Mashpee’s Struggle for Autonomy, 1746–1840
Daniel R. Mandell
On May 21, 1833, the Mashpees agreed to tell Massachusetts Governor Levi Lincoln that “we, as a tribe, will rule ourselves, and have a right to do so; for all men are born free and equal.”1 This was the opening salvo in the Mashpee revolt of 1833, launched by the tribe to regain political and religious autonomy at a time when most white New Englanders believed that Indians had vanished from the region. The revolt generated intense public interest for several months, was settled peaceably between the state and the Mashpees, and was then generally forgotten. Over the past two decades, various books and articles have reminded us of this important event, and of the key role played by the Pequot Methodist minister William Apess.2 Accounts rarely note, however, that the revolt was not a singular incident arising from immediate, unique grievances. Instead, it was the final push in a long series of Mashpee efforts to regain control of their community, and it reflected the growing tendency of surviving southern New England Indian groups to seek more autonomy.
When in 1746 Massachusetts appointed white guardians to manage each Indian reservation in the province, the Mashpees protested. They ultimately took their objections to the King in London and won a large measure of self-government in 1763. Twenty-five years later, Rev. Gideon Hawley persuaded the state legislature to reimpose the guardianship, giving him daily management of the Indian community. A decade-long struggle ensued, in which the Mashpees increasingly targeted Hawley’s ecclesiastical and legal rule as the nucleus of their subordination to non-Indian gentry. Their campaign drew on long-standing concerns about communal control and became particularly heated with the meteoric rise of a Baptist church in Mashpee headed by an Indian minister, Thomas Jeffers. Unsuccessful in their efforts against the elderly Hawley, after his death the Mashpees tried again to regain their autonomy in 1807 and 1817, still with little success. The Indians finally regained their right to “rule ourselves” with the revolt of 1833, which joined political, economic, and religious concerns within the community, and successfully meshed with the political and intellectual climate of southern New England.
Mashpee, established by Plymouth colony authorities in 1665 for Christian Wampanoags, gradually attracted Natives of the Cape from neighboring areas as the Anglo-American population there increased. The reserve boasted outstanding hunting, fishing, and clamming, abundant timber, and salt marsh hay for cattle, and was sufficiently isolated so that Anglo-Americans rarely intruded. By the mid-eighteenth century, many men worked in the growing whaling trade and women made and sold crafts to neighboring whites. Their minister was Solomon Briant, who led the community and kept the Wampanoag language alive even though he was occasionally forced onto long whaling voyages to support his family. Briant also helped to lead Mashpee’s effort to regain its autonomy.3
The Massachusetts General Court had, in 1746, extended to all Indian communities the guardianships that had gradually been created for particular Native groups in the province. Guardians were Anglo-American gentry, usually lawyers or businessmen, who were appointed by the Governor and Council. They were given the power to handle all legal and financial matters on behalf of the community, including the allotment of lands and other resources to Indians and their families, leasing “excess” land to white farmers, and selling timber and other resources to support the poor and elderly of the community.4 Provincial leaders took this measure because, after decades of dealing with fraud and trespass, they believed that Indians, like orphans and other minors, were incapable of dealing with the dominant legal system. But the Mashpees found that these imposed officials “do [us] more hurt than good.” The community’s own rules were increasingly flouted as “our wicked neighbors have advised young men & others not to submit to our Rules & orders because we had no power to make them.” Until 1746, the Mashpees had managed to maintain a relatively high level of cohesion and autonomy that allowed them to keep their own language, leadership, and communal rules, while incorporating Christianity, English dress and speech (and for a few, reading and writing), and many other elements of the dominant culture. But the imposition of the guardians’ rule presented a new threat to the community’s culture, identity, and stability.5
Mashpee and the other surviving Indian villages had based their hard-won stability and autonomy on their ability to retain sufficient communal resources—fish, wood, fields, and pasture—to provide subsistence and a little surplus for market. The guardians were a fundamental threat to this system. Most felt that they needed to “optimize” a community’s resources in order to gain the most capital for the community’s account. In Mashpee that meant renting the best planting fields and meadows to white farmers, selling the right to fish from the Mashpee River to whites, and barring the Indians from taking more than a minimal amount of timber or fish from the commons. The Mashpees feared that their fields and rivers would be ruined and noticed that their young men were leaving to go whaling because the guardians had left them insufficient land. Practicing their traditional way of caring for the elderly and the poor, in which the able-bodied donated labor and supplies to keep the assisted within their own homes—a very different system than that practiced by Anglo-Americans—would also become more difficult if not impossible. The Mashpees therefore embarked on a campaign to regain their autonomy. In midst of this struggle, they were visited by the Rev. Gideon Hawley.
Hawley, a 1749 Yale graduate, had taught at an Indian boarding school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and then became a missionary to the Oneida village of Oquaga until the Seven Years’ War forced him to flee to Boston.6 In 1756, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, an English missionary society administered by Boston elites, sent Hawley to visit Mashpee for six weeks. Hawley later wrote that he was “disinterested” when the Indians asked him to stay and that their appearance “struck me with a gloom,” but when SPG offered him an extremely high salary if he would remain for a decade, he agreed to stay and help Briant.7 He also remembered that the Indians were “very uneasy” under their guardianship, but that he “did not much intermeddle” at the time.8 As time went on, however, he would increasingly “intermeddle” in Mashpee affairs until, as an elderly man in the late 1780s, he became the focus of their anger and frustration. Much of the resulting controversy would stem in large part from his conservative belief in hierarchy and deference, his racial attitudes, and his curmudgeonly personality.
When the Mashpees’ petitions to the General Court brought no relief, they decided to take their complaints to a higher authority, the King of England. In the early spring of 1760, Reuben Cogenhew, Mashpee’s schoolmaster, embarked on what turned out to be a long and epic journey. He traveled to Rhode Island and boarded a vessel destined for London, but the captain instead took the Mashpee emissary to the West Indies, intending to sell him into slavery. Although the plan failed when the ship wrecked on Hispaniola, Cognehew and the others were picked up by a British man-of-war, whose captain was quite happy to impress the entire lot. When the ship put in at Jamaica, Cogenhew somehow managed to talk his way into an audience with the British Admiral. He not only persuaded the Admiral to free him, but also to give him passage on a ship to England. By the end of June, just a few months after leaving home, the Mashpee ambassador was pressing his case to George III. Given the British government’s increasing desire to tighten control of the North American empire it had just won, it is not terribly surprising that Cogenhew’s complaints that the Massachusetts legislature and its agents were acting improperly received a sympathetic hearing. The Board of Trade ordered Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard and the provincial legislature to look into measures of relief for the Mashpees.9
The Board’s orders arrived in Massachusetts that fall, around the time that Cogenhew returned to the colony. In response, Governor Bernard asked the legislature to modify the law—not to grant Mashpee autonomy, but to institute measures that would prevent debts, such as imposing corporal punishment instead of fines in civil court cases.10 The legislature responded by sending a delegation to Mashpee to make an inquiry. At this point, Hawley supported the Indians’ call for autonomy, and the committee upon its return to Boston reported favorably on the change.11 But the resolution that actually passed the General Court instead supported the prevailing system, noting that “such of the Indians as are sober and virtuous are convinced of [its] necessity.” Cogenhew immediately left to plead the Indians’ case to Bernard, but without success, as the gentry in the towns surrounding Mashpee threw their weight against any additional autonomy for the Indians.12
Finally, in June 1763, the Mashpees persuaded the legislature to allow them considerable self-rule. They were permitted to manage their resources as other towns and to hold annual meetings to elect officers, although instead of selectmen they were to choose five overseers—two of whom had to be whites—who held considerable power over legal matters such as land allotments and leases, fishing and timber regulation, indentures, seamen’s contracts, and the ejection of vagrants or trespassers. The Indians were also required to choose Englishmen for the offices of district clerk and treasurer. In an effort to regulate the influence of immigrants to Mashpee—a matter that would become increasingly significant in the 1780s—the right to vote was restricted to proprietors, who were defined as the children of a Mashpee mother or father, and only proprietors could gain access to the community’s commons. As one of the two overseers, Hawley praised the new government: he noted that the Mashpees settled disputes peacefully instead of suing in court, that a growing number were staying home to farm, and that more were attending services.13
But the Mashpees who had fought so doggedly for self-rule found the overseers, including Hawley, annoyingly authoritarian and expensive. The first note of contention appeared in April 1766, when some Mashpees complained about the “exorbitant fees” charged by the officials.14 Relations steadily worsened, and a year later Hawley asked the legislature for “further regulating” of the Indians, while Cognehew called a community meeting to choose delegates to Boston—probably to lobby against the minister’s request.15 This emerging controversy occurred, of course, in the wake of the Stamp Act crisis, which also involved suspicions about the nature and cost of governmental “fees.” But in April 1771, Hawley told a friend on the Governor’s Council that good relations had been restored with the Mashpees, and that his “difficulty with them” was “owing to the spirit of the times.”16
