I’m trying to walk off some weight and hit the road on Sunday to take a stroll through Mosswood Cemetery and around Eagle Pond. Winter is the best time for marching around in the woods. No leaves have sprouted to obscure the views and few if any people are out on a grey afternoon. First stop was the hill atop Old Shore Road at the bend on Putnam Avenue. In behind the old Ropes property is this sad barn. The cupola crashed in during Sandy in the fall of 2012. A tarp was hauled over the hole, and you can see some strapping on what remains, so who knows, it may get rebuilt or it may vanish like so many other old sheds and barns around the village.
Onwards to Mosswood Cemetery, to look at the Churbuckian headstone, all covered with lichens, the plot littered with winter’s blown sticks. Always strange to think that my name will get stuck there in the ground some day. Only my grandfather Henry is actually buried there. Grandmother Nellie and my father were cremated, so all that remains of them are the stones. I reminded myself for the umpteenth time to visit the cemetery office and see what the deal is with the family plot. It’s interesting to see the changes to the cemetary and the graves that get extraordinary attention, with little solar powered lights, bunches of plastic flowers, ornate laser inscribed tombstones with pictures and poetry. Nothing like the old Yankee practice of sticking up a name, a birthday and death date and then moving on.
I went up the hill to the old section, where the 19th century family plots are. The Chatfields and Fishers and Fields and Hodges — the old unmet names of great-aunts and uncles gathered together. The oldest stones are pretty beat up, with some interesting information that belies the nautical past. “Died in Rio de Janiero” or “Drowned, Cotuit Bay 1842.” One of the oldest stones is of one of my oldest ancestors, Azubah Handy, wife of Bethuel Handy, mother of Bethuel Handy Jr., the Cotuit whaler who spent a winter stranded in the Siberian ice of the Sea of Okhotsk until my great-great grandfather Tom Chatfield could sail back from San Francisco and rescue his father-in-law.
Azubah was one of the first to be buried in the cemetery (1819) (I don’t know where the colonial graves of Cotuit are). Her inscription is one of the most wordy in Mosswood, a poem that was oft quoted to me as a kid:
“My bosom friend come here and see
Where lays the last remains of me
When I the debt of nature paid
A burying yard for me was made.
Here lays the body of your bride
The loving knot is now untied
A loving husband you have been,
To me the dearest of all men.
Husband and children here I lay
Stamp on your minds my dying day
Come often here and take a view
Where lays the one that loved you.”
Onwards to the gate in the fence between the boneyard and Bell Farm, the old turkey farm that was nearly turned into a subdivision in the 1980s before being saved by the Barnstable Land Trust and preserved as a gorgeous meadow with my favorite tree in all of Cotuit.
Then out of the meadow and into the woods where the box turtles live and risk the walk across busy Putnam, remembering the old Bell Farm barn with the roof that was painted with “GREEN ACRES” in homage to a television series from the 1960s that had something to do with a Hungarian countess (Zsa Zsa Gabor) living on a hillbilly farm. The roof of the barn in the TV show was used in the title, and some vandal wit decided to paint the abandoned barn so everyone driving into Cotuit would catch a glimpse. Every so often the owner of the barn would pay someone to paint the shingles black, which was tantamount to erasing a blackboard for the next vandals to climb up there and do some nocturnal graffiti.
Eventually the place was knocked down and now the village has a great meadow.
Anyway, down the trail into the woods and over the planked bridge over Little River, one of Cotuit two “rivers” as the Cape is fond of calling it’s glacial streams Rivers in lieu of having anything truly big and wide and flowing. (the other river being the Santuit River). Little River runs from Lovell’s Pond in Newtown, the northernmost part of Cotuit adjacent to Santuit. A pretty little pond that is stocked with trout by the state and has one of the town’s fresh water beaches. I’ve never seen any evidence of Little River other than its delta on Handy’s Point into the bay, the glimpse next to Bell Farm, and a pool in back of my cousin’s workshop a little further to the north. I’m sure it was a herring run at one point, probably holding smelt too, but the cranberry industry killed off most of the runs when the bogs dammed up the flow and diverted the water to flood the cranberry vines.
