A Description of the Mashpee Revolt by William Apess

Book Excerpt

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. Here he described the incident that that brought the matter to the attention of the public.

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

We now, in our synagogue, for the first time, concerted the form of a government, suited to the spirit and capacity of free born sons of the forest; after the pattern set us by our white brethren. There was but one exception, viz., that all who dwelt in our precincts were to be held free and equal, in truth, as well as in letter. Several officers, twelve in all, were elected to give effect to this novelty of a government, the chief of whom were Daniel Amos, President, and Israel Amos, Secretary. Having thus organized ourselves, we gave notice to the former board of overseers, and the public at large, of our intentions. This was the form of our proclamation.


Marshpee Plantation, June 25th, 1833.

Having heretofore been distressed, and degraded, and robbed daily, we have taken measure to put a stop to these things.—And having made choice of our own town officers to act instead of the whites, and having acquainted the Governor of our affairs and resolutions, he has nothing against our putting them in force...And now we would say to our white friends, we are wanting nothing but our rights betwixt man and man. And now, rest assured that said resolutions will be enforced after the first day of July, 1833. Done at the National Assembly of the Marshpee Tribe, and by the authority of the same.

DANIEL AMOS, President
ISRAEL AMOS, Secretary

...We also proceeded to discharge the missionary, telling him that he and the white people had occupied our meeting house long enough and that we now wanted it for our own use...

Those who had, as we think unlawfully, ruled us hitherto, now awoke in astonishment, and bestirred themselves in defense of their temporal interests. Mr. Hawley was dispatched to the Governor at Worcester, to whom he represented the state of affairs in colors which we cannot acknowledge to have been faithful. He stated that 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 dreadfully alarmed! An awful picture indeed.

However, several weeks previous to this the Governor and Council had been apprised of what was going forward, and had authorised one of the Council to visit the tribe, in order to hold counsel, and if possible, restore peace among them. But the first of July arrived before he came, and we did even as we had pledged ourselves to do, having in view no other end than the assertion and resumption of our rights. Two of the whites, indeed, proved themselves enemies to the Indians, by holding themselves in readiness to break up the new government and daring them to carry it into effect. They were brothers, and one of them has since gone to his reward. Their name was Sampson. They came, in defiance of our resolutions, to take away our wood, in carts. As I was walking in the woods, I discovered them in the act of removing our property, and called to him who was the owner of the teams to come near me. He complied, and appeared much agitated as he approached. I mildly stated to him the views and intentions of the tribe, saying that it was not their design to wrong or harm any man in the least, and that we wished them to desist till we should have had a settlement with the Overseers, after which every thing should be placed upon a proper footing. I begged them to desist, for the sake of peace; but it was to no purpose. They said that they knew what they were about, and were resolved to lead their teams. I answered, that the men who owned the wood were resolved to carry their resolutions into force; and asked if they had not seen the notifications we had posted up. One of them replied that he had seen, but had not taken much notice of it. I again told them that the owners of the wood were at hand, and by the time one of the teams was laden, the Indians came up. I then asked William Sampson, who was a member of the missionary’s church, if he would, even then, unload his team and wait till things were more quiet; to which he replied that he would not. I then, having previously cautioned the Indians to do no bodily injury to any man, unless in their own defense, but to stand for their rights, and nothing else, desired them to unload the teams, which they did very promptly. One of the Sampsons, who was a justice of the peace, forbade them, and threatened to prosecute them for thus protecting their own property, which had no other effect than to incite them to work more diligently. When they had done, I told the justice, that he had, perhaps, better encourage others to carry away what did not belong to them, and desired the teamsters to depart. They said they would, seeing that it was useless to attempt to load the carts. Throughout this transaction the Indians uttered neither a threat nor an unkind word, but the white men used very bitter language at being thus, for the first time, hindered from taking away what had always been as a lawful spoil to them hitherto.

The defeated Sampsons hurried off to get the aid of legal might to overcome right, and were wise enough to trouble the Indians no further. The tribe were thus left in peaceable possession of all their property. Mr. Fish stated in his report of the case, that we wanted possession of the mission house; but in this he was mistaken. No such thing was intended or even mentioned among us, though it is true that the meeting−house and the two school houses and all the land, excepting that on which Mr. Fish’s house stood, were in our hands.

The Indians now made it part of their business to watch their property; being determined to disappoint the rapacity of the whites.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts, Relative to the Marshpee Tribe: or, the Pretended Riot Explained
Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.
William Apes
Jonathan Howe, Printer
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village