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American Indians of Massachusetts in the Revolution

American Indians of Massachusetts in the Revolution

By Eric G. Grundset, Editor
Forgotton Patriots – African American and American Indian
Daughters of the American Revolution

About 1,700 African Amerian and American Indian men have been identified in a study as being among the nearly 68,000 soldiers Massachusetts supplied to the army during the Revolution.1 General Artemus Ward, George Washington’s predecessor as Commander-in-Chief, issued the first general order of the Continental Army in the spring of 1775. That order required that a descriptive return, including “complexion,” be made of all men in the army.2 Although it was not always followed to the letter, the order has made the task of identifying minority participants in the Revolution less difficult.

american-indians-in-revolutionAt the outbreak of the Revolution, there were approximately 1,700 Indians living in Massachusetts. While most Indians resided in the counties on or around Cape Cod, over 200 lived near Stockbridge in western Massachusetts.51 The Bay State had been seeking Indian support for the American cause even before the Lexington uprising.

The Indian company, which had been formed under the commands of Colonel Paterson, Captain Goodridge and an Indian 2nd Lieutenant, Jehoiakim Mtohksin, marched to the army’s headquarters at Cambridge after learning of the Alarm at Lexington.54 Their arrival was reported back to England by the British Commander-in- Chief, General Thomas Gage, who wrote on April 30, “A company of Indians are come down from Stockbridge and more are to be provided if they are wanted.”55

After the events at Lexington and Concord, the second Provincial Congress continued to discuss the question of Indian participation and in May 1775 established a committee comprised of Captain Stone, Colonel Warren and Mr. Sullivan “to take into consideration the expediency of taking measures for raising a company or two of Indians.”56 Even while those discussions were going on, Indians were fighting on the side of the Americans. which he had taken and as an incentive to encourage other Indians to join the Americans.57

Shortly thereafter, several of the Stockbridge Indians who were encamped at Cambridge addressed a petition, dated June 21, to Joseph Warren, President of the Provincial Congress, setting forth certain terms under which they wished to be paid. On the same day, two men from the company, which numbered about fifty, killed four British regulars. Others from the Stockbridge Company were involved in an incident on July 8, during which the British soldiers who were taking soundings in the river near Cambridge were forced to withdraw.59

The Continental Congress considered the employment of Indians in December 1775 and decided that it would call upon the Stockbridge Indians and those of other northeastern tribes “in case of real necessity.”60 Even though the Stockbridge Indians had seen action during the previous year, President John Hancock, acting on instructions from the Continental Congress, issued an order June 25, 1776 “forbidding the raising the companies of Mohekan and Stockbridge Indians.”61 Hancock rescinded that order in a letter to George Washington dated August 2, 1776 in which he stated, “The Congress approve of you employing in the Service of the States the Stockbridge Indians, if you think proper.”62

Washington’s correspondence between the years 1776 and 1779 indicates that he did continue to employ Stockbridge Indians.63 However, in One of the first to become involved in battle was Henries Vomhavi who was allowed to keep a little horse which he had taken during skirmishes at Noddles Island, near Boston, in late May and early June. Vomhavi was awarded the horse for the risks September 1781, he rejected an offer of support from them and stated in a letter to General William Heath that “their services never compensated the expense.”64 Ironically, just two months previously, the town of Stockbridge had enlisted Benjamin Towsey, a 17 year old Indian, to serve for three years in the Continental Army.65

Massachusetts did indeed employ Indians during the Revolutionary War. For example, in May 1775, Abraham Nimham, a Stockbridge Indian, was paid “thirty six shillings lawful mony” by the Receiver General of Massachusetts for carrying a message.66

In October 1777, the Continental Congress instructed that 200 dollars be paid Abraham Nimham and his companions “…as an acknowledgment for their zeal in the cause of the United States,”67 and for their service under Major General Gates.68 The above-mentioned Abraham Nimham was the same “old sachem” that, with a young chief Nimham, was brutally murdered by the British in a skirmish near Kingsbridge, New York on August 31, 1778. A total of 30 Indians were killed in the skirmish and many more were wounded.69

