Statement of the Means of Education and Religious Instruction Enjoyed by the Marshpee Indians

STATEMENT of the Means of Education and Religious Instruction Enjoyed by the Marshpee Indians, Connected with Mr. Fish and Harvard College

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[The following statement of facts is derived from authentic documents and the testimony of the Indians and others.] 

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Up to 1835, the State had done nothing for education in Marshpee, except build two schoolhouses in 1831.[1] 

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In the winter of 1835, the subject came up in the Legislature of distributing the School Fund of the State among the towns.  A bill was reported to the House, in which Marshpee was made a school district and entitled to receive a dividend according to its population by the United States census.[2]

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This was meant well; but had the law passed in that shape, it would have done no good, because Marshpee had no United States census.[3]  The people of Marshpee or the Selectmen knew nothing of this law to distribute the School Fund, and their missionary, or pastor (as he claimed to be), Mr.  Fish, never interested himself in such matters.  Mr. Hallet, at Boston (who had acted as their counsel), laid their claims before the Committee, by two petitions which he got from the Selectmen and from himself, and the Commissioner.[4]  The chairman of the School Committee, Honorable A. H. Everett, took much interest in getting a liberal allowance for education in Marshpee.  He presented the petitions and proposed a law which would give one hundred dollars a year forever for public schools in Marshpee, which was the largest sum that had been asked for by Mr. H[allet].   A number of gentlemen spoke in favor of this allowance, and all showed that a spirit of kindness, as well as justice toward the long oppressed Red men, begins to warm the hearts of those who make the laws for the Indians as well as the White man.  

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The bill passed the House and also the Senate without any objection, and it is now a law of the State of Massachusetts that the Marshpee Indians shall have one hundred dollars every year, paid out of the School Fund, to help them educate their children.  The proportion, as a District, according to what other towns receive, would have been but fifteen dollars.  This money was wisely appropriated the last winter, as far as it would go, in employing competent White male teachers, and has doubtless done more for the Indians by improving the rising generation and preparing them to receive moral and religious instruction than all Harvard College has done for them through Mr. Fish, by an unfortunate though unintentional misapplication of more than eleven thousand dollars arising from the Williams Fund,[5] of which the College is trustee.  This will be one of the best means to raise them to an equality and teach them to put away from their mouths forever, the enemy which the White man, when he wanted to cheat and subdue the race, first got them to put therein, to steal away their brains, well knowing that their lands would follow. 

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The following are the petitions presented to the Legislature, which will give some light on the history of Marshpee. 

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To the Honorable General Court

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The undersigned are Selectmen and School Committee of the District of Marshpee.  We understand Your Honors are going to make a distribution of the School Fund.  Now we pray to leave to say that the State, as the guardians of the Marshpee Indians, took our property into their possession, so that we could not use a dollar of it, and so held it for sixty years  We could make no contract with a schoolmaster, and. during that time till 1831, we had no schoolhouse in Marshpee, and scarcely any schools.  We began to have schools about five years ago but still want means to employ competent White teachers to instruct our children.  Our fathers often petitioned the Legislature to give them schools, but none were given till 1831, when the State generously built two schoolhouses. 

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We also beg leave to remind Your Honors that our fathers shed their blood for liberty, and we, their children, have had but little benefit from it.  When a continental regiment of four hundred men were raised in Barnstable County in 1777, twenty-seven Marshpee Indians enlisted for the whole war.[6] 

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They fought through the war, and not one survives.  After the war, our fathers had sixty widows left on the Plantation, whose husbands had died or been slain.  We have but one man living who draws a pension,[7] and not a widow.  We pray you, therefore, to allow to Marshpee, out of the School Fund, a larger amount in proportion than is allowed to other towns and districts who have had better means of education and to allow us a certain sum per year.

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And as in duty bound, will ever pray,

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Selectmen and School Committee of Marshpee District

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Ezra Attaquin

Isaac Coombs

Israel Amos

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To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court Assembled
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The undersigned beg leave to represent in aid of the petition of the Selectmen and School Committee of the District of Marshpee, praying for a specific appropriation from the School Fund for the support of public schools in said district, that we are acquainted with the facts set forth in said petition and believe that the cause of education could nowhere be more promoted in any district in the Commonwealth than by making a specific annual allowance to said Marshpee District.  The Legislature have made a specific annual appropriation of  fifty dollars to the Indians on Martha’s Vineyard for public schools, and the undersigned are of opinion that an annual appropriation of double that amount, would be no more than a fair relative proportion for the District of Marshpee.  It is highly important that the District should be able to employ competent White teachers until they can find a sufficient number of good teachers among themselves, which cannot be expected until they have enjoyed greater means of education than heretofore.  

