The Mashpee Indians Lawyer Defends Their Cause


Background Notes

Letter of Benjamin Hallett published in Indian Nullification  

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 letter by Benjamin Hallett, the Mashpee Indians’ attorney, was published as introductory material in the book. 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 whom it may concern.

The undersigned was a native of the County of Barnstable, and was brought up near the Marshpee Indians. He always regarded them as a people grievously oppressed by the whites, and borne down by laws which made them poor and enriched other men upon their property. In fact the Marshpee Indians, to whom our laws have denied all rights of property, have a higher title to their lands than the whites have, for our forefathers claimed the soil of this State by the consent of the Indians, whose title they thus admitted was better than their own.

For a long time the Indians had been disaffected, but no one was energetic enough among them to combine them in taking measure for their rights. Every time they had petitioned the Legislature, the laws, by the management of the interested whites, had been made more severe against them. DANIEL AMOS, I believe, was the first one among them, who conceived the plan of freeing his tribe from slavery. WILLIAM APES, an Indian preacher, of the Pequod tribe, regularly ordained as a minister, came among these Indians, to preach. They invited him to assist them in getting their liberty. He had the talent they most stood in need of. He accordingly went forward, and the Indians declared that no man should take their wood off their plantation*. APES and a number of other Indians quietly unloaded a load of wood, which a Mr. SAMPSON was carting off. For this, he and some others were indicted for a riot, upon grounds extremely doubtful in law, to say the least. Every person on the jury, who said he thought the Indians ought to have their liberty, was set aside. The three Indians were convicted, and APES was imprisoned thirty days.

It was in this stage of the business, after the conviction, that I became the counsel of the Indians, and carried their claims to the Legislature, where they finally prevailed.

The persons concerned in the riot, as it was called, and imprisoned for it, I think were as justifiable in what they did, as our fathers were, who threw the tea overboard; and to the energetic movements of WILLIM APES, DANIEL AMOS and others, it was owing that an impression was made on the Legislature, which induced them to do partial justice toward this long oppressed race. The imprisonment of those men, in such a cause, I consider an honour to them, and no disgrace; no more than the confinement of our fathers, in the Jersey prison−ship*.

Counsel for the Marshpee Indians.


  • Jersey prison−ship − The <em>Jersey </em>was the most notorious of the British prison shiops anchored off Brooklyn, New York during the American Revolution.
  • plantation − reservation; settlement with special legal status

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, Printer
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village