Only a month after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Solomon Briant died, and Hawley perceived another opportunity to increase his influence in the community. While Hawley sought to claim what he saw as his rightful, unrivaled authority, the Mashpees never embraced him as Briant’s successor. The minister never recognized, let alone explained that failure, but no doubt it was in large part because he was a “foreigner,” had already generated conflict within the community, and was quite open about his desire to “Anglicize” the Indians. Considering the timing and subsequent events in Mashpee, another reason may have been Hawley’s opposition to the war. In December 1776, he told a missionary official that “it is not for me to justify one party or the other: both are to blame,” and “shewed as much displeasure against [Patriot recruiters] as I could with propriety but was menaced for it.”17 But while the missionary confidently claimed that his Indians “have not a disposition to take up arms,” Mashpee men showed an eagerness to help the Revolution (or perhaps a desire to fulfill warrior traditions, or their need of a salary) and flocked to enlist.18 No wonder that the number attending Hawley’s sermons shrank, although when he asked for a reason members of the congregation politely replied that they lacked decent clothing.19 Although the military records are incomplete, they indicate that 25 to 50 Mashpee men died in the war; considering that Hawley recorded just 39 male heads of households in June 1776, this represented a devastating loss. No Mashpees wrote during the war to explain their support for independence, although their 1795 petition—written by a white lawyer but expressing Mashpee views (see below)—trumpeted that they had hoped to win their rights by joining the “early martyrs to the Cause of this Country” on “the crimsoned fields of battle.”20
While the Mashpees fought alongside their white neighbors for liberty and independence, the upheaval of the Revolution hardened Hawley’s belief in the need for hierarchy and laid the groundwork for further conflict between the Indians and their minister. Before the war, noticeable numbers of Mohegans, Narragansetts, Naticks, and Wampanoags from the Cape Cod area had moved to Mashpee; this never bothered Hawley. But at the end of the war, he complained to friends that that growing numbers of poor whites and blacks “have encroached upon this territory.”21 In part, Hawley’s concerns were racist, for he (like other Anglo-Americans) suspected that an increase in this population would have harmful moral and behavioral effects—although he had also had some very positive things to say about the children of black-Indian marriages.22 More significant in the minister’s mind was the challenge to order, religion, and his authority that newcomers both within and outside of Mashpee represented.23 In addition, non-Indian residents of neighboring towns were buying or stealing land, wood, and fish from the Indians. Perhaps as a result, new conflicts emerged within the community. In early 1783, eighteen Mashpees signed a letter protesting that the elected Indian overseers—not the white officials—were giving away or selling wood to outsiders. In response, Hawley and another white official tried yet failed to obtain special powers to eject non-Indians and prevent the illegal cutting of wood on the reserve.24
The clash between Mashpee autonomy and Hawley’s desire for order became increasingly acute following the eruption of populist politics and religion in Massachusetts after 1785. This crisis had its foundation in New England’s troubled economy and in the political system that kept the Boston-centered merchants and lawyers entrenched in power, and continued to maintain public funding for churches and Harvard College. In 1786, the agrarian revolt known as Shays’s Rebellion evoked the spirit of 1775 for some, but drove conservatives like Hawley into a frenzy of fear. The movement for reform was, moreover, wider and deeper. The number of Baptists increased, as did their influence, and they were joined by many “orthodox” believers in their push for democratizing measures and a wider divide between church and state.25 The townspeople of Sandwich, Mashpee’s neighbor, strongly supported the more radical aspects of the Revolution, continuing a long history of dissident religious and political activity that horrified Hawley.26 It was in this tumultuous, fearful atmosphere that the minister asked the legislature, in May 1788, to pass new laws that would give him tighter control of Mashpee. He told the General Court that, while the 1763 body of regulations worked well for awhile, “it no longer continues to answer any good to my Indians; it being too popular & ineffectuous—It has lost its power—and the Indians will never elect the most suitable men.”27 In response, the state repealed the 1763 law and reimposed a system of rule by three appointed guardians, including Hawley and two men from Barnstable, Rueben Fish and Captain John Percival.28
The Mashpees’ reaction to the new regime was mixed, pointing to conflicts within the community and in nearby towns. In July 1788, twenty-four Mashpee men signed a petition submitted by Hawley, echoing the minister’s fear of immigrants while calling the new law “a very disagreeable constitution” and saying that it was “mortifying to be under Guardianship and considered minors.” Yet they did not seem angry at their minister, asking that, if they must have guardians, they be “men of the first characters for religion and learning, abilities integrity & honor”—i.e., like Hawley.29 The issue of “character” arose in response to a nasty conflict among whites in the area, for Percival, a Baptist, had challenged Hawley’s honor and authority, and the minister in turn tried to get the captain thrown off the board of guardians.30 Gentry from nearby towns supported Hawley and expressed their fear that “men of no religious principles who make it their business to ridicule the Scriptures & the Christian religion” might govern the Indian community.31 Percival was backed by other whites from the same towns—and by a large group of Mashpees who asked him to represent them before the legislature.32 Shortly thereafter, the minister submitted another Mashpee petition warning of “pretended petitions” from “Negro trespassers” who backed Percival. No “real Proprietors” were dissatisfied with the guardianship, Hawley’s supporters told the assembly, “but those who are deceivd with false stories from our enemies.”33 Among those who signed this petition, most would stand by the minister in subsequent conflicts. Factions were forming in Mashpee, with Hawley representing and fueling the dissension that grew from indigenous concerns but also reflected outside issues. Indeed, the language in their petitions hints at the manipulation of Mashpee proprietors by various white factions.
In early 1789, the legislature agreed to change the law, replacing the three guardians with a five-member board of overseers having extensive authority. The board was empowered to appoint one or more persons as guardians, who would carry out their policies and act as their legal agents.34 Hawley was one of the five appointed overseers (Percival was not), and at their first meeting the board selected two guardians and chose Hawley to be their treasurer.35 Hawley’s religious and political authority would make him the target of Mashpees trying to regain their autonomy. Although the new system caused the minister to feel more secure, opposition to him swelled over the next decade, as his dogmatic insistence on secular and religious hierarchy increasingly clashed with emerging “doctrines of liberty and equality” in Mashpee and the surrounding region.36
In November 1789, a group of Mashpees protested to the overseers that they were poor and needed help that Hawley would not provide.37 The complaints had little effect, so a year and a half later, twenty-one Indians complained to the legislature about Hawley’s overbearing behavior and demanded “the old Constitution and our Liberty.” Their protest pointed to the connections between social, political, and religious concerns: “[W]e do not want his Conduct in our affairs we wants nothing at all that is his own he has Conducted in such manner that we have left his meeting entirely and never want to hear him preach nor even to see his face in our place any more.” Hawley “discourages us” in “spiritual and temporal” affairs, which included their ability to “injoy our property.” The Mashpees wanted political and economic liberty, including the right to hold and sell resources.38 Levi Mie, for example, testified that in 1786 he had obtained the rights to a large wood lot, cut, split, and shipped five cords to Nantucket, and found the venture so profitable that he decided to stop cutting and hold the rest “for my children.” But that future was destroyed when Hawley sold 120 cords from the lot and kept the funds for the Mashpee treasury.39 Hawley fought back with a series of letters that blamed the protests on a few “designing men” from Mashpee and neighboring towns and emphasized that his authority as overseer was critical to keeping order.40
Their initial efforts rejected, in May 1792 Mashpee protesters again petitioned the legislature “to set us free By restoring to us our good Liberty and that we may injoy our o[w]n property again.” They were angered by Hawley’s violation of social and land management traditions, for “if any our near kindred dies [Hawley] takes their interest and hires it out and the Nearest relation Cannot have it.” In addition, these Mashpees linked the expense of the overseers’ administration to their oppression and begged the legislature “to restore us our Liberty” to choose their own people as officers and therefore reduce expenses.41 The Mashpees’ protests could be read alternately as individual (concerning his right to hold and pass on resources to his children) and as communal (concerning their rights as Indians against the arbitrary authority of an outsider, Hawley).42 Mashpees and other Indian groups in the region had, by the mid-eighteenth century, developed a land management system that combined aboriginal and Anglo-American traditions. In July 1788, they had told the legislature that “we are tenants in common, all our lands being undivided, but our improvements are in allotments.” They could not legally sell land to outsiders without the permission of the legislature. But the sale of resources or lease of land was quite legal and did not require the approval of a cranky Gideon Hawley.43
When their 1792 effort also failed, the Mashpee activists hired a prominent young attorney, Nathaniel Freeman Jr., to draw up a petition seeking the restoration of their autonomy and to represent them before the legislature in any subsequent hearings.44 The resulting document connected Mashpee’s complaints with America’s Revolutionary ideals and the Indians’ sacrifices during that conflict:45
At the Commencement of the late Revolution, when a high sense of civil liberty, and the oppressive policy of an arbitrary Court roused the Citizens of America to noble and patriotic exertions in defence of their freedom, we anticipated the time when a liberal and enlightened spirit of philanthropy should extend its views and its influence to the increase of liberty and social happiness among all ranks and classes of mankind. We supposed a just estimate of the rights of man would teach them the value of those privileges of which we were deprived, and that their own sufferings would naturally lead them to respect and relieve ours. Impressed with these sentiments, and animated by a portion of that ardent sense of freedom and love of independence, which characterized our Ancestors, we voluntarily entered the crimsoned fields of battle, & freely mingled our blood with that of the early martyrs to the Cause of this Country.