One of the most heterogeneous Massachusetts military organizations was a company commanded by Captain John Chadwick of Tyringham in Berkshire County.70 Among the members of the company were Agrippa Hull71 and Frank Continental Army with the Officers (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1915), 1:171, 735: 2:1056, 1067. Dunkins,72 two African Americans from Stockbridge in Berkshire County. Both Hull and Dunkins were pensioned after the war. Serving in the same company was a group of Indians from Mashpee in Barnstable County, which is located at the opposite end of the State. Two of the Mashpee Indians, Joseph Keeter73 and Job Rimmon,74 had died during the war. Daniel Pocknit, from Mashpee, who also served in Chadwick’s company, received bounty land from both the State and the Federal Government after the war. 75

The Mashpee and Stockbridge Indians suffered heavy losses during the war. Reverend Gideon Hawley, minister to the Mashpee plantation, stated in 1783 “At that time, there were no less than seventy widows on the plantation.”76 Most of the widows had lost their husbands during the war.77

Reuben Baldwin, a lawyer from Sandwich, Massachusetts, and Greene County, New York, assisted Revolutionary War veterans of all colors in receiving their pensions and bounty land warrants. Several of the men were from the Mashpee Plantation/Tribe. The file for Job Hathaway (BLWT- 1931-100) contains a letter from Reuben Baldwin, regarding “an application for Bounty Land by the Heirs of ‘Six Coloured Men’,” in which the application of Simon Penny is mentioned.78 Determining who these six men were was an interesting research project. Simon Penny’s (BLWT- 1941-100) application also has pages with Reuben Baldwin’s forwarding address attached, and Obed Coffin’s (W14569) application is identified. The Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors entry for John Frances (S34887) lists three other men, who all happened to be assisted by Reuben Baldwin: Jacob Keeter (BLWT-1928-100), Francis Keeter (no known pension), James Keeter (S32942), and widow of John Frances, Patience, who at that time was also the widow of Scipio Allen (no known pension.) Reuben Baldwin’s initials and notes are also on Primus Jacobs’ (W21446) widows claim. There are three other men who Reuben Baldwin lists as assisting: Peter Sears, Peleg Stevens and Jabez Jolley.

By the close of the war, nearly half the Stockbridge Indian men had died or been killed.79 In 1785, their survivors migrated to the Oneida reservation at New Stockbridge, New York.80 On December 2, 1794, those survivors were parties to a treaty with the United States, which was made as payment for the services of the Indians during the Revolution. The treaty granted the Stockbridge, Oneida and Tuscarora Indians 5,000 dollars, to be divided among the three groups. It also provided that a sawmill, a gristmill, and a church be built in the country of the Oneidas.81

The impact of the Revolution on Massachusetts’s minorities was tremendous. The Indian population was nearly obliterated due to deaths during the war and later removals to the west. The African American population fared better, however. The end of the Revolution brought African Americans the freedom for which those patriots had fought.


