Petition of Margaret Peters and Other Chappaquiddick Indians to the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives in General Court Assembled

The undersigned, People of Colour, inhabitants of the Island of Chappaquiddick in the State of Massachusetts, respectfully ask leave to represent that we are laboring under difficulties and embarrassments which are exceedingly onerous and burdensome and which it is entirely out of our power to remedy.  Being lone women with no friendly hand to assist us in our troubles and our legal Guardian, having no authority to lend an ear to our entreaties, we are constrained to make 1 complaint to the Legislature, hoping that some little heed will be given to our petition.                                  

The General Court, at their session last winter,2 very kindly appropriated $2,000 for the building a fence among us.  It seems that some have obtained a large portion of fencing stuff, making many subdivisions of their land, while we are turned off with a scanty share, with our land not even fenced against the public highways.  And we would here observe that those who have been the most favored are not natives of the soil, but full blooded Africans, while your petitioners are genuine descendants of the Aborigines.   Some of us have been cut short of our quantity of land because we were not able to employ a surveyor at three dollars per day to run out the boundaries.  New roads have been made without any legal authority across our little territory, which is now as much exposed to the inroads of cattle and sheep, as before the said appropriation was made.  This renders it impossible for us to get a living by tilling the soil, and some of us leave not planted our grounds for the last two or three years.                 

The division fence, between the Colored people and the Whites, which was built in such good order some twenty-four years since, where Daniel Fellows, Esq., was our Guardian, has hardly been touched from that time to the present and is now in a very dilapidated condition and almost entirely useless. This is the cause of much inconvenience and expense, subjecting some of us to the necessity of hiring a pasture for our sheep, etc., while our own lands are unoccupied.  The law requiring the Guardian to cause said fence to be erected has never been repealed: but it is out of our power to do any thing, save making complaint the Legislature.                

One of your petitioners is owner of a cranberry swamp, from some twenty or more bushels of cranberries are sometimes obtained.  This crop has been wholly cut off by water being let in upon it by some of our White neighbors.  Such a loss to her little income, she is not able to sustain, and no mode of redress being open to her, she now ventures to make complaint to the Legislature for relief. This same water runs into another swamp belonging to another of your petitioners, preventing her from digging peat.                                 

Your petitioners, therefore, are exceedingly anxious that the Legislature should authorize some one or more persons to make inquiry concerning our causes of complaint with power to make such alterations in the present state of things as they shall deem right and proper.   And we would suggest, if it meet your approval, that our former Guardian, Daniel Fellows, Esq., be the person appointed, or should there be more than one, that he be chairmen of the said board. For we are fully persuaded that had he continued in said office of Guardian until the present day, none of the above causes of complaint would have occurred.  And as in duty bound will ever pray –

William Johnson, his mark
Martha Johnson, her mark
Chappaquiddick, February 15, 1853

Legislative Action:

Petition of Margaret Peters and others inhabitants of the “Island of Chappaquiddick,” asking for the interposition of the Legislature in the protection of their rights and privileges.  House of Representatives, March 2, 1853.  Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.  Mr. Schoaler, Clerk.  Presented by Mr. Keniston of Edgartown


90, 3576/1

  • 1. Deleted text: our
  • 2. Resolve in favor of the Chappequiddick Indians, Chap. 68, Acts and Resolves (Massachusetts, 1851), 880.