This morning’s New York Times has a depressing story about the continued plunging descent of modern air travel from the glamour of the jet age to the cattle-car status of airborne buses. The too long; didn’t read summary is that airlines are disabling reclining seats and installing “lightweight” seats with less padding and locked backs to jam in another row or two of human livestock to jack up their revenues.
What amazed this 6 foot 2 inch tall victim of the center seat is that the reporter was able to find two dickheads willing to admit they actually recline their seats and whine to the stewardess if thwarted.
Listen to this loser:
“They jam their knee into the back of your seat as hard as they can, and they’ll do it repeatedly to see if they can get a reaction,” said Mick Brekke, a businessman who flies for work a few times a month. “That’s happened to me more than once, and that usually settles down after they realize I’m not going to put it back up.””
and this douchenozzle:
“Odysseas Papadimitriou, the chief executive of WalletHub.com, a personal finance social network, was challenged by a tall passenger seated behind him when he reclined his seat. “He was like, ‘Hey, watch it, buddy. I don’t fit here with you reclining the seat,’ ” he said.
“Mr. Papadimitriou called the flight attendant to mediate the dispute and eventually tilted his seat back, but the price he paid to recline was a fitful night’s sleep, as the other passenger grumbled and pushed against the back of his seat for the rest of the flight.”
Listen up chowderheads. Real men don’t recline. Ever. And they don’t carry man purses, wear capri pants, talk on their cell phone at the dinner table and own luggage with wheels on it. Only the Clampetts and the Obese recline on airplanes. (Business and First is an exception, but then again, Business and First is meant to be an expensive exception, right?)
I never push that little button and push my seat back into the personal space of the passenger behind me. Never. I’ve lost a laptop screen to a jerk pushing their seat back, and have even had the back of my seat ripped off after a 500-pound obese whale of a woman in a sari decided to use my seat as a lifting mechanism to pry herself to her feet to indulge in a bout of explosive diarrhea that resulted in an entire bank of 747 toilets being cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. I spent seven hours riding upright with no seatback whatsoever thanks to that lady.
It is the passenger in front of me, the one who as soon as the plane levels off and the little seatbelt sign goes off with a “bong” that decides it’s Barcalounger time that I want to punch in the back of the head. Yes, I have seen with interest the little seat blocker devices one can use to wedge the seat in front of one’s self into an unreclinable position. I have also braced my knees into the seatback and done my best to thwart the bozo who thinks it’s their god given right to press the button. But never. EVER. Will I be that guy.
Life in Mashpee and Cotuit in the early 19th century was dominated by the fast growth of the Nantucket whaling fishery. Cranberries had not yet been cultivated commercially, transportation on and off the Cape was either by horse and wagon but mainly by ship, and there was little to no tourism in the modern sense of the word. The US Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster, was fond of fishing in Mashpee for sea-run brown trout, and may have lodged in the inn located in Santuit on the eastern banks of the Santuit River, the site of the present Cahoon museum. Other dignitaries, such as Yale’s Timothy Dwight and Ezra Stiles, paid calls on the Reverend Gideon Hawley, the missionary to Mashpee and a graduate of that college’s seminary who also made his home near the major intersection of modern day Routes 28 and 130. The economic life of the region was mostly agricultural and based on either fishing and shellfishing, farming such as could be encouraged from the sandy soil, some livestock, and the supply of manpower for the whaling fishery.
Wampanoag men were very active in the Nantucket whaling fleet and readers may recall that one harpooner of the Pequod, Tashtego, was a Wampanoag from the praying town of Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard. The whaling fishery made a number of Quaker merchants very wealthy men, and for a time Nantucket was one of the most wealthy places on the planet, if not certainly the most international, its crews opening up the South Pacific in the early 19th century for the first time since the voyages of discovery by Cook. Whaling was an extremely dangerous profession and life on the greasy, slow, smoke-belching ships was neither easy nor especially lucrative for ordinary seamen. Some historians say Wampanoag employment in the whaling industry had a terrible effect of attrition on the male population. Those Wampanoag males that remained ashore practiced a subsistence lifestyle based on the traditional agricultural staples of corn, beans and squash, hunting and fishing.
