Native American Nations
                   Your Source for Indian Research
                   Rolls ~ History ~ Treaties ~ Census ~ Books

Massachusetts Indian Land Cessions

 Native American Nations | Indian Land Cessions in the United States                    

It is probably not going too far to agree with Reverend Dr George E. Ellis1 that the problems of the Massachusetts colonies, especially of Massachusetts Bay, have not even yet been fully and clearly worked out by modern historians. There remains in the mind of him who has searched the numerous histories, lectures, and essays relating to the early days of New England rather a confused idea of conflicting views, lights of various tints, and opinions of various hues than a clear, comprehensive idea of the views, motives; and purposes of the hardy pioneers who sought a refuge on the rugged shores of Massachusetts bay. There is generally close agreement as to details, even to minute particulars, for the data, except on a few lines, are more than usually full; hence he who would solve the problems to his own satisfaction must study the records for himself and draw his own conclusion. Unfortunately for the present investigation, the subject under consideration is one of the few lines forming the exceptions alluded to, at least so far as appears from the published data.

The theory upon which the policy and acts of the Plymouth colony and several other settlements were based is sufficiently clear, but that of Massachusetts Bay is not so well defined and is not given precisely the same in all the histories in which allusion to it is made. Moreover, the records are somewhat deficient in the data bearing on the question. Further reference, however, will be made to the subject a little later."

A side light may be thrown on the method of acquiring title from the Indians usually followed in Massachusetts, and, in fact, in most of New England, by reference to the following passage from Doyle:2

Of the various rights of the New England township the most important perhaps were the territorial.. In Virginia the Governor and his Council, as the representatives of the Crown, made over a tract of land to an individual as a tenant for life, paying a quitrent. In Maryland or Carolina the same process took place, except that the grant was made, not by the Crown, but y the Proprietors. But in New England the soil was granted y the government of the colony not to an individual, but to a corporation. It was from the corporation that each occupant derived his rights. Nor was this corporate claim to the land a legal technicality, like the doctrine that the soil of England belongs to the Crown, and that all estates in land are derived thence. The New England township was a landholder, using its position for the corporate good, and watching jealously over the origin and extension of individual rights. At the same time the colonial government did not wholly abandon its rights over the territory. For example, we find the General Court of Plymouth in part revoking a grant of lands at Mattacheese, or, as it was afterwards called, Yarmouth, on the ground that the territory in question had not been fully occupied. It was accordingly enacted that those settlers who had actually taken up lands should continue to enjoy them, but that the township should not be allowed to make any further distribution.

As we have already seen, the territorial system of the New England town took almost spontaneously a form closely resembling the manor. Part of the land was granted in lots, part was left in joint pasture, part was to be tilled in common. Though this was cultivated on a uniform system, yet apparently it was cut up into strips which were allotted, not in annual rotation, but in permanence, to the different holders.

It would follow, as a natural consequence of this custom; that purchases of lands from Indians were usually by and on behalf of the towns.

Plymouth colony commenced its settlement under favorable circumstances, so far as the right of entry was concerned. Notwithstanding what is stated hereafter in regard to purchases, it appears that the land they fixed upon as the site of their town was without inhabitants or claimants. The following, from the "Preface to the Plymouth Laws," as given in Holmes' Annals, shows that this was the understanding of the first settlers:

The new Plymouth associates; by the favor of the Almighty, began the colony in New England, at a place called y the natives, Apaum, alias Patuxet; all the lands being void of inhabitants, we the said John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, William Brewster, Isaac Allerton, and the rest of our associates, entering into a league of peace with Massasoit, since called Woosamequin, Prince or Sachem of those parts: he, the said Massasoit, freely gave them all the lands adjacent to them, and their heirs forever.3

In the "Journal of a Plantation," first printed in 1622, and abbreviated in Purchase' Pilgrimes,4 occurs the following passage, which accounts for the absence of natives at this time and place:

He. [Samoset] told us the place where we now lire is called Patuxet, and that about four years ago all the inhabitants died of an extraordinary plague, and there is neither man, woman, or child remaining as indeed we have found none; so as there is none to hinder our possession, or lay claim to it.