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The undersigned, therefore, pray that the petition of said Selectmen may be granted, by giving a specific annual allowance to said District.  

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Benjamin F. Hallett, Counsel for the Marshpee Indians 

Charles Marston, Commissioner of Marshpee

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Thus it will be seen that where education was  concerned, the missionary for the Indians on Martha’s Vineyard did not go to sleep over his flock or run after others and neglect what ought to be his own fold, as did the missionary, Mr. Fish, whom Harvard College sent to the Marshpees and has paid twenty-five years for preaching to White men.  Mr. Baylies, the White missionary on the Vineyard, took pains to send a petition to Boston, and he got fifty dollars a year for the people there.  Mr. Fish did nothing. 

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Mr. Baylies, the missionary on the Vineyard, has about two hundred dollars a year, or one third of the income of the Williams Fund from Harvard College, while Mr. Fish at Marshpee has two thirds of the interest of $13,000, which is between four and five hundred, and wrongly uses as his own, nearly five hundred acres of the best land on the plantation belonging to the Indians.  The Legislature in 1809 took his land from the Indians,[8] without any right to do so and thus compel them, against the Constitution, to pay out of their property a minister they never will hear preach.  Is this religious liberty for Indians?  Mr. Fish, in addition to $433 from Harvard College, has cut already, this season, 250 cords of wood, amounting, standing, to  $425.  This sum of $858, belonging to the Indians, he has received, when there is scarce five adult Indians who will go and hear him preach in the Meetinghouse erected by the British Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians,[9] and given to the Indians, but in which Mr. Fish now preaches to the Whites, (having but one colored male member of his church, and he a Negro, and not a proprietor) and keeps the key of it, for fear that its lawful owners, the Indians, should go in it, without his leave.  He will not let them have it for holding a camp meeting, or for any religious purpose. 

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In August, 1834, the Selectmen of Marshpee invited Mr. Hallett to come and address them on Temperance and to explain the laws.  They appointed to meet at the Meetinghouse, as the most central place.   Mr. Fish first refused to let the Indians go into their own meetinghouse, and the people began to assemble under the trees, when it was proposed for the Selectmen to go and ask for the key, that they might see if Mr. Fish would refuse it.  At this moment, a White man, who had been there some time, and had tried to pick a quarrel with Mr. Hallett, and the Indians,[10] said he was sent by Mr. Fish with the key and would let the people in if they would promise to come out when he told them to.  Mr. Hallett declined going in on such terms and proposed to hold the meeting under the trees.  This shamed the messenger of Mr. Fish, and he opened the door and the people went in, where Mr. Hallett addressed them.  While the Indians were thus gratified in meeting their friends, and in hearing good advice, Mr. Fish’s messenger interrupted the speaker in a very abrupt and indecent manner and tried to bring on a quarrel and break up the meeting.  Captain George Lovell, always a friend to the Indians, tried to keep Mr. Crocker still, and Mr. Hallett declined having any controversy, yet the man persisted in his abuse until he broke up the meeting.  Had it been thought best, this insulting ambassador would have been put out of the house by the Indians, as a common brawler and disturber, but Mr. Hallett forbore to have any controversy with him, and the Indians behaved with great forbearance and discretion.  He afterwards met the Indians in their schoolhouses and delivered two addresses without interruption from the emissaries of Mr. Fish.  This is a sample of the way the Indians have been treated about their own Meetinghouse.  In some of the old petitions, the Indians speak of this meetinghouse as our meetinghouse, and it was built for them, without a dollar from the White men of this country, except when the Legislature, at the petition of the Indians, repaired it in 1816.  And now, no Indian can go inside of it but by the permission of Mr. Fish, whom they will not hear preach.  

