Demasduit (c. 1796 - January 8, 1820) was a Beothuk woman, one of the last of her people on the island of Newfoundland.


Demasduit was born c. 1796, near the end of the 18th century.

By this time, the Beothuk population had been greatly reduced from the numbers that lived in Newfoundland prior to the arrival of Europeans. European fishermen established fishing stations at the mouths of the rivers and in the bays, which had sustained the Beothuk during the summers. These fishing stations, which were then followed by permanent settlements, cut the Beothuk off from their sources of food. Unequal conflicts erupted periodically, leading to deaths among the Beothuk, who did not have access to guns. Further pressure came from Micmac, also armed with guns, who came over from Nova Scotia to hunt in traditional Beothuk territory. The result of the pressures, which also included the arrival of European diseases, was a drastic decline in the Beothuk population. By the late 18th century, numbers had dropped to the point that the long-term survival of the Beothuk people was no longer possible.

In the fall of 1818, a small group of Beothuks had captured a boat and some fishing equipment near the mouth of the Exploits River, which had been traditional Beothuk territory for centuries. The governor of the colony, Sir Charles Hamilton, authorized an attempt to recover the property that had been taken. On March 1, 1819, John Peyton Jr. and eight armed men went up the Exploits River to Red Indian Lake in search of the Beothuks and their equipment. A dozen Beothuk fled the campsite, Demasduit among them. Bogged down in the snow, she exposed her breasts, indicating that she was a nursing mother, begging for mercy. Nonosbawsut, her husband, was killed while attempting to negotiate for Demasduit's release. Her infant son died a few days after she was taken.

Peyton and his men were absolved of the murder of Nonosbawsut by a grand jury in St. John's, the judge concluding that "[there was] no malice on the part of Peyton's party to get possession of any of [the Indians] by such violence as would occasion bloodshed".

Demasduit was taken to Twillingate and for a time lived with the Anglican priest there, Rev. John Leigh. He learned that she was also called Shendoreth and Waunathoake, but he gave her the name Mary March, after the Virgin Mary and the month in which she was kidnapped. Demasduit was brought to St. John's and spent much of the spring of 1819 in St. John's, brought there by Leigh and John Peyton Jr. While she was there, Lady Hamilton painted her portrait.

During the summer of 1819, a number of attempts were made to return her to her people, without success. Captain David Buchan was to go overland to Red Indian Lake with Demasduit in November, the people of St. John's and Notre Dame Bay having raised the money to return her to her home. However, she was taken ill and died of tuberculosis at Ship Cove (now Botwood) aboard Buchan's vessel Grasshopper, on 8 January 1820. Her body was left in a coffin on the lakeshore, where it was found by members of her tribe and returned to her village. Demasduit's body was placed in a burial hut beside her husband and child. It is believed that there were only about thirty Beothuk remaining at that time.


Demasduit's niece, a young woman named Shanawdithit (1801-1829), was the last known Beothuk.

The Mary March Provincial Museum in the town of Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, is named after her. In May 2006, a group of local grade 2 students helped collect more than 500 signatures on a petition to rename the museum to Demasduit's original identity, rather than the name she was given after her capture.

Adapted from an article in Wikipedia with additional content by Connexions.


Marshall, Ingeborg. A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. McGill-Queen's University Press. 1996.

Subject headings

Aboriginal HistoryNewfoundland History