THANADELTHUR, a Chipewyan (Northern Indian) known as the Slave Woman in the records of the HBC; the Indian name meaning “marten shake” was given her in the oral tradition of the Chipewyans; d. 5 Feb. 1717.
In the spring of 1713 a party of Chipewyans was attacked by Crees. At least three women were taken captive. The Slave Woman and another woman escaped from their Cree master in the fall of 1713 and attempted to make their way overland to rejoin their people. Cold and hunger forced them to turn back, and they searched for York Fort, which they had heard of but had never seen. A year of hardship and starvation caused the death of the companion five days before the Slave Woman encountered some York Fort servants who brought her to the fort on 24 Nov. 1714. Governor James Knight found her arrival timely for he desperately needed an interpreter if he hoped to establish trade with the Chipewyans, who were reluctant to come to York Fort because their primitive weapons were no defence against the guns of the Crees.
On 27 June 1715 Knight sent William Stuart, the Slave Woman, and a party of 150 Crees on a peace-making mission to the Chipewyans. Sickness and starvation forced the expedition to break up into small parties in order to survive during the merciless winter. Most of the parties made their way back to York Fort and one of them murdered a group of Chipewyans, in self-defence they claimed later. Stuart’s party came upon the scene of the massacre a few days later and were horrified at the failure of their peace mission. The Slave Woman, indomitable and indefatigable, was determined that peace should be made. She persuaded the frightened Crees in Stuart’s party to remain on the spot for ten days while she set off in pursuit of her countrymen. She followed their tracks until she found a large Chipewyan band who had gathered for revenge. She talked until she was hoarse to persuade them to go back with her to meet their traditional enemies. On the tenth day she returned with a large group of her countrymen to the place where she had left the apprehensive Crees, and the palaver began. The Crees in Stuart’s party protested their innocence of the massacre and invited the Chipewyans to smoke the pipe of peace. After the peace-making ceremonies were completed, some of the Chipewyans accompanied Stuart’s party to York Fort. One’s admiration is aroused by the determination of this remarkable woman who by “her perpetual [sic] talking” persuaded 400 Chipewyans to return with her to make peace. Both James Knight and William Stuart, no less impressed by her eloquence than her own countrymen, gave her the chief credit for establishing peace.
On 7 May 1716 Stuart and his party regained York Fort. Knight was overjoyed at the success of the mission and prepared plans to send the Slave Woman and some of her countrymen across the Barrens in the spring of 1717 to announce to the Chipewyans the establishment of a fort at Churchill River. The Slave Woman was most enthusiastic about the plan, but unfortunately she became ill during the winter and after lingering seven weeks died on 5 Feb. 1717. Governor Knight, never one to praise unduly said: “She was one of a very high Spirit and of the Firmest Resolution that every I see in any Body in my Days and of great Courage.”
HBC Arch. B.239/a/1–3 (York Fort journals, 1714-17). Founding of Churchill (Kenney). HBRS, XXI (Rich); XXV (Davies and Johnson). E. S. Curtis, The Chipewyan, ed. F. W. Hodge (The North American Indian, XVIII, Norwood, Mass., 1928), 8–9. Morton, History of the Canadian west. A. M. Johnson, “Ambassadress of peace,” Beaver (Winnipeg), outfit 283 (December 1952), 42–45. K. E. Pincott, “What Churchill owes to a woman,” Beaver (Winnipeg) outfit 263 (September 1932), 100–3.