Petition of John Tantaquidgeon and Others to Divide Tribal Lands

1To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives in General Court Assembled

We, your humble petitioners, beg leave to say that we, in common with all our race, feel much aggrieved in consequence of our situation, a situation to be deplored by every intelligent being on Earth, and as things now are it cannot be helped.  All the overseers in the world could not better our condition and nothing can effectually remove the foul blot of degradation from us but the abrogation of the laws which bind us to be state paupers, which open a door for the convenience of unprincipled white men to rob us of our temporal rights and, the more respected, our natural rights.  But, we cannot but think but those laws were intended of good in the first instance, but we fear there was not love enough in the hearts of the white men to think of raising any of us to be equal with themselves in common rights because we were Indians, though your fathers were willing enough to put themselves under the protection of Uncas, our chief, until they were able to protect themselves.  And our chief never deprived the white man of his rights, as we have been by the white man deprived of ours.  Though we must acknowledge that we ought to be thankful for the least favor, for when we pass the beautiful plains of Norwich and spy those lofty temples and shining spears and decorated fields, one spread with fine marble buildings and realize it was Uncas’, our noble chief’s possession.  And that he presented it to our white friends in token of his friendship and that of his tribe forever.  And in return we see our sachem’s grave so beautifully decorated with a fine costly granite just out of the quarry in all its natural qualities, doubtless to keep in remembrance his natural looks, but to be never forgotten doubtless was the aim.2  We, however, requested that his granite was not polished on one side, so as to show the polished arts of our white brethren by cutting his age and death, but we feel very grateful as it is.  You will understand from this, however, that we have a desire to advance a step from the natural quarry of the granite, and become citizens and enjoy our rights in common with our white friends.  We should think the state could have no objection of giving us a trial at least, to take care of ourselves, for we know that no one can feel that interest in our affairs that we do.

And we cannot believe that you would willingly oppress us, for we do not know why you should unless some feel that it is a disgrace to acknowledge an Indian to be a man and [ illegible ] as such be treated.  But this ought to be nothing in the way, for we can’t help our creation.  You must settle that with the author of our existence and bring him before Your Honorable body and question him and not us.  And we should think it more proper if you can do it in your high court to degrade him than us.  And we have so good opinion of the Great Spirit, our father, that we do not believe he wants us in this situation.  But we sincerely hope that there is not one in the court that wants to degrade us any longer.  And we would suggest one thing while you are making laws for poor Indians, ask yourself this question: Should I be willing to live under such laws and regulations as is made for the Indians, and do you make such laws for yourselves? No.  Showing, of course, that you would not.  Then do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.

But we cannot see why we should not have our rights as well as the Cherokees.  You recollect how high the excitement was in this state upon that subject and every man apparently felt indignantly upon that subject and cried, “Shame, Shame.”3 But, it is true we are but few in number yet liberty to us is as sweet as it could be to the Cherokees.  At any rate, we feel that our fathers has done more for the good of Connecticut then all the other tribes put together.  You are willing the African should enjoy his right of taking care of himself in any part of the state, but you are not willing we should enjoy ours.  People coming from other countries may come here and enjoy all the rights of citizens, do their business in their own way; and yet never assisted you at all.

But we, who have done all we could, have not had the least privilege, not even to sell a basket without being called to account for it if the laws were enforced.  And we are tired of such living.  But we would, under present circumstances, wish to be rightly understood.  We do not ask for permission to sell our lands or have it so it may go out of our hands.  We want it all divided and each one to have his right and hold it in fee simple.  And that portion of us that are able, either male or female, have the management of it ourselves.  And if there is any that cannot, we are willing that that portion of our tribe should be seen to and we are willing to do what we can for them.  But as the laws now are, the idle have as good a law as the industrious.  But you do not make such laws for yourself.  And if you wish our welfares, we are sure that you will do something in fulfilling the promises your fathers’ made to our fathers’ years ago.  And we ask what use is it to educate our children and bring them up in this way to be savages from their cradle to the grave.  You must say, as we say, none at all.  We have it to say we are thankful for our meeting house and school house, and our good friend Mr. Gleason, our present missionary, who also has expressed a willingness we should rise and become honorable citizens in this Commonwealth4 and is doing what he can for us.  And we hope that as the laws are in our way, as they now are, you will remove the obstacle out of the way and give us and our missionary a fair trial to recover.

And as in Duty bound will ever pray,

Sally Tantaquidgeon5                       
 
Montville, Mohegan, Indiantown, March 23, 1836

Legislative Action:

John Tantaquidgeon and Others Petition to Divide Tribe Lands / Entered May Session 1836, No. 149,  Robinson S. Hinman, Secretary / House of Representatives 1836, Referred to Joint Committee on Judiciary, William P. Burall, Clerk / In Senate 1836, Concurred, Robinson S. Hinman, Clerk

Cataloguing:

5A-5E

  • 1. Through textual analysis and handwriting comparison, editors have determined that Rev. William Apes, the noted activist and minister, authored this document. The text differs dramatically in form, style, and rhetoric from the petitions usually submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly.
  • 2. Apes is, no doubt, referring to when President Andrew Jackson participated in the ceremonies for the laying of the cornerstone for Uncas monument in Mohegan Royal Burial Ground in Norwich, Connecticut on June 18, 1833. The granite shaft was erected and dedicated on July 4, 1842. Jackson was intimately linked to the removal of the Cherokees referenced earlier in the petition by Apes. Norwich Courier, June 19, 1833, 3. "The Uncas Monument-Col. Stone's Address," Norwich Courier, July 13, 1842, 1.
  • 3. For Apes' thumbprint on this document, cf. the repetition of the words Shame in his Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe, in Barry O'Connell, ed. A Son of the Forest and Other Writings (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992, 1997), 67.
  • 4. Apes’ use of the term “Commonwealth” with respect to Connecticut may be a function of his more recent work in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • 5. The identity of Sally Tantaquidgeon is unclear. There are two possibilities: Sally Brooks, the wife of John Tantaquidgeon or Sally Tecomwas/Tantaquidgeon, the wife of Jacob H. Fowler.