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It seems that the Indians are not to have the benefit of any thing given to them.  It must all go to the Whites.  The Whites have the Meetinghouse and make Marshpee pay nearly half the support of a minister they will not hear preach.  The other half comes from a fund.  In 1716, a pious minister, named Daniel Williams, died in England, and in his will he said, “I give the remainder of my estate to be paid yearly to the College of Cambridge in New-England, or to such as are usually employed to manage the blessed work of converting the poor Indians there, to promote which, I design this part of my gift.” 

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This was the trust of a dying man, given to Harvard College, that great and honorable literary institution.  And how do they fulfil the solemn trust?  They have been and still are paying about five hundred dollars a year to a missionary for preaching to the Whites.  This missionary, by his own statement, shows he has added to his church, twenty members from the tribe of over three hundred persons, in twenty-five years, and now has but one colored member!  Is not this more expensive in proportion to the good done, than any heathen mission on record?  Mr. Fish has now been preaching in Marshpee twenty-five years.  In that time, he has received from the Williams fund, given solely to convert the poor Indians, nearly five hundred dollars a year, as nigh as can be ascertained, which is, say about twelve thousand dollars, for persuading twenty colored persons to join his church!  This is six hundred dollars for every member added to his church, and if his other pay is added, it amounts to about nine hundred dollars for each member!  

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Mr. Fish has derived an income, formerly, not much if any, short of two hundred and fifty dollars a year, and now upwards of four hundred dollars a year, from the woodland, pasturage, marshes, meetinghouse, house lot, etc., which he has wrongly held and used of the property of the Indians.  Add this to his pay from Harvard College, and he has had eighteen thousand dollars, of money that belonged to the Indians, and which, if it had been laid up for a fund, would have supplied missionaries for all the Indians in New England, according to the will of the pious Mr. Williams.  We respect the President[11] and the Trustees of Harvard College.  They are honorable men and mean to do right, but we ask them to look at this statement, then to read the will of Mr. Williams, and laying their hands upon their hearts, to ask in the presence of the God of the Indian as well as the White man, whether they have done unto the Indians of New England and their children, as they would that the Indians should do unto them and their children?  

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It is said that the Indians might bring a suit in equity, or in some other way, to compel the Trustees of the Williams fund, to distribute it as the pious donor meant, not for the conversion of the Whites, even to the taking away from the Indians of their meetinghouse and lands, but for “the blessed work of converting the poor Indians,” as Mr. Williams says in his will.   This, however, would be a painful resort, and it is hard for Indians to contend in the courts of White men against White men.  They can have none of their people to decide such questions, and what could they do against all the power and influence of the Corporation of Harvard College?  If the President and Fellows of Harvard College prefer to deal unjustly by the Indians and violate the trust of Mr. Williams by giving the funds to the Whites instead of the poor Indians, they must submit to the wrong, we suppose, for there are none strong enough to help them.  The College can take the money from the Indians but cannot compel them to hear a preacher they dislike.

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All they ask is that Harvard College and the State will not support an established religion in Marshpee but leave the Indians free to choose for themselves.  Mr. Williams did not give his property to the Marshpee Indians, more than to any others.  The will of Mr. Williams is not specific as to what Indians he meant.  The phrase is “there,” referring to Cambridge or New England.  The legal construction is perhaps doubtful, as to the right of the Marshpee Indians to claim it as cestui que[12] use, but we cannot see what right Harvard College has to give it all for the Whites near Marshpee, and the Indians on Martha’s Vineyard.  If they are afraid that the Indian preachers should have any of this money, if it is withdrawn from Mr. Fish, let them take it and send a missionary among the Marshpee Indians they can like.  A missionary schoolmaster, or such as the ministers at large in Boston, is what the Indians want to instruct and improve them.  Or let them employ a man, some Elliot,[13] if they can find one, to visit all the Indians in New England, to find out their condition and spiritual wants, and try to relieve them.  This would be doing some good with money that is now only used to disturb the Indians, to take from them their meetinghouse, to create divisions among them, and turn what the pious Williams meant for a blessing into a curse to the Indians.  What would the donor of the $13,000 to convert poor Indians say to Harvard College, could he visit Marshpee on a Sabbath?  He might go to the meetinghouse built for the Indians by the society in England,[14] of which he was a principal member.  He would find a White man in the pulpit, White singers leading the worship, and the body of the church occupied by seventy or a hundred White persons of the neighboring villages, scarcely one of whom lives on the plantation.  Among these he would see five, six, ten, or possibly twenty persons with colored skins, not but one male among them belonging to the church and not six adults.  He would probably think he had made a mistake, and that he was in a White town and not among the Indians.  He might then go to the house of blind Joseph, (the colored Baptist preacher,) or to the schoolhouse in Marshpee, and  he would there find thirty, forty, or fifty Indians, all engaged in the solemn worship of God, united and happy, with a little church, growing in grace.  He might then visit the other schoolhouse at the neck, where he would find another Indian,[15] preaching to fifty, sixty, or seventy Indians, all uniting in fervent devotion. After the sermon, he would hear a word of exhortation from several of the colored brethren and sisters, in their broken way, but which often touches the heart of the Indian, more than all the learning that Harvard College can bestow.  He would hear the Indians singing praises to God and making melody in their hearts if not in their voices.  What would he say then, when told that Harvard College had paid twelve thousand dollars of his funds for converting the poor Indians, to the White minister, who had made twenty members in twenty-five years, while the two Indian preachers, with forty-seven members to their churches added in three years, were like St. Paul, laboring with their own hands for a subsistence? All the Indians ask of Harvard is take away your pretended gift. Do not force upon us a minister we do not like and who creates divisions among us.  Let us have our meetinghouse and our land, and we will be content to worship God without the help of the White man. 

