Tuesday, October 28

Shanawdithit: The Last of her People

October is Women's History Month in Canada and in honor of women everywhere, I would like to tell you about a woman who was probably the last member of the Beothuck Indians, also known as the Vanishing Tribe.

The Beothuck Indians inhabited Newfoundland for hundreds of years. In the early 1700’s, white people settled along the coastal areas of the island and forced the Natives inland. No longer able to collect food along the shores, the Beothuck began to starve. Tuberculosis, brought to the island by the settlers killed many of the Natives.

By 1823, search parties couldn’t find any signs of these Indians. Later that year, three starving Beothuck women were captured. One of these was a woman in her twenties. Her name was Shanawdithit. The other two women were her mother and sister. They died shortly after being captured. Shanawdithit's father drowned, trying to escape.

For five years, Shanawdithit lived with a white family and answered to the English name, Nancy. She worked as their servant. Thought she was energetic and intelligent, Shanawdithit had spells of weakness, which could have been caused by stress and it is suspected she suffered from pulmonary consumption, which is what her mother and sister died of.

Shanawdithit had a great talent for drawing and was described as being gentle and especially good with children. Though given the option, Shanawdithit would not return to her people. She feared she would not be forgiven for having stayed so long with the white settlers.

In 1927, W.E. Cormack took a party of men into Newfoundland’s interior to search for the Beothuck. His expedition failed. Upon his return, he realized that Shanawdithit might be the one of the last surviving Beothuck.

Cormack had Shanawdithit brought to him and she told him what she knew of her people. She made a series of sketches that depicted early encounters between the Beothuck and the white man. Other drawings showed clothing, canoes, food, utensils and chief’s emblems. She also sketched pictures of the Red Indian “devil” and a dancing woman. Her translation of these pictures was never fully understood.

Cormack took notes of what Shanawdithit told him. Some were later published, but many disappeared. The lost notes told irreplaceable knowledge about the Beothuck people. Many people feel these papers still exist and have unsuccessfully tried to trace them.

Shanawdithit contacted tuberculosis in 1929 and died in St. John’s, Newfoundland while under the care of Dr. A Carson. No Beothuck Indian was ever seen after this date. It is possible that a few survivors left Newfoundland to live with other natives in Labrador but this is not certain.

When Shanawdithit died, the Beothuck Indian tribe died with her. As far as can be determined, when she passed, the Beothuck Indians vanished forever.

What a shame that this Native American tribe was completely wiped out. However, Shanawdithit left a legacy with her drawings which can be seen HERE. Her obituary can be read Here.

I wish everyone a great week. It is cold and rainy here and they are calling for snow in areas north of Toronto. I'm hoping it stays north of Toronto for the time being. I am just not ready for it yet. ~Blessings, Mary~


  1. What a fascinating story...I'd never even heard of Shanawdithit! It really is sad to learn how her people became extinct. I was just looking at her drawings and she could really draw a good map!

    It's been cold and raining here for the last few days. It's 0c right now and supposed to go down to -4 so goodness knows if we'll wake up to a white world in the morning!! xoxo

  2. Very interesting post! I enjoyed the sketches.

  3. I agree what a shame alot of native american indians were wiped out. i'm sure we could learn alot from them.

  4. That was truly fascinating and sad...She was not someone I was familiar with and I learned so much!

    If I haven't already said so- thank you so much for putting my button in your sidebar, Mary!
    I just posted the first home school open house just moments ago...hopefully in the morning, a few will link up and join in. (And am so hoping my first Mr. Linky will work!)


  5. Excellent write-up. I'm wondering just what her name meant in her native tongue...Shanawdithit. Sad that she had to be captured, there may have been descendants if not, and the tribe may have survived. But as with all history, there is always that infamous 'what if'.

    I'm gonna go back and click on the link you've provided for her drawings.

  6. ....amazing!!! The one page of sketches with the black robed chief the Prophet, and note of the part where he is the priest of prayer, the pale face. Whoa...super history Mary.

  7. Wow,
    This is very interesting post. Thank you for educating at least me on this subject.

  8. I recall learning a bit about them in a novel (Rivertheives?). But it's nice, although sad to learn more. Thanks.

  9. Amazing story! Great post Mary!

    Wanted to let you know that I am going to participate in your Christmas card program and will put your button on my Random Friday post which I am going to do on Thursday! Great idea!

  10. Thank you for posting this. I'm not all filmier with your native people of Canada.

    Coffee is on.

  11. This is a fascinating story. I haven't read it before and I will be doing some research to learn more. How sad that the tribe is gone.

  12. A good piece of history, Mary. But I have to wonder if her tribe really became extinct (in that sense) or just blended with other tribes for security and survival. Even in our modern time, many indians are marrying outside their tribe - so no tribe is completely 100% as it use to be - because their numbers are so few. It seems that Europeans weren't so smart in many ways.

  13. To note: my new grandson, his father is Irish-German, and his mother is Irish, Cherokee, Blackfoot.

  14. great story,
    small mistake though,
    she dies in 1829 haha, she wasn't 130 just 30 :)

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