John Guy
First English Settlement

In 1610, John Guy received a commision from King James I of England to begin a colony in the New World and to begin the conversion of the Natives to Christianity. In particular, the King was anxious to convert the reclusive Beothuk who he believed could be easily swayed to the new religion. The New Found Land Company was created by a number of investors and Guy made preparations for the voyage which would see the first English settlement in the New World.

Guy arrived in Newfoundland and located a suitable spot in Cuper's Cove (present-day Cupid's Cove) and he and his 39 colonists began the task of starting a new life. By the end of the year, they had constructed 6 sturdy buildings to get them through the winter.

Scurvy plagued the new colony throughout the winter, claiming 4 lives. Sporadic pirate raids were a constant threat. Nonetheless, they survived and, by summer of 1611, had constructed a factory for salting fish and had launched a small fleet of fishing boats.

Guy was ready to embark on his search for the Beothuk.

The Beothuk

It is quite likely that, when the Vikings arrived on the shores of North America around 1000 AD, they enountered the Beothuk Indians. Historically reclusive, the Beothuk were quite likely to have been intrigued by the strangers who came in big ships, and they were also quite likely to have approached the Vikings, perhaps thinking that they were gods of some sort. However, the antagonistic Vikings were more likely to have attacked any visitors they met than they were to have welcomed them as friends.

There is no historical evidence that the Natives who approached the Vikings were Beothuk, but there is evidence that the early Viking settlements had been attacked and that the Vikings eventually abandoned the land to leave it in the hands of the 'Skraelings'. (see 1000 AD) Whether or not the Beothuk were involved in the massacres is unknown, but it is known that they became even more reclusive following the Viking intrusion. There would be no recorded encounters with the Beothuk for 600 years.

John Guy changed that.

After the settlement became secure in Cuper's Cove, Guy turned his attention to locating the Beothuk and spent his spare time searching the area for any signs. Finally, in 1612, as Guy sailed along Trinity Bay, he spied a campfire burning on shore. He sent one man ashore in a rowboat with a pocket full of trinkets and carrying a white flag. As instructed, the man stood quietly near the campfire and waited.

Eventually, the man was approached by 2 Beothuk Indians carrying a white wolf skin. The Beothuk held out the wolf skin as a gift and the Englishman offered the trinkets in exchange.

Guy went ashore with a few more men and they were soon joined by 8 more Beothuk. Using hand signs, Guy indicated that he wished to share the food he had brought ashore with him. They feasted on bread, butter, raisins, beer, and aqua vitae ('water of life', brandy) supplied by Guy and dried deer meat supplied by the Beothuk.

Communication was surprisingly easy and the group of new friends made plans to meet again the following year. They went to sleep together on shore. However, when the landing party awoke the next morning, the Beothuk had disappeared. This is the first and only recorded encounter with the Beothuk.

Resignation

The winter of 1612 was extremely severe and 8 more of the original 39 colonists died from illness and the cold. Meanwhile, it had become apparent that the rocky terrain of Newfoundland was ill-suited to agriculture. The crops that the colonists were able to grow were hardly substantial enough to sustain them. The hoped-for mining industry evaporated with the discovery that there were very few minerals of any value - certainly not enough to warrant investment into the venture. When the news reached England, investors began to pull out, and with them went their money.

In the summer of 1613, John Guy resigned as Governor of Cuper's Cove and returned to England. He did not return to meet with the Beothuk as he had arranged the previous year. (see 1614)

By 1631, the New Found Land Company had gone bankrupt.