William Apes.

Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe Or, the Pretended Riot Explained online

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religious instruction, and schooling children. The accounts to
be laid before the Governor annually. The Governor and Council
appoint the Overseers and displace them at pleasure.

SECT. 5. The Indian Proprietors are prohibited giving any one
liberty to cut wood, timber or hay, to milk pine trees, carry
off any ore or grain, or to plant or improve any land
or tenement, and no such liberty, unless approved by the
Overseers, shall bar an action on the part of the Overseers to
recover. The lands shall not be taken in execution for debt,
and an Indian committed for debt may take the poor
debtor's oath, his being a _proprietor_ to the contrary

The last act relating to this tribe, was passed Feb. 18, 1819,
Chap. 105, 2d vol. of Laws, page 487. It provides that no
person thereafter shall be a proprietor of the Plantation,
except a child or lineal descendant of some proprietor, and in
no other way shall this _right_, as it is called, be acquired.
Other inhabitants are called members of the tribe.

The Overseers are to keep a record of names, or census, of all
who are proprietors, and all who are residents or members of
the tribe, a return of which is to be made to the Governor the
last of December.

The Overseers, in addition to all former power, are invested
with all the powers and duties of guardians of the Indians,
whenever such office of guardian shall be vacant. [A very
blind provision, by the way, which it may be as difficult for
white men as for Indians to understand.]

Any person selling ardent spirits to an Indian, without
a permit in writing from the Overseer, from some agent of
theirs, or from a respectable physician, may be fined not more
than fifty dollars, on conviction; and it shall be the duty
of the Overseer to give information for prosecuting such

The Overseers may bind out to service, for three years at
a time, any proprietor or member of the tribe, who in their
judgment has become an habitual drunkard and idler, and they
may apply his earnings to his own support, his family's, or
the proprietors generally, as they think proper.

All real estate acquired or purchased by the industry of the
proprietors and members, (meaning of course without the limits
of the plantation,) shall be their sole property and estate,
and may be held or conveyed by deed, will, or otherwise.

If any Indian or other person shall cut or take away any wood,
timber, or other property, on any lands _belonging_ to the
proprietors or members, which is not set off; or if any person
not a proprietor or member, shall do the same on lands that
have been set off, or commit any other trespass, they shall
be fined not over $200, or imprisoned not over two years.
The Indians are declared competent witnesses to prove the
trespass. No Indian or other person is to cut wood without
a permit in writing, signed by two Overseers, expressing the
quantity to be cut, at what time and for what purpose; and the
permit must be recorded in their proceedings before any wood
or timber shall be cut.

[Of this provision, the Indians greatly complain, because it
gives them no more privilege in cutting their own wood than a
stranger has, and because under it, as they say, the Overseers
oblige them to pay a dollar or more a cord for all the wood
they are permitted to cut, which leaves them little or no
profit, and compels the industrious to labour merely for
the support of the idle, while the white men, who have their
teams, vessels, &c. can buy their permits and cut down the
wood of the plantation in great quantities, at much greater
profit than the Indian can do, who has nothing but his axe,
and must pay these white men a dollar or more for carting his
wood, and a dollar or more to the Overseers, thus leaving him
not enough to encourage industry.]

All accounts of the Overseers are to be annually examined by
the Court of Common Pleas for Barnstable, and a copy sent by
the Overseers to the Governor.

Any action commenced by the Overseers, does not abate by their
death, but may be prosecuted by the survivors.

All fines, &c. under the act, are to be recovered before
Courts in Barnstable County, one half to the informer, and the
other to the State. These are all the provisions of the law
of 1819, and these are the provisions under which the tribe is

As I suppose my reader can understand these laws, and is capable of
judging of their propriety, I shall say but little on this subject, I
will ask him how, if he values his own liberty, he would or could rest
quiet under such laws. I ask the inhabitants of New England generally,
how their fathers bore laws, much less oppressive, when imposed upon
them by a foreign government. It will be at once seen that the third
section takes from us the rights and privileges of citizens _in toto_,
and that we are not allowed to govern our own property, wives
and children. A board of overseers are placed over us to keep our
accounts, and give debt and credit, as may seem good unto them.

At one time, it was the practice of the Overseers, when the Indians
hired themselves to their neighbors, to receive their wages, and
dispose of them at their own discretion. Sometimes an Indian bound
on a whaling voyage would earn four or five hundred dollars, and
the shipmaster would account to the overseers for the whole sum. The
Indian would get some small part of his due, in order to encourage
him to go again, and gain more for his white masters, to support
themselves and educate their children with. And this is but a specimen
of the systematic course taken to degrade the tribe from generation
to generation. I could tell of one of our masters who has not only
supported himself and family out of the proceeds of our lands and
labors, but has educated a son at College, at our expense.

