Set Out to Capture a Beothuk

March 5, 2017… Look out your window if you are in Central Newfoundland, imagine what it was like on March 5, 1819 when John Peyton Jr and a party of fishermen and furriers trekked up the banks of the Exploits River to Red Indian Lake. Read why they were making this hard journey, written by Desmond Canning.

Trek up the Exploits

by Desmond Canning, Beothuk Institute Chair

March 5, 1819,  On a cold and windy day, a party of fisherman and furriers headed by John Peyton Jr, of Exploits Bay, made their way up the banks of the Exploits River to Red Indian Lake. Here they came across an encampment of Beothuk who sought refuge from Europeans deep in the interior. Peyton had permission to pursue and capture a Beothuk in hopes the captive would act as a mediator after being immersed in European society. Peyton pursued a young Beothuk mother, Demasduit, on Red Indian Lake. Her husband and leader of the group, Nonawsabawsut, tried to rescue his wife, but sadly was shot and killed. Demasduit was taken away. That day appears to have been forever etched in the mind of the Beothuk.

Several years later, Shanawdithit, the niece of Demasduit, being present that day, drew a sketch of that day’s occurrences in great detail. Demasduit would live for less than a year with the Europeans, often speaking of her infant child she had left behind. Numerous attempts to return her to her tribe were unfruitful. She would later die aboard a ship in Botwood Harbour waiting for the winter freeze to return her back to her tribe. Her death was the result of tuberculosis and from more recent analysis of her skull, trauma to her head. This may have had been a result of falling down aboard the tight quarters of the ships hold.

Demasduit during her short time with the Europeans had a tremendous positive impact and they were quick to learn that these people were not the “savages” as they were often referred to.

Sketch by:  Shanawdithit from James P Howley…the Beothuk or red indians


Shanawdithits drawing

Trek to Red Indian Lake



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