It would seem from the evidence furnished by the old records that as this colony began to increase, it adopted the just policy of purchasing from the natives the lands they desired to obtain. "It is a consoling fact," says Dr Holmes, "that our ancestors purchased of the natives their land for an equivalent consideration, as appears by a letter from the pious governor Winslow, dated at Marshfield, May 1st, 1676, as follows: 'I think I can clearly say, that before these present troubles broke out, the English did not possess one foot of land in this colony but what was fairly obtained by honest purchase of the Indian proprietors. We first made a law that none should purchase or receive of gift any land of the Indians, without the knowledge of our court. And lest they should be straitened, we ordered that Mount Hope, Pocasset, and several other necks of the best land in the colony, because most suitable and convenient for them, should never be bought out of their hands.'"5

This letter brings out two important facts: First, that the people of Plymouth recognized the Indian occupants as the proprietors; second, that they adopted at an early day the rule that no purchases of land should be made with out the consent of the court. It is to be noticed that Peter Oliver,6 in his severe charge against the Puritans of over looking the Indians' rights, does not include Plymouth. However, it may not be amiss to add Bancroft's comment on the last clause of Winslow's letter: "Repeated sales had narrowed their [the Indians'] domains, and the English had artfully crowded them into the tongues of land as 'most suitable and convenient for them., There they could be more easily watched, for the frontiers of the narrow peninsulas were inconsiderable." This, after all, is but a sample on a small scale of what has been done on a much grander plan during the march of civilization over the territory of the United States.

As indicated above, the theory held by the colonists of Massachusetts in regard to the Indian title to the land was not the same as that held by the people of other colonies. This theory as given by one, though a New Englander, who writes as a strong opponent of Puritanism, is as follows:7

"They deemed themselves commissioned, like Joshua of old, to a work of blood;' and they sought an excuse for their uniform harshness to the Indians in those dreadful tragedies which were enacted, far back in primeval ages, on the shores of the Red Sea and the fertile plains of Palestine, and in which Almighty Wisdom saw fit to make the descendants of Israel the instruments of his wrath. So early as 1632, the Indians "began to quarrel with the English about the bounds of their land;" for the Puritan Pilgrims, maintaining that "the whole earth is the Lord's garden," and, therefore, the peculiar property of his saints, admitted the natural right of the aborigines to so much soil only as they could occupy and improve. In 1633, this principle was made to assume the shape of law; and, "for settling the Indians title to lands in the jurisdiction," the general court ordered, that "what lands any of the Indians have possessed and improved, by subduing the same, they have just right unto, according to that in Genesis, ch. i, 28, and ch. ix, 1." Thus the argument used was vacuum domicilium cedit occupanti: and, y an application of the customs of civilization to the wilderness, it was held, that all land not occupied y the Indians as agriculturists, "lay open to any that could or would improve it."

It has been the fashion, of late, to assert for the Puritans that they regarded European right, resting on discovery, to be a Popish doctrine, derived from Alexander VI., and that they recognized the justice of the Indian claims. But this position cannot be maintained. The rude garden, which surrounded the savage wigwam, was alone considered as savage property. The boundless landscape, with its forests, fields, and waters, he was despoiled of, on the harsh plea of Christian right. In this way, Charlestown, Boston, Dorchester, Salem, Hingham, and other places, were intruded into y the Puritan Pilgrims, without condescending to any inquiry concerning the Indian title. They were seized and settled, because they were not waving with fields of yellow corn duly fenced in with square-cut hawthorne.

Although this is harshly expressed by one evidently prejudiced, and is not fully warranted, it sets forth the Puritan theory of the Indian title correctly. The act of 1633, alluded to as given by Thomas and Homans,8 is as follows:

It is declared and ordered by this Court and authority thereof, That what lands any of the Indians in this jurisdiction have possessed and improved, y subduing the same, they have just right unto, according to that in Gen. 1. 28, and Chap. 9. 1, and Psal. 113,16.

