PLACENTIA, August 10th, 1827.
My dear Sir,
You expressed a wish that I should communicate to you the result of my reflection upon an attempt to have a friendly conference with the remnant of the Red Indians, if after due search, it shall be ascertained that such remnant exists.
I cannot hope to offer anything worth your consideration, but fulfil my engagement by occupying part of the leisure which a thick fog has given me, in writing this letter.
/206/ That an attempt at such conference is due to any of the unhappy tribe that may have survived all the efforts for their destruction by English, French, Esquimaux, Micmacks and Mountaineers, must be granted by all who have any feeling; in the hope that they may be brought into the neighbourhood of protection from their numerous destroyers; and cherished and instructed.
It has appeared to me that no pains should be spared in giving immediate instruction to Shawnawdithit or Nancy that she may thoroughly understand the object of the proposed conference, and be well prepared to explain it in her native language -- and this may be more difficult than she imagines, in consequence of her long disuse of her own dialect.
The party attempting the conference should not be so large as to create much alarm. Yourself, Mr. Peyton, Shawnawdithit, your Mountaineer and one other, would in my opinion, be sufficient, but great pains should be taken in selecting such a person as could be depended upon for coolness and discretion. As the Boeothucks have only bows and arrows a defence might easily be provided by light shields, which might be so constructed as to form good pillows. Two folds of skin, with light wadding between them would be sufficient, but they should be proved. Shawnawdithit should be dressed and painted, as when she was first taken, and the sound of their own language from her, would probably induce any of them to stop. But I repeat she is not yet sufficiently instructed to be a good interpreter. She must learn more English, and keep up a knowledge and practise of her own language.
Although your services are kindly offered gratuitously, Peyton has lost so much by the Indians that it would be unreasonable to expect the same from him. I would therefore recommend that a plain statement should be drawn up of the intended rational attempt, and subscriptions would be obtained here and in England to defray the expense and recompence Peyton, and any balance might be appropriated to the Instruction and provision for Shawnawdithit if none others should be found, and if others should happily be found, I would place them near their best hunting ground, and under protection, intelligence of which should be communicated with unsparing pains, to our own people, the French, and Mickmacks and all other Indian tribes. A little assistance in clothing, food, fishing gear and arms; and ammunition to be periodically issued, would enable them to live. The expense would be small, and Government would defray it. Civilization we may hope would gradually follow. Capt. Canning and Mr. McLauchlin of the Rifle Brigade, who can endure more fatigue in forest walking than any persons I know, and are alike cool and intrepid would delight to share in the undertaking, and if you will let me hear from you particularly of your plan, I think it would be greatly assisted, if it should be possible to have their personal aid.
It is needless to say that I shall be glad to hear from you and that you have the best wishes of my dear Sir,
Your faithful servant,
JOHN NOVA SCOTIA.
W.E. Cormack, Esq.
HALIFAX, September 11th, 1827.
My dear Sir,
I was glad to learn from your letter of the third that you were so near the commencement of your benevolent journey, to which I cordially wish the fullest and most gratifying success.
Your plans appear to be judicious, and I wish it were in my power to assist them by any suggestions worth your attention. All savage Nations, whose language /207/ is necessarily defective, are accustomed to symbols; ingenious in the use of them, and quick in ascertaining their meaning. Some are of a general character, and could be suggested by Mountaineer or Micmac. Any that more particularly belong to the Boeothuck may probably be painted out and explained with Mr. Peyton's help by Shawnawdithit. She may also assist in depicting her own tribe and their dress and habits as she is clever with a pencil. Friendly feasts between the Europeans and the different Indians -- paddling in the same canoes -- presentation of gifts -- laying down or burying offensive implements. -- A marriage ceremony, if they have one. -- Feeding their children, occur to me; but they seem so obvious that you will hardly have passed them over; but I should have more dependence on anything suggested by Shawnawdithit as known, and in use among her tribe. -- She can also perhaps supply peculiar marks on trees, and the shores of lakes and rivers.
I shall be very anxious to hear of your progress, and shall feel an
interest in the whole of your undertaking -- repeating my best wishes,
and my prayers for your preservation, and a blessing on your efforts. I
remain my dear Sir,
Your faithful servant,
(signed) JOHN NOVA SCOTIA.