In 1833 Mashpee was still governed by the board of overseers appointed by the Governor and the Trustees of the Williams Fund of Harvard which furnished a minister and funds for his support as well as the maintenance of the old Indian Meetinghouse. An Indian pastor hadn’t ministered to a flock in the meeting house for decades, and by the time the Rev. Gideon Hawley ended his tenure, the Wampanoags had started to drift away from Congregationalism to the Baptists and Methodists, the former led by the Rev. “Blind” Joe Amos, a Wampanoag. In 1809 Harvard appointed one its own, the Reverend Phineas Fish, to be the official missionary and Congregationalist Minister of Mashpee. Fish was paid an annual salary of $520, a $350 “settlement fee” and granted “as much meadow and pasture land, as shall be necessary to winter and summer.” The historian Donald Nielsen, in his essay “The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833″ wrote: “The sale of wood from the parsonage woodlot brought him [Fish] several hundred dollars more per year. Fish was assured a comfortable living on Mashpee land with money designated to help the Indians, yet he was in no way accountable to his flock.”
That lack of accountability, and what emerges through time as a somewhat churlish personality, was the undoing on Phineas Fish and the spark of the Woodlot Revolt. The tinder was supplied by William Apess, a fascinating figure who may stand as the earliest and most eloquent native American writer and activist concerned with native sovereign rights.
Apess was born in Colrain, Massachusetts near the Vermont border in 1798 of mixed-ancestry, a so-called “half-breed” who’s father may have been African American, but who’s mother was full-blooded Pequot Indian originally from southeastern Connecticut. The Pequots were the victims of the first English massacre, one that took place in Mystic, Connecticut in 1637 when a colonial militia surrounded a Pequot fort and killed 400 to 700 women, children and elderly (the able-bodied men were outside of the palisade scouting for the English force and thus spared until later hunted down and killed.)
I digress back two centuries to the first massacre of Indians on American soil only to lay the foundations for Apess’ subsequent activism as a voice for Indian rights. He was raised in terrible conditions, severely beaten by his grandmother at the age of four, raised as an unruly delinquent, raised as a foster child by white parents who despaired of his lying and thievery — traits he freely admits himself in his autobiography, A Native of theForest.He enlisted in a New York state militia regiment bound for the Canadian front during the War of 1812 and became the object of much teasing by older soldiers in his regiment who amused themselves by giving Apess liquor and encouraging his drunkenness. Following the War, Apess lived an itinerant existence throughout southern New England working as a cook and a laborer, eventually falling in love with a Pequot girl also of mixed-race, who reformed his ways and helped him sober up and continue his limited education. She gave birth, a family was started and in 1815 Apess was ordained as a Methodist minister. The historian Barry O’Connell at the University of Massachusetts wrote: “William Apess was a nobody. Born into poverty in 1798 in a tent in the woods of Colrain, Massachusetts, his parents of mixed Indian, white, and possibly African American blood, this babe had attached to him nearly every category that defined worthlessness in the United States.”
The Methodist tradition is one of the itinerant preacher who goes on the road to preach the word of God to whatever willing flock he can find along the way. Apess wrote and self-published A Son of the Forest, the first autobiography by an American Indian, and became increasingly focused on Indian rights and injustices.
In the spring of 1833 Apess, hearing about the thriving Wampanoag community in Mashpee, wrote to the Reverend Fish asking for an opportunity to visit and preach to his fellow Indians. Fish extended an invitation and Apess made his way to Cape Cod.
When Apess took the pulpit at the Old Indian Meetinghouse and began his sermon he became indignant as the lack of any native faces. The congregation was almost entirely white, comprised of worshippers from Cotuit and Santuit for the most part. Apess wrote:
“I turned to meet my Indian brethren and give them the hand of friendship; but I was greatly disappointed in the appearance of those who advanced. All the Indians I had ever seen were of a reddish color, sometimes approaching a yellow, but now, look to what quarter I would, most of those who were coming were pale faces, and, in my disappointment, it seemed to me that the hue of death sat upon their countenances. It seemed very strange to me that my brethren should have changed their natural color and become in every respect like white men.”