And for the further encouragement of the hopeful work amongst them, for the civilizing and helping them forward to Christianity, if any of the Indians shall be brought to civility, and shall come among the English to inhabit, in any of their plantations, and shall there live civilly and orderly, that such Indians shall have allotments amongst the English, according to the custom of the English in like case.

Further it is ordered, That if, upon good experience, there shall be a competent number of the .Indians brought on to civility, so as to be capable of a township upon their request to the General Court, they shall have grant of lands undisposed of, for a plantation, as the English have.

And further it is ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, and be it hereby enacted, That all the tract of land within this jurisdiction, whether already granted to any English plantations or persons, or to be granted y this Court (not being under the qualifications of right to the Indians) is, and shall be accounted the just right of such English as already have, or hereafter shall have grant of lands from this Court, and the authority thereof, from that of Gen. 1. 28, and the invitation of the Indians.

SEC. 2. And ii is ordered, That no person whatsoever shall henceforth buy land of any Indian, without license first had and obtained of the General Court; and if any offend herein, such land so bought shall be forfeited to the country.

Subsequently (1665) the court, in explanation of the last clause of this act, declared as follows:

This Court cloth declare the prohibition there express, referring to the purchase of Indian land without license from this Court is to be understood, as well grants for term of years, as forever, and that under the same penalty as in the said law is express.

The first clause of this act certainly accords with the theory of restricted rights as above set forth. However, the words "and the invitation of the Indians," in the fourth clause, are significant, especially in view of the fact that the settlement at Charlestown was made by "consent" of the chief, Sagamore John.

In a paper bearing the title, " General considerations for the plantation in New England, with an answer to several objections," written by Winthrop, according to the copy in the Massachusetts State Papers, answers the objection, "But what warrant have we to take that land which is and hath been of long time possessed of other sons of Adam?9 Thus:

That which is common to all is proper to none. This savage people ruleth over many lands without title or property; for they enclose no ground, neither have they chattel to maintain it, but remove their dwellings as they have occasion, or as they can prevail against their neighbors. And why may not Christians have liberty to go and dwell amongst then in their waste lands and woods (leaving them such places as they have matured for their corne) as lawfully as Abraham did among the Sodomites? For God hath given to the sons of men a two-fould right to the earth; there is a natural right and a civil right. The first right was natural when men held the earth in common, every man sowing and feeding where he pleased; Then, as men and cattle increased, they appropriated some parcels of ground by enclosing and peculiar manurance, and this in time got them a civil right. Such was the right which Ephron the Hittite had to the field of Machpelah, wherein Abraham could not bury a dead corpse without leave, though for the out parts of the country which lay common, he dwelt upon them and took the fruit of them at his pleasure. This appears also in Jacob and his sons, who fed their flocks as boldly in the Canaanites land, for he is said to be lord of the country; and at Dotham and all other places men accounted nothing their owne, but that which they had appropriated by their own industry, as appears plainly by Abimelech's servants, who in their own country did often contend with Isaac's servants about wells which they had digged; but never about the lands which they occupied. So likewise between Jacob and Laban; he would not take a kid of Laban's without special contract; but he makes no bargain with him for the land where he fed. And it is probable that if the country had not been as free for Jacob as for Laban, that covetous wretch would have made his advantage of him, and have upbraided Jacob with it as he did with the rest. 2dly, There is more than enough for them and us. 3dly, God hath consumed the natives with a miraculous plague, where by the greater part of the country is left void of inhabitants. 4thly, We shall come in with the good leave of the natives.10

We are informed that the colony in the first year of its existence made an order that no person should trade with the Indians or hire one as a servant without license. But it is doubtful whether this would have been construed as referring to land purchases, as colonial laws prohibiting "trade" or "traffic" were not generally understood as relating to lands, though doubtless a trade in land would have been considered a violation of the law. But the point made here is that the colonists, in making this law, did not have land purchases in view, and that no inference can be drawn from it that purchases of land had taken place.