W.E. Cormack, Esq.
HALIFAX, Dec. 21st, 1827.
My dear Sir,
I was much gratified to receive your letter of Oct. 25th written at Mr. Peyton's. You have excited my warm interest in the expedition in which you were just embarking, and great anxiety for its success. Your plans seem to have been formed with great judgement, but it is certainly to be regretted that Mr. Peyton could not attend you. In case of severe trial, I should fear the steadiness of your Indian companions would not be sufficient, and when they fancied their own lives in danger, I should be equally afraid of their firing and flying.
Should the Boeothuck be found and not brought in, I should think Shawnawdithit might very well go to them on the second visit.
The report of your expedition will I hope be printed immediately. It might be well to add to it a detail of expenses to be defrayed by the Institution. If a few copies are sent to me, I will endeavour to make them useful both here and in England. I shall request my friend Mr. Dunscomb to do my part for me.
Allow me to thank you for the honour I have received in being nominated as Patron of your benevolent Institution; but I would beg to suggest the propriety of leaving this office open for His Excellency Sir Thomas Cochrane, who will promote our object. I shall be sufficiently distinguished if I may be permitted to occupy a part of the Vice Patron's chair, where I would hope to find myself near the Chief Justice.
If you should see Mr. Peyton after you receive this, be so good as to assure him I enquired &c. . . . . .
I hope this letter will find you safely returned to St. John's, where as well as elsewhere you have my best wishes for every success and blessing.
I remain my dear Sir, with much esteem
your faithful servant,
(signed) JOHN NOVA SCOTIA.
RIVER ST. LAWRENCE,
Sept. 18th, 1828.
My dear Sir,
I was happy in receiving your letter of August the 8th a few days ago at Quebec. That which you were so good to write from Liverpool has not yet reached me, owing probably to my absence from Halifax since the early part of May.
You have my best thanks for an account of the efforts already made for the discovery of the Boeothick, if any remain. The good work should be continued, until it becomes morally certain that none remain, and I have requested our excellent friend Mr. Dunscomb to do all that may be proper for me in the renewal of subscriptions as they may be expedient. The prospect of success seems clouded, but however late the effort, it will be a consolation to have done all that was now possible.
I am now on my way to Boston, and will make the enquiries you desire respecting Fisheries, with the result of which you shall be duly acquainted.
You speak of a change of profession, but do not name the line to which you look forward. I can only say you have my wishes and my prayers for right direction, and a blessing upon your course; and that I am with much regard and esteem,
Your faithful servant,
(signed) JOHN NOVA SCOTIA.
W.E. Cormack, Esq.
ST. JOHN'S, N.F.L., 26th October, 1828.
I was favoured by yours of Sept. 18th from the River St. Laurence, and I hope since that time your journey has been as agreeable to you as you could wish. I regretted you had not received my letter of April written in Liverpool, England, because I stated to you therein the reason that I for one, could not name either our Governor or Chief Justice Patron or Vice Patron of the spontaneous Boeothuck Institution.
The party of Indians sent in search of the Beothucks have again returned, without finding any traces of these people so recent as those I met with last year. The Red Indian woman Shawnawdithit has been at length brought to St. John's, and for the present is staying in my house: I really apprehend since the return of the party, and from Shawnawdithit's testimony, that the tribe of the Red Indians not only reduced to a mere remnant, but are on the very verge of extinction. Reports of some European settlers, make them to have been seen this summer at a place called Nippers Harbour in Notre Dame Bay about 20 miles S. of Cape St. John. The instructions of the party sent in search were that they should not return to us, without unequivocally ascertaining that the Red Indians were or were not totally extinct and not having done so, to save themselves from further censure, one or two of the party have volunteered to go to Notre Dame Bay again without reward to put the matter at rest. It is a melancholy reflection that our Local Government has been such as that under it the extirpation of a whole Tribe of primitive fellow creatures has taken place. The Government and those whose dependence on it overcame their better feelings still withhold their countenance from the objects of the Institution, and protection from the unfortunate female dropped off among us /209/ from the brink of the extermination of her tribe. Most of the Officers of Government and respectable civilians however feel humanely.
Shawnawdithit is to leave me in a week or two to stay with Mr. Simms the Attorney General. This gentleman has been one of the warmest advocates here for humanity towards her people and I know it will be a gratification to him to take care of her and have her instructed. As she acquires the English language she becomes more interesting; and I have lately discovered the key to the Mythology of her tribe, which must be considered one of the most interesting subjects to enquire into. Looking forward, I entreat you to learn from time to time how she is coming on; for it is to such feelings as yours and Mr. Simms' that this unprotected creature will owe her value?, and be prevented from sinking into abject dependence. She is already a faithful domestic servant. I say these things merely from the fear that she might be cast on the mercy of the Local Government of N.F.L., under which all the rest of the tribe have suffered.
To have this pleasure again soon I remain my Lord with the highest esteem,
(signed) W.E. CORMACK
To His Lordship,
The Bishop of Nova Scotia
HALIFAX, Nov.13th, 1828.
My dear Sir,
Upon my return to this place on Saturday last, I found your missing letter from Liverpool, and I have since been favoured with that of October 27th.
I am greatly obliged by your interesting accounts of the search that has been made for any remnant of the Boeothucks, and although there is too much reason to apprehend that no remnant is left there is some little satisfaction in having caused the best possible search for them, however late. I am glad that poor Shawnawdithit is in such good hands, where due regard will I trust be given to her moral and religious instruction. I shall enquire for her with interest, and shall be glad if I can contribute to her welfare.
While at Boston I made the enquiry respecting the fisheries. I found generally that upon an average of five years the value of fish caught has been about 1,500,000 dollars, the export about 600,000 so that nearly two thirds are consumed in the country. The reports I forward will I hope supply the greater part of the details you wished.
With sincere wishes for your happiness, and with kind regards to many friends around you
My dear Sir,
Your faithful servant,
JOHN NOVA SCOTIA.
W.E. Cormack, Esq.
ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND,
10th Jan., 1829.
According to promise I now enclose you an unfinished paper on the value of Newfoundland and its fisheries. If you take the trouble to read it, and will make any suggestions or corrections I will be glad to receive them. The source of information on the French Fisheries are the most defective, but I may be enabled to rectify what is wanted here when in England this winter.
Shawnawdithit is now becoming very interesting as she improves in the English language, and gains confidence in people around. 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. She has also nearly completed making a dress of her tribe.
Herewith you have the commencement of a compendium with the Natural History Society of Montreal, left open for your perusal or use. It may be unnecessary to beg the favour that it might afterwards be put into the printing office.
I expect to sail for England about the end of this month, and may not return here again. My address is at John McGregor Esq. 56 Chapel Walks Liverpool.
I remain My Lord,
with the highest esteem
Your obedient servant
To the Hon. & Right Revd. Bishop of Nova Scotia.
On reflecting after my expedition in search of them that this primitive nation, unknowing and unknown to civilization, were so nearly extirpated, and that perhaps at that moment the remnant of them were expiring in the clothing armour and circumstances similar exactly to what such might have been previous to the discovery of America by Europeans, and for fear impressions I had received on my expedition might wear off, I lost no time in gathering together every fact and relic in my power relating to such a purely sylvan race. Most fortunately with the assistance of two gentlemen similarly interested in the subject as myself, I obtained the guardianship of the last survivor of them, a female who had been taken prisoner in a state of starvation some years before by several English fishermen at the seacoast, but which interesting individual had remained until that moment in obscurity in an outport at a distant part of the island. Having given her the confidence that she was to be protected and kindly treated by every white person as long as she lived instead of being illtreated, I elicited from her most interesting facts, and a history of her people which together with my own observations when in search of them in the interior, form neatly all the information that can ever be obtained relating to these aborigines.
/211/ They have been a bold heroic and purely self dependant nation never having either courted or been subdued by other tribes or Europeans. But what early mind -- a power -- could face gunpowder and firelocks? Hence their annihilation.
To connect primitive man with civilization, refinement and the arts -- is more immediately the object of this moment, and here we can come directly to facts the most interesting.
That they have been a nation superior to all others adjacent to them is evident from the remains we have of them, and is admitted by the other tribes on the continent of America. Indeed the fear of the other tribes of them, even felt at this very moment, although it is only of their shadow speaks for itself.