The petition termed the current regime “an infringement of that freedom to which as men they were justly entitled.” As in previous protests, this petition focused on two Mashpee grievances: that they were not allowed “the miserable privilege of choosing our own Masters,” and that they “cannot alienate a single inch of our Land, nor indeed enjoy it, as the Government have undertaken to modify, & apportion it as they think proper.” This last concern was particularly prominent: they charged “those who forge our shackles” with removing all “incentives to industry or improvement.” As in the past, Hawley tried to discredit the petitioners as “ignorant Indians” who “will never arrive to the knowledge of their true interests” and in any case “know not the purpose of petitions or papers.”46 But the legislature took the petition seriously and, on June 11, 1795, appointed an investigating committee to hold extensive hearings at Mashpee In the time between the Freeman petition and the committee hearings, religion joined politics and economics as a source of conflict. Thomas Jeffers, an ordained Baptist minister of Wampanoag or Massachusett ancestry, moved to Mashpee and quickly mounted a significant challenge to Hawley. This religious conflict became an extension of the more secular Mashpee concerns. In his testimony to the committee, Hawley blamed the growing opposition on a Barnstable white man who was “preaching up the doctrines of liberty and equality” among the Indians “to bring them to his side in Politicks and to the Baptist side in religion.” The weary minister concluded by emphasizing that his authority was a dam against anarchy: “They need an umpire or Superintendent.”47 But in fact, Jeffers, not a Barnstable white, had become an important rallying point for Mashpee efforts to regain religious as well as political autonomy. In January 1796, the Indians submitted another petition, emphasizing that they rejected Hawley: “we not chusing his ways of Worship, we do not hear him, we Rather chusing to Worship the devine being in the Bapptist Order.” Many more Mashpees signed this petition than had approved previous complaints: fifty-five, compared to the second-highest count of twenty-nine in July 1788. Particularly remarkable was the sudden involvement of Mashpee women in the struggle, for among the signatories were twenty-two women, compared to only three in the 1792 petition. Clearly, Hawley’s religious and political rule had become quite unpopular in Mashpee, perhaps even temporarily overcoming the community divisions hinted at in the 1788 petitions.48
But again Hawley and his allies managed to persuade the legislators that the Mashpees were incompetent and would be easy prey for manipulative newcomers, although the committee did note that the minister “was inadequate” and was not a teacher “on whose preaching they can consciously attend.” The committee recommended few substantive changes except to remove the treasury from Hawley’s control and saw no need to reduce the overseers’ powers.49 Hawley viewed this as a vindication of his rule. Six months later, at his request, the legislature passed a law that gave the overseers the power to eject “vagrant poor” who lacked proper residency.50 By midsummer, Hawley felt certain that all but a few Mashpees had deserted Jeffers, but he was either boasting or willfully blind.51 In 1798, Jeffers would leave to revive the Baptist congregation at Gay Head, and another part-Indian minister, James Freeman, would take his place.52 Until the end of his life, on October 3, 1807, Hawley would regularly write letters that confidently described his unchallenged authority over his flock and reported that the Baptist congregation was “coming to nothing.” Yet in 1799 Freeman led another campaign to overturn the guardianship, complaining “that [the Mashpees’] property is placed in the hands of certain commissioners and guardians and praying for relief in their civil and religious concerns.”53 But that effort also failed, as the power and connections held by Hawley were sufficient to bar any change.
Mashpees waited until two months after Hawley died to mount another effort against the 1789 regulations. Their petition, signed by about fifty men and women, began by echoing previous declarations of their sacrifices fighting for the Revolution and their disappointed expectations that they would be given their rights after the war: “At the commencement of the late revolution, when a high sense of civil liberty and the oppressive policy of an arbitrary Court, roused the citizens of America, to noble and patriotic exertions in defence of their freedom; we anticipated the time, when a liberal and enlightened philanthropy, would extend its vie[w] and its influence to the increase of Liberty & social happiness among all races and classes.” Moved by “these sensations,” many Mashpees fought for the Revolution; half of the men “fell victim in the cause of their Country and of Liberty,” including many of the signatories who “can exhibit the traces of wounds.” But they were bitterly disappointed that the promises of the Revolution were still unfulfilled. “How could we conceive it possible that a people who were exhibiting such illustrious proofs of their attachment to freedom & so enlarged ideas of civil Liberty and of the orig[ins] and design of Government, that they should not respect those rights in others which they contended for themselves?”54
The petitioners, as in past campaigns, compared the 1763 regulations granting self-rule with the 1788 and 1789 laws, noting that “By the former we had the privileges in part of choosing our Masters, By the latter even this small portion of Liberty is taken away.” Unlike previous efforts, however, this petition was careful not to impugn or assail their guardians. “We do not mean to object to the personal character, integrity, or conduct of any of the present board of overseers”—which of course no longer included the deceased Hawley. Instead, the Mashpees focused on the high costs of the system (fees for five overseers, two guardians, a treasurer, secretary, constable, and timber agent) and the difficulties that members of the tribe often suffered because several of the overseers lived at great distances in other counties. Religion was not even mentioned in the petition. The prickly, authoritarian Hawley was dead, and his passing seemed to temper much of the bitterness that the Mashpees felt towards the guardianship system and to cause the Mashpees to adopt a more practical and less confrontational approach in their efforts to regain autonomy.55
Once again, neighboring whites were actively involved in the Indians’ efforts. James Freeman, the state senator for Sandwich (not the part-Indian minister who confronted Hawley), became the Mashpees’ patron: he may actually have written the petition (considering its flowery and erudite language), presented it to the legislature, and arranged for several other men from Sandwich to witness the Indians’ signatures and make depositions testifying to the Mashpees’ situation and concerns. Freeman also may have helped organize or lead the Sandwich town meeting of December 9, 1807, which urged the legislature to heed the Mashpee petition and reduce the number and expense of the Indians’ overseers.56 In response, the Mashpee overseers, including Hawley’s son, Gideon Hawley Jr., quickly maneuvered to forestall any changes. In January, they collected seventy-eight Mashpee signatures (of both men and women) on a petition supporting the current system. The document accused conniving whites from neighboring towns of collecting signatures, such that “some of our brethren have been influenced by promises of reward and other improper motives, to subscribe their names to said petition.” It emphasized the absence of debt in Mashpee, as well as the availability of schools, decent medical care, and other benefits of the current regime and noted that most of the community was “contented and happy.” Not only was the current regime relatively inexpensive, the petitioners countered, since most of the offices were actually shared among the overseers, but it contained checks on fraud that would not exist in a more streamlined system. The nearby Herring Pond community also sent a petition, signed by thirty-eight men and women, which opposed changes in the guardianship system, noting that fewer guardians would lessen their confidence in the system and diminish safeguards against fraud and trespass.57
While the opposing petition highlighted conflict among the Indians—perhaps because Hawley could no longer serve as a lightning rod—it was apparently riddled with fraud. Zaccheus Pognit, a Mashpee proprietor, testified that the overseers, aided by several Mashpees, had used pressure and deceit to obtain the signatures. John Fish and Lemuel Ewer of Sandwich, the two men who had witnessed the signatures of those asking for reforms, echoed Pognit’s charges. Benjamin Burgess of Barnstable lodged similar complaints about the Herring Pond petition. Fish also emphasized that the Indians “have always appeared to be disatisfied [sic] with the act of 30 Jan. 1789 and complained of their deplorable situation. . . . their wood was very much diminished & cut off and that the great sums raised thereby were in a great measure consumed by the expensiveness of their government.”58 Such evidence, the support of prominent whites, and the relatively modest nature of the Mashpees’ request were persuasive. For the first time since 1763, the Indians’ plea for reforms was successful. In March 1808, the legislature reduced the number of overseers from five to three and granted them the power to appoint one guardian.59