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This meetinghouse might as well be in India as in Marshpee, for all the benefit the Indians have of it.  It is kept locked all the time, with the key in Mr. Fish’s possession.  He would not let the Baptist church of Indians have it to ordain their beloved pastor, blind Joseph, in, and we see how it was granted to the Indians, when they wanted it for Mr. Hallett to address them in 1834.  Not only were they forbidden the use of the meetinghouse, but even the land which the Legislature unconstitutionally, took from the Indians to give to Mr.  Fish, is considered by him too holy to be defiled by the Indians, who are its true owners. 

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In the summer of 1834, sometime in July, one of the churches desired to have a camp meeting, of which they had had one before.  They selected a spot some distance from the meetinghouse, in a grove beside the river; but though not in sight of the meetinghouse, it was on the ground which Mr. Fish thinks had been set apart for his sole use.  After the notice was given of the camp meeting, Mr. Fish sent the following note, which is here recorded, as an evidence of the Christian spirit with which a church in Marshpee, consisting of thirty-five members, who were Indians, was treated and molested in their worship by the missionary Harvard College has paid so liberally to “convert the poor Indians,” and who had but five Indians in his church, not one being a male member. 

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Mr. William Apes

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Sir,

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Perceiving by a notice in the “Barnstable Journal” of last week, that you have appointed a   camp meeting to commence on the 30th instant and to be holden on the parsonage, and in the vicinity of the meetinghouse, This is to forbid the proceeding altogether! 

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You have no pretense for such a measure. and if you persist in your purpose to hold such meeting, either near the metinghouse, or on any part of the Parsonage allotment, you must consider yourself responsible for the consequences

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I am, etc.,

Phineas Fish

Marshpee, July 19, 1834

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Soon after this, the Selectmen, one of whom was a member of the church, applied to Mr. Fish respecting holding the camp meeting on the parsonage.  The place selected could not have disturbed Mr. Fish, any more than people passing in carriages in the main road.  The Indians had no meetinghouse, their schoolhouse would not hold the people, and they had no other means but to erect their tents and worship God in the open air.  A pious family of Whites from Nantucket came on the ground and began erecting their tent.  Mr. Fish came there in person and ordered them off. The man told him that he had his family there and had no other shelter for the night but his tent, which he should not remove but would do so the next day if he found that he was trespassing on any man’s rights.  But he added, if Mr. Fish turned him off, he would publish his conduct to the world.  Mr. Fish’s interference to break up this religious meeting, created much talk, and finally he wrote the following letter to the Selectmen; after which the Indians went on and had their meeting in a quiet, and peaceful manner. 

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To the Selectmen of Marshpee

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On mature thought and in compliance with your particular request, I consent to your holding the camp meeting, which is this day commenced, on the spot near the river where the first tent was erected.  I consent, (I say,) on the following conditions, namely, that you undertake that no damage come upon the parsonage property, either woodland, or meetinghouse; that no attempt be made to occupy the meetinghouse; that there be no attempt on the Sabbath, or any other day, to interrupt the customary worship at the meetinghouse, and, that peace, order, and quietude be maintained during the time of the camp meeting.  It is also understood that this license is of special favor, and not conceded as your right, and no way to be taken as a ground for similar requests in future, or for encouraging any future acts of annoyance, vexation, or infringement of the quiet possession of the privileges, secured to me by the laws.  And that should any damage be done in any way as aforesaid, you will consider yourself responsible to the proper authorities. 

