The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume V

        Feb. 24.



p. 2640

No. 1055.


The people of this country form various nations or tribes; and are at perpetual war with each other. Formerly the ESQUIMAUX, who may be called a maritime nation, were settled at different places upon the sea coast quite down to the river ST. JOHN'S ; but, for many years past, whether it has been owing to their quarrels with the Mountaineers, or the encroachments of the Europeans, they have taken up their residence far to the north.
A good way up the country live a people distinguished by the appellation of MOUNTAINEERS, between whom and the Esquimaux there subsists an unconquerable aversion. Next to the Mountaineers, and still farther west-ward, you come to a nation called the ESCOPICS.
The Mountaineers are esteemed an industrious tribe ; and, for many years, had been known to the French traders. Their chief employment is to catch fur, and procure the necessaries of life. They are extremely illiterate, but generally good-natured ; and are reckoned to be less ferocious than any other of the Indians. This softness of their manners is owing to their long intercourse with Europeans; and the other nations will doubtless lose their savage disposition, in proportion as they imbibe our customs.
They come every year to trade with the Canadian merchants, who have seal-fisheries on the southern part of the coast, and have the character of just dealers. They are immoderately fond of spirits ; for which, blanketing, firearms (in the use of which they are remarkably dexterous), and ammunition, they truck the greatest part of their furs.
Their canoes are covered with the rind of birch; and, though so light as to be easily carried, yet sufficiently large to contain a whole family and their traffic. By means of the multitude of amazing ponds throughout this country, they convey themselves a vast distance in a very little time. Whenever they find a pond in their way, they embark on it, and travel by water; when its course alters, and by following it they would lengthen their distance anything considerable, they land, place their canoe on their head, and carry their baggage on their shoulders, until other water gives them an opportunity of re-embarking. They are most excellent travellers. They bear inconceivable

p. 2641

fatigue with astonishing patience, and will travel two days successively without taking any sort of nourishment.
These Indians are of a deeper colour than the Esquimaux. They are low of stature. Though of a robust constitution, their limbs are small, and extremely well adapted to the rocky country they are continually traversing.


The ESQUIMAUX Indians, inhabiting the sea coast of the northern part of LABRADORE, are indisputably from GREENLAND. They are a very deep tawney, or rather of a pale copper-coloured complexion. . . .
They live always upon the sea-shores, from their dread of the Mountaineers.

No. 1056.


[NEWARK : 1782, VOL. III., pp. 229-232.]

The native inhabitants are two distinct nations of Indians; Mountaineers and Esquimaux. The Mountaineers are tall, thin, and excellent walkers; their colour greatly resembles that of our gypsies; probably occasioned, by their being constantly exposed to the weather and smokey whigwhams. In features they bear a strong resemblance to the French, which is not to be wondered at, since they have had an intercourse with the Canadians for so many years, that there are few, I believe, who have not some French blood in them. These people inhabit the interior parts of the country, which they traverse by the assistance of canoes, covered with birch-rinds, in the summer; and of rackets, or snow-shoes, in the winter. Their weapons are guns and bows; the latter are used only to kill moor-game, but their chief dependance is on the gun, and they are excellent marksmen; particularly with single

p. 2642

ball. They are wonderfully clever at killing deer, otherwise they would starve; and when they are in a part of the country, in the winter time, where deer are scarce, they will follow a herd by the slot, day and night, until they tire them quite down ; when they are sure to kill them all. I must not be understood literally, that they take no rest all that time, for, if the night is light enough, they rest only four or five hours, then pursue again; which space of time, being too short for the deer to obtain either food or rest, they are commonly jaded out by the fourth day. The Indians paunch and leave them, then go back to their families, return immediately with bag and baggage, and remain there until they have eaten them all; when, if they have not provided another supply elsewhere, they look out afresh. But when deer are plentiful, they are quickly provided with food without much trouble, for, as two or three families usually go together in the winter time, some post themselves to leeward of the herd, while others go to windward, and drive them down ; by which means, it seldom happens that they all escape. When they have good success among the deer, they also kill most furs ; for then, they have leisure to build, and attend to deathfalls, in which they kill foxes and martens. Porcupine hunting is an employment assigned to the women, and is a good resource, where there are strong, fir woods.
Beavers they can do nothing at in the winter, on account of the frost, but they kill numbers of them in the spring and autumn; and even all the summer through: but one good English furrier will kill more than four Indians, where those animals are numerous. They kill beavers by watching for, and shooting them; or, by staking their houses ; the method of doing which, I will endeavour to explain: If the pond, where the beaver house is, be not capable of being drawn dry, they cut a hole through the roof of the house into the lodging, to discover the angles; they then run stakes through at the edge of the water, where the house is always soft, parallel to each other, across each angle, and so near together that no beaver can pass between. The stakes being all fitted in their places they draw them up to permit the beavers to return into the house, (the hole on the top being covered up so close as not to admit any light) and then hunt with their dogs, backwards and forwards, round the edges of the pond, to discover where they have hid themselves under the hollow banks; taking especial care, not to go near the house, until they can find them no longer any where else. They then approach it very cautiously, replace the stakes with the utmost expedition, throw the covering off the hole, and kill them with spears made for the purpose. When they have a canoe, they will drive the pond in the manner already described, without disturbing the house; and, when they suppose the beavers are all in, they place a strong net round it; then making an opening, they kill them as they strike out of the house. They will also place a net across a contraction in the pond, where there happens to be one, and kill them there, in the course of driving. But, as it is seldom that the whole crew or family are killed by these means, hermit beavers are always observed to be most numerous in those parts of the country which are frequented by Indians. The Mountaineers are also very dexterous in imitating the call of every bird and beast, by which

p. 2643

they decoy them close to their lurking-places. And as the destruction of animals is their whole study, there is not one, whose nature and haunts they are not perfectly well acquainted with: insomuch, that one man will maintain himself, a wife, and five or six children in greater plenty, and with a more regular supply than any European could support himself singly, although he were a better shot.
As these people never stay long in a place, consequently they never build houses, but live the year round in miserable whigwhams; the coverings of which are deer-skins and birch rinds: the skins which they use for this purpose, as well as for clothes, are tainted, to take off the hair, then washed in a lather of brains and water, and afterwards dried and well rubbed: but for winter use, they will also have jackets of beaver, or deer-skins, with the hair on. As to the morals of these people, I cannot speak much in praise of them, for they are greatly addicted to drunkenness and theft. They profess the Romish Religion ; but know no more of it, than merely to repeat a prayer or two, count their beads, and see a priest whenever they go to Quebec.
The Esquimaux being a detachment from the Greenlanders, or those from them, any attempt of mine to describe them, would be impertinent ; since that has already been done by much abler pens. I will therefore content myself with saying, they are the best tempered people I ever met with, and most docile nor is there a nation under the sun, with which I would sooner trust my person and property; although, till within these few years, they were never known to have any intercourse with Europeans, without committing theft or murder, and generally both.



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