  1. Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1850), 2:631.
  2. Joseph T. Wilson, The Black Phalanx (Salem, N. H.: Ayer Publishers, Inc., 1986; reprint of Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1890 ed.), 41.
  3. William M. Olin, Secretary of the Commonwealth, comp., Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1896), 1:x. (Here- after Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors)
  4. Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1913), 1:534.
  5. Lorenzo Johnston Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), Appendix A, 337.
  6. Peter Force, ed., American Archives. Ser. 4. Vols. 1- 3. (Washington, D. C.: St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, 1839), 2:762. (Hereafter cited as Force, American Archives).
  7. William Lincoln, ed., The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775 and of the Committee of Safety (Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, Printers, 1838), 302. (Hereafter, Jour. Prov. Cong. & Cmte of Safety).
  8. George Livermore, “An Historical Research Respecting the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens, and as Soldiers.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1862-1863), 184.
  9. George H. Moore, Historical Notes on the Employment of Negroes in the American Army of the Revolution (New York: Charles T. Evans, 1862), 5.
  10. Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Ser. 4, 3:1161.
  11. Livermore, op. cit., 186; published as “Colored Citizen Soldiers of the Revolution.” The Liberator, issue 38 (September 18, 1857), p. 152, col. C.
  12. Moore, op. cit., 7.
  13. Idem.
  14. Ibid., 8.
  15. The Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, 1769-1780. 16 vols. (Boston: Wright & Potter, Printing Co., 1886- 1909), 5:451, 596.
  16. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 1:xxiv.
  17. Joseph Carvalho, “A Revolutionary War Muster Roll, Springfield, Massachusetts.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 69:1 (March, 1981), 13- 14.
  18. Joseph Carvalho III, Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts (New England Historic Genealogical Society and Institute for Massachusetts Studies, Westfield State College, 1984), 14. (Hereafter, Carvalho. Black Families).
  19. Wilson, op. cit., 55-6: Journal of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, 1777-1778 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1988), 53:part 2: 243.
  20. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 15:285; Revolutionary War Pension File, S43189. Record Group 15. National Archives and Records Administration. (Hereafter cited as RWPF).
  21. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 54; Paul T. Arnold, “Negro Soldiers in the United States Army.” The Magazine of History, 10:4 (October 1909), 126.
  22. Moore, op. cit., 17.
  23. Edward Moseley Harris, Andover in the American Revolution (Marceline, Mo.: Walworth Publishing Co., 1976), 25-26.
  24. Sarah Loring Bailey, Historical Sketches of Andover (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co.; Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1880), 324.
  25. Mark Mayo Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1974), 872.
  26. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 13:743-744; William Barry, History of Framingham, Massachusetts (Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1847), 64, 94; Emory Washburn, Historical Sketches of the Town of Leicester Massachusetts (Boston: John Wilson & Son, Printers, 1860), 266-269.
  27. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 8:685: William C. Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston: J. B. Territon and Sons, 1855; reprinted: Salem, N. H.: Ayer Co., Publishers, Inc., 1986), 42- 43.
  28. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 12:1789; RWPF, S33513; Samuel Roads, Jr., The History and Traditions of Marblehead (Marblehead: N. Allen Lindsey & Co., 1897), 237-238.
  29. Mass, Sol. & Sail. (1900), 7:39, 227; Carvalho. Black Families, 67-68; William B. Sprague, Sketches of the Life & Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A.M. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1837), 45-46.
  30. Journals of the House of Representative of Massachusetts, 1775-1776 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1983), 51:part 2:209.
  31. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 14:751.
  32. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 13:540; George Athan Billias. General John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960), 69.
  33. Charles A. Nelson, Waltham, Past and Present, and its Industries (Cambridge, Mass.: Thomas Lewis, 1879), 105-6.
  34. Kenneth W. Porter, “Three Fighters for Freedom, Maroons in Massachusetts: Felix Cuff and His Friends, 1780.” The Journal of Negro History, 28:1 (January 1943), 51.
  35. J. H. Temple, History of the Town of Palmer, Massachusetts (Palmer, Mass.: Published by the Town of Palmer, 1889), 196; Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 8:654-655.