It is true that if any Indian elected to leave the plantation, he
might settle and accumulate property elsewhere, and be free; but if he
dared to return home with his property, it was taken out of his hands
by the Board of Overseers, according to the unjust law. His property
had no more protection from their rapacity than the rest of the
plantation. In the name of Heaven, (with due reverence,) I ask,
what people could improve under laws which gave such temptation and
facility to plunder? I think such experiments as our government have
made ought to be seldom tried.

If the government of Massachusetts do not see fit to believe me, I
would fain propose to them a test of the soundness of my reasoning.
Let them put our white neighbors in Barnstable County under the
guardianship of a Board of Overseers, and give them no privileges
other than have been allowed to the poor, despised Indians. Let them
inflict upon the said whites a preacher whom they neither love nor
respect, and do not wish to hear. Let them, in short, be treated
just as the Marshpee tribe have been, I think there will soon be a
declension of morals and population. We shall see if they will be able
to build up a town in such circumstances. Any enterprising men who may
be among them will soon seek another home and society, which it is not
in the power of the Indians to do, on account of their color. Could
they have been received and treated by the world as other people are,
there would not be so many living in Marshpee as there are by half.

The laws were calculated to drive the tribe from their possessions,
and annihilate them, as a people; and I presume they would work the
same effect upon any other people; for human nature is the same under
skins of all colors. Degradation is degradation, all the world over.

If the white man desired the welfare of his red brethren, why did he
not give them schools? Why has not the State done something to supply
us with teachers and places of instruction? I trow, all the schooling
the Marshpee people have ever had, they have gotten themselves. There
was not even a house on the plantation for the accommodation of a
teacher, till I arrived among them. We have now a house respectable
enough for even a white teacher to lodge in comfortably, and we are in
strong hopes that we shall one day soon be able to provide for our own
wants, if the whites will only permit us to do so, as they never have
done yet. If they can but be convinced that we are human beings, I
trust they will be our hindrance no longer.

I beg the reader's patience and attention to a few general remarks. It
is a sorrowful truth that, heretofore, all legislation regarding the
affairs of Indians, has had a direct tendency to degrade them, to
drive them from their homes, and the graves of their fathers, and
to give their lands as a spoil to the general government, or to the
several States. In New England, especially, it can be proved that
Indian lands have been taken to support schools for the whites, and
the preaching of the gospel to them. Had the property so taken been
applied to the benefit of its true owners, they would not and could
not have been so ignorant and degraded a race as they now are; only
forty-four of whom, out of four or five hundred, can write their
names. From what I have been able to learn from the public prints and
other sources, the amount annually derived to the American people,
from Indian lands is not far from six millions, a tax of which they
have almost the sole benefit. In the mean while, we daily see the
Indian driven farther and farther by inhuman legislation and wars,
and all to enrich a people who call themselves Christians, and are
governed by laws derived from the moral and pious puritans. I say
that, from the year of our Lord 1656, to the present day, the conduct
of the whites toward the Indians has been one continued system of

I suppose many of my readers have heard of the late robbery at
Barnegat, and are ready to say, that the like has never been known in
this country, and seldom in any other. Now, though two-thirds of the
inhabitants, not excluding their magistrates, have been proved to
be thieves, I ask, was their conduct worse, or even so bad as that
constantly practised by the American people toward the Indians? I say
no; and what makes the robbery of my wronged race more grievous is,
that it is sanctioned by legal enactments. Why is it more iniquitous
to plunder a stranded ship than to rob, and perhaps murder, an Indian
tribe? It is my private opinion that King Solomon was not far wrong
when he said, "Bring up a child in the way he should go, and when
he is old he will not depart from it." He might have said with equal
propriety, "in the way he should _not_ go." I am sorry that the
puritans knew no better than to bring up their children to hate and
oppress Indians. I must own, however, that the children are growing
something better than their fathers were, and I wish that the children
of Barnegat had had better parents.

The next matter I shall offer is in two more articles from the Boston
Advocate. The first is by the Editor.


The arms of the State of Massachusetts, which appear at the
head of all official acts, and upon the seals of office, are
an Indian with his bow and arrows. Over his head is an arm
holding the sword of Justice. Is this sword designed to
protect or oppress the Indians? The Legislature now have the
opportunity to answer this question, and as they answer, will
be the record in history. The principal community of Indians
in this State, the Marshpee tribe, have presented their
complaints before the Legislature. Though an unwise attempt
was made by some few of the Representatives from the
neighborhood of the Indians, to prevent the reading of their
petition, it was received with marked kindness by the House,
and ordered to be printed, a favor which the Indians did not
think of asking.

