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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pirates or Pilots?

as published in the January 2010 MRHS Family History Newsletter

My grandma always claimed that her ancestors, the DeWolfs, were French pirates. My research thus far has traced them back to the Netherlands but not to France. However, As I have tracked the DeWolf family and their in-laws I started to come across the following occupations: ship owner, ship broker and ship chandler.

My second great-grand father, John ROUNSEFELL was a ship chandler. A ship chandler is a retail dealer in special supplies or equipment for ships, who may also be responsible for the berthing and docking of the vessel before it arrives into port and is usually considered the liaison officer for the vessel's needs and demands in a foreign port. Apparently, they were also called ship pilots – hmm, maybe my grandma heard pirate instead of pilot?

To continue my research into the ship owning side of my family, much to my excitement, I received the Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada CD for Christmas. This CD is a fully searchable CD containing data on the vessels, captains and crews of Great Britain and Atlantic Canada, 1787-1936 produced by the Maritime History Archive at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

You can check the list of surnames included on the CD before ordering it from their website. I checked it and found ROUNSEFELL, DEWOLF, DE WOLFE and MAHON.

The part of the CD that I have explored thus far is the owner database. The first database is compiled from the Certificates of Registry for 10 major ports of Atlantic Canada. It contains information on the vessels registered at each port and on their owners. John ROUNSEFELL co-owned two schooners, two barques, and three brigantines from a period of 1865 to 1874. Most of the vessels were lost at sea. Some time before 1871 he leaves Nova Scotia and moves to Liverpool, Lancashire, England. The interesting thing is that he co-owns many of these ships with his brother-in laws and cousins of his wife, Margaret, nee DeWolf. The database is full of DeWolfs who were ship owners so I have only just cracked the surface of this part of my family’s history.

I also did a search on the Google news Advanced News Archive Search and found some Marine Intelligence notices from the New York Times that mention the arrival of the Schooner Grand Pre., one of John Rounsefell’s vessels.

New York Times – October 26, 1867

Next stop – the book store. As part of the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project that produced the CD, they have also produced a book Maritime Capital: The Shipping Industry in Atlantic Canada, 1820-1914 by Eric W. Sager and Gerald E. Panting. Perhaps this book will answer some of my questions as to why they moved to England, with some of the same business partner-relations and why they moved back to Canada.


  1. That is very cool. Every time I hear you find more about your family history it makes me want to research ours more. Keep blogging about it!

  2. Hi Andrea, it's good to see you're still puzzling away at the Rounsefells. Some of this I'd known, but you've gone much farther in depth than I was able.

    I also had a chance to read your write-up in the Newsletter. As a follow-on, I thought you'd like to know that the Rounsefells returned to Canada around 1882, where they lived in Manitoba for a few years.

    Also, keep an eye out for the FORSYTH family. I know they're inter-twined with the Rounsefells and deWolfs, but haven't been able to tease out many details.

    I know that George Forsyth and John Rounsefell were friends and partners. John's oldest son was named after his friend. I'd be anxious to see what else we could find.

    Katrina (Rounsefell) Lawson


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