While those asking for reforms passed over the issue of religion, the controversy did retain a religious component that, as in the past, echoed the Mashpees’ social and political concerns. Those who had bitterly opposed Hawley were prominent in the renewed campaign, while the petition against changes included the comment that, when Hawley died, “we not only lost our religious teacher, but our father and friend, who preached to us by his example as powerfully, as by his exhortation.” At their request, the overseers now sought “to supply his loss, by providing for us an exemplary teacher in the principles of Piety, Religion & Morality.”60 That summer, the SPG sent a Congregationalist minister, Elisha Clapp, to preach in Mashpee for several months. After he left, four Mashpees wrote to ask the organization for another, permanent orthodox minister, “lest the Itinerant Preachers of different denominations, who are traveling about in this part of the Country, should distroy our harmony & bring us to nothing.” The initial signatory on this petition, Solomon Francis, had been identified by Pognit, Fish, and Ewer as a leader of the effort to garner support for the overseers.61
Mashpees struggles to regain autonomy ushered in a period of renewed confidence among Indians in southern New England. After 1800, and particularly between 1815 and 1835, Indian communities increasingly demanded an end to guardianships or became quite willing to ask the legislature to replace particular individuals. Their protests became sharper, more insistent, and demanding of self-rule. Gay Head, Chappequiddick, and Christiantown, all on Martha’s Vineyard and connected to Mashpee by kinship networks, sought autonomy or the replacement of incompetent guardians.62 In 1819 and 1820, the Mohegans in Connecticut sought the right to nominate their guardians or at least the authority to determine who truly belonged to their community.63 During this period, the Mashantucket Pequots protested their overseers’ actions in ways that demonstrated that they considered the officials, at least to some degree, to be their agents rather than the state’s.64 Despite the Indians’ initiatives, state officials continued to believe the Indians incapable of acting in a properly virtuous, responsible manner.
As might be expected, the Mashpees did not rest with their partial victory but continued their campaign for self-determination. In June 1817, nine men, including Levi Mie and others who had opposed the late Reverend Hawley, asked that the tribe be allowed to choose their own overseers and that the number be reduced to two—essentially a return to the 1763 regulations. While they asked for these deeper changes, their complaints echoed the more modest 1807 petition. They emphasized the increasing amount of meadow leased and wood cut by the three guardians, their rising debt, the officials’ refusal to show their accounts, and the resulting moral harm to the Mashpees and costs to the state: “We formerly had our Children schoolled When we Chused our Overseers ourselves, but now we cannot have a school for them, We wish to know what becomes of all our money, that we cant have now privelege of that, that is really or own. We are informed that there is money drawn out of your treasury to repair our Meetinghouse, but we are asured that if we could have the same Regulations we formerly had when we had but two Overseers and that of our own chusing wee should be able to build our own Meeting house without going to your States treasury for it.”65
The legislature again dispatched an investigating committee to Mashpee, which returned a report that stressed the “diversity of opinion” among the Indians:
a very small part claiming the entire right of self government,—a much more considerable portion wishing to share it with the authority of the Commonwealth, by choosing overseers to be joined with those appointed by the governor and Council; while others not less intelligent, believed no share in selecting their overseers could not safely be rested in the Indians & that the present mode of government ought to be continued.
The investigators agreed with the last view, arguing that “To give the Right of choosing their own overseers” would “place them in the hands of the worst of all of the community’s men, whose objects would be entirely selfish.” They also rejected Indian complaints that the overseers were too expensive and told the legislature that the guardians’ only failure was that “the administration of the government had been always too lax.”66 Yet the legislature did replace the three with two others, meeting one of the complainants’ demands. On the other hand, the overseers were also granted the power to bind out anyone who, in their judgment, was a “habitual drunkard and idle” for up to three years’ service, and to give the income to his family. In addition, the officials were also put in charge of regulating how Indians could cut timber, even for their own uses.67 Apparently little had changed in the perceptions and attitudes of Anglo-American elites—or in the lack of consensus among Indians about the degree to which they could manage complete autonomy while protecting their lands.
New pressures developed in Mashpee in the 1820s as the children of those who had opposed Hawley returned from whaling to settle down and raise families. They found the guardians’ repressive control irritating and harmful to the community. Daniel Amos told the committee investigating the 1833 revolt that dissatisfaction had grown during the previous decade as the guardians refused to account for their actions, provide any additional powers to those who wished to help their community, or allow enterprising individuals to claim additional resources.68 Mashpee’s minister, Phineas Fish, whom Harvard had appointed as Hawley’s successor in 1811, was also infuriating. Fish was not only white, but was a liberal, intellectual Unitarian, whereas the Mashpees had embraced the evangelical antinomian Baptist faith in the 1790s. Avoiding Fish, the Indians instead went to Daniel’s brother Joseph, who began preaching there and at Chappequiddick and Gay Head around 1825 and received Baptist ordination in 1830. “Blind Joe” Amos fit into Mashpee’s tradition of Indian Baptist ministers. By 1833, Fish’s congregation consisted almost entirely of white families living in or near Mashpee, and Amos’s congregants grew increasingly angry that the white minister refused to let them use the meetinghouse and that his salary was paid by Harvard College’s Williams fund for Indian ministers.69
Open revolt began with the arrival in Mashpee of the itinerant Pequot Methodist preacher William Apess.70 Apess attended services at the Indian meetinghouse and, as he later wrote, was shocked to find only whites in the congregation. Apess became angry when he found Fish not only unconcerned with the lack of Indian participation in the church, but also utterly unsympathetic to the notion of granting the Mashpees more political and economic autonomy. Apess was probably not really surprised by Fish’s attitude, however, considering his own longstanding struggles with white racism. He preached a few days later to his Indian brethren on “the soul harrowing theme of Indian degradation”—arising out of white oppression and racism—and triggered a series of community meetings in which the Indians discussed their problems and considered solutions.71
On May 21, a large body of Mashpees agreed to adopt Apess in order to give him the authority to press their case, to petition the governor for redress of their grievances, and to petition Harvard to discharge Fish and instead support the Methodist minister. The appeal to Gov. Levi Lincoln not only declared that the Mashpees would “rule ourselves,” but informed him that on July 1 they would flout the authority of their guardians by preventing white men from cutting or taking wood from Mashpee. The petition to Harvard emphasized their alienation from Fish and that minister’s ineffectiveness, and ended with the resolution that “we will rule our own tribe and make choice of whom we please for our preacher.” Ten days later, two Mashpees traveled to Boston and left the governor’s petition with his office. On June 25, after waiting in vain for a reply, they convened a meeting, elected officers including Daniel Amos as president, and agreed to post their May resolves in the surrounding towns. They also sent notices of dismissal to their guardians, insisting that they surrender all Mashpee funds and accounts, and to Fish, demanding that he abandon his home in Mashpee and surrender the key to the meetinghouse.72
