History Idol: Thanadelthur

Canada's History web editor Tanja Hütter thinks Thanadelthur is a positive example of 1700s-era girl power.

Text by Sarah Reilly

Posted June 15, 2011

Despite her crucial role as a translator for Hudson’s Bay Company Governor James Knight during the eighteenth century, few Canadians have heard of Thanadelthur.

The young Chipewyan woman was captured by the Cree in 1713 and enslaved for a year before escaping with another Chipewyan woman. Only Thanadelthur survived. She eventually came across the HBC York Factory Post, governed by James Knight. Thanadelthur chose to stay and work with in cooperation with Knight. The companionship worked well for both, as Thanadelthur wanted to be reunited with her family, and Knight needed a translator to help him make peace with the Cree for trading purposes.

Thanadelthur’s story was never self-documented, and the only records of her are from HBC journals, in which she is referred to as “Slave Woman” or occasionally, “Slave Woman Joan.” Her inspirational, yet generally untold story, is one of bravery and determination. Sadly, her life was cut short by illness, but her contribution to creating peace between the Cree and Chipewyan had a long-lasting impact upon both Peoples, and the HBC.

Tanja Hütter, Canada's History Society web editor, came across Thanadelthur’s story while digitizing the Beaver archive and producing the website Fur Trade Stories.

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