Chapter 21

Chapter XXI

The Mashpees

One of the strangest anomalies I've met, in my rambles over Cape Cod, is an Indian township, owned and officered by Indians; its schools and churches supported by Indians, and its public affairs conducted by them. The town is called Mashpee — the aboriginal name of the people that inhabit it — and lies in the southwestern corner of Barnstable County, barely sixty miles from Boston, on the shore of Vineyard Sound. Sandwich, Falmouth, and Barnstable are adjoining towns. In area it comprises some sixteen square miles — or 10,500 acres — much of it forest, lake, and marsh. The existence of this aboriginal township is almost unknown to the general public, and its history is obscure though interesting. Much of it is of a nature to make the white man blush for his race.

At the time the Mayflower furled her sails off Cape Cod, the Mashpees were spread over its entire surface, though their chief villages were near the narrow neck that joins it to the mainland, in the vicinity of the present Mashpee. After Sandwich and Barnstable were settled the churches there began the work of



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civilizing and Christianizing the Indians in their midst. The Rev. Richard Bourne seems to have been the first resident missionary, having been installed August 17, 1660, Eliot and other ministers assisting. Before this, seeing that the Indians were rapidly being despoiled of their lands by white settlers, he procured of them a deed for some twenty-two square miles of land surrounding their villages, intending that it should be entailed after his death for the benefit of the Indians and their children. This was done, his son, after the father’s death, procuring a ratification of the deed by the court at Plymouth, and an entailment of the lands to the Indians and their children forever, with a clause that the lands should never be sold without the consent of all the tribe. This was the origin of the Mashpee reservation. Mr. Bourne Was fairly successful in his work. In 1674 he reported the number of "paying" Indians at Satuit, Pawpoeset, Coatuit, Mashpee, and Wakoquett as being ninety-five, of which twenty-four could read and ten write. At the same time he confessed that many were loose in their course, to his "heart-breaking sorrow." His successor in the work was an Indian named Solomon Popmonet, who served the people forty years. During his ministry, in 1711, the Rev. Daniel Williams, of London, Eng., bequeathed by will a large sum to be placed in the hands of the College of Cambridge in New England," "for the work )f converting the Indians there." The trustees of this



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fund have since devoted its proceeds largely to the Mashpees, and it now forms the chief support of the resident missionary among them.

From 1693 to 1763 the Indians appear to have lived contentedly enough on their reservation, under the care of guardians appointed by the General Court, although they retrograded in morals, despite the efforts of the missionaries who resided among them. Fire-water, the bane of the red man, seems to have been their greatest enemy, and the negroes and renegade white men who flocked to the reservation, intermarried and became members of the community, were a fruitful source of corruption. The missionaries during this period were the Rev. Joseph Bourne, Solomon Bryant, an Indian, and the Rev. Gideon Hawley, of Stratford, Conn., who had previously been a missionary to the Stockbridge Indians under Jonathan Edwards. Mr. Hawley was not favorably impressed by the Mashpees on first coming among them. "The Indians," he says, "appeared abject and widely different from the Iroquois. They were clad according to the English mode, but a half-naked savage was less disagreeable to me than Indians who had lost their independence." In 1763 the General Court passed its first act of aggression— an act erecting Mashpee into a district. By this law the entire government of the tribe was confided to five Overseers, two of whom were to be Englishmen, to be elected by the proprietors



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in public meeting. The act also provided for the election of a Town Clerk and Treasurer, both to be Englishmen. A majority of the Overseers had the sole power to regulate the fishery, to lease such lands and fisheries as were held in common for not exceeding two years, and to allot to the Indians their upland and meadows. The law was to continue in force only three years, but when the year 1766 came the aggressions of the mother country occupied the entire attention of the colony, and the act was not revived. It is said, however, that the Indians still continued to choose their Overseers under the charter of 1763, though without authority, and that it was the only government they had during the Revolution. In the struggle of the colonies for liberty the Mashpees sustained a worthy part. Their petition to the Legislature in 1835 recites that when a continental regiment of four hundred men was raised in Barnstable County in 1777, twenty-seven Mashpee Indians enlisted for the whole war. "They fought through the war," it continues, "and not one survives. After the war our fathers had sixty widows left on the plantation whose husbands had died or been slain." They were also expert whalemen, and aided largely in manning the whaling fleets of Barnstable and New Bedford.