There is evidently a disposition in the House to prove that
our sympathies are not confined merely to the Georgia Indians,
for political effect.


I perceive that your paper has spoken a good word now and then
for the native Indians of Massachusetts. There is no class of
human beings in this State, who have more need of a candid and
humane advocate.

I do not know much about the remnants of a once noble and
hospitable race, and yet I know enough to make me grieve for
them, and ashamed of the State.

For about two hundred years, the laws have prohibited Indians
from selling their lands to whites, within this Commonwealth.
This restriction, designed originally to protect the natives
against fraud, has, upon the whole, had an unfavorable effect
upon their happiness. If they had been at liberty to dispose
of their land and depart with the proceeds, or even without
the proceeds, to seek some new location, they would in all
probability have been happier. Nor have these prohibitory laws
had even the poor effect to protect them from the rapacity
of their white neighbors. These have contrived to clip the
corners of those simple people, and to get hold of their
pleasant and fertile vallies in a very surprising manner,
considering the strictness of the law.

But the great ground of complaint is, that no native Indian,
or descendant, is allowed by us _to be a man, or to make
himself a man_, whatever may be his disposition and capacity.
They are all kept in a state of vassalage, under officers,
appointed sometimes by the Governor, and sometimes by
the Legislature. The spot of his own ground, which he
may cultivate, is annually rented out to the Indian by an
overseer; and provisions are doled out to the tribe according
to the discretion of _"Guardians," "Trustees,"_ &c. Their
accounts are presented to the Governor and Council, who allow,
and the Treasurer of the Commonwealth pays them as a matter of
course. I dare not say whether those accounts are in all cases
correct, or not. If they are, we ought to be thankful to
the honesty of the Trustees, &c. not to the wisdom of the
Legislature in providing checks upon fraud.

But the effect upon the _Indians_ is the great question. This
is decidedly bad. They are treated more like dogs than men. A
state of tutelage, extending from the cradle to the grave; a
state of utter dependence, breaks down every manly attribute,
and makes of human creatures, designed to walk erect, creeping

But there is another very great evil, if I am rightly
informed, which calls loudly for the interposition of the
Legislature. The Marshpee and other Indian communities in
this State, are not included within the jurisdiction of any
incorporated town. The consequence is, that they are without
police, except what the Trustees and other officers appointed
by them, exercise. These officers never live among them;
and the consequence is, that the Indian grounds are so
many _Alsatias_, where the vagrant, the dissipated, and the
felonious do congregate. Nor is this the fault of the native.
It is the fault of their State; which, while it has demolished
Indian customs, has set up no regular administration of
municipal laws in their stead. Thus I am informed, that at
Gayhead, spirituous liquors are retailed without license, and
that _it is considered_ that there is no power which can reach
the abuse. There are many industrious and worthy people among
these natives, who are anxious for improvement, and to promote
the education and improvement of their people, but a degrading
personal dependence on the one hand, and the absence of nearly
all incentives and all power to do good on the other, keeps
them down.

The _paupers_ among these natives, who are at some seasons of
the year a majority or nearly all of them, are supported
by the State, and there must be a great opportunity and
temptation to the agents of the government to wrong these poor
people. The agents always have the ear of the government, or
rather they _are_ the government. The Indians have nobody to
speak for them. They are kept too poor to pay counsel. I think
it is not too much to say that almost any degree of injustice,
short of murder, might be done them without any likelihood of
their obtaining redress.

Why should not this odious, and brutifying system be put
an end to? Why should not the remaining Indians in this
Commonwealth be placed upon the same footing as to rights of
property, as to civil privileges and duties, as other men?
Why should they not _vote_, maintain schools, (they have
volunteered to do this in some instances,) and use as they
please that which is their own? If the contiguous towns
object to having them added to their corporations, let them
be incorporated by themselves; let them choose their officers,
establish a police; maintain fences and take up stray cattle.
I believe the Indians desire such a change. I believe they
have gone as far as they are allowed to introduce it. But they
are fettered and ground to the earth.

I am informed that many of the stoutest _whalers_ are produced
among our small Indian tribes. I am also informed, that they
are defrauded by the whites of a great part of their
wages, which would otherwise amount to large sums. If some
respectable men could be trained up and fostered among these
people, their intelligence and influence would be invaluable
to educate, protect and guide their seafaring brethren. Under
such auspices, they would, after the years of peril, return
and settle down with snug independence, be a blessing to their
brethren, and respectable in the sight of all. Now they are
so knocked about, so cheated, preyed upon and brutalized,
that they think of nothing, and _hope_ nothing, but sensual
gratifications; and in consequence, die prematurely, or live
worse than to die.