  36. RWPF, S36114.
  37. Carvalho, Black Families, 14.
  38. William Bell Clark, ed., Naval Documents of the American Revolution (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968), 832-833. (Hereafter Nav. Docs. of Amer. Rev.)
  39. William James Morgan, ed., Nav. Docs. of Amer. Rev. (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), 516.
  40. Williams James Morgan, ed., Nav. Docs. of Amer. Rev. (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980), 930-931.
  41. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 12:793
  42. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 8:654.
  43. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 5:339.
  44. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 3:10; Henry S. Nourse, The Military Annals of Lancaster, Massa- chusetts, 1740-1865 (Lancaster, 1889), 237.
  45. Idem.
  46. Rev. A. P. Marvin, History of the Town of Winchendon (Winchendon: Published by the Author, 1868), 278.
  47. Ibid., 277-9.
  48. Massachusetts Digest Annotated (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1981), 17A:590.
  49. Idem.
  50. “Social and Industrial Condition of the Negro in Massachusetts.” Thirty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Statistics of Labor (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1904), Part 3, 231.
  51. L. Kinvin Wroth, “Province in Rebellion.” in L. Kinvin Wroth, et al., eds. Province in Rebellion, A Documentary History of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1774-1775 (Cambridge, Mass. London, England: Harvard Universily Press, 1975), 3. (Hereafter, Province in Rebellion); Carter G. Woodson, “The Relations of Negroes and Indians in Massachusetts.” The Journal of Negro History, 5:1 (January, 1920), 46.
  52. Frank A. Gardner, “Colonel John Paterson’s Regiment.” The Massachusetts Magazine, 8:1 (January 1915), 33.
  53. Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Ser. 4, 2:315- 6.
  54. Gardner, op. cit., 34: Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 11:182.
  55. Wroth, Province in Rebellion, (text-fiche), 1985- 1986.
  56. Lincoln, Jour. of Prov. Cong. & Cmte of Safety, 219.
  57. Wroth, Province in Rebellion, (text-fiche), 2680- 2681; William H. Sumner. History of East Boston (Boston: J. E. Tillon & Co., 1858), 387.
  58. Wroth, Province in Rebellion (text-fiche), 2480-2481.
  59. Richard Frothingham, Jr., History of the Seige of Boston, and the Battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), 212-3.
  60. Waller H. Mohr, Federal Indian Relations, 1774- 1788 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 38.
  61. Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1979), 4:319.
  62. Ibid., 606.
  63. John C. Fitzpatrick, Calendar of the Correspondence of George Washington Commander in Chief of the
  64. James F. Vivian and Jean H. Vivian, “Congressional Indian Policy during the War for Independence,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 63:3 (September 1968), 273.
  65. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 15:938-939.
  66. Wroth, Province in Rebellion (text-fiche), 2537.
  67. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1907), 9:840; Papers of the Continental Congress, no. 36, 4, folio 9, (NARA film M247, Reel 43).
  68. Idem.
  69. Thomas F. DeVoe, “The Massacre of the Stockbridge Indians, 1778.” The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries (September 1880), vol. 5, 190-195.
  70. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 3:237-238.
  71. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 7:64; (1901), 8:477; Pension W760, RG 15, NARA; Emilie S. Piper, “The Family of Agrippa Hull,” Berkshire Genealogist, 22:1 (Winter 2001), 3-6.
  72. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 5:36, 52-53; Pension S74773, RG 15, NARA.
  73. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 9:25-26.
  74. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 13:337.
  75. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 14:487.
  76. Frederick Freeman, The History of Cape Cod: Annals of the Thirteen Towns of Barnstable County (Boston: W.H. Piper Co., 1869), 1:692.
  77. Idem.
  78. Margot Minardi, “Freedom in the Archives: The Pension Case of Primus Hall.” In Peter Benes, ed., Slavery/Antislavery in New England. (The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 2003) (Boston: Boston University, 2005), 134.
  79. William C. Sturtevant, general ed.; Bruce G. Trigger, vol. ed., Handbook of North American Indians: Northeast (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978), 208.
  80. Rev. C. M. Hyde and Alexander Hyde, The Centennial Celebration and Centennial History of the Town of Lee, Mass. (Springfield: Clark W. Bryan & Co., Printers, 1878), 122. 81 Charles I. Kappler, comp., Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1904), 2:37-39.

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