In 1788 the oppression of the poor Mashpees began. in earnest. The Legislature of that year repealed all former laws, and placed them absolutely in charge of a



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Board of Guardians, in whose selection the Indians had no choice. There were at this time eighty families on the reservation. This act reduced them to virtual slavery. The Guardians had absolute control of their persons and property. They leased the Indian lands and tenements, drew and regulated all bargains, contracts, and wages, bound out children of both sexes to the whites without consent of their parents, and could indenture to a master any adult proprietor whom they should adjudge an idler or drunkard, and appropriate his earnings as they saw fit. But this was not all. As years passed the lands of the Indians and their fishing and hunting privileges became exceedingly valuable, and excited the cupidity of the neighboring whites. Fishermen came into the bays and inlets for the herring and mackerel that abounded there. Their lakes and preserves were raided on, and the hay on their meadows and the wood in their forests were cut and carted away with the most unblushing effrontery. During all this time no provision was made by the State for the education of the Indian children. They had no benefit of the school fund of the State; were not even included in the census returns, and the Indian children were bound out by the Overseers with the understanding that they were not to be educated. In 1835, however, when public attention was directed to the wrongs of the Mashpees, Massachusetts partly atoned for past neglect by appropriating one hundred dollars annually for the educa-



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tion of these helpless wards. Their share as a town would have been but fifteen dollars.

By 1883 the Mashpees had become exceedingly restive under this condition of affairs, and the bolder spirits among them were earnestly longing for liberty. At length a village Hampden, Daniel Amos, hip-master, more intelligent than his brethren, atured a plan for their escape. A Methodist preacher, William Apes, a native of the Pequot tribe of Connecticut, was the Cromwell whom he employed to effect his purpose. Apes was a man of firmness, an eloquent speaker, and had the talent and address which the Mashpees lacked. In the course of a visiting tour among them, early in 1883, he preached for them, and was invited to become their pastor, they having become dissatisfied with the preaching of the settled missionary, the Rev. Mr. Fish. He consented, and early in May settled among them as their pastor. On the 21st of May the Mashpees assembled in their Council-house, and as their first act adopted Mr. Apes as a member of the tribe. They next prepared two petitions, one to the Governor and Council, complaining against the Overseers and the laws relating to the tribe, and one to the corporation of Harvard College, against the missionary. To these papers they affixed a series of resolutions in the nature of a declaration of independence, as follows: "Resolved, That we as a tribe will rule ourselves, and have the right to do so; for all men are born free and equal, says



The Mashpees

the Constitution of our country." "Resolved, That we will not permit any white man to come upon our plantation to cut or carry off wood or hay or any other article, without ourpermission, after the 1st of July next." "Resolved, That we will put said resolutions in force after that date, with the penalty of binding and throwing them from the plantation if they will not stay away without." On the 25th of June succeeding they adopted a form of government, concerted laws, and appointed officers, twelve in all, to execute them. Having thus organized, they informed the Overseers and public at large of their intentions by the following "notice": "Having been heretofore distressed, degraded, and robbed daily, we have taken steps to put a stop to these things; and having made choice of our own town officers, . . . we would say to our white friends, we are wanting nothing but our rights betwixt man and man. And now rest assured that said resolutions will be enforced after the first day of July, 1833" They then proceeded to discharge the Overseers, missionary, and other officers appointed by the State.

These proceedings excited the utmost surprise and alarm among the neighboring whites, and a messenger was despatched to Governor Lincoln at Worcester, apprising him that an insurrection had broken out among the Mashpees, and praying for protection. Meantime the first of July came, and the Mashpees,



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finding a white man named Sampson carting woo from their reservation, proceeded to put their resolutions in force. He was asked to unload the stole property, and on his refusing three or four of the Indian quickly unloaded the cart, the man being allowed t depart unmolested. On receiving news of the threatened insurrection Governor Lincoln despatched ar envoy to Mashpee with instructions to call a council of the tribe, listen to their grievances, and, if possible, effect an amicable settlement The council was held, but in the midst of its deliberations the High Sheriff of Barnstable County approached William Apes with a warrant for his arrest, on charges of riot, assault, and trespass, the complaint being brought by Sampson, the man whose cart had been unloaded a few days before. The clergyman quietly submitted and accompanied the Sheriff to Cotuit, where his examination was conducted. He pleaded not guilty, nor were the charges sustained by the witnesses brought against him, yet under an alleged law against "constructive riot" he was bound over to appear at the next session Df the Court of Common Pleas for Barnstable County. The trial came off in due time, and was perhaps the, most shameful perversion of justice that ever disgraced he Bay State. The jurors were bitterly prejudiced against the prisoner. The Judge, it was said at the time, had predetermined that he should be brought in uilty; he was therefore convicted, and sentenced to



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thirty days’ imprisonment with common felons in the county jail. The sentence created much comment. The liberal press of the State denounced it as an outrage, and eminent members of the bar spoke of it as a travesty on justice. Apes quietly served out his sentence, and by his martyrdom won the manumission of his brethren.

