Newfoundland – The Red Indians, Or Boeothicks

WHEN Cabot discovered Newfoundland in 1497, he held intercourse with the Red Indians, who were dressed in skins and painted with red ochre, and who, no doubt, beheld his approach to the shore with as much astonishment as did the inhabitants of San Salvador, one of the Bahama Islands, when Colombus discovered the West Indies, in 1492, who supposed the ship in which he crossed the ocean to have moved upon the water with wings, and to have made a noise resembling thunder. He was regarded as an inhabitant of the sun, who had descended to visit them. In like manner, when Captain Cook visited the South-Sea Islanders, upwards of half a century ago, they were struck with terror and astonishment when they saw the ships, flying with their white wings over the ocean, regarding them as either birds or fishes, according as their sails were spread or lowered. This celebrated man, who had been such a friend to Newfoundland, at length fell a victim to the uncivilized inhabitants of the southern hemisphere. He was massacred at Owhyhee, on the 14th of February, 1779.

Cabot took three of the Indians with him to England, and other adventurers who succeeded him also took sonic of the natives to England. In the year 1843, at Bird Island Cove, on the northern coast of Newfoundland, I had the following conversation with old Mr. Wiltshire

” How long have you been living in this place ‘? ”

” About twenty-five years ; previous to which I resided several years in Green Bay, and once during that period barely escaped being transported.”

” Under what circumstances ? ”

” In the year 1810 I was living to the northward. Five of us were returning one evening from fishing, when, on rowing round a point, we came close upon a canoe of Red Indians ; there were four men and one woman in the canoe. Had we been disposed to have shot them we could have done so, as we had a loaded gun in the boat. The Indians, however, became alarmed, and pulled with all speed to the shore, where they immediately jumped out and ran into the woods, leaving the canoe on the beach. We were within ten yards of them when they landed. We took the canoe into our possession and carried it home. In the fall of the year, when we went to St. John’s with the first boat-load of dry fish, thinking a canoe would be a curiosity, we took it away with us in order to present it to the Governor ; but immediately it became known that we had a canoe of the Red Indians, we were taken and lodged in prison for ten days, on a supposition that we had shot the Indians to whom the canoe belonged. We protested our innocence, and stated the whole affair to the authorities ; at last the canoe was examined ; no shot-holes were found in any part of it, and there being no evidence against us, we were set at liberty.”

Did you ever see any of the encampments of the Red Indians ? ”

” Yes, frequently ; I have seen twelve wigwams in the neighbourhood of Cat Harbour. A planter living there built a new boat, for which he had made a fine new suit of sails. One night the Indians came and carried away every sail. The planter and his men immediately it was discovered, set out in pursuit of the Indians. After travelling nearly a day, they espied them on a distant hill, shaking their cassocks at them in defiance, which were made out of the boat’s sails, and daubed with red ochre. Seeing further pursuit was fruitless they returned home. The next day, however, the planter raised a party of twenty-five of us. We proceeded overland to a place where we knew there was an encampment ; when we arrived we found twelve wigwams, but all deserted. Previous to our leaving, two men were despatched in a skiff, in order to take us back by water. On approaching near the place of the Indians, they saw a fine goose swimming about a considerable distance from the shore. They immediately rowed towards it, when the goose began to swim towards the shore ; but on rowing faster to overtake it, one of the men happened to see something dark moving up and down behind a sand bank. Suspecting all was not right, they immediately pulled from the shore, when they saw two Indians rise up from concealment, who at once discharged their arrows at them, but they were at too great a distance to receive any injury. After the sails had been taken, the Indians, expecting a visit, placed these two of their party to keep watch. The goose was fastened to a string in order to decoy the men in the boat near the shore, so as to afford the Indians an opportunity of throwing their arrows at them. The two Indians on watch communicated intelligence of the arrival of the boat to the encampment ; hence the cause of the forsaken wigwams when we arrived.”

How large were the wigwams ? ”

” They were built round and about thirty or forty feet in circumferance. The flame consists of small poles, being fastened together at the top and covered with birch rid, leaving a small opening for the escape of the smoke. Traces of their encampments are still to he seen along the Cat Harbour shore, consisting of large holes, &c., being left in the sand.”