I walked around Eagle Pond at a fast pace, working up enough of a sweat to need to unzip my jacket. I popped back out on Little River Road and followed it to one of Cotuit’s nicest little neighborhoods, home to the Cotuit Oyster Company, and Handy’s Point, the promontory where my oldest Cape Cod ancestors once lived, having come to Cotuit in the late 1600s from Mattapoisett to build ships. I’ll scan some of the old black and white photos eventually, but Little River, also known as the Inner Harbor, was a bit of a separate village within a village in the 18th and 19th centuries, connected to Cotuitport by the Old Post Road, but separated by Little River. According to Chatfield’s reminiscences, he left for a Pacific whaling voyage with his wife and young family living in the Handy home on Handy’s Point, but his wife Florrie, isolated from the village by the river, sold the place and moved the clan into the village center. On his return three years later he rushed home to the old place, only to find the family gone. He hitched a ride into town on a wagon and was pointed to his new home in the center. Shame, it is a pretty piece of waterfront and in the 19th century was the home of Mark Anthony DeWolfe Howe, a prominent Boston editor and winner of the Pulitzer prize. That house has been reskinned a few times over the year and now looks like the typical non-Cape wedding cake temple to the gods of plate glass and rococo railings, faux widow’s walks, and brass lanterns with plastic adirondack chairs that no one sits in arranged in a row on the Chem-lawned grass.
One big hurricane and the place will be underwater. There was a reason the oldtimers considered waterfront living to be a questionable thing, and I suspect the Chatfield-Handy exodus from Handy’s Point to the village center was viewed as a climb up the social ladder, just as getting out of town in the 1950s to live in suburban Boston was viewed as a good thing by my grandparents.
I walked down the beach, past the pissed off “PRIVATE BEACH! NO CHAIRS!” signs — one of the “signs of the times” of modern Cotuit and the Hedge Fundification of the waterfront that has brought us evil looking security cameras and warnings to keep moving — and around the peat bank to the terminus of Little River. Some old pilings give proof of an old bridge there, but, alas, I had to ford it Taras Bulba-style, and wound up with a wet leg.
The woodlots of Mashpee were mostly probably near the Santuit River in the immediate vicinity of Reverend Fish’s parsonage which abutted Santuit less than a mile south of the Trout Mound grave. Given the need to haul the cordwood to Cotuit Bay for shipment to Nantucket, and the arrangement which permitted the Reverend Fish to lease logging rights to help defray his living expenses and the costs of the Indian Meetinghouse, one can assume the location of the woodlot at the center of this story of rebellion and nullification was somewhere near the current intersection of Routes 28 and 130 near the historical center of Wampanoag life near the nexus of the herring run and Santuit Pond. The lots were worked by two brothers, Joseph and William Sampson, sons of Squire Josiah Sampson, the landowner who built “Sampson’s Folly” on the Old Kings Road and owned the grist mill on the Santuit River near the site of Maushop Stables, a horse farm and equestrian center near greens and fairways of the modern Willowbend golf course. The Sampsons were Cotuit gentry, an old colonial family intermarried with the Crockers, perhaps the oldest and most venerable clan in colonial Santuit. They were landowners, and Sampson’s Island, the sand spit at the head of Cotuit Bay is named for them.
The Sampson brothers probably had a crew of men, perhaps even Wampanoags, to help them clear, cut, and stack the scrub oak and pine. Oxen were the preferred beast of burden on Cape Cod, so one can picture a group of men, in shirtsleeves on a humid early summer day, toiling in the shady woods with the back breaking task of loading chopped piles of wood onto wagons for the two mile trip down a sandy Main Street to the piers around Cotuit’s Hooper’s Landing. It would have been of no surprise to the Sampsons or any white man living in the area, that the tribe was agitated and looking for a confrontation. In fact, Apess wrote afterwards the Sampsons “were known to have vowed to disregard the Mashpee’s declarations” to stay out of Mashpee. The events of July 1, 1833, a deadline declared by Apess and the tribe in their grievances were foretold and to be expected: the Reverend Fish’s panicked missive to the Governor, the shrill attention paid to the affair in the Barnstable Patriot,and the fact that most of the congregation in the “Indian” meetinghouse were white parishioners from Santuit and Cotuit doubtlessly made the Wampanoag’s growing unrest a topic of hot discussion and the source of great fear. The events that took place that Monday morning had been set into motion months before.
It began when Apess went for a “walk” in the woods that morning. The Sampsons and two other men were loading wood onto a wagon. Doubtlessly they had been working the lot for sometime, the sounds of axes and saws and their labor announcing their intention for sometime, so while Apess’ account of the events makes it appear it was a chance encounter, on may assume he was out looking for trouble at a known location of white incursion.
