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Record No: mha00000236
Title: Commission appointing William Keen as Commissary in Newfoundland
Dates: Microfilmed in 1955 (originally created 19 May 1736)
Location: Mic.2-5-4-4 MHA
Provenance: Keen, William, 168?-1754
Extent: 1 microfilm reel
Source of Supplied Title: Title assigned by the National Archives of Canada
Restrictions: No restrictions.
Adm. Hist/Bio. Sketch: William Keen ([168-]-1754), merchant and civic official, arrived in Newfoundland circa 1704 from Boston, Massachusetts. He was married and had a son, William. Keen died in St. John's on 29 September 1754.
     Keen initially came to Newfoundland as an agent (or factor) for a New England firm involved in the cod trade. He soon founded his own import-export business, specializing in West Indian products in St. John's, and established fishing and trading premises in Bonavista and Greenspond. When the French forces captured St. John's in 1708, they took William Keen and a Richard Cole back to Placentia as hostages where they remained until the recapture of Placentia by the English a few months later.
     Keen became a strong advocate for an improved legal system and the need to have appointed officials to maintain order during the winter months and to settle civil disputes in the absence of British authorities. In 1729, Keen became one of the first justices of the peace appointed in Newfoundland. Keen was later appointed magistrate, a commissary of the vice-admiralty court (1736), naval officer (1742) and Newfoundland prize officer (1744). In 1750, he was appointed the first commissioner of oyer and terminer, which allowed him to hear, in the presence of the naval governor, all cases except treason.
     On 9 September 1754, Keen was robbed and assaulted at his home near Quidi Vidi in St. John's by a group of four soldiers, five fishermen and a woman. He survived the attack but was severely injured and died later that month. One of the attackers turned King's Evidence and was pardoned; four of the accused (including the woman)were hanged, and the others were deported.
     Keen played a key role in the development of the legal system in Newfoundland. He was also a very successful merchant, one of the richest then involved in the Newfoundland trade. His son William became his principal heir.
Scope and Content: Item consists of seven pages extracted from the records of the High Court of Admiralty, England. The commission, under the name of George the 2nd, appointed William Keen as commissary of Newfoundland, to oversee all matters of jurisdiction, maritime or civil, under the jurisdiction of the High Court of the Admiralty of Great Britain.
Reproduction Note: Microfilmed from the original document held by the National Archives of Canada, MG 18, f.24.
Terms Governing Use: Copyright held by the National Archives of Canada.
Custodial History: Item is a contemporary copy of the commission, acquired by the National Archives of Canada in 1955.
Subject: Justice, Administration of Newfoundland.
Subject: Justices of the Peace.
Subject: Commissions.
Authors_Corporate Name: Great Britain. High Court of Admiralty.


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