45 | To the Board of Trade

    Boston Ap. 28. 1761

    My Lords

    I take this opportunity to lay before your Lordships the Answer of the General Court to the petition of the Mashbee Indians; from which it will appear that there is no ground for the complaints they have troubled your Lordships with. Reuben Cognehew has been with me & seems to me to be a Very self-important fellow. I shall nevertheless give Ear to him; & if He can point out to me any thing that really wants redress, He shall have it. From the enquiries I have made, the Matters that want redress among them are what they will not complain of. They are suffered to run in debt beyond their abilities & then are allowed to sell their children to pay their debts; They are suffered to harrass one another at Law for trivial disputes, which sometimes end in the ruin of both parties; When they are condemned in criminal prosecutions, they are subjected to Fines instead of corporal punishment, so that where the Criminal only ought to be corrected, his family is ruined; In civil actions, they are charged with exorbitant costs, when it is known they have nothing to pay with. All these arise from the abuse of the Law, which in some hands will not spare a naked Indian. I have allready recommended these Matters to the consideration of the two Houses & will endeavour to get them redressed in the next Session.

    I have dissolved the General Court237 & issued writs for a New one. Before the next meeting, I shall, transmit to your Lordships the Acts that have been passed with observations upon such as require them.238 I shall also give your Lordships an account of such other transactions as shall deserve your notice. In laying Mr Pitts Letter before them, I made it a particular point, to engage them to provide for the Men for 12 months or more, instead of 7 or 8, as usual; thinking the Nature of the present service required it: This I succeeded in so that they Voted the Men for 14 months. I was in hopes that other provinces would have followed this precedent: but I dont learn that any other has provided for more than the summer. The extension of time could not but cause some diminution of Numbers; but the latter is by no means in proportion. The full Number, according to Mr Pitts letter, would have been 3666: and they have granted 3000. But 3000 for 14 months is equal (according to a calculation which makes an allowance for the expence of inlisting) to 4700, for 7 months. And if the other provinces had raised their full Number for 12 months or more, I am satisfied that this province would have added 1,000 more.239 So that It has, & at all events would have, kept up its distinction of contributing more than its share to the public Service.

    I am, with great respect, My Lords, Your Lordships obedient & most humble Servant

    Fra. Bernard.

    The Right Honble the Lords of Trade

    ALS, RC CO 5/891, ff 27-28.

    Reuben Cognehew was a Mashpee Indian and schoolteacher who, in Jul. 1760, embarked on a remarkable journey to England to deliver personally a petition to the king on behalf of his tribe. Setting sail from Rhode Island, Cognehew was “inhumanly carried” to the West Indies, whence he somehow managed to get to London (CO 5/890, ff 31-32). The petition complained of the General Court-appointed guardians having infringed his fishing rights in the Mashpee River and of land encroachments by the colonists. On his return from England, Cognehew met with FB sometime between Dec. 1760 and Apr. 1761, probably to discuss Britain’s extraordinary response. Following a report by the Board of Trade, an order-in-council dated 12 Aug. 1760 obliged FB to lay the Mashpee’s petition before the General Court, which he did on 19 Dec. FB urged the assembly to conduct an enquiry into the guardians’ conduct; however, he also took the opportunity to suggest that the province go beyond the Mashpee’s particular complaints by revising the “Laws concerning Indians.” (APC, 4: 460-461; Order of His Majesty in Council, 12 Aug. 1760, Mass. Archs., 303: 102.) A joint committee reported on Cognehew’s petition on 29 Jan., dismissing his claims, and both houses formally responded to the governor in a message of 10 Apr., the content of which is the same as the General Court’s “Report” enclosed with the present letter. JHRM, 37 pt.1: 105; 37 pt.2: 225-226, 322-323.

    The Board of Trade delivered a representation to His Majesty in Council on 10 Sept. 1761, enclosing a copy of the General Court’s report and an extract of FB’s letter. These were noted by the Privy Council’s plantation affairs committee on 12 Oct. There the matter rested until 1763 when the General Court resolved to incorporate the Mashpee tribe as a self-governing community (No. 225). JBT, 11: 210-211; APC, 4: 461.