Apess confronted the four whites, told them to unload the wagons and leave, and when they refused, he left to gather some support, returning soon thereafter with eight Wampanoag men.
No punches were thrown or weapons brandished. There is no record of a fight or assault of any kind and the confrontation ended with the departure of the whites from Mashpee back over the Santuit River to Cotuit. And so ended one of the first acts of peaceful civil disobedience by a native tribe in the history of the United States, an act made by one of the first tribes to be subjugated, defeated and assimilated by the whites, a precursor to decades of rebellion, atrocity and contempt between other tribes as the country expanded west to find its manifest destiny and uprooted one tribe after another. Wounded Knee, Little Big Horn, the Trail of Tears … what happened in the woods that morning was perhaps the first and most overlooked statement of independence and revolt by a native tribe in the two hundred year history of white/Indian relations.
As Apess and the Wampanoags made their stand, Governor Lincoln had been roused by the Reverend Fish’s panicked missive and sent a personal emissary, one Josiah Fiske, a member of the Governor’s Council, to Mashpee to investigate. Fiske arrived the following day, July 2, 1833 and spread the word that he wanted to meet with the tribe on Wednesday the 3rd. Fiske carried instructions from the Governor to “confine your actions to the application of the civil power…the Sheriff will, with your advice, call out the posse comitatus, and should there be reasons to fear the efficiency of this report, I will be present personally, to direct any military requisitions.”
Governor Lincoln was on the verge of sending in the militia to quell the Wampanoag rebellion.
No one showed up to Fiske’s meeting. In a classic power play, the tribe refused to acknowledge Fiske and instead, the president of the tribe, Daniel Amos,delivered to Fiske an invitation to meet the tribe at the meetinghouse. Ironically, the tribe, so alienated from the historic building given to them by Richard Bourne, a church that had turned its back on them and become a place of worship for Cotuit’s whites, didn’t have a key to their own meetinghouse and had to break in to open the door.
Fiske arrived at the meeting with the sheriff of Barnstable County, John Reed, in a display of legal force. Reed told the tribe they were breaking the law and Apess indignantly replied: “…the laws ought to be altered without delay, that it was perfectly manifest they were unconstitutional; and that, even if they were not so, there was nothing in them to authorize the white inhabitants to act as they had done.”
What Apess declared was the very contemporary concept of “nullification” that had been sweeping the political debate in the nation’s capital. Students of early American History know a central issue was the definition of federal versus state rights and striking a balance between local and central rule. In South Carolina, perhaps the most fervent hotbed of states rights, the US Senator John C. Calhoun had lobbied vigorously in Congress to shift power from the federal government back to the states, and the South Carolina legislature has passed an “Ordinance of Nullification” declaring some pernicious and unpopular federal tariffs to be unconstitutional. Apess seized on this political concept of “nullification” and afterwards, in his account of the Woodlot Revolt, referred to it as an act of nullification by the Wampanoags, essentially a rejection of the concept that Mashpee and its natives were subject to the laws of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nullification, in the context of the events of 1833, was a statement of sovereign status, in essence declaring the “plantation of Marshpee” to be its own political entity, an “island” ruled by its people, and not the laws of those towns and counties and state that surrounded it like an ocean of American regulations.
Nullification for the Wampanoags was nothing less than a declaration that they rejected the paternal overseer system, rejected the authority of Harvard College to select its minister, and that they were going to revert to the intentions of Richard Bourne in declaring Mashpee to be an autonomous place owned by Wampanoags, governed by Wampanoags, and free from the rule of American law.
Whatever the eloquent Pequot activist said on July 4, 1833 to Fiske and Sheriff Reed, it didn’t matter. Apess was arrested on the spot by Reed and hauled off to jail in Barnstable village where he was arraigned on charges of inciting a riot and trespassing. Fiske immediately wrote the Governor that the arrest “had the desired effect” and that the rebellion was crushed. He described Apess’ arrest: “The Indians seemed to have forgotten for a moment that they had muskets with them, and looked with perfect amazement at the sheriff when he had taken their champion from the Moderator’s seat in the meetinghouse and conducted him with great dignity to a seat in his carriage at the door.”
Apess was released on bail after a few nights in jail and returned to Mashpee. The whites in Cotuit and throughout the Cape were not pleased that he was free. Apess wrote: ”
Apess on the white reaction: “They bellowed like mad bulls and spouted like whales mortally gored by the harpoon, I do not think the figure of speech would be too strong. There was a great deal of loose talk and a pretty considerable uproar.”
