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Finding the Site

  Clearly, the Beothuk who John Guy’s party encountered in 1612 had previous contact with Europeans. By 1612 European fishermen had been frequenting the waters around Newfoundland for well over a century and some contact between the two groups was bound to occur. One of the earliest descriptions we have of the Beothuk comes from a Discorso, believed to have been written by the Norman sea captain Pierre Crignon in 1539, which describes a voyage that took place in 1529. Speaking of the people who lived on the coast between Cape Bonavista and the Strait of Bell Isle he says,  
  ”The inhabitants live in small huts and houses which are covered with tree bark, which they build to live in during the fishing season, which begins in the spring and lasts all summer ... They fish for seals, porpoises, and certain sea birds, called gannets [Margaux], which they take on the islands [to dry]. They make oil out of the fat of these fish. When the fishing season ends with the approach of winter, they return with their catch in boats made of the bark of certain trees called birch, and go to warmer countries, but we know not where".  
  The statement that the Beothuk withdrew to “warmer countries” is probably a reference to them moving into the interior in the autumn to hunt caribou and other game.  
  When Guy’s party left Dildo Arm they sailed north as far as Bull Arm and they record seeing a number of Indian camps along the way. Both Guy and Crout mention a wide range of items of European manufacture that they saw at these camps. Among the things Guy saw at Russell’s Point were a copper kettle, a fishing reel, Basque oars and a sail. At a camp on the Come-By-Chance River in Placentia Bay, Crout reports seeing “a basket full of Fishermen’s hookes, a little brassen kettle ... [and] a caulking iron” and a canoe found on the beach at the bottom of Bull Arm contained “a fishing line ... [and]... a Fisherman’s cape”.

On November 6, 1612 Guy’s party met, shared a meal and traded with a group of Beothuk some where near the bottom of Bull Arm who were obviously familiar with trade. Not only did they light a fire to let the colonists know they were ready to trade but one of them approached the colonists carrying a white flag made from a wolf skin and they hung their furs on poles “according”, Crout says,”vnto their custom for to sell them”. When Henry Crout sailed into Dildo Arm the following year he encountered a group of Beothuk who initiated trade in the same manner. Crout even reports that someone, possibly an Englishman “can speake their language well [and]... hath bin five years amongst them”.

  A number of items of European manufacture were found at Russell’s Point including part of an iron knife, a key, several fish hooks, two copper hooks, a number of small fragments of copper, some wrought iron nails and a single piece of pottery. The pottery appears to be of Iberian origin and may have been acquired from contact with migratory fishermen. The presence of the key is interesting. Such a small item probably did not serve any utilitarian purpose. Instead, its purpose may have been decorative. The Recollet lay brother Gabriel Sagard, who lived among the Huron early in the seventeenth century, observed that they were in the habit of hanging keys around the necks of their children as ornaments and perhaps this key was used in the same way.

A single altered nail fragment was also recovered from Russell’s Point. These are nails that have been altered by the Beothuk during the process of hammering the shafts flat to make iron arrowheads. This practice was common among the Beothuk who live farther to the west in places like Boyd’s Cove long after Russell’s Point was abandoned but its presence on the point shows that the Beothuk in Trinity Bay were beginning to work iron before the site was abandoned sometime in the mid-seventeenth century.

  Possibly the most interesting European items found at the site are also the smallest. When the soil from one of the fireplaces at Russell’s Point was sent to the Archaeology Unit at Memorial University in St. John’s for analysis, two charred European grape seeds were discovered. Obviously grapes could not have been transported to Newfoundland in the sixteenth or early seventeenth-century. However, raisins sometimes were and some of these obviously found their way into the hands of the Beothuk at Russell's Point. While it is conceivable that raisins might have been acquired by some other means, it seems much more likely that they were obtained through friendly contact. Among the things that John Guy mentions giving the Beothuk when he met them in Bull Arm were, “reasons of the sun”. It is also worth noting that among the items found by James Tuck in the sixteenth-century Beothuk hearths at Ferryland are charred grape seeds.  

Images (left to right, top to bottom) 1. Wigwam at Russell’s Point, June 2003. Looking northeast across Dildo Pond towards Swile Rock Hill. 2. John Guy’s party meets a group of Beothuk in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay, November 6, 1612. This image, first published in 1627 is often credited to Theodore de Bry but is probably the work of his grandson Matthaus Merian.3. Iron knife fragment from Russell’s Point. 4. Iron key from Russell’s Point. 5. Fish hook from Russell’s Point. 6. Altered nail fragment. 7. Charred European grape seeds from Russell’s Point. 8. Looking southeast across Dildo Pond from the hill above Russell’s Point.