Shawanadithit
Home Radio Television CBC Learning
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Early Encounters
Shawanadithit
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
Shawanadithit

In spite of their limited contact with Europeans, the Beothuk contracted various diseases and they were hunted, at first out of terror and later because some settlers felt the Beothuk were thieves. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Beothuk had dwindled from several hundred to a handful.
Actress Pamela Matthews portraying Shawnadithit, the last of the Beothuk to have lived on Newfoundland, in Canada: A People's History.
Actress Pamela Matthews portraying Shawnadithit, the last of the Beothuk to have lived on Newfoundland, in Canada: A People's History.

In 1823, English furriers found a Beothuk woman and her two daughters in a state of starvation near Exploits Bay. The woman's husband was hiding nearby and attempted to come to their rescue but fell through the ice over a creek and drowned.

The women were taken to St. John's and then returned to Exploits Bay with gifts that were intended as peace offerings for the Beothuk. It was hoped that this would start a new chapter in the bleak relations between the two cultures. Within days the mother and one of the daughters died, probably of tuberculosis.

The survivor, a twenty-two-year-old woman named Shawnadithit, walked along the River Exploits until she reached the English settlement. She spent the next five years working as a maid known as Nancy for a man named John Peyton Jr., at Exploits Bay.
Roger Honeywell plays merchant and naturalist William Cormack in Canada: A People's History.
Roger Honeywell plays merchant and naturalist William Cormack in Canada: A People's History.

William Cormack, an explorer and agriculturalist who was also a merchant in St. John's, became alarmed at the decimation of an entire culture, and began searching the Newfoundland wilderness for the Beothuk. On October 2, 1827 he formed the "'Beothic Institution', for the purpose of opening a communication with, and promoting the civilization of the Red Indians of Newfoundland."

At this point, Shawnadithit was one of only a few Beothuk left with whom to communicate. When Cormack learned of her existence, he had her brought to his institution, despite the protests of Peyton who valued her as a nanny.

She, in effect, became the Beothuk Institution, supplying Cormack with his only first-hand information on the tribe. "We have traces enough left only to cause our sorrow that so peculiar and so superior a people should have disappeared from the earth like a shadow," Cormack wrote.

Shawnadithit was twenty-six at the time, with a placid face and scars from gunshot wounds on her hand and leg. She sometimes talked to the spirits of her mother and sister and rarely laughed.

By the time she came to the institution, she was already dying of tuberculosis and Cormack desperately tried to improve her English to a point where she could tell the story of her people.

"Shawnadithit is now becoming very interesting as she improves in the English language and gains confidence in people around," Cormack wrote. "I keep her pretty busily employed in drawing historical representations of everything that suggests itself relating to her tribe, which I find is the best and readiest way of gathering information from her."

top of page


Last Topic:
John Guy Settlement

Current Topic:
Shawanadithit

Next Topic:
Road to Extinction
New Lands
New Lands
read more ...

The Beothuk
The Beothuk
read more ...

John Guy Settlement
John Guy Settlement
read more ...

Road to Extinction
Road to Extinction
read more ...

Voyage of Richard Hore
Voyage of Richard Hore
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC