Animated by that ardent sense of freedom and love of independence
National holidays are time for a country to take stock of itself. When that day commemorates liberty, independence, and innate rights, as does the 4th of July, it might be a good time to reflect on what the historical record tells us about the reaches of those concepts into New New England Indian Country.
The region's Native Americans have served in great numbers in every major American conflict. During the American Revolution, military rosters included men from nearly ever Indian community in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
Native soldiers and sailors joined for multiple reasons: a culture of military service, a means of employment, or from a patriotic fervor excited by the potential of revolutionary change. Their participation in the American experiment, however, came at a great cost.
Take, for example, the Mashpee Indian community in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Mashpee men enlisted at higher rates than their white neighbors, comprising a fifth of the County's total regiment. With thirty-six male heads of household in 1776, anywhere between twenty-four to fifty men joined the Continental forces to fight British troops.
No other town in the County sent as many soldiers. Or suffered more. The Mashpee encountered casualty rates of almost 95%, leaving the community with a large number of widows, orphans, and economic hardship. By 1783, the Mashpee's minister Gideon Hawley, observed that there were about 70 widows on the reservation, most of whom had lost their husbands during the war through combat, disease, or lingering sickness. Two years later, Hawley would draw a sketch of the community's reservation shown above ( Plan of Indian Plantation at Mashpee).
Despite their contributions to the success of the war, the Mashpee, like many other Indian communities across the region at that time, saw no realizations of equality, independence, liberty, or democracy. Instead, the Commonwealth subjected them to a wardship system, under which personal, financial, and legal rights were managed by overseers or guardians.
The Mashpee were among the first to protest their treatment. In 1796, Noah Webquish and twenty-one of his fellow Mashpee sent a remonstrance to the Massachusetts General Court, pointing out the hypocrisy in the Commonwealth's Indian policies.
If you have some time this weekend, please read the Petition of Noah Webquish and Other Mashpee Indians to the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which we have copied below. As you will find, its eloquence and force compares to the Declaration of Independence.
To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court Assembled.
The inhabitants of color of the District of Mashpee beg leave to offer with the utmost deference and respect the following observations to the consideration of the Honorable Legislature.
Ever since the settlement of this country, the aboriginals, and those who claimed under them, have been deemed the legal proprietors of the territory comprised within said district, the same having never been transferred or ceded to the whites. The government of the late Province of Massachusetts Bay, not withstanding, assumed the right of controlling in a peculiar manner the property and economy of said district, and imposed restraints on the inhabitants,1 which were ever considered by them as an infringement of that freedom to which as men they were justly entitled.
At the commencement of the late Revolution, when a high sense of civil liberty, and the oppressive policy of an arbitrary court roused the citizens of America to noble and patriotic exertions in defense of their freedom, we anticipated the time when a liberal and enlightened spirit of philanthropy should extend its views and its influence to the increase of liberty and social happiness among all ranks and classes of mankind.
We supposed a just estimate of the rights of man would teach them the value of those privileges of which we were deprived, and that their own sufferings would naturally lead them to respect and relieve ours. Impressed with these sentiments, and animated by a portion of that ardent sense of freedom and love of independence, which characterized our ancestors, we voluntarily entered the encrimsoned fields of battle, and freely mingled our blood with that of the early martyrs to the cause of this country.2
The sentiments and anticipations which animated us to the conflict were farther confirmed by that august and magnanimous Declaration of American Independence which appalled a British ministry and astonished all Europe. In this, these truths are solemnly stated as self-evident "that all men were created equal; that they were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."3 The adoption of the constitution of this Commonwealth was a still farther confirmation of our hopes.4
The first article in the Bill of Rights which declares that "all men are free and equal, and, have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, amongst which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in line that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness," we expected would in future be the broad basis of freedom to all the inhabitants of the Commonwealth.
At the close of a long and successful war, in which we had been honorably distinguished and had profusely bled, how are we disappointed! How are our pleasing anticipations blasted! How could we conceive it possible that a people who were exhibiting such illustrious proofs of their attachment to freedom, and so enlarged ideas of the principles of civil liberty and of the original design of government should not respect those rights in others which they so warmly contended for themselves.
Let the acts passed previous and subsequent to the late Revolution, respecting the Mashpee Tribe be compared together, and how humiliating a comparison results. By the former, we had the miserable privilege of choosing our own masters. By the latter, even that is taken away.
Strange! that under a hereditary monarch, (and formerly considered, in this country, an arbitrary one) we should enjoy more liberty than when connected with a republican government. Instead of one master, we have now as many as there are free inhabitants in the Commonwealth, who by their representatives can make what laws for us they please.
We cannot alienate a single inch of our land, nor indeed enjoy it, as the government have undertaken to modify and apportion it as they think proper. We are legally incapable of making any contract to the amount of a shilling without the approbation of our guardians and in the choice of these we have not the privilege allowed by law to white infants of fourteen years of age. We can institute no action in our own names for the recovery of our demands. We are governed by laws enacted by a legislature where we have no representative.5
It is a fact which can be easily authenticated that one half the inhabitants of Mashpee fell honorable victims to the cause of liberty in the late contest. And many who now remain and subscribe this can show the traces of many a wound received in facing the enemies of this country.
Indeed, the District of Mashpee was the common reservoir, whence the adjacent towns drew their recruits for the late armies of the United States. When we view our bodies, lacerated and maimed, in a struggle for the liberty and happiness of others, and view our own detestable thralldom, what must be our feelings! 6 It is pretended by those who forge our shackles, that we are not capable of enjoying liberty, that we should dispose of our property without proper consideration and become chargeable to the community, that the government takes care of our property, and imposes restraints upon our conduct, merely from motives of mercy and compassion.
This is but a solemn mockery of our wrongs. How it is possible that a people who are constantly depressed by a mortifying consciousness of the inferiority of their condition, who have no incentives to industry or improvement, and who every day experience that the whites view them as objects of contempt and derision, should make any considerable figure in life? Indeed, we venture to affirm that no adequate means have yet been adopted for the civilization and improvement of the aboriginals of America.
They have ever been taught by those who pretended a wish for their improvement that they regarded them as beings of an inferior class to that of their more polished neighbors, as designed merely to complete the nice gradation from the most sagacious of the brute creation to intelligent man.
If this has not been the language of their theory, it certainly has been of their practice. The progress of civilization among the aboriginals has been very little beneficial to the subjects of it, or conducive to their happiness.
We are only taught enough to see and to deplore our forlorn condition. We have lost that independence of character and sentiment, that high sense of personal liberty, that happy equality, and that simplicity of manners which distinguishes rude tribes without acquiring the privileges of civilized societies. Rob a man of his liberty, and you destroy the best part of his nature.
Give us an opportunity to dilate and extend our views in the occupations and pursuits of social life; in the projects of ambition; and the acquisition of wealth; inform our minds with rational science; teach us by bestowing some marks of regard on us to respect ourselves; let us enjoy some portion of civil liberty, and we believe that we should act no inglorious part on the theatre of action.
Even disgusted as we are at present, we flatter ourselves that we are not useless members of the community. With the lance and the harpoon, we wage war with the mighty monsters of the deep; alternately scorching beneath the equatorial heat of the sun, and shivering in the frozen regions of the north to increase the wealth and the commerce of this country.
We will not, however, longer take up the time of the Legislature. We submit the above to their wise consideration, relying on the justice and the equity of their future arrangements respecting us. If we can have no more, we can at least ask to be restored to as free a government as that were subject to before the Revolution.
And as in duty bound shall ever pray, etc.,
Noah Webquish, his mark
Isaac Amos, his mark
Ebenezer Queppish, his mark
S[ illegible ] G[ illegible ], [ illegible] mark
Isaac Halfday, his mark
Peter Isaac, his mark
Windsor George, his mark
Joseph Webquish, his mark
Amos Babcock, his mark
Gideon Nautumpum, Jr.
Top image: A painting of the Battle of Quebec in 1775 (Wikimedia Commons)/The Atlantic
For further information about Mashpee Revolutionary War military service, read Jacob Denny, "The Service if the Mashpee Indians in the American Revolution," December 21, 2011, Tufts Digital Library, http://hdl.handle.net/10427/77461.