Apess finished his sermon, thanked the Reverend and immediately sought out the leaders of the tribe to seek an explanation for why their most cherished building, their church, had been taken over by the whites. The leaders of the Wampanoags, led by the popular Reverend Blind Joe Amos gathered, expressed their grievances with the white-imposed system of oversight, the utter lack of any relationship to the Reverend Fish, and a litany of grievances around white incursions onto Mashpee lands. Apess. obviously a man of words accustomed to persuasion with his tongue, was also a born leader, and he emerged from those first meetings with the tribe as an “adopted” son of Mashpee, granted the trust and authority to represent the Wampanoags in their future dealings with the whites.
As a bit of historical context, 1833 was a time of profound foment in American politics that saw a great deal of chafing between the southern states and the Federal government, a friction that would, three decades later, lead to the War Between the States. In South Carolina, the hotbed of American secessionism, the US Senator John C. Calhoun had led a bitter fight against Federal tariffs under the auspices of “nullication“a long-standing point of Constitutional law that defined the rights of the states to reject or “nullify” Federal legislation and mandates. Apess seized on the contemporary awareness of nullification and applied it to the situation in Mashpee, drafting a manifesto and statement of grievances that in essence said Mashpee was a sovereign nation established by the land grants of Richard Bourne and was in no way subject to the laws and oversight of any government body other than its own. E.g. Mashpee was not subject to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
A petition was drafted and presented to the legislature in Boston. Among its resolutions:
“Resolved: That we as a tribe will rule ourselves, and have the right so to do for all men are born free and Equal says the Constitution of the County.
“Resolved: That we will not permit any white man to come upon our plantation to cut or carry of [sic] wood or hay any other artickle with out our permission after the first of July next.
“Resolved: That we will put said resolutions in force after that date July next with the penalty of binding and throwing them from the plantation If they will not stay a way with out.”
A second petition was filed with Harvard calling for the removal of the Reverend Phineas Fish.
The reaction of the legislature was somewhat benign, but locally, one can imagine the reaction of the whites in Barnstable, Sandwich and Falmouth to the Wampanoag declaration of independence and the setting of a deadline of July 1, 1833 for all whites to evacuate Mashpee. In the Barnstable Patriot, the editor, one Sylvanus Bourne Phinney wrote that Apess had been distributing his pamphlet: “Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe” and stirring up some ugly emotions: “The teachings of this man are calculated to excite the distrust and jealousy of the inhabitants towards their present guardians and minister and with his pretensions to elevate them to what we all wish they might be, he will make them, in their present ill-prepared state for such preaching, ten times more turbulent, uncomfortable, unmanageable and unhappy than they are now.”
After the Wampanoag delegation led by Apess filed their petitions on Beacon Hill in June, 1833, they returned to the Cape “mistakenly supposing Governor Levi Lincoln approved of their reforms.” In fact, other than the local whites in the towns surrounding Mashpee, and the Reverend Phineas Fish, no one appeared to take the Wampanoags seriously.
Later that month the tribe notified the treasurer of the Board of Overseers, Obed Goodspeed, to turnover the plantation’s books and other papers. A tribal council was formally elected on June 25 and public notices were printed and displayed so that “said Resolutions be inforced.” On June 26, Reverend Fish was told “be on the Lookout for another home. We of no Indian that has been converted under your preaching and from 8 to 12 only have been your Constant Attenders. We are for peace rather than any thing else but we are satisfied we shall never enjoy it until we have our rights.”
This got the Reverend Fish’s attention. In panic at the unrest around him, the priggish clergyman wrote a letter to Governor Lincoln and had his predecessor’s son, Gideon Hawley, Jr., deliver it on horseback to Lincoln at the governor’s home in Worcester. Apess wrote afterwards that Fish wrote: “…the Indians were in open rebellion and that blood was likely to be shed .. It was reported and believed among us that he said we had armed ourselves and were prepared to carry all before us with tomahawk and scalping knife; that death and destruction, and all the horrors of a savage war, were impending; that of the white inhabitants some were already dead and the rest dreadfull alarmed! An awful picture indeed.”
An important part of any decent baseball park isthe “batter’s eye” — a blank segment of the outfield, unpopulated by bleacher seats or billboards — a dark backdrop behind the pitcher hat lets the batter see the ball against a solid backdrop. Baseball is full of legends, and one has it that the fans of one home team, before the advent of the batter’s eye, would conspire to wear white t-shirts to make it difficult for the visiting team’s batters to see the ball come off of the pitcher’s hand, and then change to black shirts when the home team came up to bat. Given that sportswriters have declared in a poll that the hardest thing to do in all of sports is to hit a major league fastball, the batters need all the help they can get.
