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the Dark Ages

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« on: May 09, 2007, 11:48:43 pm »



Statue of Shanawdithit, at the Boyd's Cove Beothuk Site, Newfoundland.

Shanawdithit (1801 June 6, 1829), also referred to as Nancy April, is believed to have been the last surviving member of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland.

She is thought to have been born in 1801. After the capture of Shanawdithit's aunt, Demasduwit, also Mary March in 1819, the few remaining Beothuk people had fled. In the spring of 1823 her father had died when he fell through the ice while trying to escape from a group of hunters. Hungry and without protection Shanawdithit, her mother and sister felt they had no choice but to go to the nearest settler, a trapper named William Cull, and beg for mercy. The three women were taken to St. John's, where Shanawdithit's mother and sister died of tuberculosis.

Shanawdithit, renamed Nancy, was then taken to Exploits Island and worked as a servant in the household of John Peyton Jr. In September 1828, she was taken back to St. John's by William Cormack, who was able to write down much of what she told him about her people. Shawnadithit remained in Cormack's care until his departure from Newfoundland early in 1829; she was then transferred to the care of the attorney general, James Simms where she spent the remaining nine months of her life.

Her health, precarious for a number of years, continued to deteriorate, and she was seen a good deal during this period by William Carson, who tended her in her last illness. She died in a St. John's hospital of tuberculosis in 1829.

When she died, her skull was presented to the Royal College of Physicians in London for study. In 1938, they turned it over to the Royal College of Surgeons; subsequently it was destroyed during the Blitz of World War II. The rest of her remains had been buried in the old graveyard on the south side of the city.

The graveyard was dismantled for railway construction in 1903. There is a monument on the site which reads: "This monument marks the site of the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin during the period 1859 - 1963. Fishermen and sailors from many ports found a spiritual haven within its hallowed walls. Near this spot is the burying place of Nancy Shanawdithit, very probably the last of the Beothuks who died on June 6, 1829."

Shanawdithit is well known to Newfoundlanders; in 1851, the local paper the Newfoundlander called her a princess of Terra Nova. In 1999, The Telegram readers voted her the most notable Aboriginal person of the past 1,000 years; she captured 57% of the total votes.

Nice choice of historical figures, EG, I had never heard of that one before.
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