Every fact relating to this isolated nation similar or dissimilar to what has been met with amongst other tribes is interesting because it concerns man at a time more remote than any history.
Commencing with their dwellings we see the first remove from a few poles stuck in the ground and meeting at the top, and a skin or rind of trees laid on under which to lie down to sleep, from that we see the remove to the upright wall for a dwelling, in which to stand and move in comfort, next we see the remove from the simple circular to the angular and straight walled dwelling, from the octagonal to the five sided.
Then in their style of adorning the posts or poles outside of their doors, we can evidently trace the corinthian? a complete order in architecture, different countries producing animals with different kinds of horns, will cause variations in the capital.(1)
Their Mamateeks, or wigwams, were far superior to those of the Micmac's. They were in general built of straight pieces of fir about twelve feet high, flattened at the sides, and driven in the earth close to each other; the corners being made stronger than the other parts. The crevices were filled up with moss, and the inside lined with the same material; the roof was raised so as to stand from all parts and meet in a point in the centre, where a hole was left for the smoke to escape. The remainder of the roof was covered with a treble coat of birch bark, and between the first and the second layers of bark was placed about six inches of moss, about the chimney clay was substituted for the moss. The sides of these mamateeks were covered with arms, that is, bows, arrows, clubs, stone hatchets, arrow heads, &c. and all these were arranged in the neatest manner. Beams were placed across where the roof began, over which smaller ones were laid; and on the latter were piled their provision -- dried salmon, venison &c.
This was peculiar to the tribe, and consisted of but one garment, -- a sort of mantle, formed out of two deer skins, sewed together so as to be nearly square, -- a collar also formed with skins, was sometimes attached to the mantle, and reached along its whole breadth. It was formed without sleeves or buttons, and was worn thrown over the shoulders, the corners doubled over at the chest and arms. When the bow was to be used the upper part of the dress was thrown off from the shoulders and arms, and a broad fold, the whole extent of it, was secured round the loins, with a belt, to keep the lower part from the ground, and the whole from falling off, when the arms were at liberty. The collar of the dress was sometimes made of alternate stripes of otter and deer skins sewed together, and sufficiently broad to cover the head and face when turned up, and this is made to answer the purpose of a hood of a cloak in bad weather. Occasionally, leggings or gaiters were worn, and arm coverings, all made of deer skins. Their moccasins were also made of the same material; in summer, however, they frequently went without any covering for the feet.
These whether offensive or defensive, or for killing game were simply the bow and arrow, spear and club. The arrow heads were of two kinds viz. -- stone, bone or iron, the latter material being derived from Europeans, and the blunt arrow, the point being a knob continuous with the shaft. The former of these was used for killing quadrupeds and large birds. Two strips of goose feathers were tied on to balance the arrow, and it has been remarked by many persons who have seen the Red Indian arrows, that they have invariably been a yard long; the reason of this would seem to be that their measure for the arrow was the arm's length, that is from the centre of the chest to the tip of the middle finger, that being the proper length to draw the bow; -- the latter was about five feet long, generally made of mountain ash, but sometimes of spruce.(2)
The spears were of two kinds, the one, their chief weapon, was twelve feet in length, pointed with bone or iron, whenever the latter material could be obtained, and was used in killing deer and other animals. The other was fourteen feet in length and was used chiefly, if not wholly, in killing seals, -- the head or point being easily separated from the shaft, -- the service of the latter being indeed mainly, to guide the point into the body of the animal, which being effected, the shaft was withdrawn, and a strong strip of deer skin, which was always kept fastened to the spear head was held by the Indian, who in this manner secured his prey. This method of taking the seals may be compared to that of taking the whales. The handle of the harpoon being chiefly to guide the point, to which the /213/ cord is attached, into the body of the animal and then hauling against it until the fish is exhausted. The Esquimaux adopt a similar plan the point of their harpoon or spear being somewhat different in form.(3)
These varied from sixteen to twenty two feet in length, with an upward curve towards each end. Laths were introduced from stem to stern instead of planks. They were provided with a gunwhale or edging which, though slight, added strength to the fabric -- the whole was covered on the outside with deer skins sewed together and fastened by stitching the edges round the gunwhale.(4)
The language of the Boeothucks, Mr. Cormack is of opinion, is different from all the languages of the neighboring tribes of Indians with which any comparison has been made. Of all the words procured at different times from the female Indian Shawnawdithit, and which were compared with the Micmac and Banake (the latter people bordering on the Mohawk) not one was found similar to the language of the latter people, and only two words which could be supposed to have had the same origin, viz., "Kuis" -- Boeothuck -- and "Kuse" Banake -- both words meaning Sun, -- and "Moosin" Boeothuck, -- and "Moccasin" Banake and Micmac shoe, or covering for the foot. The Boeothuck also differs from the Mountaineer and Eskimo languages of Labrador. The Micmac, Mountaineers, and Banake, have no "r" the Boeothuck has; the three first use "l" instead of "r." The Boeothuck has the diphthong "sh" -- the other languages have it not. The Boeothucks have no characters to serve as hieroglyphics or letters, but they had a few symbols or signatures.