” Did you ever hear of any of the Indians having been taken ? ”

“Yes ; during the time the circumstance occurred which I have stated, Lieutenant Buchan, in H. M. Schooner ‘Pike,’ was commissioned by the Governor, Sir John Thomas Duck-worth, to discover and if possible bring about a friendly intercourse with the Indians. He succeeded in discovering an encampment, and prevailed on two of the Indians to go on board his vessels, leaving two marines with the Indians as hostages, while he proceeded in search of another party. But as Lieutenant Buchan did not return at the time appointed by him, the Indians, suspecting cruelty about being practised upon them, murdered the marines and fled. When Lieutenant Buchan returned to the spot, and not finding his men, the two Indians he had taken with him immediately decamped, and were never heard of afterwards. Several years after this, two or three Indians, who had been driven to the coast by hunger, were taken and carried to St. John’s. I recollect seeing two fled Indians when I was a boy, at Catalina ; their names were William June and Thomas August (so named from the months in which they were taken). They were both taken very young, and one of them went master on a boat for many years out of Catalina.”

” Do you think any of the Red Indians now exist in the country ? ”

” I am of opinion that owing to the relentless exterminating hand of the English furriers and the Micmac Indians, that what few were left unslaughtered made their escape across the Straits of Belle Isle to Labrador.”

” Do you know anything of the Micmac Indians ? ”

” Yes. I have lived several winters in Clode Sound, at the head of Bonavista Bay, where several families of them constantly resided. They obtained a subsistence by selling furs. They lived in wigwams, constructed very similar to those of the Red Indians. During my residence in the Bay, several Micmacs had gone to Canada, by way of Labrador, and returned again. The last family belonging to this tribe, residing in Bonavista Bay, was lost in 1841. A n old man, his wife and son were coming down the Bay in their canoe, they had some rum on board, of which they drank freely, when the father and the son fell to fighting ; the son was thrown overboard by the father and drowned. He then gave directions to his wife how to manage the canoe, and plunging into the sea, swam a considerable distance and then sank. The woman immediately took the canoe to the nearest cove, where she was supported by the inhabitants until she died.”

There are a few families of the Micmac tribe at the Bay of Notre Dame, north ; and about 60 persons belonging to the tribe residing at Bay Despair, and various parts of Fortune Bay, on the south-west coast. The Red Indians of Newfoundland never knew the use of the gun, nor were they blessed with the services and companionship of the dog.

” Untamed, untaught, in arms and arts unskilled ; Their patrimonial soil, they rudely tilled, Chased the free rovers of the savage wood, Ensnared the wild bird, swept the scaly flood ; Or when the halcyon, sported in the breeze, In light canoes they skimmed the rippling seas, The passing moment, all their bliss or care ; Such as the sires had been the children were.”

Sir Richard Bonneycastle says :

” As soon as the Red Indian began to appropriate his invader’s goods, so soon did his invader use the strong arm against him ; and for two hundred and fifty years he has been considered as the fair game of the hunter, the furrier, and the rude northern settlers, until his being is now a mystery, or of the things that were.

” They inhabited, from the first settlement of Newfoundland, chiefly the north, north-eastern, and north-western parts of the island, in the neighbourhood of Fogo and Twilingate Islands, and about White Bay and the interior, making latterly sudden incursions to the fishing stations, and sparing no whites they could surprise. Chappell says, they were so dextrous that he was told by an old fisherman in St. George’s Bay, that he, with a party, had once got near enough to some of them to hear their voices ; but upon rushing towards them they found ‘ the natives gone, their fire extinguished, the embers scattered in the woods, and dry leaves strewed over the ashes,’ and such was the state of fear in which they existed, that the very sight of a pointed musket, or fire-arm, was sufficient to appal them.

” In 1760, an attempt was made by Scott, a master of a ship, to open a communication with them. He went from St. John’s to the Bay of Exploits, where he built a small fort. Here he had an interview with them, but, advancing unarmed, he was murdered, with five of his men, and the rest fled to their vessel, carrying off one of their comrades, whose body was covered with arrows, from which he died.

” At length the Government offered rewards for the capture of a lied Indian, or Boeothic, as they called themselves ; and, in 1804, a female, who was paddling in her canoe towards a small island for birds’ eggs, was taken by a fisherman, of the name of Cull, and brought to St. John’s, where she was kindly treated by the Admiral, afterwards Lord Gambier, and sent back with presents to her tribe. She admired the epaulettes of the officers more than anything that was shewn her, and would never part with her own fur dress, although clothed handsomely.

” Dr. Chapell, in his work, published in 1812, having observed that it was said that this woman had been made away with on account of the value of the presents, which amounted to an hundred pounds, Mr. Cormack told Mr. M’Gregor, in 1827, that if Cull could catch the author of that book within the reach of his long duck-gun, he would be as dead as any of the Red Indians that Cull had often shot.

What became of the poor creature, who was at the tender mercy of such a man, has never been ascertained, but Mr. M’Gregor thinks she never reached her tribe, and Mr. Cormack is of the same opinion.