At this point, Governor Lincoln sent Josiah Fiske to investigate. Fiske arrived on July 1 to find the Indians “in a state of open rebellion against the laws of the Commonwealth” and the surrounding inhabitants on edge over the Indians. The Mashpees had, as promised, stopped a group of whites from removing timber that the guardians had previously sold. They had also entered the meetinghouse by climbing through a window and changed the locks, taking possession of the building. Fiske called a meeting on July 4 that drew nearly a hundred Mashpees, many carrying muskets. With Daniel Amos presiding, the Indians reiterated their grievances and Apess pressed the commissioner to end the guardianship immediately. Fiske later told the governor that the Methodist minister’s apparent purpose was “to establish in the minds of the natives a belief that each generation had a right to act for itself”—suggesting a link between Apess and the ideas espoused by Thomas Jefferson.73 Over the next few days, tempers began to cool as Fiske toured the reserve, met many Mashpees, and gained their trust on behalf of the governor. On July 6, the Mashpee council agreed to table their measures until the forthcoming legislative session would allow them to press their demands before the General Court.74 This last, ultimately successful Mashpee campaign to gain independence exhibited similarities to other social reform movements of the 1830s, and like those efforts was driven by a rising generation. But the Mashpee revolt shows continuity rather than change, for its proponents were the children and grandchildren of those who had fought against Hawley and the guardianship, and their goals remained the same.75
Apess and the Mashpees skillfully managed the subsequent phase of their campaign. In August, they contacted William Hallett, lawyer, editor of the Boston Advocate, then a leader of the Massachusetts anti-Masonic Party and later of the region’s Democratic Party; Hallett provided the Mashpees with essential publicity and other assistance.76 In mid-January 1834, the young President Daniel Amos, the elderly Deacon Isaac Coombs, and William Apess traveled to Boston to press their case. The city was primed for the Indians, having just celebrated the visit of a group of Penobscots and Edwin Forrest’s renowned performance in Metamora, the play that mourned the death of King Philip, disparaged the Puritans who drove him to war, and romanticized the supposed extinction of the Indian.77 The Mashpees heard their petition discussed in the House and on January 21 spoke to a special evening assembly attended by many of the legislators, during which they emphasized that the guardianship was “retarding their improvement, and oppressing their spirits” by discouraging industry, entrepreneurship, and moral reforms including temperance.78 Four days later, William Lloyd Garrison published an account of the Mashpee complaints and condemned the Indians’ special legal status, which included limits on land sales to whites, as “the chains of a servile dependence” that removed “all motives for superior exertions.”79 The Mashpees and Hallett further displayed their political savvy by publishing articles and letters that accused New Englanders of hypocrisy in fighting for Cherokee rights while denying the same to the Mashpees.80 Their opponents were few and subdued, and tended to blame the Indians’ unrest on Apess.81 The Mashpees’ tactics and the justice of their request, the absence of a strong opposition, and the shift in politics and culture in the region made the Indians’ final victory seem easy. In March 1834, the legislature abolished the guardianship and made Mashpee a district with the power to elect selectmen and other town officials. The new law did set up a white commissioner and treasurer to advise the Mashpees and manage their financial affairs, but there was little doubt that the Indians had won their political and economic autonomy.82
The battle to oust Fish lasted longer. The Mashpees viewed the church as their historic community center, resented that non-Indians now dominated worship there, and saw little difference between their rights to political and religious autonomy. Already alienated from Fish, they were angered by his condescending, racist petitions against their effort to gain independence. In 1836, the Mashpees asked Harvard to give them half of Fish’s salary to pay a minister of their choice; Harvard agreed, and the Indians chose E. G. Perry, an ordained Baptist minister, as their missionary and schoolmaster. Joseph Amos continued to minister to the Indian groups on Martha’s Vineyard as well as at Mashpee. One year later, a Mashpee meeting unanimously voted to dismiss Fish but he still refused to leave or to share the meetinghouse with Perry.83 Finally, in July 1840, after the legislature made Mashpee an independent parish, the Baptists went into the church and forced Fish out.84
Between 1746 and 1840, the Mashpees struggled to regain their autonomy from unwanted, arrogant, interfering Anglo-American officials in order to protect their resources and reinforce or rebuild community institutions. Their effort drew from two sources: the Indians’ desire to maintain their community against the destructive forces of colonialism, and the intellectual and cultural ferment of the early Republic, with the decline of deference, the emergence of democratic politics and culture, and the widening separation of church and state. After fighting and dying for the Revolution, the Mashpees found the period’s political rhetoric meaningful and useful in their efforts to regain their own liberty. Just as significant to those efforts was the growing evangelical movement that swept New England at the end of the century with a new egalitarian message for all believers, for the Mashpees’ primary targets were their white ministers.85 The community’s efforts can be viewed as part of, if not partial inspiration for, the growing demand by other southern New England Indian groups to reclaim a measure of sovereignty. But the most significant lesson is that the Mashpee Revolt of 1833–34 was not an isolated or unique incident. Instead, it must be seen as the culmination of a century-long effort by the Indians to regain control of their own community.
1. William Apess, “Indian Nullification,” in On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot, ed. Barry O’Connell, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992): 173–77; Josiah Fiske, report to Gov. Levi Lincoln, undated but probably July 6, 1832, Box 2, File 1, Indian Guardian Accounts and Correspondence, Massachusetts Archives. Apess’s and Fiske’s descriptions of the meeting are strikingly similar.
2. O’Connell, ed., On Our Own Ground; Karim Tiro, “Denominated ‘SAVAGE’: Methodism, Writing, and Identity in the Works of William Apess, A Pequot,” American Quarterly 48 (1996): 653–79; Kim McQuaid, “William Apes, Pequot: An Indian Reformer in the Jackson Era,” New England Quarterly 50 (1977): 605–25; Donald M. Nielsen, “The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833,” New England Quarterly 58 (1985): 400–20; Anne Marie Dannenberg, “‘Where, Then, Shall We Place the Hero of the Wilderness?’, William Apess’s Eulogy on King Philip and Doctrines of Racial Destiny,” in Early Native American Writing: New Critical Essays, ed. Helen Vaskowski (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
3. Jack Campisi, The Mashpee Indians: Tribe on Trial (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1993); Francis G. Hutchins, Mashpee, the Story of Cape Cod’s Indian Town (West Franklin, N.H.: Amarta Press, 1979); Russell M. Peters, The Wampanoags of Mashpee (Mashpee, Mass.: Indian Spiritual and Cultural Training Council, 1987); Daniel Mandell, Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996): 108–9. Briant began his ecclesiastical career as the minister for the Indian community in Falmouth, but moved to Mashpee in 1742 after Joseph Bourne was stripped of the pulpit for giving some rum to Indians. One of Solomon’s brothers, Joseph Briant, ministered to various Cape Cod Indian communities during the 1750s; in September 1758 he was ordained minister for Potawaumacut, on outer Cape Cod, but he died just two years later. Gideon Hawley, A Journal Beginning 29 July 1758 Ending 12 November 1758, Hawley, diary, 1757–69, Massachusetts Historical Society (hereafter MHS); Hawley, Mashpee, to Andrew Oliver, Boston, October 15, 1760, Gideon Hawley Letters, 1754–1807, MHS.
4. On Massachusetts Indian guardians during the colonial period see Mandell, Behind the Frontier, esp. 117–63. On actions by guardians between 1780 and 1880 see records kept by Indian guardians in the Earle Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts
5. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, September 8, 1753, Massachusetts Colonial Records, Massachusetts Archives (hereafter MA) 32, 415–16; Mashpees to the General Court, August 4, 1757, Hawley Letters, MHS (“do more hurt than good”). Additional Mashpee petitions against the guardianship were sent to the General Court on December 19, 1753 (MA 32, 424–26), and were answered by the guardians (MA 32, 449–52).
6. “Gideon Hawley,” in Clifford Shipton, ed., Biographical Sketches of Those Who Attended Harvard College, vol. 12, 1746–50 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962): 392–411.
7. Hawley to Peter Thatcher, January 1, 1794 (“to be shown only to friends”), in Hawley Letters, MHS; Boston Commissioners of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Meeting, September 29, 1757, vol. 2, Gideon Hawley Papers, 1753–1806, Congregational Library, Boston. The Mashpees had many reasons for asking Hawley to stay: traditional politeness; his experience among the Oneidas; the aging Briant’s need for an assistant and perhaps successor; the desire of “some others who do not understand our dialect”—i.e., newcomers from other tribes—for a minister who preached in English; and perhaps their perception that he would intervene with his Boston friends to support their fight to regain autonomy. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, August 4, 1757, Hawley Letters, MHS.
