Demasduwit

Demasduwit (also known as Shendoreth, Waunathoake, Mary March), one of the last of the Beothuk (born 1796; died 8 January 1820 at Bay of Exploits, Newfoundland). Demasduwit helped to preserve the Beothuk language and culture. In 2007, the Canadian government recognized her as a person of historic significance.

Demasduwit (Mary March)
While trying to flee her captors, Demasduwit's husband and newborn baby were killed, and she eventually died of tuberculosis in 1820. She was one of the last surviving members of the now-extinct Beothuk people who lived in what is now Newfoundland (courtesy National Archives of Canada/C-87698).

Early Life and Capture

Demasduwit was one of the last of the Beothuk , an Indigenous people who once lived on what is now Newfoundland. An expedition sent to Red Indian Lake in March 1819 to recover stolen articles and establish friendly contact with the dwindling Beothuk people captured Demasduwit and killed her husband, Nonosbawsut. 

Demasduwit was taken to Twillingate and put in the care of Anglican missionary John Leigh, who recorded from her a Beothuk vocabulary. (See also Indigenous Languages in Canada.) She was later brought to St John's and an unsuccessful effort made to return her to her own people.

DID YOU KNOW?
Demasduwit’s niece, Shawnadithit, is considered the last Beothuk.

Death and Legacy

Demasduwit succumbed to pulmonary consumption and her body was returned to Red Indian Lake in February 1820 by a party led by British naval officer David Buchan. In 1828 W.E. Cormack saw her body, placed side by side with that of Nonosbawsut, in an elevated sepulchre erected by the last survivors of her people.

In the 1820s, a Scottish explorer took the skulls of Demasduwit and Nonosbawsut, as well as what were likely related burial items, and brought them to Edinburgh, Scotland, where they were eventually housed at the National Museum of Scotland. Indigenous peoples, notably the Mi’kmaq, in association with the Canadian government and the Newfoundland and Labrador government, have made attempts to repatriate the remains. In January 2019, National Museums Scotland reached an agreement with the federal government to arrange for the transfer of the remains back to Canada.


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