The NNRC, in Partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Receives NEH CARES Act Funding to Enhance Online Access to Historical Manuscripts
The Native Northeast Research Collaborative, with the Mashantucket Museum & Research Center, is excited to announce a six and a half-month grant award of $179,403.00 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support publication of "On Our Own Ground: Pequot Community Papers, 1813-1849," a record of daily life in two Connecticut Native communities. Funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which is meant to foster activities that promote the Humanities.
NNRC Editors, Paul Grant-Costa and Tobias Glaza, and two Native Editorial Assistants will work with museum staff and representatives from the Eastern Pequot and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nations, to collectively annotate records of the State-appointed overseers of the two Pequots communities. Part of the New London County Court records housed at the Connecticut State Library, these materials span the first half of the 19th century and detail the income and expenses of these communities, including the income derived from land rental or labor, and debt accrued through goods and services delivered to tribal members, providing unique insights into the daily lives of Native people in Early American Republic Connecticut.
The editorial team will proofread draft transcription copies of records previously prepared by the Museum's staff over the past twenty years against images of the originals, re-transcribing and adding new material, when necessary, conforming the material to the project's editorial methodology. The transcriptions will be enhanced with various kinds of annotation and published online, using a digital platform called the Native Northeast Portal, where they will sit in conversation with hundreds of other records from multiple repositories.
As an integral part of an ethical editorial process, Tribal representatives will review content, work collaboratively with editors in annotation, commentary and perspective. The efforts will result in a collection of more than 100 previously unpublished, freely-accessible high-quality images, two forms of transcriptions, metadata, interactive biographies, geographies, and commentary for tribal, scholarly, educational and public use.
While these documents serve as a context for topics popular in recent academic study--the life of noted Pequot author, missionary, and activist, William Apes (1799-1839), and the consequences of the Brothertown Christian Indian movement--they are important in their own right, being foundational for the insights they provide into the lives of Pequot men, women, and children and their struggles with a challenging overseer system.
At the same time, the documents illustrate their survivance during a difficult period, providing examples of individual and collective resilience that are especially meaningful during this modern time of national crisis.
"We're looking forward to working with members of the Mashantucket Pequot and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nations in a collaborative process to incorporate their understandings of the historical record into the larger narrative," said Paul Grant-Costa, one of the NNRC's editors. "The community's voice in telling their story is an important way to reclaim a part of the Native American experience in their own words, from their own perspective."
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center celebrates the vibrancy of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Sister Tribal Communities and seeks to help build meaningful relationships that empower and strengthen them. It is committed to transform how Indigenous cultures and peoples are represented and to accurately present narratives that give greater access to the evolution of new Native voices. More recently, it has been seeking to leverage current developments in Digital Humanities to transform its digital outreach, attend to the needs of underserved regional Indigenous communities, and broaden the understanding of the histories, cultures, and homelands of Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast.
The Native Northeast Research Collaborative (NNRC), formerly the Yale Indian Papers Project, is an inclusive digital humanities and scholarly editing endeavor with a mission to provide greater access to the recorded history of the Indigenous people(s) of the Atlantic Northeast for the purposes of research, teaching, scholarly analysis, storytelling, and community-based projects.
Images: Map of New London County, Connecticut, 1854. Walling, Henry Francis. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. 20540-4650 USA dcu; https://lccn.loc.gov/2001620486. Eastern Pequot Overseer Records from March 18, 1834 to June 11, 1835, Connecticut Historical Society, Indian Documents, 1661-1773, Pequot.
These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren.
We the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always. And we will not rest until we are treated equally with other federally recognized tribes and the status of our reservation is confirmed -- Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell
Last November, our Thanksgiving post called everyone's attention to a potential crisis at Mashpee with respect to their reservation and sovereignty. As we noted then, several judicial decisions (including one at the United States Supreme Court in 2009) and potential action by the Department of the Interior threatened the community's reservation trust lands and tribal sovereignty. Land in trust is a special status in which the federal government holds the title to the property and allows the tribe to make its own decisions on how to develop the tax-exempt property and its natural resources.
This past Friday, on March 27th, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt ordered that the Mashpee's 321-acre reservation be taken out of trust and disestablished to no longer be considered sovereign land.