” She was stained, both body and hair, of a red colour, as it was supposed, from the juice of the alder, and was not very uneasy in her new situation, when in the presence of her own sex only, but would not permit any man to approach her, except her enslaver, to whom (which speaks volumes for him) she was ever gentle and affectionate.

” In 1809, another attempt was made under the immediate auspices of the Governor-Admiral Holloway, when Lieutenant Spratt, of the Royal Navy, was sent to Exploits Bay with a painting, representing officers of the navy shaking hands with an Indian chief, and a party of seamen laying parcels at his feet; Indians presenting furs, and a white and red woman looking at their respective children, with a sailor courting an Indian girl. But none of the tribe were found. Sir Thomas Dutchworth, published in 1810 a new ‘ Proclamation for the protection of the Red Indians.’ And soon afterwards Lieutenant Buchan, of the Royal Navy, was sent to the River of Exploits, with orders to winter there, and to open a communication with them. In 1811, a reward of one hundred pounds was offered to any one who should bring about a friendly understanding with the Red Indians. In 1819, another female was taken by a party of furriers, who met two men and a woman on the ice in Red Indian Lake. The woman was secured, but her husband and the other savage resisting, they were both shot. Her husband was a fine-looking Indian, six feet high. They took the woman to St. John’s, having first named her Mary March, from the month in which she was taken. She lived all the rest of the year at St. John’s, and was sent back to River Exploits in the ensuing winter, under the care of Captain Buchan, with presents to her tribe ; but she had contracted sickness, and died on board. Her body was wrapped in linen, placed in a coffin, and left on the margin of a pond or lake, where it was likely to be found, as it was, by her people, who conveyed it to their place for the dead, where it was found several years afterwards, by Mr. Cormack, lying beside that of her husband. Nothing was seen or heard of this people again until the winter of 1823, when a party of them was seen on the ice in New Bay, an inlet of the Great Bay of Notre Dame, by some furriers. On the first meeting, these amiable whites shot a man and woman, who were approaching them apparently for food. The man was first killed, and the woman, in despair, remained a calm victim. Mr. Cormack was told these facts by the very barbarian who shot her.

” Three other women afterwards gave themselves up and were brought to the capital. They were all in a starving condition ; and what became of the other two does not clearly appear. Shanandithit, the one brought to St. John’s, was very kindly treated there, and lived six years, dying in the hospital, in 1829, of a pulmonary disease, to which, it appears from her communications her tribe was subject. I have seen a miniature of this female. Without being handsome, it shows a pleasing countenance, not unlike, in its expression, to those of the Canadian tribes round, with prominent cheek-bones, somewhat sunken eyes and small nose. She lived in Mr. Cormack’s house until he left the colony, and then in that of the Attorney-General, Mr. Simms, by whom she was most kindly attended to. But it appears consumption was the fatal disease of her nation, which had carried off Mary March, and thus the hope of making her the means of redeeming the cruelties which had been practised upon her people was lost.”

Once the red man sported along the shores of Newfoundland in perfect security, their hunting grounds unintruded upon, and their peace unbroken by their cruel persecutor, the furrier ; but as soon as Europeans began to settle in the country, the French and English furriers, perceiving the skin dresses of the Indians, and the rich fur which served them as bedding at night, conceived the diabolical purpose of shooting them for the valuable furs which they always carried with them, and thus commenced It cold-blooded war against these unhappy.

The Boeothicks had some idea of religion, though dark, and mixed up with errors and superstition. They believed that they were created by the Great Spirit out of arrows, and that after death they went to a distant country to renew the society of their friends. Thus they believed in those great doctrines of the Christian revelation, the existence of a God, and the immortality of the soul. Reason never could have discovered the doctrine of the soul’s immortality to them, because there is nothing in nature, unaided by revelation, from which the doctrine could be deduced. The ancient Greeks and Romans, with all their learning, eloquence and refinement, could not discover the soul’s immortality. What they assert in regard to it one time, they doubted it another.

Athens, the seat of Grecian learning and philosophy, worshipped thirty thousand deities. Sunk in ignorance as they were, we cannot suppose that the red men were sufficiently acquainted with the operations of nature in the vegetable kingdom, or the principles of philosophy by which the laws of rest and motion are governed, as to draw any analogy between then’ and the resurrection of the human body. Therefore the knowledge of a future state must have been communicated to them by a divine intuition. The dealings of Jehovah are frequently dark and mysterious.

” The ways of God are in the whirlwind, and His paths are in the great deep ; clouds and darkness are round about His throne.”

In 1827 a Boeothicks society was formed in St. John’s, having for its object the civilization of the native savages, and an expedition was undertaken by W. E. Cormack, Esq., president of the society.