Apes, William, 1798 - 1839

William Apes, the son of William and Candace Apes of Colrain, Massachusetts, was a minister, orator, and author of the first full-length autobiography by a Native person.  In that volume, he described himself as being black, white, and Indian. When Apes was young, his family removed closer to their ancestral Mohegan and Pequot communities in southeastern Connecticut. As a young boy, he was removed from his grandparents' care and raised as an indentured servant in several white households in New London County.  When he was 15, Apes ran away to join a New York militia unit as a drummer and served on the Northern Front during the War of 1812. After his term expired in 1815, he traveled around Canada, working as a day laborer and visiting Indigenous communities in Eastern Ontario. By early summer of 1817, Apes returned to Connecticut where he followed a vocation to religious life. He married Mary Wood of Salem, Connecticut on December 12, 1821.  The couple would go on to have several children: William B., Solomon, Leonard, Abby Ann, Sally George, Abigail, and possibly Lyman E.  Licensed by the Methodists, Apes became an itinerate minister mainly within the Southern New England-Hudson Valley corridor.  In 1829, he published the story of his life in A Son of the Forest.  Two years later, he directed his religious ministry to his own Pequot community in Ledyard, Connecticut and in 1833 published The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot TribeLater that year, Apes removed to Cape Cod in Massachusetts where he worked among the Mashpee.  Immersed in the political struggles there, he participated in a local protest over wood rights, was arrested and briefly jailed. He later wrote of the event in Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe, which included a critical evaluation of white society.  Through his publications, Apes became a popular but controversial public speaker.  Harassed by creditors, for several years, however, Apes moved to New York City, where he died in 1839.  ANBO.  For more on Apes see O'Connell, On Our Own Ground. and Lopenzina, Through an Indian's Looking-Glass: A Cultural Biography of William Apess, Pequot.   Image 1831 edition of Son of the Forest.

William Apess
January 31, 1798
April 10, 1839