While it does not affect the tribe's federal recognition, the directive weakens the tribe's capacity to provide vital educational, housing, and emergency services to the community, and protect its traditional lands and cultural resources. It also jeopardized funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
H.R. 375, a bipartisan bill to reaffirm the Mashpee reservation and restore fair-mindedness to all tribal nations in the land-into-trust process, passed in the House of Representatives last year with strong bipartisan support. Its companion bill (S. 2808) remains stalled from Senate inaction.
On March 30th, the Mashpee requested the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the Department of the Interior from taking the reservation out of trust. The Court indicated it will order the federal government refrain from disestablishing the tribe’s reservation until it rules on the motion for a preliminary injunction.
The Mashpee have a long connection to their land and a history of petitioning for redress when their rights or sovereignty were under attack.
You can explore a selection of the Mashpee community's rich documentary history and read about several centuries of Mashpee people, places, and events by clicking here.
For more on the present Mashpee crisis, including information on a MoveOn petition to Congress, visit the Mashpee Wampanoag website and see articles here and here.
The Land is Sacred image is courtesy of the Mashpee Wampanoag website. The 18th century map of Mashpee is from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library's Ezra Stiles Collection.
Some Unfortunate News
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The Native Northeast Research Collaborative (formerly the Yale Indian Papers Project) has been at Yale University since 2003, where it has established itself as one of the country's leading Native digital humanities endeavors, recognized as a national model for innovative intercultural cooperation. (You can see our accomplishments in our recent post.)
From 2010 to 2019, our work was financed by generous grants from the NEH, NHPRC, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, CLIR, and matching funds from Yale University. This year, however, the Provost's Office notified us that Yale would no longer contribute to the project, and that we would have to raise the matching funds ourselves for any subsequent grant application.
During the summer, we proposed building a consortium of universities and institutions to share the benefits and the costs of the project and requested bridge funding from Yale. We presented the University with letters of support from 8 tribal governments, 6 Native scholars, numerous Yale students, faculty, staff, alumni, and scholars in the field.
Nonetheless, the Provost, with the approval of the President, denied our request for continued funding or the ability to provide matching support for grant applications. The Provost said while he recognized the project had provided benefits for Yale faculty and students, scholars, and for the University’s reputation among Native American groups, given all the other requests for funding, the project did not meet Yale's qualifications for funding priorities.
On September 30th, Toby and I closed our office at the Yale Divinity School and left the University.
As we seek to find a new institutional home, we will also continue to explore federal and foundational support.
Many of our tribal community partners have written to us asking about the availability and sustainability of the materials we have collaboratively worked on. On that front, we have good news. The Native Northeast Portal will continue to be available to provide communities and the public access to the thousands of records it contains. We will be adding new documents to it but at a slower rate.
We look forward to continuing our outreach to Native and scholarly communities and providing access to primary source historical materials about Native people, places, and events in the greater Southern new England area.
Paul and Toby
Welcome to the Native Northeast Research Collaborative
In the past few months, you may have noticed something different when you accessed our website or document archives, the Native Northeast Portal.
After close to two decades as the Yale Indian Papers Project, we've changed our name and our website, but not our mission as a digital humanities and social justice project.
To recover and provide greater access to the history of the Indigenous people(s) of the Atlantic Northeast for the purposes of research, teaching, scholarly analysis, storytelling, and community-based projects.
The Native Northeast Research Collaborative better captures the nature and scope of the work we do. And it's less ambiguous. We're not about papers of Native people at Yale, nor do we edit only Native manuscripts from Yale.
Rather, this is what we are about. Here are our accomplishments so far:
New England Indigenous Community: Inclusion & Network Building
Academic Community: Pedagogical Outreach
Global Academic Community: Tribally-Mediated Scholarly Resources
For our older Op-Ed Articles, go to the right side panel and click "Before October 2019". For our new ones, stay tuned.
A blog intended to be a discussion point about people, places, things, and events relating to Native communities in the American Northeast.
Images: Nancy Ransom (Nipmuc) NNRC Collection; Zaccheus Nonesuch (Niantic) Indian & Colonial Research Center; Ebenezer Bassett (Schaghticoke) Wikipedia
Before October 2019