Remonstrance of the Overseer of the Niantic Indians to the Petition of Vine Utley

To the Honorable the General Assembly of this State to Be Holden at Hartford in and for said State on the First Wednesday of May 18331

The remonstrance of Peter Comstock as Overseer of the Niantic Tribe of Indians against the petition of Vine Utley humbly sheweth that the claims of the petitioner against sundry individuals of the said tribe as stated in said petition do not purport to have been at the time authorized by the then overseer, nor is there any evidence of the propriety of the claims, and therefore ought not be paid, and in any event the funds of the said Indians, the avails of sales or leases of the tribe lands cannot be by the overseer appropriated to pay old debts of the individuals of said tribe without a plain violation of his duty.  And all persons who trust said Indians are barred by statute from attaching their estate or suing them at all and have no legal remedy against them other than their personal honor.  And if Your Honors should grant the prayer of the petitioner it would open the door for others, as numerous claims are known to exist, which would take all the lands and funds of said tribe to pay and render useless the ancient statute purposely made to protect the Indians from such claims.  And the subscriber remonstrates against the said petition for other and the following reasons:

First, because George Griswold, then overseer in March 1821, in liquidating and admitting the justice of the accounts stated, did not then or ever admit that said claims were good against the tribe but only against each individual named and as the petitioner has neglected to call on the said indebted persons or ask in any way for pay for many years, the reasons that bar all claims by lapse of time would seem to apply in this case even if the Indians were not specially protected by law.

Second, because the said Joshua Nonesuch, Dolly Poquiantup and Deborah Sobuck have been dead many years, and such effects or property as they died possessed of has been used by their heirs and successors, and the petitioner does not claim that he has ever called on the proper persons for pay, but claims pay out of the tribe funds, the which would rob persons in no wise connected with the said deceased debtors and be absolutely unjust.  And the said Benajah Parson for ten years following the said liquidation of his account was an able bodied laborer fully competent to pay his own debts.  And the said Lydia Waukeet has at times had property and likely may now have sufficient to pay her debt if called on.

Third, because the said George Griswold as overseer in adjusting said accounts did not nor could not pledge the property of the tribe for the debts of said individuals, and he did then no more than his duty and that was to see that the charges against said persons were probably just, and therein as much pledged himself to pay said debts as he did the Niantic Tribe of Indians.

Fourth, because each of the persons so charged in debt were possessed by the old usage of the tribe of land to plant and cultivate as a separate property and some of them had stock and domestic animals as personal property and each one acted and dealt for his or herself as occasion required without control of the overseer, for he acted over the tribe property and did no more than advise in their individual concerns.

Fifth, because the funds the petitioner names as belonging to said tribe were acquired by the overseer in 1826 acting under the resolve of the assembly in 1824, in which it is specially directed that the lands so sold or leased that is the avails thereof should be kept as a perpetual fund and the interest only be annually disbursed to the said tribe or the individuals thereof at the discretion of the overseer.

Sixth, because the petitioner in his petition states that which is not true, when he states that in March 1821, “but a petition was then pending before the proper tribunals for leave to sell some of the land of said Indians to pay the several amounts due from them which petition was afterwards granted."   No such petition before any tribunal in 1821 or at any other time ever existed.  For the only petition relating to the said tribe lands was brought by Moses Warren, then overseer, and bears date the 22nd of March, 1824 to the General Assembly in May following.  To which Your Honors is referred for the reasons and purposes of bringing the same.  And the grant thereon will inform Your Honors whether any overseer is empowered to pay debts of individuals or even the tribe with the interest of the avails that might be acquired by a sale or lease under said resolve or grant.  A like misstatement is made by the petitioner when he “avers that shortly after the adjustment of said accounts and before the sale of said lands said Peter Comstock Esq. was appointed overseer to said tribe”.  The facts are that five years elapsed from the adjusting said accounts to the sale of said lands and the sale was made and all the accounts relating thereto adjusted by the County Court and the definite value of the fund ascertained by the said Warren before your remonstrant was appointed overseer.

Seventh, because the petitioner states his case a hard one, because the statue law bars his suit in the premises, when his case is precisely the same of every other man that deals with an Indian, and there are many as hard cases as those of the petitioner and enough to sweep the whole Indian reservation if the protection of the law is to be dispensed with.

Eighth, because the legislature have authorized the courts of those counties where Indian reservations exist to appoint overseers to the tribes and keep them in a kind of wardship, at the discretion of said County Courts, and no overseer authorized by said courts can put in, pledge, or hypothecate the lands or funds of the tribe, but are specially enjoined to protect the Indians against the claims of selfish avarice.

Ninth, because the claims of the petitioner, with the acts of said George Griswold in the premises have been submitted to the County Court in New London County and by said court rejected as illegal as against said tribe or their overseer.

Tenth, because it is impossible for an individual Indian to make the tribe in debt for his contract or debt.  And no claim can be made by an individual against the tribe unless the overseer approve or order the same before the debt exist, for an overseer hath not the right to alter the nature or validity of an Indian’s contract as an individual and make the tribe accountable, when the claimant originally had no such right.

Eleventh, because Indian titles are not subject to the same laws that govern in civilized communities, their title is from the supreme being and not written deeds and their peculiar manner of inheritance has not been disturbed, when an Indian dies his widow has no dower, but is a proprietor of the tribe lands the same as she was when under covert, his children take no more than the particular ground that the tribe had assigned for his planting grounds, while all the tribe lands belong equally to every individual of whatever sex or age.  The prerogative courts have had nothing to do with estates of deceased Indians, for they could not be lawfully in debt and the manner of descent has been to the living in perpetual succession.  Hence all who have dealt with Indians, well knew that promise was all their dependence.  And the Indians protected from suit as they have been for ages have been as faithful to their promise as others of whatever descent.

Twelfth, because neither debt, by book note or bond, can be recovered of an individual Indian, by suit at law, and if Your Honors sustain the prayer of the petition it would be worse than to repeal the law, for petitions will be numerous and more expensive than courts in the vicinity, and the overseers of all the tribes harassed by like claims till all Indian property is extinguished and such process would be taking the property of those not in debt to pay for such as are or were when in life, but your remonstrant will not believe that Your Honors can authorize such flagrant injustice as to take from one to pay another’s debt.

Humbly submitted for Your Honors consideration,

Peter Comstock, Overseer to Niantic Indians

April 29, 1833                    

Legislative Action:

Remonstrance of the Overseer of the Niantic Indians to the Petition of Vine Utley / House of Representatives, May 1833, Referred to the Committee to whom was referred the Petition of Vine Utley together with the accompanying documents, Loren P. Waldo, Clerk

Cataloguing:

71A, 71B

  • 1. The first Wednesday in May 1833 is May 1.