The following are some of the transactions with the Indians in reference to lands, mentioned by the old records which have been published. However, the towns referred to by Mr Oliver as having disregarded the Indian title are not all thereby cleared from this charge. How far this charge holds good as to "other places" can only be inferred from what is hereafter presented. The records of Dorchester, one of the towns mentioned, contains the following entry:

Whereas there was a plantation given y the town of Dorchester unto the Indians at Ponkipog it was voted at a general town meeting the seventh of December, 1657, that the Indians shall not alienate or sell their plantation, or any part thereof, unto any English upon the loss or forfeiture of the plantation.

The same day it was voted that the honored Major Atherton, Lieutenant Clap, Ensign Foster, and William Summer, are desired and empowered to lay out the Indian plantation at Ponkipog, not exceeding six thousand acres of land.

It is stated by Reverend T. M. Harris, in his account of Dorchester,11 that the first settlers were kindly received by the aborigines, who granted them liberty to settle; "but at the same time they were careful to purchase the territory of the Indians;" also that "for a valuable consideration they bought a tract of land from what is now called Roxbury brook on the west to Neponset river on the south, and on the other sides bounded by the sea." A deed was also obtained from Kitchmakin, "sachem of Massachusetts," for an addition as far as the "Great Blue Hill.' In 1637 the general court made a second grant to the town "extending to the Plymouth line," called "the New Grant," but the purchase from the Indians was not completed until 1666, and deed obtained in 1671. The amount paid for this last purchase was $140 (28). If this writer, who adds, "These are pleasing evidences of the precaution used by the early settlers to make regular purchases of the natives," be correct, then Mr Oliver is mistaken so far as his charge against this town is concerned.

In regard to Salem, however, Mr Oliver's charge is not so clearly refuted. William Bentley, in his " Description of Salem,"' makes a weak apology for the town, as follows:

An inquiry into the settlement of Salem will not necessarily lead to examine the authority of the royal patent, granted to the Plymouth company, or to the dispute respecting its extent. The right of possession, in regard to particular natives of America, may be as unnecessary an inquiry, in regard to the matter of fact. The Indian deed, or, as it might be called, quitclaim, granted, at so late a year as 1656, to John Higginson, from the Indians of Chelmsford and Natick, and for a small consideration, could be nothing but an attempt to prevent future trouble, and must satisfy us that no proper settlement had been made by the consent of the Indians. For Salem there is an apology which is sufficient: The natives had forsaken this spot, before the English had reached it. On the soil, they found no natives, of whom we have any record. No natives ever claimed it, and the possession was uninterrupted. Reverend John Higginson reports from tradition, that there had been an Indian town in Northfields, but no particular settlement, about the time of the infancy of the colony, appears. On several points of land, convenient for fishing, several graves have been found, which indicate the visits of the fishing Indians. But these are too few to agree with any settlements. Air. Williams, who came to Salem, and settled within two years after Winthrop arrived, and who has given us the most early and best history of the Indians, does not mention them near Salem, and Gookin does not find them upon this spot. Williams speaks, as if the Indians, known to him, buried their dead, laying in their graves; but all the graves, which have been opened, she-,v that the dead were buried sitting at Neumkeage. No where have Indian names obtained, but English names were immediately adopted. These facts are sufficient to satisfy that no Indian claims were regarded, in the first settlement of Salem.

This apology, based on the idea that there were no :Indian claimants, does not accord exactly with the fact that John Higginson obtained a deed "to prevent trouble," nevertheless it is possible that both settlements may be correct.

Barnstable. No account of the first settlement of this town, called by the Indians Mattacheeset, appears to be on record. The Reverend Mr Mellen, in his "Topographical Description," says "there is reason to think that no part of the town was settled without purchase or consent of the natives; for though no record remains of any considerable tract on the north side being purchased of the Indians, yet it appears by several votes and agreements of the town, extracted from the first town book and preserved in the second, that all the south side of the town was amicably purchased of Wianne and several other sachems about the year 1650."