No one expected that Apess would be able to keep up his agitation for long, and certainly no one expected a white man to come to his defense. But one brilliantly did, a Cape Cod native and attorney, Benjamin F. Hallett. Born in Barnstable, educated at Brown, Hallet studied the law and began a career as a liberal journalist in Providence, the progressive traditional refuge of liberalism and tolerance founded by Roger William in reaction to the tyrannical strictures of the old witch burning Puritans. Hallett went on to be editor of the Boston Advocate and the Boston Daily Advertiser —this was the golden age of very politically biased newspapers and Hallett’s were definitely far to the left, presaging the abolitionist movement blossoming among the intellectual Brahmins of Boston and Concord. An active Democrat, Hallett was anti-Masonic and very outspoken. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress later in his career, and eventually was appointed the United Stated District Attorney for Massachusetts by President Franklin Pierce.
Apess could not have asked for a better defender than Hallett. Not only was Hallett a Cape Codder, he was a skilled and excellent litigator backed by the power of his own newspaper. Hallett made Apess famous among the abolitionists of Boston, rallying to the Pequot minister’s defense the sympathies of what would become the most disruptive political force in the mid-1800s. Hallett defended Apess on the charges, had them dismissed, but promptly took the case further by filing legislation on Beacon Hill to resolve the status of the tribe once and for all. He argued:
The Mashpee Wampanoags never consented to the white’s “guardian” system that took control of their finances and affairs via the board of overseers.
The actions of the whites towards the Wampanoags, beginning with the formation of the plantation by Bourne, and then thereafter, respected the Wampanoag’s superior title to the land. This was key in that the English legal system cherished the concept of private property and deeds, something utterly foreign to the Wampanoags but which they were blessed with by the foresight of Bourne in creating and deeding to them the lands of Mashpee for their own use and not the use or sale to the whites.
Finally, Hallett seized on the fact that there was no treaty in place between the whites and the Wampanoags as was the case with other tribes in the mid- and far-western parts of the country. Because there was no treaty defining their status, the Wampanoags — Hallett argued — they remained a sovereign nation subject to no white laws or taxation.
Accompanied by Apess, Joseph Amos and Issac Combs, Hallett went to the state house in Boston to make his case for Wampanoag independence. The legislature agreed and in March 1834, the legislature abolished the board of overseers, appointed a one-person “commissioner” to act at the State’s liason with the tribe, and refused to intervene with the religious issues defined by the situation concerning Phineas Fish and his “employer:” Harvard College. Harvard’s President Josiah Quincy dispatched the Reverend James Walker to travel to Mashpee and report on the spiritual situation. Apess, for reasons unknown, renounced his Methodist ordination and started his own “Free and United Church” while Blind Joe Amos continued to lead the popular Baptist Congregation and Phineas Fish muddled along with his all white Congregationalists who raised the funds to build him a church of his own in Santuit (it isn’t clear if Fish ever preached another sermon after the July 4, 1833 meeting in the Indian Meetinghouse that resulted in Apess’ arrest, but he eventually moved into his own church within Santuit proper.
Harvard’s emissary, Reverend Walker, wrote in a report entitled “Facts in Regard to the Difficulties at Marshpee” that Apess was “now understood to be rapidly losing the Indians’ confidence and not without good reason.”
While all but forgotten until Apess’ memoirs were republished in the 1990s, the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt stands as a significant milestone in native-white relations in America. The Wampanoags enjoyed a period of self-rule until 1870 when the tribe eventually petitioned the Commonwealth to incorporate Mashpee as a town, a controversial move sought by non-Wampanoag spouses who wanted the same rights they had enjoyed outside of the plantation such as the vote. Harvard stopped the practice of sending ministers to Mashpee. Fish moved out of town and continued to minister to his flock in his new church in Santuit.
Apess? Well he did indeed fall out of favor in Mashpee — he was an outsider and while part-Pequot was not a Wampanoag. In 1838 all he owned in Mashpee was sold for debts in a bankruptcy action. In 1839 he died suddenly in a boarding house in New York City and was buried with little to no fanfare.
