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Lecture on the Aborigines of Newfoundland Delivered Before the Mechanics' Institute, at St. John's, Newfoundland, on Monday, 17th January, 1859   By: (1823-1898)

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Delivered before the Mechanics Institute, at St. John's, on Monday, 17th January,



Surveyor General.








Surveyor General,

Of the various theories advanced on the origin of the North American Indians, none has been so entirely satisfactory as to command a general assent; and on this point many and different opinions are yet held. The late De Witt Clinton, Governor of the State of New York, a man who had given no slight consideration to subjects of this nature, maintained that they were of Tatar origin; others have thought them the descendants of the Ten Tribes, or the offspring of the Canaanites expelled by Joshua. The opinion, however, most commonly entertained is, that the vast continent of North America was peopled from the Northeast of Asia; in proof of which it is urged that every peculiarity, whether in person or disposition, which characterises the Americans, bears some resemblance to the rude tribes scattered over the northeast of Asia, but almost none to the nations settled on the northern extremity of Europe. Robertson, however, gives a new phase to this question; from his authority we learn that, as early as the ninth century, the Norwegians discovered Greenland and planted colonies there. The communication with that country, after a long interruption, was renewed in the last century, and through Moravian missionaries, it is now ascertained that the Esquimaux speak the same language as the Greenlanders, and that they are in every respect the same people. By this decisive fact, not only is the consanguinity of the Greenlanders with the Esquimaux established, but also the possibility of peopling America from the north of Europe demonstrated, and if of America, then of course of Newfoundland also, and thus it appears within the verge of possibility, that the original inhabitants of this Island may be descendants of Europeans, in fact merely a distinct tribe of the Esquimaux. At a meeting of the Philosophical Society held in England some few years ago, the subject of the Red Indians of Newfoundland was brought under discussion by Mr. Jukes, the gentleman who conducted the geological survey of this Island; and Dr. King, a name well known among scientific men, gave it as his opinion, founded on historical evidence, going so far back as the period of Sebastian Cabot, that they were really an Esquimaux tribe. Others are of opinion, founded on some real or presumed affinity between the vocabulary of the one people with that of the other, that the Indian tribes of North America and the original inhabitants of Newfoundland, called by themselves "Boeothicks," and by Europeans "Red Indians," are of the same descent.

The enquiry, however, into the mere origin of a people is one more curious in its nature than it is calculated to be useful, and failure in attempting to discover it need excite but little regret; but it is much to be lamented that the early history of the Boeothick is shrouded in such obscurity, that any attempt to penetrate it must be vain. All that we know of the tribe as it existed in past ages, is derived from tradition handed down to us chiefly thro' the Micmacs; and even from this source, doubtful and uncertain as such authority confessedly is, the amount of information conveyed to us is both scanty and imperfect. From such traditionary facts we gather, that the Boeothicks were once a powerful and numerous tribe, like their neighbouring tribe the Micmacs, and that for a long period these tribes were on friendly terms and inhabited the western shores of Newfoundland in common, together with other parts of the Island as well as the Labrador, and this good understanding continued until some time after the discovery of Newfoundland by Cabot; but it was at length violently interrupted by the Micmacs, who, to ingratiate themselves with the French, who at that time held the sway in these parts, and who had taken offence at some proceedings of the Boeothicks, slew two Red Indians with the intention of taking their heads, which they had severed from the bodies, to the French... Continue reading book >>

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