The publicity given this affair thoroughly informed the Commonwealth as to the true status of the Mashpees before the law, and the Legislature of 1884 partially righted their wrongs by erecting the reservation into a district, and allowing them the right of choosing their local officers. The odious feature of a Commissioner to supervise their affairs was still retained, however, to the great dissatisfaction of the people, and it was not until 1842 that the office was abolished, and the Indians allowed to manage their affairs in their own way. Up to that time the lands of the reservation had been held in common; now they were apportioned among the "proprietors," each one, whether male or female, receiving sixty acres as his or her own. Several thousand acres remained undivided, and were sold in 1870 for $7,700 for the benefit of the tribe. Universal suffrage made the Indian, as well as the negro, a citizen, and in 1870 Mashpee was incorporated a town, and, has since continued to enjoy municipal privileges.

Desirous of judging for himself of the present con-



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dition and prospects of this ancient people, the writer recently paid them a visit. Sandwich, on the Old Colony road, a pretty village, noted for its production of fine glassware, is the nearest point reached by railway, and there I took a carriage for the Indian village, some ten miles distant. Our road led over the backbone of the Cape, through the oak scrub so common to the region, but now scorched and blackened by one of the terrible fires that periodically ravage it. We could see the fire raging then, two or three miles to the westward, and had learned before setting out that it had burned two or three barns and farmhouses in West Sandwich the night before. We had striking proof of its energy in the green leaves burned from the oaks to their summits, and in the ease with which it had leaped the roadway to continue its destructive work beyond. Near the verge of the burnt district we saw a deep, wide trench leading into the forest, which the drivera Mashpee Indian, by the way, and quite intelligentsaid extended for several miles, and had been dug by the citizens to stop the spread of the flames. A little further on we met a warden pacing his appointed beat, to see that no embers were whirled over the line into the dry leaves, to start a new conflagration. Six miles out we came to the crest of a hill and looked down upon a beautiful lake some three miles long, covering the whole area of a narrow valley. Its shores were irregular and wooded, and there were two green islands in



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its center. The driver called it Mashpee Pond, and expatiated largely on the fine trout, pickerel, perch, and bass to be taken in its waters. We swept around the eastern shore of the pond, and in half an hour were at Mashpee a hamlet of thirty or forty one-story cottages, most of them unpainted, and scattered about in the open fields. The Rev. William Hurst, of the Baptist Church, is now the resident missionary, and from him I gathered some interesting particulars of the present condition of the Indians. There are some three hundred and fifty members of the tribe now living in the town, of whom only two or three are pure bloods. They live in some seventy dwellings, scattered over the reservation. The church stands near the center of the town, a plain edifice, differing little from the ordinary country chapel. I was struck with the aptness of William Apes’s description written in 1832 "The sacred edifice stood in the midst of a noble forest, and seemed to be about one hundred years old. Hard by was an Indian burial-ground, overgrown with pines, in which the graves were ranged north and south. A delightful brook, fed by some of the sweetest springs in Massachusetts, murmured beside it." Mr. Hurst preaches to a congregation of from seventy-five to one hundred each Sunday, and has a membership of sixty, only one of whom is white. He derives his support in part from the Indians, but chiefly from the Williams fund, which



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yields an annual stipend of $550. There is a parsonage and an acre of land belonging to the parish. A Sunday school is held the year round. There are frequent temperance concerts and lectures, and a lyceum is maintained in the winter.

Mr. Hurst reports his parishioners fully up to the average of white communities in morals and piety.

The women are much more industrious than the men, showing the force of inherited tendencies, but the latter are much more ambitious and thrifty than formerly. They till their fields, hunt, fish, pick berries, work on the cranberry bogs, of which there are several in the town, and follow the sea. Two schools were kept in the town the past season one by a young gentleman from Boston, the other by the pastor’s daughter, the average attendance being seventy-six. I visited several of the Indians at their homes. Solomon Attaguin, a tall, dignified, finely formed old man, is chief among them, being postmaster, justice of the peace, and tavern keeper. He favored me with a clear and intelligent history of his people, differing little from the account given in the books, and entertained me with accounts of his own prowess in the hunt, and of the adventures of Boston sportsmen who had come down every autumn to hunt deer and wild fowl. It seemed odd to hear of stalking deer within sixty miles of Boston.