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Historical Information

West Coast Region - Bay St. George District

US President and the widow Huelen


The following was originally written by Don Morris, in a column he wrote called Vignettes of the west.

Transcribed by Steve Gillis with permission granted by the Western Star

U.S president and the widow Huelen

James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States (1817-1825) once had an occasion to sign passport papers for an obscure western Newfoundland woman. The lady had no renown in the United States, but on the west coast of this island she was hailed as a super active, successful trader; a sparkplug of a woman who got things done.

Iím referring here to the redoubtable Mrs. Anne Huelen of the Codroy Valley. Certainly she was one of the most remarkable women to ever threat the fertile valley. Mrs. Huelen was the subject of my early "Vignettes" in the Western Star, but interest in her has rekindled recently when I discovered a somewhat connection between her and James Monroe. He wasnít the American president at the time, James Madison was. Monroe was his secretary.

The American passport incident involving the widow Huelen is mentioned in the 1835 journal of Archdeacon Edward Wix, a church of England Missionary from Great Britain who, while in Newfoundland, made visits to the Southwest and west coasts.

The reference to Monroe and Mrs. Huelen in the Wix diary is dated Saturday, June 6 and reads;

Walked to the first Barrisway River where three families live, and the widow, Anne Huelen, a native, the mother of the settlements. The recollection of this cheerful old lady is unimpaired, and carries her back to the history of the island for the greater part of a century, and this is a most interesting portion of the history of Newfoundland as it takes in the troubled periods in which the French and American privateers inflicted such incalculable hardships on the simple inhabitants of this coast."

The archdeaconís journal continues: "In 1814, soon after the loss of her husband, she was proceeding (by her own vessel) with one of her daughters, and her catch of cured salmon, to St. Johnís for arrangement of her affairs when she was captured by an American privateer and carried to New York. Her cargo was sold there by a writ of "Venditioni expanos". She showed me her pass papers, which was signed by James Monroe, then secretary to the president of the United States. She speaks with lively gratitude of the very humane attentions which were uniformly paid her while she was detained in New York, especially by a Mrs. Sophia Doty, after whom and Mr. Doty, she had two of her grandchildren, Sophia and Elihu, named after her return to Newfoundland."

The Wix journal said that while in New York Mrs. Huelen was allowed to buy, aboard her own schooner, items paid for with money put into her hands by the belovelent Americans.

I learned in letter research that Mrs. Huelen, after leaving New York with her Monroe-signed papers, went on to St. Johnís and conducted her affairs, which was her original intentions. Reports of the Huelen vessel captured by the American Privateer are, I am informed, to be found in the National Archives in Washington D.C.

Mrs. Huelen met the most distinguished of visitors to the West Coast during her long lifetime. In 1822 she met and talked with William Eppes Cormack who had just completed his epic trek across Newfoundland, the first white man to do so.

Cormack, in his celebrated journal of his historical tramp, also wrote of Mrs. Huelen, although he spelled her name Hulan in his book, which was later published and at one time was required reading material in Newfoundland schools.

Penned Cormack in his journal: " As evidence of the capabilities of portions of Newfoundland for agriculture purposes, notice must be taken of the farm of my hostess, Mrs. Hulan, at the second Barachois River. The stock on it consists of six milch cows, besides other cattle. The dairy could not be surpassed for neatness and cleanliness, and the butter and cheese were excellent. The butter made, exclusive of what was kept for her numerous domestic establishment, was sold, part to the residents at the other places in the Bay, and part to trading vessels that come to the coast in the summer. The cellar was full of potatoes and other vegetables for winter use. She was also an experimental farmer, and exhibited eight different kinds of potatoes, all possessing different qualities to recommend them."

Cormack goes on: " Of domestic poultry there was an ample stock. Mrs. Hulan, although not a native, had lived in St. Georgeís bay upwards of 60 years, and remembers the celebrated navigator Cook (Captain James Cook his summers 1763-1767 surveying the coasts of Newfoundland) when he surveyed the coast. She is indefatigably industrious and useful, and immediately or remotely related to, or connected with, the whole population of the bay, over whom she commands a remarkable degree of material influence and respect."

There are still many families of Huelen-Hulan on the West Coast and I imagine that most of the present generation of that family can trace their roots to that singular widow of long ago- Mrs. Anne Huelen.

© 2001 Stephen Gillis and NL GenWeb