Nantucket. The whole of the island was purchased piecemeal, beginning at the western end.
The land about Sandwich and Marshpee was purchased about, 1660 from Quachatisset and others, but, strange to say, for the use and benefit of other Indians.

The land about Sandwich and Marshpee was purchased about 1660 from Quachatisset and others, but, strange to say, for the use and benefit of other Indians.

In 1697 purchases of land from the Indians were made by the town of Truro, as appears from an old book of records kept by the town.12

The principal part of the town of Hopkinton was purchased from the natives by Mr Leverett, then president of Harvard College, for the purpose, it is said, of perpetuating the legacy of Edward Hopkins to the college.

In 1644 the following lands were purchased: "A tract of land called Pochet, with two islands, lying before Potanumaquut, with a beach and small island upon it; also all the land called Namskeket, extending northward to the bounds of the territory belonging to George, the sachem excepting a small island (Pochet). They bought at the same time all the lands belonging to Aspinet." The inhabitants of Eastham also, in 1646, purchased "the neck of land lying at the mouth of the harbor, the island Pochet, and the tract" extending from the northern limits of Nauset to a little brook named by the Indians Sapokonisk and by the English Bound brook.

The Indian deed for the lands purchased of them for the town of Haverhill is as follows:

KNOW ALL LIEN BY THESE PRESENTS; that wee Passaquo and Saggahew, with the consent of Passaconnaway have sold unto the inhabitants of Pentuckett all the land we have in Pentuckett; that is eight miles in length from the little river in Pentuckett westward, six miles in length from the aforesaid river northward, and six miles in length from the aforesaid river eastward, with the islands and the river that the islands stand in as far in length as the land lyes, as formerly expressed, that is fourteens miles in length; and we the said Passaquo and Saggahew with the consent of Passaconnaway have sold unto the said inhabitants all the right that wee or any of us have in the said ground, and islands and river; and do warrant it against all or any other Indians whatsoever unto the said inhabitants of Pentuckett and to their heirs and assigns forever. Dated the fifteenth day of November: Anno Dom: 1642:

Witness our hands and seals to this bargain of sale the day and year above written (in the presents of us). Wee the said Passaquo and Saggahew have received in hand, for and in consideration of the same, three pounds and ten shillings.13

Zaccheus Macy, in his account of Nantucket,14 throws a little light on the subject of Indian deeds, where he says: "I have observed also, that some of our old deeds from the Indian sachems were examined by Peter Folger, and he would write something at the bottom of the deed and sign it, in addition to the signature of the justice; for he understood and could speak the Indian tongue." In what capacity Folger signed these deeds does not appear. He was one of the commissioners appointed to lay out lots in Nantucket, but this had no relation to purchases from the Indians. However, it appears that the magistrate's signature was necessary. This would indicate, as stated above, that the authority governing these purchases remained practically in the towns, and that reference to the general court was made only in unusual or extraordinary cases, or in disputed cases which could not otherwise be settled.

Reverend Peres Forbes, in his description of the town of Raynham (1793), says that lands (3 by 4 miles) originally known by the name Cohanat, "in the colony of New Plymouth," were purchased of Massasoit by Elizabeth Pool and her associates.

According to Drake,15 the following purchases were made of King Philip: 11 In 1665, he sold the country about Acushena know New Bedford,) and Coaxet, (now in Compton.) Philip's father having. previously sold some of the same, 10 was now given him to prevent any claim from him, and to pay for his marking out the same." in 1662 Wrentham was purchased of him by the English of Dedham. In 1669 an additional purchase was made by Dedham. In 1667 he sold to Constant Southworth and others all the meadow lands "from Dartmouth to Matapoisett;" also to Thomas Willet and others 11 all that tract of land lying between the Ritter Wanascottaquett and Cawatoquissett, being two miles long and one broad."

He sold and quitclaimed several other tracts, viz, "eight miles square," including the town of Rehoboth; an island near Nokatay; "a considerable tract of land in Middleborough;" land lying "near Acashewah in Dartmouth;" a tract "twelve miles square" south of Taunton, and a few days later "four miles square more."