The Boeothucks appear to have shown great respect for their dead, and the most remarkable remains of them commonly observed by Europeans at the sea coast, are their burial places. They had several modes of interment. One was when the body of the deceased had been wrapped in /214/ birch rind, it was then, with his property, placed on a sort of scaffold about four feet from the ground, the scaffold supported a flooring of small squared beams laid close together, on which the body and property rested.
A second method was, when the body bent together and wrapped in birch rinds was enclosed in a sort of box on the ground, -- this box was made of small square posts laid on each other horizontally, and notched at the corners to make them meet close, -- it was about four feet high, three feet broad, and two feet and a half deep, well lined with birch rind, so as to exclude the weather from the inside, -- the body was always laid on its right side.
A third and most common method of burying among this people was to wrap the body in birch rind, and then cover it over with a heap of stones on the surface of the earth; but occasionally in sandy places, or where the earth was soft and easily removed, the body was sunk lower in the earth and the stones omitted.
The marriage ceremony consisted merely in a prolonged feast which rarely terminated before the end of twenty four hours. Polygamy would seem not to have been countenanced by the tribe.
Of their remedies for disease, the following were the most frequently resorted to.
For pains in the stomach, a decoction of the rind of the dogwood was drunk.
For sickness amongst old people -- sickness in the stomach -- pains in the back, and for rheumatism, the vapour bath was used.
For sore head, neck &c. pounded sulphuret of iron mixed with oil was rubbed over the part affected, and was said generally to affect a cure in two or three days.
For sore eyes, -- woman's milk as a wash.
This was evidently written by Cormack to be submitted to the Governor for approval, but I cannot learn that it was ever issued.
KING GEORGE is sorry his children the Red Indians live for no good, his children the Micmacs hunt and sell fur to the English. King George wants to tell Red Indians not to hunt beaver always, but to come to the salt water to catch fish: to leave the beaver for the Micmacs because English know Micmacs a long time. Any Micmac who brings Red Indian to St. John's to speak to Governor or to me will receive a reward of 20 pounds a year each, as long as he or they live, a silver medal each, and a grant of Red Indian Lake for six years. But if Micmacs kill Red Indians King George order all Micmacs to go away from Newfoundland.
In this he states that he has acquired several ingenious articles of the Beothuck manufacture, some of which were discovered on his last journey, models of canoes, bows and arrows, spears of different kinds, &c. and also a complete dress worn by that people. Their mode of kindling /215/ fire by striking together two pieces of iron pyrites is not only original, but as far as we at present know, peculiar to the tribe.(5) These articles together with a short vocabulary of their language, which I have been enabled to collect, prove the Beothucks to be a distinct tribe from any hitherto discovered in North America. In my detailed report, I would propose to have plates of these articles and also of the like articles used by other tribes of Indians, that a comparative idea may be formed of them, and when the Indian female Shawnawdithit arrives in St. John's, I would recommend that a correct likeness of her be taken and preserved in the record of this Institution.(6)
Resolved that the measures recommended in the President's report be agreed to; and that the three men John Louis, John Stevens and Peter John, Indians of the Canadian and Mountaineer tribes be placed upon the establishment of this Institution to be employed under the immediate direction and control of the President and that they be allowed a fair and reasonable compensation &c.
