Trade with the Nuu'cha'nulth
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Northwest Passage
Trade with the Nuu'cha'nulth
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
Trade with the Nuu'cha'nulth

Shawnadithit, the Beothuk woman who was the sole subject of study at William Cormack's "Beothic Institute," had a gift for drawing and outlined the tribe's dismal history in a series of detailed pictures. Her version of events matched the known contact with the Beothuk.

In 1810, Governor John Duckworth had sent Captain David Buchan into the interior to make friendly contact with the Red Indians. Hostages were exchanged as a gesture of trust; two of Buchan's men were left at the Beothuk camp, while two natives went with him, intending to return with gifts. The Beothuk were worried that Buchan was going for reinforcements and killed the two English hostages with arrows. Shawnadithit, who was nine at the time of the incident, described how her mother beheaded the two men.

In 1819 Governor Sir Charles Hamilton offered a reward of one hundred pounds to anyone who could bring a Red Indian back to St. John's. A group of Englishmen surprised three Beothuk, who were Shawnadithit's aunt and two uncles. The native men were killed in a rabid battle and subsequently measured, to determine the size of the men who had put up such a fight. The woman, named Mary March, was captured. By the summer she was dying and Captain Buchan was given the task of taking her back to her people. She died en route and Buchan left her body at the site where she had been captured. When Cormack went on a discouraging search for the Beothuk five years later, he came upon a burial hut containing Mary March, still wearing the muslin Victorian dress that had been given to her.

At the time of her aunt's death, Shawnadithit estimated that there were thirty-one left in her tribe. Two English furriers killed another of her uncles, then shot his daughter. By 1823, the year she was taken as a maid to John Peyton's house at Exploits Bay, the tribe was down to thirteen members. Cormack reported, "The surviving remnant, she says, went by a circuitous route northerly, westerly and southerly from the Badger Bay waters to the Great Lake. Here ends all positive knowledge of her tribe, which she never narrated without tears."

With Shawnadithit's description as a guide, Cormack went inland in search of the last remaining Beothuk, but none were ever found.

"We approached the lake with hope and caution but found to our mortification that the Red Indians had deserted it for some years past. My party had been excited, so sanguine and so determined to obtain an interview of some kind with these people that on discovering from appearances everywhere around us the Red Indians no longer existed, the spirits of one and all of us were deeply affected."

"Britons have trespassed here, to be a blight and a scourge to a portion of the human race... a defenseless, and once independent, proud tribe of men, have been nearly extirpated from the face of the earth -- scarcely causing an enquiry how, or why."

In June of 1829, nine months after moving to St. John's to become the living emblem of a vanished culture, Shawnadithit died of tuberculosis. Cormack was in England at the time and she was in the care of William Carson. Cormack wrote her obituary in the London Times, describing her as the last of the Red Indians. "In Newfoundland, there has been a primitive nation, once claiming rank as a portion of the human race, who have lived, flourished, and (now) become extinct in their own orbit."

Some of Shawnadithit's remains were buried in St. John's but Carson had her skull packed into a metal box and sent it to be studied at the Royal College of Physicians of London. As a description, Carson wrote, "The skull and scalp of Nancy Beothic Red Indian Female... She was tall and majestic, mild and tractable, but characteristically proud and cautious."


Last Survivor of the Beothucks, so far as is known. Captured 1823, died in St. John's, 1829 National Archives of Canada C-38862
Last Survivor of the Beothucks, so far as is known. Captured 1823, died in St. John's, 1829 National Archives of Canada C-38862

top of page


Last Topic:
Captain James Cook

Current Topic:
Trade with the Nuu'cha'nulth

Henry Hudson
Henry Hudson
read more ...

Mutiny on the Discovery
Mutiny on the Discovery
read more ...

Captain James Cook
Captain James Cook
read more ...

Shaa-naan-dithit, or The Last of The Beothics from Memorial University of Newfoundland

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