These examples are sufficient to show that to some extent at least the lands as occupied by the colonists were purchased from the Indians; yet the lack of evidence, absence of records, and even want of tradition in regard to some of the towns lead to the inference that possession of the lands was otherwise gained, as at Boston, Salem, and other places.

In 1643 an act was passed by the Plymouth colony prohibiting all traffic in land with the Indians; and in 1657 and 1662 the general court took measures to protect the natives' fields and grounds from the stray cattle and swine of the English.

Among the articles of the confederation or alliance of 1643 between the four colonies. Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and few Haven was the following:

It is also by these confederates agreed, that the charge of all just wars, whether offensive or defensive, (upon what part or member of this confederation soever, they shall fall,) shall both in men and provisions, and all other disbursements, be borne by all the parts of this confederation, in different proportions, according to their different abilities, in manner following, viz. That the commissioners for each jurisdiction, from time to time, as there shall be occasion, bring account and number of all the males in each plantation, or any was belonging to or under their several jurisdictions, of what duality or condition soever they be, from sixteen years old to sixty, being inhabitants there; and that according to the different numbers, which from time to time shall be found in each jurisdiction, upon a true and just account, the service of men, and all charges of the war be borne by the poll. Each jurisdiction or plantation being left to their own just course or custom of rating themselves and people, according to their different estates, with clue respect to their qualities and exemptions among themselves; though the confederates take no notice of any such privilege, and that according to the different charge of each jurisdiction and plantation, the whole advantage of the war, (if it pleased God so to bless their endeavors,) whether it be in land, goods, or persons, shall be proportionably divided amongst the said confederates.16

As "offensive" as well as "defensive" wars are alluded to, and the "advantages gained in lands, goods, or persons" were to be divided proportionately, Mr Oliver declares this " must have had reference to an absorption of the whole territory of New England." Though the provisions are curious and seem to embrace somewhat covertly the right under, certain conditions to wage an offensive war and appropriate the territory thereby gained, Mr Oliver's inference is not fully justified. Moreover, it Seems to be forbidden by the ninth article of the agreement.

The only reference in this agreement to the treatment of the Indians is the following brief paragraph in article 8: That the commissioners appointed are to see "how all the jurisdictions may carry it toward the Indians, that they neither grow insolent nor be injured without due satisfaction, lest war break in upon the confederates through miscarriages."17 These references are given as furnishing some indication of the theory of the colonists of Massachusetts in regard to the rights and title of the natives, for it must be understood that this agreement was in truth the expression of Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island being refused admittance and Connecticut being virtually a silent factor.

Another episode in which the question of primary title was brought forward was that caused by the abrogation of the charter and the course of Governor Andros. The history is too well known to need repetition here. It is necessary only to say the theory accepted by the Crown was that, in consequence of the abrogation of the charter, no claim based on a grant from the Massachusetts Company or on a purchase from the Indians was valid; and that no New England settler had ever acquired a legal title to his lands. The real object of this bold move appears to have been to force contributions from the people by compelling them to pay for new grants and new confirmations of their purchases. Indian deeds were declared to be "worth no more than the scratch of a bear's paw."

These items are sufficient to give a general idea of the policy and methods of dealing with the Indians in regard to their lands, adopted and practiced by the colonists of Massachusetts in the early days of their history while under Puritan control. In closing this brief examination of the period of Massachusetts history alluded to, the decision given by Doyle, who appears to be a fair and unbiased authority, may be adopted if the words "New Englanders" are limited to Massachusetts: "Whatever may have been the failings of the Puritan settlers, they cannot be charged with wanton and purposeless cruelty. Greed in despoiling the natives of their land, unreasonable and unjust suspicion in anticipating attacks, harshness in punishing them, of none of these can we acquit the New Englanders."

As the province of Maine was abandoned by Gorges in 1651, and by consent of the people taken under control of Massachusetts in 1652 and made a part of that colony by the new charter of 1691,a brief reference to some dealings with the Indians in regard to the lands of that province is made here.

