Letter of Phineas Fish to John T. Kirkland

Reverend Sir,

It has been a long time indeed since I have made a statement of affairs in this place. Had I known that anything of the kind had been particularly expected, I should have done it, though there is seldom anything of an interesting nature to be mentioned, and my letters might be tiresome. I must beg you to admit my omission to answer your letter1 sooner to an apology. Your letter travelled some out of the way and since receiving it, I thought I would wait a little in order to bestow somewhat more attention to the subjects on which I should write than convenient then. In future I will unless otherwise instructed, make an annual statement, or oftener if required, of the religious and moral condition of the people here.

I wish I could give a more pleasing account of the Indians. But though I hope all efforts for their good are not unavailing, yet taking them as a whole, I fear their course is retrograde. They need more schools.  As it is, most of them find means to teach their children to read, yet if they could be more accustomed to the discipline of a good school, it, would unquestionably have a happy influence upon their character and habits.

Last summer and summer before my wife2 and I undertook a Saturday school. The plan was to meet all the children and of a descriptions, that would come at the Church to converse with them familiarly and hear them repeat passages of scripture, hymns, etc. Through the first season they attended with much interest and some of the Coloured children would frequently recite with very little prompting a whole chapter from the Gospels. Last season, their interest declined. The parents often wanted their children, and some said it was too far to send in the heat of summer. We kept on for some time, till not being able to collect more than four or five, we thought it best at least for a time to discontinue the school. I have now some thoughts of meeting the children in different parts of the District perhaps once a month, wherever it may be most convenient for them to come together. I think difference is perceptible in some of the children in consequence of what has been done for them already and I have seen enough to feel convinced that the best prospect of doing good is amongst the young.

The Church rather languishes. There has been not addition of a Coloured person for three or four years. I have now a hope of two or three. There are several, who would probably do very well should they make a profession. But when I have conversed with these on the subject, they have expressed fears lest they should only have, as others have done heretofore, who set out with great ardor, and soon returned to their habits of profligacy. Indeed I have had so many proofs of the instability of the Indian character, that I have myself been very cautious (perhaps excessively so) how I urged them to come into covenant obligations. Those who now profess conduct with general propriety. Isaac Coombs, the deacon, proves a very substantial and exemplary character. He has more than ordinary solidity of mind. None have hitherto pretended to impeach his character, I may say, in the smallest matter and he is really very useful among us.

The people of Colour attend public worship at present better than at almost any period of any being among them. I hope it is a favorable symptom. The more respectable Baptists have relaxed much of that rigidness, which has been so peculiar to them; attend religious meetings with considerable constancy and some of them have proposed coming to communion.

Some of the Indians are industrious. I lately witnessed a remarkable specimen of this. Going to preach at the house of one of them who is near ninety and has for a long time been rather remarkable for sobriety, on approaching his dwelling, I saw him at a little distance on his knees, occupied in digging up the soil with a hoe.3 During the fine weather of last winter, though almost totally blind, he has actually in that manner conquered a considerable piece of rough land. I wish that industry could be more generally promoted among them to keep them from those low and brutal vices which [ hole ]ever fails to be the attendant of indolence. [ hole ]and preach occasionally among them as I have for[ hole ]ly done, and I hope something may be done to justify your trouble and expense in establishing me in this place. Any advice which you may think proper to offer me will be very acceptable.

I am, Reverend Sir, your most obedient humble servant,

Mashpee, May 1, 1824


Cotuit Village §§   10      

May 1st [ crossout ]

Rev. John T. Kirkland, D.D.



Reverend Phineas Fish, Missionary / May 1, 1824



  • 1. Kirkland's letter was not part of the Harvard record book.
  • 2. Fish's wife was Phebe Gardner, the daughter of Gideon Gardner and Hepsabeth Joy of Nantucket, Massachusetts.
  • 3. This person is currently unidentified.