battle of Foxtrap was waged, as the accounts indicated, mainly by men and women wielding a variety of such weapons as pitch forks, knives, broomsticks, hatchets, and in the case of women, aprons laden with sharp stones. Further incidents occurred in October 1881, when a manifesto was nailed to the bridge calling on all residents to withstand the railway invasion, and on May 12, 1882, when railway engineers were reportedly attacked and driven off by women wielding "blubber and pickled water''. The case continued to be trumpeted in the press with the Evening Telegram staunchly supporting the cause of the people to the point that Mr. Blackman, manager of the Railway, brought a libel action against the paper after loudly complaining in a letter to the Evening Mercury, of his treatment.

During the riots a variety of arrests were made, including that of a man described as the ringleader. Another person charged in the 1882 fracas was a fourteen-year old boy who was reputedly excused by Judge Conroy when he promised to be "a good boy and a railway man in the future''. Prowse, an ardent supporter of the railway, described it as "one of the greatest factors in the promotion of modern civilization and progress''. Despite the resistance from Foxtrap the line was eventually completed to Harbour Grace.

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