Response of the Chappaquiddick Indians to John Norton's Petition to the Massachusetts General Court

To His Excellency Francis Bernard, Esq., Governour and Captain General in Chief, in and over His Majesty’s Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, and to the Honourable His Majesty’s Council and the Honourable House of Representatives in General Court Assembled
 
The answer of the Indians of Chappaquiddick in the county of Dukes County to the petition of John Norton of Edgartown in the county aforesaid, as agent to the proprietors of said Chappaquiddick, humbly sheweth that some years since your respondents petitioned Your Excellency and Honours for relief as we groaned under certain oppressions from the English inhabitants of Edgartown and more, especially from some persons that had built houses and enclosed land on said Island upon which a Committee of the General Court was sent to examine into the premises ,who after a very diligent search and thorough examination into that affair, reported that the purchases on said island was illegal.
 
Notwithstanding which, it seems that no relief is yet granted unto your respondents and we have laboured ever since under the same grievances as we did before our petitioning or rather have those grievances increased as the little finger of the present occupiers of that island seems thicker than their father’s loins.1 But as if nothing would satisfy the inhabitants of Edgartown short of our entire and speedy extirpation, they have now, by their agent, petitioned to have those illegal purchases confirmed unto them, knowing that if this be done we cannot subsist unless we can live without food as the purchases, we suppose, include almost all the tillage land worth planting.  But if there be any left, we cannot fence the same for our wood is taken up almost by the purchasers.  Moreover, if the above mentioned purchases be confirmed, we know not why the English proprietors and inhabitants may not come to a division and enclose separately.   Whereas, we not having wherewithal to fence, can keep no creatures in the summer.   Moreover the beaches being purchased already, we can keep no creatures in the winter season, for the salt meadows being heretofore ceded to the English by the General Court ( which the proprietors have strictly adhered to so far as anything was granted to them but not regarding the same any further ).  And we not having meadows and obliged to improve the beaches in the winter, which if enclosed separately, our horses must perish.  
 
For these reasons and many others, we pray that Your Excellency and Honors would not grant the prayer of the petitioner as it must prove the ruin of the poor Indians in a very short time.  Your respondents observe that the petitioner takes notice of an extraordinary prohibition upon them from purchasing of those lands which they had a liberty of purchasing before, notwithstanding an act of the province confirming to the inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard such privileges.  This, however it may be complained of by others, it seems cannot be complained of by the petitioner as the English and Indians at that time it seems gave all up to be settled upon them in such a manner as the General Court should think fit, who accordingly settled it upon the best evidence then to be had, undoubtedly, for it cannot be supposed that so wise a body of men as constituted that Court would have so ordered that affair as they did were it not left to them.  
 
Your respondents beg leave further to observe upon the petition that the petitioner suggest to Your Excellency and Honors that, from the fewness of the Indian inhabitants, the lands are grown over with wild grass.  We are not able to see to what purpose this was suggested unless it be to shew that it would be no great matter to take an estate from a family that are so small that they cannot improve the same to the best advantage and give the same to those who should have courage enough to ask for it.  We humbly conceive that what lands the proprietors of Edgartown and others have purchased since the award confirmed by the General Court long since and which award must be supposed to be awarding to what was then left to them to determine are illegal.  And we are certain that if the present petition be granted and the purchasers confirmed we shall be slaves to the said proprietors or must leave our lands, those few parcels yet unpurchased, as we cannot improve the same and flee to some other parts where we may live in peace and free from vexatious law suits which we have been so much worried with of late years from the English settlers of Chappaquiddick.
 
As to the other parts of the present petition, as they do not relate to us, we think we have nothing to do to answer them.  It will not matter us (if we are to be ruined) whether our destroyers be just or unjust with each other in sharing their booty or not. Upon the whole, we pray that the ancient award relative  to this island may be strictly adhered to that some relief may be granted to your respondents agreeable to our former petition.
 
And your respondents, us, in duty bound shall ever pray.

      Marks2

John Joelmark
Job Waneymark
 
Patience Duchmark 
Patience Ezekielmark  
Ruth Waneymark
 
Chappaquiddick, November 16, 1767
 
And we received your letter November 10, 1767
 

Endorsement:

Chappaquiddick Indians Answer to Mr. Norton’s Petition

Cataloguing:

444, 445, 446

  • 1. Biblical reference from 1 Kings 12:10 suggesting that the efforts by the current proprietors to occupy and obtain title to the Chappaquiddick’s land far exceeds that of their forbearers.
  • 2. In the original, the signatory list was divided into two columns, one for men and the other for women. Here they are combined into one column, the two are separated by a line space
  • 3. Based on contemporary petitions, this is likely Mark Curdoody, Jr.