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With my best wishes for your welfare, your friend, 

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Phineas Fish 

Marshpee, July 30, 1834

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We invite to the above facts, the particular attention of the Christian community and of the Corporation of Harvard College.  If there ever was a case calling for correction of error, it exists here.  No one can doubt the honorable intentions of the Trustees of the Williams Fund.  They have been ignorant of the facts but are now no longer so.  The Indians have petitioned for redress and their friends cannot doubt that they will find it, in the love of justice and sense of honor, which govern the corporation of the first university in America.  

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Caption:

C Statement of the Condition of Education and Religious Instruction in Marshpee, July 1834

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Notation:

July 30, 1834

Cataloguing:

27, 28

                                   

 

[1] One of the schoolhouses was built on Red Brook Road in 1831 for $135.  It served the educational needs of fourteen families until 1901, when it closed in 1901 and was sold to the Baptist Youth Society.  The building was subsequently donated to the town of Mashpee in 1975 and relocated to Meetinghouse Road.  Tours of Mashpee One Room Schoolhouse, www.capenews.net.  Smith-Johnson, Legends & Lore of Cape Cod.

[2] By the provisions of section three of the Act to provide for the Distribution of the Income of the Massachusetts School Fund, the commissioner of the Mashpee Indians was allocated one hundred dollars out of the income of the School Fund to support the common schools among those Indians.  Chapter 137, Acts and Resolves (Massachusetts, 1835), 510.

[3] The Indian people of Mashpee, except for those living in white households, were not counted in the Federal Census of 1830.

[4] See Benjamin F. Hallett, Rights of the Marshpee Indians: argument of Benjamin F. Hallett, counsel for the memorialists of the Marshpee tribe before a joint committee of the Legislature of Massachusetts (Boston, MA: J. Howe, 1834).

[5] The Williams Fund was a sum of money, $16, 665,80, donated to Harvard College by Reverend Daniel Williams, an Englishman, for the purposes of supporting missionary work to the Indians. Ayer, Richard Bourne, Missionary to the Mashpee Indians, 7.

[6] According to recent research by the Mashpee Historical Commission, 57 men from Mashpee, most of them Wampanoags, enlisted in the military.  Thirteen did not return.  Richard Desorgher, "Inside The Archives: A Salute To Our Veterans," The Mashpee Enterprise, October 26, 2018. For a list of names, see Jacob Denney, The Service of the Mashpee Indians in the American Revolution, Tufts Digital Library.

[7] Most likely, Isaac Wickham (1761-1842).  For his military service, see his biography.

[8] In 1808, the Legislature ordered that a three-member board of overseers be established at Mashpee and Herring Pond.  An act in addition to, and repealing part of the firs section of an act. entitled "An act for the better regulating of the Indian, Mulatto, and Negro proprietors and inhabitants of the plantation, called Marshpee, in the county of Barnstable, and for other purposes," Chapter 58, Acts and Resolves (Massachusetts, 1807).

[9] This meeting house was erected in 1757 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England.  Weis, The New England Company of 1694 and its Missionary Enterprises, 173.

[10] Footnote in original text reads as follows: This was Mr. Alvin Crocker, who had formerly enjoyed more benefits from the Plantation, than he does under the new law.  Alvin Crocker (c. 1777-November 22, 1862) was a farmer from Cotuit Port, Massachusetts.  Find A Grave, Marston Mills Cemetery, Barnstable, Massachusetts. 

[11] Josiah Quincy III

[12] From Cestui a que use le feoffment fuit fait" (the person for whose use the feoffment was made). In trust and estate law, cestui que refers to a person who possesses the equitable right to property and receives the profits therefrom, as opposed to the legal estate itself, which is vested in a trustee.  The Anglo-Saxon word is now replaced by the term beneficiary.  Black's Law Dictionary.

[13] John Eliot (1604-1690), the Puritan missionary to the Indian communities of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

[14] The New England Company  

[15] William Apes