When he writings were rediscovered by historians it was a revelation that such an eloquent, literate, passionate voice had once spoken so passionately for Indian rights at a time when slavery was still the law of the land and Indians, blacks and other dispossessed members of society were completely dismissed and subjugated by 19th Century America. Apess’ actions in Mashpeen in 1833 displayed an activism and passion for civil disobedience that presaged Henry David Thoreau’s famous essay on Civil Disobedience sixteen years later. Apess and the cause of the Wampanoags ignited abolitionist sympathies in Boston, helping coalesce a movement that was to drive the country to war within three decades.
As the historian Barry O’Connell wrote of Apess:
“In him, from a more tempered perspective, might be recognized a masterful polemicist and a canny strategist in leading a small minority to persuade a dominant majority to treat the minority with some respect.”
[Presented to the Cotuit Historical Society in October 2013]
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.”
In the annals of native/colonist relations, little can be objectively known about the true nature of the interactions between the English settlers of Eastern Massachusetts and the tribe that “welcomed” them, the Wampanoag. The record is one-sided and dominated by the English and their system of deeds, genealogies, written records and literature. This has led to the perpetuation of the pleasant myth of Wampanoag welcoming and cooperating with the Pilgrims, a myth created in the 19th century in a burst of American patriotism and nostalgia which lives on in the quaint concept of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a Thanksgiving feast.
The Wampanoag now regard Thanksgiving as a day of mourning, and, thanks to recent scrutiny of the actual historical record, it’s apparent the tribe are the forgotten first victims of the American “dream.”
If, as Churchill said, “history is written by the victors,” the Wampanoags left little in the way of a written record of their relations and feelings towards the colonists. They had no written language, only their Algonquin dialect, and no historical tradition beyond the spoken word and creation myths.
The discovery and re-publication of a unique account written by a member of the Connecticut Pequot tribe, William Apes (Apess), has revealed the earliest autobiography in American literature by a native, as well as cast some light on a little known incident that took place 180 years ago on the Wampanoag “reservation” or “praying town” of Mashpee, near its border with the village of Cotuit, is a little known historical incident that occurred 180 years ago, in a wood lot near the Santuit River between a group of angry Wampanoag natives, two brothers from Cotuit, and an alcoholic activist preacher, Apess.
Variously known as the Woodlot Revolt or the “Quarrel” (as Cotuit historian Jim Gould refers to it), it has been dusted off by historians and held up in recent years as the first significant expression of sovereign rights by a native tribe since contact with the colonists occurred more than 200 years before. The preacher, William Apes (who preferred the pronunciation “Apess”) was an eloquent and graceful writer, who’s work, “A Native of the Forest” has been republished in recent years and is regarded as one of the most important pieces of literature penned by a native writer.
Before I rush to an account of the events that happened that hot July day in 1833, let me set the historical table with a quick summary of how Mashpee, our conterminous neighbor to the west, came to be, and attempt to convey a sense of what relations were between the whites of Cotuit and the natives of the Plantation of Marshpee.
Before the English, with their love of deeds and records and certificates of birth, marriage and death, came to these shores, the history of the Wampanoag tribe — which means “Children of the Eastern Light” in their Algonquin dialet, Wopanaak — was purely an oral one, with no record left except the traditions and stories told by one generation to the next. Like their comprehension of private property, boundary lines and fishing rights, the Wampanoag sense of history was passed from one generation to the next through word of mouth and shared understanding.
In 1643, the Pilgrim’s military “muscle”, Captain Miles Standish, came to Cape Cod to buy land from the natives for the colonists. Land was everything to the Europeans. Land meant status, land meant class, land conferred rights that serfs and peassants could only dream of. In Europe land was inherited or conquered, rarely bought and sold, and the allure of the virgin forests of New England must have been breathtaking to the first settlers who saw before them as limitless wilderness that was theirs to take for a mere kettle and a ho.
Yes, Standish negotiated the transaction with the Wampanoag leader Paupmunnuck that gave the English the rights to settle Cotachester (modern Osterville) and Cotuit for the price of a kettle, a ho, and a promise to build a fence around the Wampanoag camp which may have been located on Oyster Harbors or Point Isabella according to Jim Gould.
The borders were blurry.. Surveyors were a luxury and boundaries and limits were rough descriptions of streams and boulders, landmarks and limits. Little was written down and put on file, and indeed, Paupmunnuck and his people may not have comprehended what such a transaction meant, especially when it came to concepts such as trespassing to a people accustomed to moving from camp to camp with the seasons, moving inland in the winter for shelter and to the coast in the summer for the same reasons we prize the shore today.