The Christian philanthropists of Massachusetts little know
the extent of evil, which there is in this respect. I entreat
them, I entreat the constituted authorities, to look to it.


I use these pieces chiefly because they partly correspond in truth
and spirit with what I have already said. Let our friends but read the
laws, and they will see what the sword of the Commonwealth is intended
for. In the second article there is a grievous mistake. It says that
the government has assisted us. The Marshpee Indians have always paid
their full share of taxes, and very great ones they have been. They
have defrayed the expense of two town meetings a year, and one of two
of the white men whose presence was necessary, lived twenty-five miles
off. The meetings lasted three or four days at a time, during which,
these men lived upon the best, at our cost, and charged us three
dollars a day, and twenty-five cents a mile, travelling expenses,
going and coming into the bargain. This amounts to thirty-five dollars
a trip; and as there were, as has already been said, two visitations a
year, it appears that we have paid seventy dollars a year to bring one
visitor, whose absence would have been much more agreeable to us than
his presence. Extend this calculation to the number of seven persons,
and the other expenses of our misgovernment, and perhaps some other
expenditures not mentioned, and see what a sum our tax will amount to.

The next article is from the Boston Advocate of December 27, 1833.


It was stated in the Barnstable Journal the other day, and has
been copied into other papers, that the Marshpee Indians
were generally satisfied with their situation, and desired no
change, and that the excitement, produced principally by
Mr. Apes, had subsided. We had no doubt this statement was
incorrect, because we had personally visited most of the
tribe, in their houses and wigwams, in August last, and found
but one settled feeling of wrong and oppression pervading the
whole; not a new impulse depending upon Mr. Apes or any other
man, but the result of the unjust laws which have ruled them
like a complete despotism.

The Overseers are not so much to blame as the laws. We doubt
not they have acted honestly; but, in the spirit of the laws,
they have almost unavoidably exercised a stern control over
the property and persons of the tribe. In fact the laws, as
they now stand, almost permit the Overseers, with impunity,
to sell the Indians for slaves. They can bind them out as they
please, do as they please with their contracts, expel them
from the plantation almost at will, and in fact use them
nearly as slaves. We do not think they have intentionally done
wrong to the Indians, but the whole system of government is
wrong; and hence the unalterable dislike the Indians have to
their Overseers. No better men could be appointed, that
we know of; but the best men must play the tyrant, if they
execute the present laws, designed as they are to _oppress_,
and not to protect the poor Indians.

We have known these Indians, from our youth up. They live near
our native home. The first pleasure we ever derived from the
exercise of benevolence, was in satisfying the calls of their
women and children for bread, at our father's door, and we
always found them kind hearted to those who were kind to
them. We have often met with them to worship in their rural
meeting-house, and have again and again explored with the
angling rod, the romantic stream, abounding with the nimble
trout, which courses through their plantation.

For those reasons, and these alone, we felt it our duty to
give them an opportunity to be heard through the columns of
our paper, while all others were closed to them, or cold to
their complaints. If we can do them any good, we shall have
a full reward in the act itself. We have it already in the
simple tribute of gratitude, which they have unexpectedly
bestowed upon our poor services.

They have sent us a communication, which is signed by the best
men in the tribe. We know most of these names, and they belong
to the most sensible and most industrious to be found on the
plantation. Will other papers publish this simple appeal to
the justice of the white men? It is useless to say after this,
that the Indians of Marshpee are content with their condition.
Something must be done for them.



It has been stated in some of the papers that the Marshpee
Indians are generally satisfied with their situation, and the
conduct of the Overseers, and want no change. It is also said
that the most industrious men on the plantation are opposed
to petitioning the Legislature to give them the management of
their own property; and they would all have been quiet, if it
had not been for Mr. Apes.

Now we know something of our own rights without being told by
Mr. Apes, or any one. We have confidence in Mr. Apes, and
have seen no reason to doubt that he means well; but our
dissatisfaction with the laws and the Overseers was the same
as it is now, long before Mr. Apes came among us, and he will
have our confidence no longer than while we are satisfied he
does right. If he does wrong, we shall oppose him as soon as
any man, but so long as he honestly aids us in seeking for our
rights, we shall be in his favor. He is only one of us, and
has no more authority over the tribe than any other member
of it. He has been adopted into the tribe, according to the
Indian custom; and as long as he deserves our confidence, we
shall regard him as a friend.

But it is unfair to attempt to prejudice the public against
us, while we are petitioning for our rights. It is not true
that the Indians are satisfied. The Legislature ought not to
be deceived by such stories from interested men. There is
a universal dissatisfaction with our condition, and unless
something is done to relieve us, the whole tribe must suffer,

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Online LibraryWilliam ApesIndian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe Or, the Pretended Riot Explained → online text (page 6 of 13)