This Week in History
The Taking of Demasduit
|For the Week of March 7, 2016
In March of 1819, the Beothuk woman Demasduit was living in captivity in Twillingate, Newfoundland. The Beothuk, who were the island’s indigenous people, had long avoided contact with European settlers but still felt the effects of European disease, competition for resources and, especially, pursuit. By the time of Demasduit’s capture, there were very few Beothuk still alive.
Demasduit was placed in the care of Reverend John Leigh in Twillingate, and was given the name Mary March after the month in which she was abducted. In the 19th century, the Beothuk were often considered by Europeans as “savage” and uncivilized. Demasduit played a role in changing this stereotype. While living with Leigh she learned some English and provided much of what is now known about the Beothuk language, some 180 words. It is from Demasduit that we know the name “Beothuk.” She was eventually taken to St. John’s, where her intelligence and gentle nature prevailed.
Demasduit never gave up hope that she might see her child again. Governor Hamilton sent two search expeditions to bring her back to her people, but neither group met any Beothuk. On January 8, 1820, around the age of 24, Demasduit died of tuberculosis during the second expedition. Demasduit’s niece, Shanawdithit, was taken and brought to Twillingate in 1823. It is from her that we know of the death of Demasduit’s child two days after its mother’s capture, and of the final days of the Beothuk.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. For her contribution to our knowledge of the Beothuk and her role in changing European attitudes, Demasduit is designated as a person of national historic significance. To learn about Shanawdithit, also a person of national historic significance, read In Search of Family. To learn more about the Beothuk and the early settlement of Newfoundland read, Death of Shanawdithit and the Beothuk, and The First Permanent Settlement on Newfoundland in the This Week in History archives.Follow us on twitter @ParksCanada! Also, find out more about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
- Date Modified: