A Brief History and Description of Mashpee, Massachusetts

Background Notes

This brief history published in 1840 describes the founding of the Indian town of Mashpee—at the time spelled Marshpee—Massachusetts, the inhabitants and their way of life, and the result of the Mashpee “Revolt” of 1833.

Transcription of Primary Source


This ancient Indian territory is an incorporated district of the commonwealth, and contains 10,500 acres, or about sixteen square miles. This tract was procured for the Indians by the efforts of Mr. Richard Bourne, of Sandwich. This noble−hearted man, who deserves to be had in lasting remembrance was a native of England, and soon after his arrival at Sandwich began his labors for the temporal and spiritual good of the Indians. About the year 1660, at his own expense, Mr. Bourne obtained a deed of Marshpee from Quachatisset and others for the benefit of the Marshpee, or, as they were then called, South Sea Indians. In order that the Indians might have a place where they might remain in peace from generation to generation, Mr. Bourne had the deed or instrument drawn, “so that no part or parcel of them [the lands] could be bought by or sold to any white person or persons, without the consent of all the said Indians, not even with the consent of the general court.” This deed, with this condition, was ratified by the Plymouth court. Mr. Bourne, after having obtained the above deed, pursued his evangelical work, and was ordained pastor of an Indian church in this place in 1670, formed of his own disciples and converts. He died about 1685, and was succeeded by Simon Popmonet, an Indian preacher, who lived in this character about forty years, and was succeeded by Mr. Joseph Bourne, grandson of Richard, who was ordained over them in 1729, who resigned his mission in 1742, and was succeeded by Solomon Briant, an Indian preacher, who was ordained pastor. In 1758, Rev. Gideon Hawley was installed as pastor of these people.

Marshpee lies south of Sandwich, and is bounded on the south by the ocean. It is well fitted for an Indian residence, being indented by two bays, and shoots into several necks or points of land. It is also watered by several streams and ponds. These, with the ocean, afford an abundant supply of fish of various kinds. They formerly subsisted by agricultural pursuits, the manufacturing of various articles of Indian ware, by the sale of their wood, fishing, fowling, and taking deer. Their land is good, well wooded, and some parts of it afford beautiful scenery. There are about three hundred colored people on this tract, and some whites. There are very few of the Indians which retain pure blood of their ancestors. They generally appear to relish moral and religious instruction. The central part, is about twelve miles S. E. of Barnstable, nine S. of Sandwich, and sixty−five S. E. of Boston.

The following cut represents the Indian church, built under the direction of the Rev. Mr. Hawley, the missionary, and is about twelve miles from Barnstable court−house. It stands a short distance from the main road, and a forest has grown up around it. Public worship is kept up in this house, which is attended both by the whites and Indians. Previous to 1834, the government of the Indians consisted of a board of white overseers, a guardian and treasurer. The office of the guardian was that of a general superintendent, to disburse supplies, oversee the poor, and regulate the getting of wood, The Indians getting dissatisfied, the government was changed, and it now consists of three selectmen, a clerk of their own number and choice, and a white commissioner appointed by the governor and council. Many of the Indians are employed in the whale fisheries, and they are said to make the first−rate whalemen. Those who remain at home cultivate their little plats of ground and carry wood to market. In 1837, they built a small vessel, “owned partly by some of the proprietors of Marshpee, and partly by sundry white persons,” and commanded by a capable, enterprising Indian. This vessel is employed in carrying their wood to Nantucket. The land, except some small allotments, (as much as each can enclose and cultivate,) is common stock. Each has a certain amount of wood allowed for his own use, and he pays the Indian government one dollar per cord for all he cuts and carries to market.

Curator Notes

Old Sturbridge Village

John Warner Barber, Historical Collections…of Every Town in Massachusetts (Worcester, Dorr, Howland Co., 1840), 46−48.