The three Indians above mentioned were sent out in search of the Beothucks as it appears from a report of proceedings of the Beothuck Institution, dated February 7th, 1828, when it was considered besides the pay, to offer a bounty of $100 to them in the event of their discovery of the residence of the Red Indians, or the Indians themselves still living &c.
The following documents in reference to these expeditions appear amongst the transactions of the Beothuck Institution, now in my possession.
At a meeting of the members of the Institution the 7th day of February 1828 at the Court House.
The Honourable A.W. Desbarres in the chair, -- it was moved and unanimously resolved.
First. -- That the Instructions for the party composing the expedition to discover the Red Indians and which are now ready be adopted and acted upon by the Society.
Second. -- That a bounty of one hundred dollars be paid to the party sent in pursuit of the Indians, in addition to the sum granted for their services by the President W.E. Cormack Esq. provided it appear by subsequent investigation that they shall have discovered the abodes of the Red Indians now in existence.
/216/ INSTRUCTIONS to John Louis the chief of the party of Indians upon the establishment of the Boeothick Institution respecting the route to be taken by the party in quest of the Red Indians in the winter of 1828.
John Louis will proceed forthwith to Clode Sound in Bonavista Bay, and inform John Stevens and Peter John that they have been nominated as the most proper persons to be attached to this Institution for opening a friendly communication with the Red Indians and that they will be compensated for such services as they may perform, by such a sum of money as the President W.E. Cormack Esq. shall consider just and reasonable. --
John Louis will then make arrangements with John Stevens and Peter John to attend him on the expedition to discover the abodes of the Red Indians, which expedition is to proceed from Fortune Bay on or before the tenth day of March next.
The party will in the first place proceed to White Bear Bay in order if necessary to consult with a party of Micmacs there from thence proceed through the country (interior) to St. George's Bay, then through the country to the Bay of Islands Lake,(7) then pass through the country to the westward of Red Indian Lake to White Bay, and from thence return back to the River Exploits and wait on John Peyton Esq. and the Rev. Mr. Chapman for further instructions.
Instructions to the party under the direction of John Louis in case they shall meet with or discover the abodes of the Red Indians.
The Institution having originated from a sincere desire of establishing a friendly intercourse with that unhappy race of people the Red Indians, and of protecting the lives of the few who survive at this day, any communication with them that can by any possibility lead to an unfriendly result ought to be avoided. -- John Louis and his party will therefore at all times bear in mind that great caution and perseverance are eminently requisite to accomplish the important and intricate designs of the Institution, and they will avoid coming in contact with the Red Indians under any circumstances however favourable they may appear to be.
They will however, endeavour to ascertain as correctly as they possibly can the numbers of the Red Indians now in existence and the country occupied by them, and they will then immediately return to St. John's to report the particulars of their discovery in order that another expedition upon a more matured plan, and other measures, expedient and necessary may be adopted by the Institution.
(signed) W.E. CORMACK
President of the
1. This is the first and only reference I have ever met with of the Beothucks using carved doorposts to their dwellings. It is to be regretted Cormack does not give us fuller particulars as to the character of those carvings. I presume they must have been somewhat similar to those grotesque figures used by the natives of the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of British Columbia.
2. Also of a species of fir called boxy fir, a hard grown, tough, springy wood, so I have been informed by the Micmacs.
3. I believe the Beothucks derived the idea of this harpoon from the Eskimos, who are adepts in its use, are known to have possessed it a long time, and who moreover, depend more upon the seal and walrus for their livelihood than the former had any occasion to do. It is a most ingenious weapon, and while the general structure is the same, that of the Beothuck was slighter and more neatly constructed. It was called by them a-aduth.
4. This statement does not tally with that of any of the other authorities on the subject. Whitbourne, Cartwright, Buchan and even Cormack himself all affirm that the outside of the canoe was invariably covered with birch rind.
5. Lloyd states that his Micmac guide, Souliann, told him they used the down of the Blue Jay for tinder.
6. This suggestion was apparently carried out. Bonnycastle affirms that he saw her miniature. It is probably a copy of this picture of Shanawdithit which appears as a frontispiece in the Annals of the Propagation of the Gospel, 1856, a photo of which is here reproduced.
7. Grand Lake.
(E-text furnished by Dr. Hans Rollmann; typed by Ms. Heather Russell; htmlized by Dr. Hans Rollmann)