The following items are from the Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society.

In a letter by Governor Shuts to the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations, March 13, 1721. it is stated that:

Those lands which the French Government calls the Indians' land, are lands which the English have long since purchased of the Indians, and have good deeds to produce for the same, and have also erected some Forts thereupon. And that the said lands have been at several gent meetings of the Indians and English confirmed to them, and once since my being Governour of these Provinces; as will appear y the enclosed treaty of the 19 August 1717.

In another letter to Marques de Vaudreil (1722) he says: "Arowsick is a small island at the mouth of one of our chief rivers, purchased by good deeds from the natives near seventy years agorae, and settled with a good English village about fifty years since." The following important item relating to one point in the method of treating with the Indians in this eastern province is also contained in the same letter: "Now it is notorious that, at all times when this government accepted the submission of, or treated with these eastern Indians, their delegates or some of their chiefs were present and produced their powers or credentials from the tribe."

In a letter from Governor Dummer to the same party it is stated that "the Penobscot Indians, Norridgewalk Indians, and many other tribes had in the year 1693 at a treaty of Sir William Phipps governor of this Province, not only submitted themselves as subjects to the crown of England, but also renounced the French interest and quitted claim to the lands bought and possessed by the English."

In volume IV, second series, page 303, of the collections cited occurs this remark: "Levett's probity was as marked as his sagacity, and instead of seizing upon the land by virtue of his English patent, he procured from Cogawesco, the Sagamore of Casco, and his wife, permission to occupy it, recognizing them as inhabitants of the country, and as having 'a natural right of inheritance therein.' This is in marked contrast to most other patentees of lands in New England."

These items, to which others of similar import might be added, indicate a just policy in regard to that part of the territory which came under the authority of Massachusetts. They are sufficient to show that the people of this district recognized the Indian title of occupancy and respected it.

It seems that after the close of Puritan control and the grant of the new charter, the authorities gradually drifted into the theory and policy held by most of the other colonies and adopted subsequently by the United States. Brief reference to some items indicating this fact is all that is necessary here.

In the plan of a proposed union of the several colonies; drawn up in 1754, in which Massachusetts took part, is the following section:

That the President-General, with the Grand Council, summoned and assembled for that purpose, or a quorum of them as aforesaid, shall hold and direct all Indian treaties, in which the general interest or welfare of those colonies may be concerned; and make peace or declare war with Indian nations; that they make such rules and orders, with pains and punishments annexed thereto, as they judge necessary, for regulating all Indian trade; that they direct and order the ways and means, necessary and beneficial to support and maintain the safety and interests of these colonies, against all their common enemies; that they make all purchases from Indians, for the Crown, of lands not now within the bounds of particular colonies, or that shall not be within their bounds, when the extension of some of them are rendered more certain.18

Here is a clear recognition of the Indian title and the necessity for extinguishing it by purchase.

In 1758 the following act was passed by the governor, council, and house of representatives:

That there be three proper persons appointed for the future y this Court, near to every Indian plantation in this province, guardians to the said Indians in their respective plantations, who are hereby empowered from and after the twenty-third day of June, A. D. 1758, to take into their hands the said Indians' lands, and allot to the several Indians of the several plantations, such parts of the said lands and meadows as shall be sufficient for their particular improvement from time to time, during the continuance of this act; and the remainder, if any there be, shall be let out y the guardians of the said respective plantations, to suitable persons, for a term not exceeding the continuance of this act; and such part of the income thereof as is necessary, shall be applied for the support of such of the proprietors in their respective plantations as may be sick or unable to support themselves; and the surplusage thereof, if any there be, distributed amongst them according to their respective rights or interest, for providing necessaries for themselves and families, and for the payment of their just debts, at the discretion of their said guardians; and that the respective guardians aforesaid be hereby empowered and enabled, in their own names, and in their capacities as guardians, to bring forward and maintain any action or actions for any trespass or trespasses that may be committed on the said Indian land; and that any liberty or pretended liberty obtained from any Indian or Indians for cutting off any timber wood, or hay, milking pine trees, carrying off any ore or grain, or planting or improving said lands, shall not be any bar to said guardians in their said action or actions: Provided, That nothing in this act shall be understood to bar any person or persons from letting creatures run upon the said Indians' unimproved lands that lie common and contiguous to other towns or proprietors.

