John Guy Meets the Beothuk


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On November 6th, 1612, the purpose of the Indeavour's voyage to Trinity Bay was fulfilled. John Guy, Henry Crout and 17 other men from Cupers Cove were camped at the bottom of Bull Arm in Trinity Bay where the town of Sunnyside is today. The Indeavour, was moored in the harbour. A smaller vessel, called a shallop, was anchored and tied to the shore nearby.

A Trip to the Powder Horn

Beothuk in Canoe. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)
Beothuk in Canoe. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)

The day before John and ten others had crossed the Come-By-Chance River and climbed to the top of a mountain called the Powder Horn. They did this to get a look at the surrounding countryside. It was foggy most of that day and the fog didn't lift until around sunset. John and his men spent the night on the Powder Horn. They only got back to Sunnyside around noon the next day. Henry and the rest of the settlers were there waiting for them.

The Beothuk Light a Fire

They had their dinner and at about 2 o'clock they saw a fire burning a mile or so out the harbour. They knew the fire was lit by the Beothuk and it was a sign the Beothuk wanted to meet with them. John, Henry and the other colonists got in their boats and sailed to the place where the fire was burning.

When they got near, John's men saw two canoes hauled up on the beach and eight Beothuk on the beach where the fire was burning. The Beothuk had set poles in the ground and hung furs and chains of shells from them. One of the Beothuk walked towards Guy's men waving a white wolf skin. He make signs for them to come ashore but when the two boats got closer the Beothuk began to be afraid. They got into their canoes and started to paddle away.

John saw this and stopped his two vessels. Then he raised a white flag on the Indeavour. A white flag was a sign the settlers wanted friendly contact. George Whittington, one of the colonists, took the white flag and was rowed ashore in the shallop. He stood on the beach by himself. Then he walked towards the Beothuk who were just off shore in their canoes.

Meeting on the Beach

George Whittington. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)
George Whittington. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)

When they saw this, the Beothuk paddled one of their canoes to the shore and two Beothuk men landed on the beach. One of them was the man with the white wolf skin. He walked towards George shaking the wolf skin and talking loudly.

George couldn't understand what the man was saying, but he decided to do the same thing. George shook his white flag and started talking in a loud voice too. When he got nearer to George, the Beothuk threw his wolf skin down on the beach and George threw down his flag.

This made the two Beothuk men very happy and they started jumping, dancing and singing. They came up to George and gave him some presents. The first Beothuk gave him a chain made of periwinkle shells, a splitting knife and a feather that he took out of his hair. The second Beothuk gave George an arrow without an arrowhead. This was probably a sign of peace. George also gave the Beothuk some presents. He gave the first one a linen cap and a hand towel, and the second one a knife. Then all three of them began to dance together on the beach.

Other Beothuk and Other Colonists

Francis Tipton. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)
Francis Tipton. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)

Soon, another one of the colonists called Francis Tipton came ashore. One of the Beothuk ran up to him and gave him a chain of periwinkle shells. Francis gave him a knife and a small piece of brass. Then all four of them began to laugh and dance on the beach. Using sign language, the Beothuk and settlers agreed that two more of each group should come ashore and that food and drink should be brought ashore as well.

One of the Beothuk ran to the bank, pulled some roots out of the ground, and gave them to George to eat. The other Beothuk noticed that the roots were dirty. He took them to the water, washed them, and then divided them up among everyone. We don't know for sure what these roots were, but John Guy says they tasted very good.

Two more Beothuk landed along with John Guy and a colonist called Master Teage. John and Master Teage brought more presents for the Beothuk along with bread, butter, raisins, beer and aquavitae. Henry Crout and a settler called John Crouder, came ashore a little later. They were joined by more Beothuk.

One of the last Beothuk to come ashore seemed to have some command over the others. The rest of the Beothuk had bare hands and feet but this man wore seal skin boots and mittens and carried a paddle in his hand. John said that he would remove his mittens before he accepted any food and Henry said that he saluted people by removing his mitten and kissing the top of his finger. John says this man also gave them an arrow without a head.

The settlers and Beothuk had a good time that day. One of the Beothuk discovered that he could make a funny sound by blowing into the aquavitae bottle. When he did this, all of the other Beothuk began to laugh. After they all had some of the bread, butter and raisins one of the Beothuk went to his canoe and brought back some caribou meat. John said that it was either smoked or dried. The Beothuk took his knife and cut everyone off a piece.

After a while it started to get dark. The Beothuk man who wore the seal skin boots took the white wolf skin and gave it to George Whittington. In exchange he took the settlers white flag. Then the Beothuk made signs that it was time to go. They got aboard their canoes and paddled away. John and his men got back aboard the Indeavour and sailed back to the bottom of the arm.

Truce Sound

John and the other colonists were very pleased about their meeting with the Beothuk. They decided to call the place where they met Truce Harbour because they had made peaceful contact with the Beothuk there. They hoped that the Beothuk would return the next day but they didn't. So John began to build a house on Frenchmen's Island about a mile from Sunny Side. John wanted to use this house as a place to trade with the Beothuk the next time he was there. Henry said that the island was right next to a path that the Beothuk used to travel from Trinity Bay to Placentia Bay.

Furs to Trade

Furs to Trade. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)
Furs to Trade. (© Public Domain. Detail from a woodcut by Theodor de Bry. Image provided by Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)

The weather turned cold the next day and Bull Arm started to freeze over. The colonists were afraid that they might end up frozen in for the winter so they decided to head back to Cupers Cove. When they arrived at the place were they had met the Beothuk they noticed that all the furs and chains of shells were still there hanging from the poles. John and his men realized that the Beothuk had wanted to trade these things so they went ashore. They took some of the skins and left a hatchet, a knife and four threaded needles for them. George Whittington took a small beaver skin and left a pair of scissors for it. They left everything else as it was and sailed on out the arm.

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Flagstaff Harbour

The settlers stopped in a cove farther out Bull Arm to spend the night. This was probably Great Mosquito Cove and was the same place the settlers had spent the night when they sailed in the arm five days earlier. Henry wrote in his diary that there were three Beothuk houses in this cove but that the Beothuk were gone away. This must have been where the Beothuk spent the night after they had met with the settlers. John's men found the wooden staff from the white flag that they had given the Beothuk lying on the ground there. It was for this reason that John called this cove Flagstaff Harbour.