Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Vanished Beothuks

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Newfoundland/Labrador, land of the Beothuks
When I began the process of studying Newfoundland/Labrador, I expected a plethora of native peoples’ lore but found little to none. The Beothuks were a native peoples who have supposedly become extinct after thriving in the north-eastern province for over 2000 years.

Word has drifted down they were tall. They colored their black hair and arms in red ochre. Lighter skinned than expected, they were broad faced with flat noses. They also tinted their clothes with red ochre. Nomadic, the land provided their food. They were ingenious and lived well, with fences 30 miles long that penned in deer. Their steam baths with hot stones were covered with skins. 

They were there when the Vikings landed on L’anse Aux Meadows. Sabastian Cabot either briefly met them or saw them from a distance before being cast adrift by a mutinous crew in Hudson Bay to never be seen again. Columbus never got that far north so he never saw them.

By the 17th century, they lived in the fringes of Newfoundland, away from all the settlements. After the summer fishermen left the area, it was said they would venture to the abandoned sites and take what they could, i.e., fishing lines, spoons and trinkets left behind but they were a shy people, never mingling with the newcomers. Even as they stayed hidden, they were still subjected to the European scourge of disease, which annihilated the majority of their tribe by the beginning of the 19th century.

Beothuk Woman
Another source says their demise came from hostilities with another tribe, the Micmac, that settled in NL in the 18th century. The French, tired of the hostilities, offered a bounty on every Beothuk head brought to them. The Micmac hunted the Beothuk to near extinction. By the first quarter of the 19th century, they had died out. By 1827, not one Beothuk remained.


Many thanks to:

Chappell, R.N., Edward, Lieut. Voyage of His Majesty’s Ship Rosamond to Newfoundland and the Southern Coast of Labrador, London 1818

And Wikicommons, public domain.


  1. Very interesting. I always thought the French worked with the local people when they came to what eventually became Canada.

    1. I guess not all French were amiable. At the end of the 17th century, the French attacked Newfoundland and destroyed all the buildings Sir David & Lady Sara had worked so hard to establish. They ended up killing Sir David's sons.

    2. I hadn’t read about these people before, and found this quite interesting.

    3. Thanks so much. It always amazes me how research brings out the most intangible of facts.

  2. Very interesting Kathy. Research can turn up some intriguing historical facts.