The western border between Barnstable and the Indians was set along the banks of the Santuit River and Santuit Pond. Such “rivers” or streams were incredibly valuable sources of protein when the herring run happened every spring, and were also potential sources of power to drive grist mills for the grinding of corn.
The settlers may have regarded the Santuit River as a convenient source of these things, but the Wampanoags told the story of how it was created by a frustrated giant man-sized trout named , who upon hearing the siren song of a beautiful Wampanoag maiden singing on the shores of Santuit Pond, thrashed and wriggled his way through the forest from Popponesset Bay to find her, only to die just yards from his doomed love. She was also transformed into a fish, but died of grief and both of them buried together in the Trout Mound which stands today a short distance to the south and east of the herring ladders at the southern end of Santuit Pond.
This area of Mashpee and Santuit is where the rest of this story is focused so let’s focus on the map for a moment.
Mashpee was formed in the 1660s by Richard Bourne of Sandwich, a prominent lawyer and minister who was part of the early missionary movement led by John Eliot — the minister who translated the Bible into Wopanaak — and which led to the founding of Harvard College as a so called “Indian School.” The conversion of the savages was an immediate priorty of the first settlers, and Bourne acted as a liason between the whites of this area and the tribe, administering to them during an epidemic where his survival conferred some god-like attributes in the eyes of the natives, and working on their behalf to acquire land in around the area to establish a “plantation” for their benefit.
In 1660 Bourne completed the purchase of the 16 square miles that roughly comprise Mashpee and established a deed which granted the land to the Wampanoags with restrictions on their ability to sell that land to the English who were always hot for land and indeed, were beginning to trespass and poach on the lands Standish didn’t buy in 1648. Bourne addressed the fuzziness of the western border between Barnstable and Mashpee, and at his insistence the boundaries were re-set to move the line around the “ancient Indian” village at the southeast corner of the pond.
In 1661 a meetinghouse for the tribe was built on Briant’s Point on the southern end of Santuit Pond. This was replaced by another structure in 1670 , the same building that was eventually moved in 1770 to its present site on Route 28, the Old Falmouth Road.
In 1670 tensions between the settlers and the tribe deteriorated — with the Wampanoag leader Metacomet, or “King Philip” as he was called by the colonists, leading the Wampanoags from their headquarters on Mount Hope Bay near modern Bristol, RI on a three year war of burnings, kidnappings, and terror that swept eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island but never involved Cape Cod.
Mashpee was viewed as the prototypical “Praying Town” — one where the influence of the missionaries and the conversion process into Xhristianity was sufficiently advanced that the tribe could be trusted. One can only assume the level of tension and emotions that ranged along the border of Cotuit and Mashpee during those tense years, marked in American history as perhaps the bloodiest per capita according to the historian Nathaniel Philbrick in his excellent history, “The Mayflower.”
Post war, as the colonists enacted a terrible retribution against the Wampanoags, resettling large numbers on Bermuda, while permitting alcohol to further erode their numbers, the missionaries resumed their conversions and ministrations, using the institution of the Congregational Church and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as the civilizing center of life in Marshpee. Because the focus of the Harvard Indian College was the training and ordination of native ministers, the college played an integral role, a very paternalistic one, in overseeing the affairs of the village.
This paternalism persisted throughout the 1700s, manifesting itself in a combination of church and state — in this case church and colony — oversight consisting of a board of white overseers who looked after the affairs of the tribe, raised money to pay its expenses and provided the funds to pay the salary of the minister, the parsonage and meetinghouse.
I’m back on a deep dive into medieval history. It’s a long story, but the revival was sparked by my figuring out how to stream Audible “books-on-tape” through my Android phone and a Bluetooth hands-free speaker phone that pushes audio into my the car’s FM radio.
The first book I downloaded was Edward Gibbon’s: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. With four hours and 250 miles to kill between Manhattan and Cape Cod, it’s enough time to listen to two chapters as read by by the former University of Virginia professor, Bernard Mayes. Somehow sitting in bumper-to-bumper between Westport and Norwalk, Connecticut and learning about the excesses of Commodus (the real emperor who was the basis of the bad guy Joaquin Phoenix played in Gladiator) seems like a very good use of idle time. I’m on chapter 16, having just endured a beastly 3 am drive from NYC to Boston on Saturday morning in a downpour.