Cotuit’s Elizabeth Lowell Memorial Park is unique among all of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s ten ballparks in that its batter’s eye is an uninterrupted wall of green pine and scrub oaks, a stretch of green that embraces the park on all sides. No houses are visible. No signs. Nothing. Just a big piece of green that is part of one of Cotuit’s best green spaces. The scoreboard, the flag pole, a few fans in lawn chairs, kids optimistically waiting around to shag home runs, and occasional dog walker are all there is out there to break out the perfect green expanse. Spend some time following the Kettleers to other ball fields and you’ll quickly learn how blessed we are in Cotuit to have the best park on the Cape. According to the Kettleers coach Mike Roberts: “The still, green backdrop makes Lowell Park the best field for hitters in the Cape League. What a shame it would be to lose that.”
Lowell Park is undeniably one of the most unique ball fields in America, and readers of a certain vintage will remember when Sports Illustrated made the park famous with an aerial view that put the little green gem in context with the blue waters of Cotuit Bay and the golden strand of Sampson’s Island in the background. I’ve got a framed copy of an aerial shot by my neighbor Paul Rifkin on the wall of my office.
I was at a dinner in San Diego last week with some colleagues and discussion eventually turned to sports. Of course everyone wanted to ask me, the Boston guy about the Red Sox but I told them the story of Cotuit baseball instead: of watching games for free in barefeet as the best college ball players in the country showed off their skills to pro scouts in the most competitive and prestigious summer wooden-bat league in the nation. I used my phone to bring up from Flickr one of those of iconic aerial photos of the perfect park buried in a sea of green trees with the harbor and Nantucket Sound in the background and then passed it around. That picture said it all.
Thanks to the generosity of the Lowell family, one of Cotuit’s stalwart summer families, the forest behind the baseball park has been offered to the Barnstable Land Trust for the very reasonable price of $1.8 million. The BLT has a year to raise the money and I write today to urge my fellow Cotusions to dig deep and do their financial best to help preserve not only the Kettleer’s batter’s eye, but to keep one of the village’s best green spaces green. This land is near the village well fields, backs up to the western half of Mosswood Cemetary (where a recent proposal to build a solar array was thankfully thwarted), and is part of the great stretch of green that welcomes a person arriving in Cotuit on Putnam Avenue, a nearly uninterrupted piece of forest filled with deer, turtles and foxes that includes Eagle Pond, the Bell Farm, the cemetery and the wonderful field at the curve of Putnam and Maple where the yacht club stows its Cotuit Skiffs during hurricanes.
The Lowell family could doubtlessly make some developer happy at two or three times the price and nine starter castles and McMansions could get shoved into the 19 acress of woods. But not if we dig deep and give ourselves and Cotuit baseball a gift of green. A couple things about the fundraiser. While the ballpark is owned by the town, some of it intrudes onto private property (the visitor’s bullpen allegedly). This not only makes for great baseball and will help keep the Kettleers the best team in the league, but is a huge step to preserve Cotuit’s green space and keep another subdivision from further eroding the charm of the village.
Here’s a link to the donation page for the Lowell Park fund on the Barnstable Land Trust’s website.
The sovereign status of the Wampanoag tribe who lived in “Marshpee Plantation,” the praying town established for their benefit by Richard Bourne, is a fascinating story that persists in its telling through modern times as the tribe fought for Federal recognition, its ancestral lands, and its own cultural identity.
In the 18th century, in the aftermath of the King Philip War of 1675, the Wampanoags who lived in Mashpee were joined by members of other tribes, all seeking a community with a common language and practices. The tribe was making a transition from its traditional wetu style of hunter-gather living, moving between winter and summer encampments to seek shelter from the blizzards inland and to be near shellfish during the summer months. The English system of private property and the colonists’ insatiable appetite for land had boxed the tribe into the space defined for them by Richard Bourne, an arrangement known as an “entailment” that forbid the sale of any lands to outsiders without the unanimous consent of the tribe. The Church, so crucial to the formation of the concept of a “Praying Town,” continued to be the dominant social structure in Mashpee, pushing the tribe’s members to adopt English dress, learn English, convert to Christianity and integrate themselves with their non-native neighbors.
