The Boston Courier Reports on the Mashpee Revolt

Newspaper Article

Background Notes

Most of the Mashpees’ campaign for self−government actually took place in print, not in physical struggle. During the course of the Mashpee Revolt, both supporters and opponents wrote numerous newspaper articles and pamphlets. William Apess compiled many of these documents, along with his commentary, into a book, Indian Nullification, which he published in 1835. This is one of the newspaper articles he included. Note that the article does not even mention William Apess by name, but calls him “a stranger and intruder.”

Note on spelling: The names “Apess” or “Apes” and “Mashpee” or “Marshpee” are spelled two ways reflecting the time when information was written. Apess and Mashpee are the preferred current spellings. Apes and Marshpee are the usual early nineteenth−century spellings.

Transcription of Primary Source

Late in the month of June last, an extraordinary proceeding was had by the Marshpee tribe of Indians, residing on their plantation* in Barnstable County, under the protection and guardianship of this Commonwealth. Excited, as it has since appeared, by the turbulent spirit of a stranger and intruder, they assembled in what they termed a town meeting, and adopted resolutions declaring their independence of the government of Massachusetts, abjuring* the authority of the laws, and proclaiming that after the first day of July then next, they should assume the management of their own affairs; and, that “they would not permit any white man from that day, to come upon their Plantation to cut or carry off any wood, hay, or other article, without their permission, under the penalty of being bound and thrown from the Plantation.”

To allay the excitement which had been created among these misguided people, and to ascertain and remove, as far and as speedily as possible, any just cause of complaint, the most prompt measures were adopted by the Executive*. A discreet and confidential agent was despatched to the plantation with instructions to make thorough examination into their grievances, real or supposed, and to become acquainted with their condition, and what their interest and comfort required. He was especially charged to represent to them the parental feelings and regard of the government of the Commonwealth towards them; to assure the head men, that, if the Overseers appointed by the State, had been unjust or unkind, they should forthwith be removed, and others appointed in their stead, and the wrongs sustained at their hand amply redressed, but that the guardianship, originally imposed for their security against the frauds and wicked devices of unprincipled white men, and continued under frequent assurances, by the Indians themselves, of its necessity, could not be suspended by the authority of the Governor and Council. That this rested with the Legislature, to which, after careful investigation of their complaints, a proper representation would be made by the Executive. He was also directed to caution them against heeding the counsels of those who would excite them to disquiet in their present situation, and to admonish them, that disorder and resistance to any rightful authority would meet with immediate and exemplary correction, through the civil tribunals.

On reaching the plantation, the agent found these deluded people in a state of open rebellion against the government of the State, having with force, seized upon the Meeting−house*, rescued from the Overseers a portion of property in their possession, chosen officers of their own, and threatened violence to all who should attempt to interfere with them, in the measures of self−government which they had assumed. These threatenings and outrages had already created great alarm among the white inhabitants in the neighborhood, and induced to apprehensions of more serious consequences. Through the firmness and prudence of the agent, sustained by the advice and good offices of several intelligent citizens of the County, the leader in the sedition was arrested for a breach of the peace, and delivered over to the civil authority. An inquiry into the conduct of the Overseers subsequently conducted by the agent in the presence of the head men, and the conciliatory, and friendly explanations offered to the tribe, of their relations to the government of the State, resulted in inducing them to rescind their former violent resolves, and restored quiet to the plantation.

A minute and interesting report by the gentleman to whom this delicate service was assigned, embracing an historical account of the tribe, and describing their present condition, character and numbers, with the situation, value, and improvement of their property, and the manner in which the guardianship constituted by law has been exercised over them, accompanies this communication. The Indians have received an assurance, that the attention of the Legislature shall be invited to their complaints, and the report will not fail to assist in the deliberations to which the subject may give occasion.


  • Executive − Governor of Massachusetts, Levi Lincoln
  • meeting−house − a building that functioned primarily as a church for worship services but was also used as a Town Hall for civic functions such as Town Meetings.
  • plantation − reservation; settlement with special legal status

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Mashpee Revolt
Boston Courier
Probable Date: 
January 28, 1834
Quoted in William Apes, Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts, relative to the Marshpee Tribe: or, The Pretended Riot Explained (Boston: Jonathan Howe, 1835), 93−95. Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.
Old Sturbridge Village