For the armchair, I’ve been engrossed in Sir Steven Runciman’s masterful The Fall of Constantinople, 1453. I prize his three-volume history of the Crusades, which contains what may well be my favorite line of all historical writing, regarding the leprous King Baldwin IV: “In Jerusalem the leper king kept the reins of power in his decaying hands.”
Runciman was a masterful historian and astonishing scholar who read his primary sources in nearly every language they were originally written. For some reason in all of my past readings into Byzantine history, I’ve missed out on his account of the siege and fall of the capital of the Roman Empire. Thanks to Amazon’s used book finder, I’ve plowed through the book and am here to declare that someone needs to make a movie, for a better tale of action I’ve never known.
The quick background:
Constantinople is strategically located on the Bosporus — the Hellespont — the narrow channel that divides Asia from Europe. Constantine the Great, the Emperor of the Romans who succeeded Diocletian after a protracted civil war, converts to Christianity and moves the capital from Rome to Byzantium, a remote outpost of the empire strategically straddling the Hellespont. What follows is the longest lived empire in the history of civilization, culminating with its defeat and destruction in 1453 by the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II. The city was sacked and invaded by the Fourth Crusade, a disaster that weakened it and set into play the conflicts between the Orthodox Eastern Christian Church and the Western Catholic Church. As a result, no sovereign in the West came to Constantinople’s defense during the alarming fall and winter preceding the spring attack. Despite the pleading of the last Emperor (also named Constantine), the few Greeks remaining in the walled city were all that stood between the invading Islamic force. Only the merchant city states of Venice and Genoa sent fleets and arms, but those were to defend their commercial interests and weren’t enough to come close to matching Mehmet’s immense army of over 100,000 men.
The defenders could only muster 7,000.
For two months the famed walls of Constantinople kept the Turks frustrated, but time, treachery, and sheer numbers saw the inevitable finally come true.
Runciman writes of the last Emperor’s final moments as the Turks finally breached the walls:
“…In the confusion it was impossible to close the gate. The Turks came pouring through; and the Bocchiardis’ men were too few now to push them back. Constantine turned his horse and galloped back to the Lycus valley and the breaches in the stockade. With him was the gallant Spaniard who claimed to be his cousin, Don Francisco of Toledo, and his own cousin Theophilus Palaeologus and a faithful comrade-at-arms, John Dalmata. Together they tried to rally the Greeks, in vain; the slaughter had been too great. They dismounted and for a few minutes the four of them held the approach to the gate through which Giustiniani had been carried. But the defence was broken now. The gate was jammed with Christian soldiers trying to make their escape, as more and more Janissaries fell on them. Theophilus shouted that he would rather die than live and disappeared into the oncoming hordes. Constantine himself knew now that the Empire was lost and he had no wish to survive it. He flung off his imperial insignia and, with Don Francisco and John Dalmata still at his side, he followed Theophilus. He was never seen again.”
After reading John McCarthy’s obituary this morning (by John Markoff), I was prompted to re-read Stewart Brand’s legendary tale of early computer scientists and hackers that was published in Rolling Stone in 1972.
I highly recommend it. The photo of Alan Kay and the Dynabook is priceless. Keep in mind this is a glimpse of the state of the art in Silicon Valley from 40 years ago. Pre-personal computer. Pre-Steve Jobs. Then take those four decades that intervene and add in the microprocessor, bountiful memory, graphics, the Internet, wireless, cell phones, smartphones, tablets …… No one, not even the most stoned futurist, could have predicted the technical bounty we take for granted today. Brand’s story puts it all in perspective for me. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
Mourt’s Relation — arguably the first piece of American literature –Â the first first-hand account of the first year of the Pilgrim’s after their landing on Cape Cod and Plymouth in 1620, and the basis for most stories that have followed. Samoset and Squanto, theft of the Indian corn at Corn Hill in Truro, first meeting with Massasoit, herring/shad to fertilize the corn, the first Thanksgiving — and a ton of other detail not usually taught in the elementary school Thanksgiving mythology most of us were fed as kids.
Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, but published by a George Morton, hence the “Mourt” — a “relation” is a retelling, as in “he related the story of how the Nauset tribe attacked them at First Encounter Beach.” Again, thanks to N. Philbrick’s Mayflower for getting me on the early colonial history thing. I had a great dinner conversation Saturday night with Ross Kerber from the Boston Globe about the book and we both geeked out over stuff like the Great Swamp Fight.