That “integration” led to some deplorable practices ranging from “debt slavery” where the Wampanoag were put into the debt of English merchants or farmers and then pressed into forced indenture to work those debts down to a general racism that . The practice of debt enslavement became so acute that the native preacher Simon Popmonet (a descendant of the sachem Paupmunnuck) complained to the legislature about the terrible practice which saw children and elderly alike pressed into unpaid labor. It was noted that a father and son, working off a debt, worked as a crew of a Nantucket whaling ship and for two consecutive three-year voyages forfeited their entire wages to the ship’s owners as part of their debt service.
The Anglicization of the tribe, the conversion to Christianity, the impact of war (many Wampanoags fought in the Revolutionary War), the terrible effects of alcohol and the high mortality of the whale fishery cut deeply into the male population. The gender imbalance — brought about the lasting after effects of the post-war retributions (a large number of Wampanoags were forcibly relocated to Bermuda), the impact of the Nantucket whaling fishery, and the general violent, short life-span of a 17th century male — left a void in the Mashpee society. Widows turned to the church and the tribe’s members began to intermarry with members of other tribes, African-Americans, even Hessian mercenaries who made their way to Mashpee after the end of the Revolutionary War.
The tribe that remained, several hundred at most, clustered together in three settlements — one near Ashumet Pond, another near the shores of Santuit Pond, and a third near Nantucket Sound and South Cape Beach. There was no form of government aside from the traditional tribal structure of sachems and sagamores. The rulers of the tribe were a board of white overseers, appointed first by Harvard College who provided for the tribe’s religious needs by educating and sending it a succession of ministers, and then the State. No Wampanoag served on the board of overseers. The overseers provided the tribe with a succession of preachers — all Congregational, the prevalent denomination of the English and the faith of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the early movement led by Jonathan Edwards and John Eliot to convert “the poor blind Indians in New-England.”
The center of the tribe’s life was a meeting house constructed in the late 1670s after the conclusion of King Philip’s War on Briant’s Neck on the southern shore of Santuit Pond, not far from the ancient tribal village, herring run on the Santuit River, and the mound of the Trout Grave. The building was built by Richard Bourne’s son, Shearhashaub with the construction funded by the Williams Fund of Harvard College, the primary source of funds for the religious needs of Mashpee through the 19th century. The meetinghouse was rebuilt at one point, and in 1717 it was moved by oxcart to its present location on Route 28, the old Falmouth-Barnstable road about one mile west of the Santuit River, on a hill above the Mashpee River.
The pastors and preachers of Mashpee were:
Richard Bourne, 1670-1685
Simon Popmonet, 1685-1729
Joseph Bourne, 1729-1742
Gideon Hawley, 1758-1807
Phineas Fish, 1808-1833
“Blind Joe” Amos, 1810-1836
William Apess, 1833-1835
The last of the ministers subsidized by Harvard’s Williams Fund was Phineas Fish. He and his predecessors were provided for by the Corporation of Harvard College and were given the rights to a woodlot on the eastern side of town, a common parsonage arrangement in colonial times that permitted the minister to gain an income beyond the collection plate by selling pasturage or logging rights to others. That woodlot would prove to be the flash point of this story.
The 1700s were a time of complaint and friction by the Indians of Mashpee against the incursions of the white settlers that surrounded them on three sides. Delegations were sent to Boston to complain about debt slavery, white squatters, trespassing on Indian lands and other grievances. In 1762, Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale College, one might assume as a guest of the recently installed Hawley. In his journal he placed the population of Mashpee at 250, consisting of about 75 familiesscatteredthroughout the plantation living in “about 60 wigwams (Wetus) and 6 houses.” The Stiles map shows there was no village or other definiable concentrations of population, though there were pockets around Ashumet Pond, Santuit Pond and South Cape. The dwellings on Stiles map approximate the location of the so-called “ancient-ways” – the early paths.
Campisi writes in The Mashpee Indians, Tribe on Trial, “The map supports the view that the Mashpees were geographically, as well as socially isolated from the white settlers. The bulk of their residents as well as the church, the principal meeting place, were on the south side of the plantation.”
