The Mashpee Indians Defend William Apess


Background Notes

Defense of William Apess, publishing in Indian Nullification in 1835  

Letter of Israel Amos, Isaac Coombs, and Ezra Attaquin

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. Apess had been attacked as an agitator who came from outside Mashpee to make trouble. The book opens with a statement by the three Indian selectmen of Mashpee, defending Apess as a brother and adopted member of their community.

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

To The White People of Massachusetts.

The red children of the soil of America address themselves to the descendants of the pale men who came across the big waters to seek among them a refuge from tyranny and persecution.

We say to each and every one of you that the Great Spirit who is the friend of the Indian as well as of the white man, has raised up among you a brother of our own and has sent him to us that he might show us all the secret contrivances of the pale faces to deceive and defraud us. For this, many of our white brethren hate him, and revile him, and say all manner of evil of him, falsely calling him an impostor. Know, all men, that our brother APES is not such a man as they say. White men are the only persons who have imposed on us, and we say that we love our red brother, the Rev. WILLIAM APES, who preaches to us, and have all the confidence in him that we can put in any man, knowing him to be a devout Christian, of sound mind, of firm purpose, and worthy to be trusted by reason of his truth. We have never seen any reason to think otherwise.

We send this forth to the world in love and friendship with all men, and especially with our brother APES, for whose benefit it is intended.

Signed by the three Selectmen* of the Marshpee Tribe, at the Council House, in Marshpee.

19, 1835


  • Selectmen − chief administrative officers of the town. Towns were required to elect three, five, seven or nine selectmen. They had the responsibility to call town meetings; license hospitals, innkeepers, liquor sellers, and entertainment shows; regulate travel during an epidemic, regulate the location of unpleasing trades such as tanning, killing animals for meat, distilling liquors; make out the list of men chosen for jury duty; appoint guardians for those judged lunatics; generally maintain the government between town meetings. In many Massachusetts towns, the Selectmen were also the Overseers of the Poor.

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 Apess
Jonathan Howe
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village