And be it further enacted, That from and after the twenty-third day of June afore-said, no Indian or Indians shall sell or lease out to any other Indian or Indians any of his or her lands without the consent of the guardians, or a major part of the guardians of the Indians of the plantation wherein such lands do lie; and all sales or leases of land for any term or terms of years that shall at any time hereafter during the continuance of this act, be made by any Indian or Indians to any other Indian or Indians, shall be utterly void and of none effect, unless the same be made y and with license of the respective guardians as aforesaid.19

In 1780 an act was passed appointing commissioners to examine all sales of lands previously made by any of the Indians of the Moheakunnuk tribe residing in Stockbridge which had not been legally confirmed, and to confirm those for which payment had justly been made.

Another act was passed confirming the agreement with the Penobscot Indians, by which said Indians released their claims to all lands on the west side of Penobscot river, "from the head of the tide up to the river Pasquatequis being about forty-three miles; and all their claims and interest on the east side of the river from the head of the tide aforesaid up to the river Hantawomkeek took being about eighty-five miles, reserving only to themselves the island on which the old town stands and those islands on which they now have actual improvement."

As the records show purchases of but a comparatively small portion of the territory of the state, and no assertions are found in any of the numerous histories that the lands, except in the bounds of Plymouth colony, were generally purchased, the reasonable inference is that they were not, or at least that a, large portion of them was otherwise obtained. This conclusion appears to be confirmed by statements which have been quoted above. That Massachusetts made an earnest effort to Christianize the Indians is certainly true, but it must be admitted that the treatment of these natives by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay in regard to their lands will not compare in the sense of justice, equity, and humanity with the policy of Connecticut, Rhode Island, or Pennsylvania.


1 Aims and Purposes of the Massachusetts Colony.
2 Puritan Colonies, vol. n, pp. 12-13.
3 Thacher, History of Plymouth, p. 38, note. a
4 Book 10, chapter
5 Thacher, History of Plymouth, p. 145.
6 Puritan Commonwealth.
7 Peter Oliver, Puritan Commonwealth, pp. 101-103.
8 Laws of Colonial and state Governments (18:12), pp. 9-10.
9 Pages 30-31
10 There is considerable difference between the various copies of this paper. The second paragraph, as given in the "Old south Leaflets," (12th series, number 3) is as follows: "We shall come in w11 the good leave of the Natives, who find benefit already by our neighborhood & learns of us to improve pt to more use, then before they could doe the whole, & by this meanes wee come in by valuable purchase: for they have of us that which will yeild them more benefit then all the land which we have from them." In the copy given above, this is found in the fourth paragraph, abbreviated thus: "We shall come in with the good leave of the natives."
11 Collections Massachusetts Historical Society, vol, ix, first series, pp. 159,160.
12  Collections Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. III.
13 Op. Cit., vol. Iv (1816), pp. 169-170.
14 Collections Massachusetts Historical society, vol III, first series, p. 159.
15 Indians of North America, (1833), bk. 3, chap. 2,1).14.
16 Collections Massachusetts Historical society, vol. v, 2d ser., p. 969.
17 Hubbard, General History, chap. 52.
18 Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, vol. Vii (1801), p. 205.
19 Laws of Colonial and State Governments Relating to Indian Affairs (1832), p. 16


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied

First annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1879-80

Indian Land Cessions in the United States

 

Copyright 2000- by NaNations.com and/or their author(s). The webpages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission from NaNations or their author. Images may not be linked to in any manner or method. Anyone may use the information provided here freely for personal use only. If you plan on publishing your personal information to the web please give proper credit to our site for providing this information. Thanks!!!