8. Hawley to Reverend Lincoln of Falmouth, April 4, 1792, Samuel P. Savage Papers, 1703–48, vol. 2, no. 210, MHS.
9. Referral of Mashpee petition to Lords Commission for Trade and Plantation, July 10, 1760, Public Records Office (hereafter PRO), Colonial Office Records, Class 5, America and the West Indies (hereafter CO5), /890, 30; Reuben Cognehew to Board of Trade, undated but late June 1760, PRO, CO5/890, 31–32; Gov. Francis Bernard to Lords of Trade, April 28, 1761, PRO, CO5/891, 27–28.
10. Gov. Francis Bernard to the Massachusetts General Court, December 19, 1760, MA 33, 151. Bernard suggested four measures: 1) to prevent them contracting large and unnecessary debts that they could pay only by selling themselves; 2) “to prevent parents from selling their children or making them subject to their debts”; 3) to subject Indian offenders to corporal punishment only and not to fines, which they seldom were able to pay “but with loss of their liberty;” 4) “to exempt them from Law charges, which in little Squabbles that ought to have been made up without Expence have sometimes brought ruin, and in consequence Slavery upon a whole Family.”
11. Hawley to Reverend Lincoln of Falmouth, April 4, 1792, Savage Papers, vol. 2, no. 210.
12. Hawley to Andrew Oliver, Boston, April 13, 1761, Hawley Letters, MHS. Decades later, Hawley told a friend that the opposition of “the Gentlemen at Court in the adjacent towns” delayed any changes for two years; Hawley to Reverend Lincoln of Falmouth, April 4, 1792, Savage Papers.
13. Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 1763–1764, Chapter 3, June 17, 1763; Hawley, Mashpee, to Andrew Oliver, Boston, April 3, 1764, May 20, 1765, April 7, 1766, Hawley Letters, MHS. Unfortunately, Hawley’s point about a decline in lawsuits cannot be verified, as the Barnstable County court records were destroyed by a courthouse fire in the nineteenth century.
14. Hawley, Boston, to Oliver, Boston, April 7, 1766, Hawley Letters, MHS.
15. Hawley, Mashpee, to James Otis, Barnstable, March 2, 1767, Hawley Letters, MHS.
16. Hawley to William Brattle, April 20, 1771, MA 33, 537. Hawley noted in this letter that “my Indians are much better under their constitution, which might in some things be amended, than under guardianship. As far as appears I am as popular & have as great a share in the confidence of my people as ever I had. They love and respect me.” This contradicts his later contentions that he never accepted the 1763 regulation.
17. Hawley to William Phillips, December 26, 1776, Box 3, Folder 59, Mss. B C40, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (hereafter SPG) Records, New England Historical and Genealogical Society (hereafter NEHGS). His opposition must have been quite muted, however, since the state (Revolutionary) legislature voted in December 1777 to “abate and remit” the taxes of Hawley (and his fellow missionary, Zechariah Mayhew of Martha’s Vineyard), “they having heretofore been exempted from public Taxes by Virtue of their sacred Office in which they still continue to be faithful Servants.” Massachusetts Acts and Resolves 1777–1778, Chapter 509, December 1. 1777.
18. Hawley to Phillips, Norwich, Conn., via the Reverend Hopkins, Newport, June 15, 1775, and Hawley to Phillips, December 26, 1776, Box 3, Folder 37, SPG Records, NEHGS.
19. Hawley to Phillips, Boston, July 15, 1776, Box 3, Folder 54, SPG Records, NEHGS.
20. Hawley recorded only 12 who died in the army or war, but James Axtell found that 25 out of 26 Indians in Barnstable’s regiment died and estimated Mashpee’s total loss at 50 men. Mashpee vital records in Hawley Papers, Congregational Library; Axtell testimony at Mashpee trial quoted in Campisi, Mashpee Indians, 88. For the 1776 census see Hawley to Phillips, Boston, June 24, 1776, Box 3, Folder 52, SPG Records, NEHGS.
21. Hawley to Phillips, Boston, June 24, 1776, Box 3, Folder 52, SPG Records, NEHGS; Hawley to Isaac Smith, Boston, December 14, 1784, Savage Papers, vol. 3. See also Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, October 31, 1788, in Acts of 1788, Chapter 38, approved January 30, 1789, documents relating to passed legislation, Massachusetts Archives. In 1793, Hawley made a census of Mashpee, the first since 1776, which included the “race” and place of origin of many (but not all) of the adults in the community. These included 7 English or German, 1 “Halfblood” (Hawley’s term), 27 Indian/Indian unmixed, 3 Indian-African, 1 Indian-white, 4 mixed blood, 14 negro (mostly from Rhode Island, Taunton, and the Vineyard) 1 white-negro (from South Carolina), and 1 partly white. This census was made after Hawley and other white elites gained control of Mashpee, and after he boasted of expelling trespassers and others illegally residing there. Others in Massachusetts were worried about intermarriage, and in 1786 the state passed a law banning the marriage of whites to Indians or blacks. Hawley did not ask for this law, nor was he involved in its passage. Hawley, Mashpee census, July 1, 1793, in Hawley manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University. I wish to thank Andrew Pierce for finding and bringing this census to my attention.
22. Comments in Hawley, Mashpee census, July 1, 1793, in Hawley Manuscripts, Houghton Library.
23. Hawley to Isaac Smith, Boston, December 14, 1784, Savage Papers, vol. 3. Hawley’s disappointment in Mashpee’s government, and his opposition to white “encroachment” on the district, apparently did not apply to the valuable land grant made to him by that government in April 1779; Massachusetts Acts and Resolves 1778–1779, Chapter 207, June 26, 1779.
24. Lot Nye, Barnstable, to the Massachusetts General Court, February 3, 1783, in documents relating to Unpassed Senate Legislation (hereafter Unpassed Senate), no. 25d, 1783, Massachusetts Archives.
25. Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), 6–11 and passim; Peter S. Field, The Crisis of the Standing Order: Clerical Intellectuals and Cultural Authority in Massachusetts, 1780–1833 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998). Most historians of New England Baptists stress the growing acceptance and respectability of Baptists after the Revolution; the Mashpees’ experience, on the other hand, supports the notion, emphasized by Hatch and Field, that Baptists remained a sect that had suspiciously radical implications. Compare John L. Brooke, “A Deacon’s Orthodoxy: Religion, Class, and the Moral Economy of Shays’s Rebellion” and Stephen A. Marini, “The Religious World of Daniel Shays,” in In Debt to Shays, ed. Robert A. Gross (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 205–80; also Susan Juster, Disorderly Women, Sexual Politics and Evangelism in Revolutionary New England (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 108–44. On the attraction of Baptists and Methodists to “people of color” see William S. Simmons and Cheryl L. Simmons, Old Light on Separate Ways: The Narragansett Diary of Joseph Fish, 1765–1776 (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1982), xix–xxxvii; O’Connell, On Our Own Ground, lviii; James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest Among Northern Tree Blacks, 1700–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 133–36.
26. When the two towns passed resolutions in May 1787 demanding far-reaching changes, including an end to the clergy’s tax-exempt status, Hawley exclaimed that “[s]uch men ought to be laid under Church Censure and suspended from the Communion”! “Miscellany,” The Massachusetts Centinel, June 2, 1798, p. 83; Hawley to Rev. Oaks Shaw, Barnstable, June 9, 1787, Savage Papers, vol. 2, no. 204. The towns, like others during this period, also sought to move the legislature away from Boston, to reduce government salaries, to end speculation in government bonds, to tax luxury goods heavily, to regulate the prices that country merchants charged for goods, and to end state support for Harvard College.
27. Hawley to Gushing, Boston, May 8, 1788, William Gushing Papers, 1664–1814, MHS. Strangely, no one discussed the legislature’s appointment of three guardians for Mashpee in April 1778: Daniel Davis, Esq., Simon Fish, and Thomas Smith—a close friend of Hawley. This act may have been a wartime emergency measure that was temporary and largely ineffective. Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 1777–1778, Chapter 1068, April 30, 1778. The legislature also received a petition from several whites complaining that only nineteen proprietors attended the last district meeting; that they were plied with liquor by corrupt overseers; and that the overseers had become dictators who forced young men on whaling voyages. Petition in documents relating to Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 1788, May Session, Chapter 2, approved May 1788, quoted in Campisi, Mashpee Indians, 88.
28. Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 1788, Chapter 2, May 1788.
