John Guy Settlement
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John Guy Settlement

When a group of English colonists led by John Guy decided to establish a permanent settlement in Newfoundland in 1610, the elusive Beothuk were an issue. A letter from Guy's British backers suggested he capture one of the natives, teach him the language and treat him well, then return him to his people, to ensure "a safe and free commerce with them."

The French in Acadia had allied with the Abenaki, Micmac and Maleseet both politically and financially, and the British hoped to do the same with the Beothuk. But Guy had trouble finding any to ally with. Some of his men did have one chance meeting however, which may have been the only happy moment between the Beothuk and Europeans in a relationship that spanned centuries.
A boy on a vision quest "would live alone for three or four or five days without food." (Pat Grasshopper, 1954) (As portrayed by Simon Baker in Canada: A People's History)
A boy on a vision quest "would live alone for three or four or five days without food." (Pat Grasshopper, 1954) (As portrayed by Simon Baker in Canada: A People's History)

In November of 1612, Guy was sailing along the northern coastline when he saw a campfire near the tip of Trinity Bay. Guy sent one man ashore with a white flag and two Beothuk men approached him carrying a white wolf skin.

Guy described the scene in a letter to an English colleague. "The savages passed over a little water stream towards Mr. Whittington, dancing, leaping and singing, and coming together, the foremost of them, presented unto him a chain of leather full of small periwinkle shells, a splitting knife and a feather that stuck in his hair. The other gave him an arrow without a head; and the former was requited with a linen cap and a hand towel, who put presently the linen cap upon his head: and to the other he gave a knife: and after hand in hand, they all three did sing and dance."

After seeing the dancing, Guy came ashore with more of his men. Eight Beothuk who had been lingering warily in canoes, also came ashore and a curious party ensued.

The natives "danced, laughing and making signs of joy and gladness, sometimes striking the breasts of our company and sometimes their own... signs were made that... bread and drink should be brought ashore.. bread, butter, and raisins of the sun to eat and beer and aquavitae to drink. And one of them blowing in the aquavitae bottle it made a sound, which they fell all into laughing... After they had all eaten and drunk, one of them went to their canoe and brought deer's flesh dried in the smoke or wind, and drawing his knife... he cut every man a piece and that savoured very well."
World Map
World Map

One of the Beothuk signaled that it was time to retire. He gave Guy's men the white wolf skin they had signaled with, and took the white flag of the English and put it in their canoe. When Guy awoke the next morning, the weather had suddenly turned colder.

He returned to the campfire but the Beothuk were gone. "...we found all things remaining there, as it was when we parted... It began to freeze and there was thin ice over the sound and because we heard nothing more of the savages, we began to return."

The two groups had arranged, through signs, to meet again the following year. But the winter was punishing and the expedition never happened because Guy, frustrated by the new colony, suddenly left Newfoundland that spring and returned to England.

The next year a fishing boat passed by Trinity Bay and saw the Beothuk assembled on the shore, presumably awaiting Guy and the reprise of their party. The ship's captain assumed the natives were planning to attack his ship and fired a cannon at them. The Beothuk disappeared into the woods and effectively stayed there for the next two hundred years.

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