The parsonage, or home of the minister was located near the present day intersections of Route 28 and Route 130 near the Santuit River/Santuit line. Gideon Hawley’s home is near the gas station on the northwest corner of the intersection, located on a slice of land that the old maps indicates was actually part of Sandwich (for reasons unknown to this writer, along with another piece designated as Sandwich near where the Santuit River pours into Shoestring Bay. Phineas Fish, the minister who succeeded Hawley, made his home a bit to the north, just south of the Trout Mound.
Phineas Fish is the key player in the factors that led to the Woodlot Revolt of 1833. After graduating from Harvard in 1807 he was appointed as the official missionary and Congregationalist Minister of Mashpee by the overseers in 1809. He was granted an annual salary of $520, a $350 “settlement” fee and “as much meadow and pasture land, as shall be necessary to winter and summer.” According to Donald Nielsen in The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833, “The sale of wood from the parsonage woodlot brought him several hundred dollars more each year. Fish was assured a comfortable living on Mashpee land with money designated to help the Indians, yet he was in no way accountable to his Indian flock.”
The Reverend Fish was not popular with the Indians. As non-tribal residents came into town and intermarried with the old Wampanoag familes, they brought with them new denominations that threatened the Congregationalist hold over the Plantation. By the time Fish arrived in Mashpee the tribe had shifted their religious allegiances to the Baptists and an Indian preacher named Blind Joe Amos. Fish, from his pulpit in the Indian’s Meetinghouse, ministered to an increasingly white-flock, most of whom (one can assume) were residents of Cotuit. In reflecting on the Indian’s tergiversation from his ministry, Fish wrote that he had “survived” as many as seven different sectarian preachers and “felt pain in seeing these good houses used for the purposes of Baptist and Methodist meetings….the sectarian busy bodies now feel quite sure of demolishing the remnant of Congregationalism…Religion should be respectable and orderly. The Indians are given to excitement and revivalism.”
Fish’s religious differences and take over of the Meetinghouse was only one reason his presence in the town caused the tribe to resent him. A particular sore point was his decision to lease the logging rights of the woodlot to two Cotuit brothers, the Sampsons.
Thoreau in his account of his walk down the sandy peninsula, Cape Cod, wrote of the deforested wasteland that was the Cape in the 19th century. Deforestation to fuel the Sandwich Glass factory, to speed the evaporation of sea water for the production of sea salt, and the general sparse sandy soil made trees a premium on Cape Cod in the 19th century. Cut off from commerce, its economy based on fish, shellfish, the harvesting of salt hay, and the employment of its men as whalers and sailors, a commodity as basic as a cord of fire wood was a very valuable asset. The overseers of Mashpee “do not allow more wood to be carried to market, than can be spared; but it is for the general interest, that three or four hundred cords should be annual exported to Nantucket and other places.”
Old photographs of the Cotuit waterfront show immense stacks of cordwood on piers awaiting loading on packet schooners bound for Nantucket. Cordwood Lane which leads through the woods of Eagle Pond to Cotuit’s Inner Harbor is one vestige of the old cordwood trade. Grand Island or Oyster Harbors, was long a woodlot worked to supply Nantucket’s insatiable demand for fuel. If Thoreau found Cape Cod devoid of trees, then Nantucket was bald, a sandy moor that demanded huge amounts of wood for the whaling ships that needed to render whale blubber into whale oil on the big brick tryworks that sat amidships. Cotuit was perfectly positioned navigationally as the port of preference for the wood trade. With the prevailing breezes from the southwest in the summer and the northeast in the winter, a schooner could make the 25 mile voyage across Nantucket Sound on a single tack in each direction. The Reverend Fish’s woodlot, a scant two miles from Cotuit Bay, was perfectly positioned to supply that trade. The overseers had no problem with opening up Mashpee’s natural bounties to the whites, most of whom harbored resentment of the riches left untouched inside of Richard Bourne’s Praying Town. The overseers rented lands inside of Mashpee’s borders to the whites for the grazing of livestock, they auctioned off wood shares, permitted fishing and shellfishing on its streams and ponds, and, in Nielsen’s words, “the overseers believed there was plenty for all.”