29. They told the legislature that they opposed “the coming of Negroes & English, who, unhappily, have planted themselves here, hath managed us, and it is to be feared, that they and their Children, unless they are removed, will get away our Lands & all our Privileges in a short time.” Petition of Mashpee proprietors, July 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38, approved January 30, 1789, Massachusetts Archives.
30. Hawley to the Massachusetts General Court, November 5, 1788, and Fish to the General Court, December 23, 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38.
31. Letter from justices of peace, selectmen, and other inhabitants of Barnstable, Sandwich, and Falmouth, adjoining Mashpee, December 22, 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38.
32. John Percival, Barnstable, to the Massachusetts General Court, November 19, 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38.
33. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, October 31, 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38.
34. The board consisted of two men from Barnstable County and one from each of the adjoining counties: Bristol, Plymouth, and Dukes (Martha’s Vineyard). The overseers had the power to establish rules and regulations for the community; control land and other resources; care for the poor (by leasing land and distributing food and other assistance); bind out children to white families and review seamen’s contracts; and hold and manage Mashpee funds. Documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38.
35. Hawley’s recollection of a letter to Governor Hancock written July 8, 1791; at the bottom of the ms., he noted that he was not sure if it was an exact copy, because he had also written to Hancock in August and October. He served as treasurer until he was forced to resign in 1795, due to advanced age and apparent incompetence; however, he continued to sit on the board of overseers until 1804, just three years before his death, when he engineered the appointment of his son to take his place; Hawley to James Freeman, Boston, December 24, 1805, Hawley Letters, MHS.
36. A few months after the implementation of the new rules, Hawley reported that the new regime was generally “very acceptable to these Indians”; Hawley to the Massachusetts General Court, May 12, 1789, in documents relating to Unpassed Senate, no. 1036.
37. Mashpee Indians to Mashpee Overseers, November 24, 1789, Savage Papers, vol. 2, no. 209. Only a corner of the petition remains, so little of the text can be reconstructed.
38. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, June 13, 1791, in documents relating to Unpassed Senate, no. 1419a.
39. Deposition by Levi Mie, June 15, 1791, Unpassed Senate, no. 1419a.
40. Hawley to Governor Hancock, probably July 8, 1791; Hawley to Robert Treat Paine, Boston, November 25, 1791, Robert Treat Paine Papers, vol. 28. (reel 5 of 19), MHS; Hawley to Peter Thacher, December 12, 1791, Hawley Letters, MHS.
41. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, May 28, 1792, no. 1643/2, in documents relating to Unpassed Senate, no. 1643.
42. This connection that at least some Mashpees made between their political liberty and their unfettered use of resources, and the rejoinder by Hawley that this was a vocal minority, point to a possible division in Mashpee between those who embraced newer notions of liberty and private property and those who held to older values—who may or may not have supported the guardianship. Studies of other Indian communities in the midst of similar cultural and political earthquakes—particularly the Cherokees and Creeks at the end of the eighteenth century, and the White Earth Anishinaabe a century later—find similar divisions and conflicts erupting. Theda Perdue, “The Conflict Within: Cherokees and Removal,” in Cherokee Removal, Before and After, ed. William L. Anderson (Athens: Universitv of Georgia Press, 1991), 55–74; Claudio Saunt, A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Melissa L. Meyer, The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994). Among the Creek and White Earth Anishinaabe, in fact, “mixed” or metis family backgrounds often indicated those who supported the shift to private landholding and Anglo-American political paradigms of representative democracy. Hawley’s letters, while often vile, describe the large-scale immigration of Indians from other places before the Revolution, and of non-Indians who married into Mashpee families or were “adopted” by the community during the Revolution—and reveal that these individuals and their children were among the leaders of those pushing for more liberty.
43. Mashpee to the Massachusetts General Court, July 1788, in documents relating to Acts of 1788, Chapter 38, Passed Legislation.
44. Depositions by Levi Mie and Ebenezer Crocker, June 1795, in Hawley Papers, vol. 2, Congregational Library, Boston. Freeman was an inspired choice: he was a recent Harvard graduate, and had become prominent in part because he was the son of a famous Revolutionary general. Nathaniel Freeman Sr., had also served as head of the Sandwich Committee of Correspondence, in which capacity he had probably encountered Hawley and his muted loyalism. Nathaniel Jr., graduated from Harvard in 1787; he was twice elected to Congress before he died of tuberculosis in 1800; RA Lovell, Jr., Sandwich: A Cape Cod Town (Sandwich: Town of Sandwich, 1996), 244.
45. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, undated but probably before December 1794, since this is the first document in the file, and the second is Hawley’s letter to the legislature of December 15, 1794, which attests to the popularity of his rule and the efforts by a small minority to regain their power in Mashpee. In documents relating to Passed Legislation, Acts of 1795, Chapter 48, approved February 22, 1796, Massachusetts Archives. I have assumed that this petition was Freeman’s work because its language is vastly different from that of earlier and later petitions. Also, the testimony about Freeman’s participation in the Mashpee’s cause was recorded in late June and July 1795, after the legislative committee was created and began its inquiry; Hawley Papers, vol. 2, Congregational Library. Interestingly, few of the signatories of this petition signed any other petition; in fact, Levi Mie, who was among those who commissioned Freeman and whom Hawley named as one of his greatest opponents, did not sign the document.
46. Hawley to the Massachusetts General Court, May 1, 1795, Hawley Letters, MHS.
47. Hawley to the Massachusetts General Court committee, September 2, 1795, vol. 2, Savage Papers.
48. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, January 8, 1796, documents relating to Unpassed Senate, no. 2194.
49. Committee report, January 16, 1796, in Acts of 1795, Chapter 48, Massachusetts Archives.
50. “An Act especially providing for the Removal of poor Persons from the District of Marshpee, who have no legal Settlement there,” Acts of 1796, Chapter 23.
51. Hawley to Belknap, July 27 and August 30, 1796, J. Belknap Papers, P-380, reel 6 of 11, no. 161, B. 157, B. 160–61, MHS.
52. John Tripp, “Native Church at Gay Head,” Zion’s Advocate, September 1831, reprinted Magazine of New England History 3 (1893): 250–53; William G. McLoughlin, ed., The Diary of Isaac Backus, vol. 3, 1786–1806 (Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1979), 1431–32. Hawley referred to Freeman as a “half-blooded Indian”; Hawley, Mashpee, to Rev. Dr. Jedidah Morse, Boston, May 1804, Papers of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (hereafter SPG Papers), Peabody Essex Museum.
53. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, n.d., in documents relating to Unpassed Senate, no. 2525, February 1799. In October 1801, Hawley referred to a petition carried to Boston by party from Mashpee “in the year 1799 with the baptist minister at their head.” Hawley to “Gentlemen” (SPG?), October 6, 1801, Savage Papers, vol. 2, no. 220.
54. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, December 1807, in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807, Passed Legislation.
55. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, December 1807, in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807, Passed Legislation.
56. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, December 1807, and Sandwich town meeting to the Massachusetts General Court, December 9, 1807, in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807, Passed Legislation. The Sandwich letter was also signed by the Barnstable selectmen. James Freeman served as state representative and senator and as Barnstable County High Sheriff before drowning in January 1816 during a trip to Martha’s Vineyard; Lovell, Sandwich, 265.
57. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, January 1808, and Herring Pond and Black Ground Tribe to the Massachusetts General Court, January 1808, in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807.
58. Zaccheus Pognit deposition, January 2, 1808; John Fish, Sandwich, deposition, January 2, 1808; Lemuel Ewer, Sandwich, deposition, January 2, 1808; Benjamin Burgess, deposition, January 7, 1808, all in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807.
59. Committee report, draft act, and final act, all in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807.
60. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, undated, in documents relating to Chapter 109, Acts of 1807.
61. Solomon Francis et al. to John Davis, Boston, August 15, 1808, Miscellaneous Bound Documents, MHS. See Fish and Ewer depositions, above. Both Fish and Ewer called Francis a “lazy, idle, mischief-making, lying fellow”—a mantra that seems suspicious because both men used precisely the same words in their separate dispositions.
