Petition of Moses Pocknet and Other Mashpee and Herring Pond Indians to the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in General Court Assembled
The inhabitants and proprietors of the plantation or District of Mashpee in the County of Barnstable, hereto subscribed, beg leave with the utmost deference and respect, to offer the following observations and petition to the Honorable Court.
Ever since the settlements of this country, the aboriginals and those who claim under them and whose descendants we are have been deemed the legal proprietors of the territory comprised on said district, the same having never been transferred or ceded to the whites.
The government of the late Province of Massachusetts Bay, notwithstanding, assumed the right of controlling, in a particular manner, the property and economy of said district and imposed restraints on the inhabitants, which were ever considered by them as infringements of their freedom, to which they were as men justly entitled. But we are not insensible it might be necessary if conducted with prudence and a due regard to our own interest.
At the commencement of the late revolution, when a high sense of civil liberty; and the oppressive policy of an arbitrary court, roused the citizens of America, to noble and patriotic exertions in deference of their freedom; we anticipated the time, when a liberal and enlightened philanthropy, would extend its vein; and its influence to the increase of liberty and social happiness among all ranks and classes.
Impressed with these sensations and animated by a portion of that ardent sense of freedom and love of independence, which characterized our ancestors and had not been wholly extinguished by a long series of self-degradation; we voluntarily entered the encrimsoned field of battle and mingled our blood with that of the early martyrs to the cause of this country.
The sentiments and anticipations, which animated us to the conflict and dangers of a military life, were still farther confirmed by that august and magnanimous Declaration of American Independence, penned by our present illustrious president, Thomas Jefferson, the third American President (1801-1809). which appalled a British ministry and astonished all Europe.
At the close of a long and successful war, in which we had been honorably distinguished, that one half the Inhabitants of Mashpee fell victims in the cause of their country and of liberty; and that many who now remain are subscribers to this petition can exhibit the traces of wounds received in facing the enemies of America. At the close of the war and since, we say, how were and still are our pleasing anticipations blasted! How could we conceive it possible that a people who were exhibiting such illustrious proofs of their attachments to freedom and so enlarged ideas of civil liberty and of the origin and design of government, that they should not respect those rights in others which they contended for themselves?
Let the acts passed previous to the late revolution respecting the Mashpee [ obscured ] together.
By the former, we had the privilege, in part, of choosing our masters. By the latter, even this small portion of liberty is taken away. By the former, they were taken from among ourselves or neighbors; a majority are now taken from strangers at a distance. The act which passed June 1788 indeed provided that there should be three guardians, near to said plantation in the County of Barnstable, but the same act named the guardians, without allowing us the privilege of minors fourteen years old. We remonstrated against that act, in consequence of which it was repealed. But the act of June 30th 1789, which is our present constitution, passed, under which we have been groaning now about 18 years. For by that act, our present government, instead of three, consists of a board of five overseers, who instead of being near to us and within the county, only two of them are, and the other three, a majority ( before this period strangers to us) from other Counties distant from us, and were appointed without consulting our wishes; and over and above these, there are two guardians acting under them; making seven in the whole, besides the secretary, treasurer, and constable and, sometimes, an extra agent respecting the cutting our wood; and another respecting our Herring River.
We beg Your Honors to take into consideration, for one moment, the very great difference it makes to us, in having five to govern us, three of whom have to travel a great distance twice a year and to be out three or four days the expense of two more, besides the five as guardians, also a secretary, treasurer, constable, etc., all of whom must be paid out of our funds, to what the expense of three only who live near us in this county would be. Also, how much more agreeable it would be to us, to have those who are near to us, with whom we are better acquainted and who are themselves better acquainted, with our respective descents, connections, circumstances, habits and wants, than to have strangers, and those at a distance from us, whom we can see but twice a year, without great expense and trouble, if indeed we must have Guardians and we will not, at this stage, any longer contend against a principal & practice, which is said to be founded in necessity, arising from our ignorance and from it a intemperate [ obscured ]ed, and consequently exposed [ obscured ] of many among our tribe: yet in their appointment we think, that we or our agent should be consulted, though not control.
We do not mean to object to the personal character, integrity, or conduct of any of the present board of overseers: but it is a fact that our poor, from some cause or other, are not sufficiently supplied in many instances every year, they are obliged to beg from the neighboring towns or they would suffer; this may be partly on account of the Government's being so expensive, that our funds are inadequate; and partly because the overseers are too remote and scattered, for the Indians to repair to, in the times of their distresses, with their complaints. The present Government are cutting and selling off our wood in great proportions and this they must do while the Government is so expensive, without our reaping much benefit; but at this rate the resource must soon fail.
Everything here said, being equally applicable to the small remains of the Herring Pond Tribe of Indians, who live in the vicinity contiguous to Sandwich, which Town only divides them from us, who are now included under the same Government with, and wish to participate in the relief Your Honors may prescribe for us, have therefore joined us in signing this petition. We therefore, your humble petitioners, pray your Honors, in your great wisdom and clemency, to grant us redress, by passing an act, that three Trustees may be appointed near us in this County and such as shall not be disagreeable to us or our agent; who shall be vested with the powers and authority, now vested in said board of overseers and that said board of overseers be extinguished.
We have confided this petition to the patronage and care of the Honorable James Freeman, Esq., a member of the Senate, who is well acquainted with our circumstances and wishes. We pray you therefore to consider his representation thereof and consent as our own. We do not pray for the right of appointing; but that we may be consulted and satisfied in our Governors, so far as reasonable.
And as in duty bound shall ever pray, etc.
Names and marks1
Mashpee, December 1807
We, the subscribers, do hereby certify that we were present at the signing of the proprietors of the Plantation of Mashpee whose names are marked with the letter A.
January 1, 1808
I, Benjamin Burges of Sandwich in the County of Barnstable, do hereby certify that I was witness and present at the signing of the Herring Pond Indian proprietors to this petition whose names are marked with the letter B.
January 4, 1808
Petition of Mashpee Tribe of Indians / Mr. Hill, Moody of Saco, Smith of West Springfield, Colonel Turner / In the House of Representatives January 28, 1808, read and committed to Mr. Moody of Saco, Mr. Smith of West Springfield, and Colonel Turner with such as the Honorable Senate may join, sent up for concurrence, Perez Morton, Speaker / In Senate January 29, 1808, read and concurred and Mr. Hill and Mr. Spooner are joined, Samuel Dana, President
- 1. In the original, the letters A or B were written after each name, indicating, respectively, whether they were Mashpee or Herring Pond individuals. Here the first portion of the signatory list includes the names of the Mashpee individuals, followed by, after the break, those who are associated with Herring Pond.
- 2. After Simon Ned's name was the notation that he was "no Proprietor".
- 3. After Oliver Smith's name was the notation that he was "no Proprietor".
- 4. After Anne Pocknet's name was the notation that she had signed both petitions, meaning this petition ,as well as, the 1807 petition in opposition to this one, http://nativenewenglandportal.com/digital-heritage/petition-gideon-nautu...
- 5. Similar to Ann Pocknet, she also signed both petitions.
- 6. After Mehitable Mannasah's name was the notation that she had signed both petitions, meaning this petition ,as well as, the 1807 petition in opposition to this one, http://nativenewenglandportal.com/digital-heritage/petition-gideon-nautu...
- 7. After Sally's name was the notation that "she is no Proprietor".
- 8. The following names are those of Herring Pond Indians.
- 9. After Sophia Wamsley's name was the notation "no Proprietor".