62. Gay Head to the Massachusetts Governor, July 23, 1811, Box 19, February–December 1811, Massachusetts Council Files, Massachusetts Archives; Christiantown petition to the Massachusetts General Court, April 24, 1817, in documents relating to Chapter 20, Resolves of 1817; documents relating to Chapter 99, approved February 12, 1818, Acts of 1817; documents relating to Chapter 123, approved February 16, 1818, Resolves of 1817; Chappequiddicks to Massachusetts General Court, June 7, 1805, in Box 14, Massachusetts Council Files, Massachusetts Archives; report of committee, June 7, 1809, in Box 17, June 1808–July 1809, Massachusetts Council Files; Chappequiddick petition to the Massachusetts governor, October 28, 1811, Box 3, Folder 15, Indian Guardian Accounts.
63. Mohegans to the Connecticut General Assembly, April 30, 1819, doc. 86a–c, Indian Archives, 2d ser, vol. 1, Connecticut Archives, Hartford; petition of John Uncas and other Mohegans to the Connecticut General Assembly, April 24, 1820, Box 5 (1820–1824), Folder 1 (Rejected bills, 1820), Rejected Bills, Connecticut Archives; Connecticut General Assembly committee on Mohegan petition, May 25, 1820, doc. 87, Indian Archives, 2d ser, vol. 1, Connecticut Archives.
64. Jack Campisi, “Emergence of the Mashantueket Pequot Tribe, 1637–1975,” in The Peauots in Southern New England: The Rise and Fall of an American Indian Nation, eds. Laurence M. Hauptman and James D. Wherry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 126.
65. Mashpees to the Massachusetts General Court, June 13, 1817, in documents relating to Chapter 89, Resolves of 1817, Passed Legislation.
66. Massachusetts legislative report, June 18, 1818, Box 2, Folder 10, Guardian accounts and correspondence. Lemuel Ewers, for a time a Mashpee overseer and treasurer, testified in 1834 that this committee never actually visited Mashpee. They spent two days in the area: one day meeting over five miles from the village, and the next day meeting at the Crocker residence or tavern in Cotuit, on Mashpees southwest border—and the home of a man disliked and perhaps feared by many Mashpees. Ewer testimony, “Minutes of the Legislative Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Complaints of the Mashpee Indians,” February 5–March 8, 1834, Box 1, Folder 1, Ira Moore Barton Papers, American Antiquarian Society.
67. Chapter 105, passed February 18, 1819, in Benjamin Hallett, Rights of the Marshpee Indians (Boston: J. Howe, March 1834), 14–15.
68. Testimony by Matthias Amos in E. B. Chace, letter to the editor of the Providence Journal, date unknown but probably 1870, in Narragansett Collection, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence; testimony by Daniel Amos in “Minutes of the Legislative Committee.”
69. Testimony by Joseph Amos in “Minutes of the Legislative Committee.” Matthias Amos also noted that Fish “took no interest in them, beyond preaching to them on Sunday, never visited them, and did them no good. He was a Unitarian, and most of those who cared for religion at all, wanted to be Baptists.” E. B. Chace, letter to the editor of the Providence Journal. On the Methodists’ appeal and following see Tiro, “Denominated ‘SAVAGE,’” 661–62.
70. Apess visited Mashpee as part of his work among Indians and other communities in the region. He had been ordained by a group of dissident Methodists in 1829, and in that year violated older norms of authority by publishing his memoirs. On the “privileged” nature of public discourse, even in the early nineteenth century, see Christopher Grasso, A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 2, 4.
71. Apess, “Indian Nullification,” in On Our Own Ground, 169–72. For Apess’s life through 1829, see generally Apess, “A Son of the Forest,” in On Our Own Ground, 3–52.
72. Apess, “Indian Nullification,” 173–86; Josiah Fiske, report to Gov. Levi Lincoln, undated but probably July 6, 1832, Box 2, File 1, Indian Guardian Accounts and Correspondence; Mashpees to Fish, June 26, 1833, Box 1, File 1, Indian Guardian Accounts and Correspondence. Apess’s and Fiske’s descriptions of the meeting are strikingly similar.
73. Fiske to the Governor, July 4, 1832, and Fiske, report, Box 1, File 1, Indian Guardian Accounts and Correspondence.
74. Fiske, report, Box 1, File 1, Indian Guardian Accounts and Correspondence.
75. Elders did play an important role in the Mashpee uprising: the two men who signed the initial petition and headed the May 21 meeting, Ebenezer Attaquin and Israel Amos, were born in 1782 and 1786, respectively. But the three men who clearly spearheaded the revolt and then led the community were all born between 1795 and 1810: William Apess (1798), Daniel Amos (ca. 1804), and Joseph Amos (1806). This was also the generation that, among African Americans, became increasingly unwilling to accept political and social subordination. Anglo-Americans such as Charles Finney (1792), Henry David Thoreau (b. 1817) and William Lloyd Garrison (1805), would drive the reform ferment in the North. “Minutes of the Legislative Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Complaints of the Mashpee Indians” (Daniel Amos and Isaac Combs); list of Mashpee proprietors taken November 1832 (Matthias Amos, Ebenezer Attaquin, Israel Amos), by Charles Marston and the Mashpee overseers, Box 2, Folder 15, Indian Guardians Accounts and Correspondence; 1860 Federal census, Mashpee schedule (Joseph Amos).
76. Apess, “Indian Nullification,” 196–98. On Hallett as a supporter of radical politics and labor movements in 1834 see Alfred Young, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 143–44. On Hallett as head of the Barnstable County Antimasonic Party see the Barnstable Patriot, September 11, 1833, p. 2, col. 4; for Hallett’s obituary see the Narragansett Weekly, October 9, 1862, p. 3 col. 8.
77. Jill Lepore, The Name of War: Kino Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 210–16.
78. William Apess, Daniel B. Amos, and Isaac Coombs to the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, January 21, 1834, in documents relating to Unpassed House legislation, no. 12843, Massachusetts Archives.
79. The Liberator, January 25, 1834, reprinted in Apess, “Indian Nullification,” 220–23.
80. Apess, “Indian Nullification,” 177.
81. Apess, “Indian Nullification,” 205–42; “Minutes of the Legislative Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Complaints of the Mashpee Indians.”
82. In 1833, Massachusetts had ratified a constitutional amendment that ended tax support for the Congregational Church, finally separating church and state and symbolically severing an important link to the Puritan past. That same year, the General Court organized a Legislative Temperance Society, and during the first year 160 members signed up. No doubt the members of that Society were quite impressed by the Mashpee Temperance Society organized by Apess rather than Fish, and heavily publicized by the Indians and their allies. They were also moved by the Indians’ emphasis that, given more autonomy, they could improve their schools. One year later, Massachusetts established the first state fund for public education, designed to raise the level of primary education in every town. Cornelius Dalton, et al., Leading the Way: A History of the Massachusetts General Court, 1629–1980 (Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1984): 126, 135. For a description of the first district meeting, on May 5, 1834, see documents relating to Unpassed House legislation, no. 13838, December 15, 1834.
83. See petition of 1838 in Unpassed Senate legislation, no. 10417. “[T]he Indians would more punctually attend public worship, feeling that they had rights which they might exercise without obtrusion by the white inhabitants, who they stated took the lead of singing, and, as one Indian observed, put the Indian singers back, and the Indian wanted to take the lead in his own meeting.” Legislative Commissioners’ Report on Mashpee Meetinghouse, 1839 Reports of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, no. 72 (Boston, 1839), 7.
84. See various documents in Unpassed Senate, no. 111612, 1842, including petitions from the Mashpees and from Fish describing these events. Fish protested to the state and to Harvard, but finally accepted the construction of a new meetinghouse in Cotuit, at Mashpees southeast corner, where he ministered to the few white families and a few still-loyal Mashpees. He continued to preach on alternate Sundays at Herring Pond. Fish also retained his racist sensibilities. In 1853, one year before his death, he wrote to an SPG official that the Indians held “a considerable degree of false ambition of equality with Whites, without proper fitness for it—and it threatens to impair that docile spirit by which alone they can reasonably hope to increase their true respectability.” Fish, Cotuit, to L. K. Lathrop, October 13, 1853, Box 2, Folder 8, MS 48, SPG Papers, Peabody Essex Museum. Fish was actually buried in the Mashpee church burial ground.
85. With the exception of Karim Tiro’s article on William Apess and Methodism, publications on the Mashpee uprising have barely noticed how the revolt took place within these larger contexts. But Tiro focused entirely on Apess, with very little attention to Mashpee, ironically confirming those who, in 1833 and 1834, tried to discredit the Indians’ uprising by blaming their unrest on Apess. Tiro, “Denominated ‘SAVAGE.’”