Bidwell Lore – Timothy Woodbridge Part II

Welcome to week 46 of Bidwell Lore! This week we continue the story of Timothy Woodbridge with a petition he helped write for his Mohican friends.

In 1750, the Provincial government ordered that an Indian Proprietorship be created in an effort to protect the Stockbridge Mohicans from further dispossession of their land by English colonists. The proprietors were members of the Mohican Community in Stockbridge. All land transactions would need to be approved and recorded. The Mohicans asked Timothy Woodbridge to be the Proprietorship clerk, a position he held until his death in 1774. Clearly, they would benefit from his understanding of English colonial law and had complete trust in him to allow him to assume that duty. In addition, all Indian land transactions had to be approved by the provincial government.
Petitions to the Provincial government were the avenue for local officials or individuals to seek resolution for a wide range of issues. Petitions were addressed to the Governor, the Governor’s Council, and the House of Representatives. Generally, the House of Representatives would select a committee to investigate the issue and that committee would report back what they thought proper in terms of a resolution. Their resolve would be sent to the Governor’s Council for concurrence or nonconcurrence. Nonconcurrence would require either a change by the House or edits by the Council. Concurrence meant the resolve was accepted and it would be consented to by the Governor. That written resolve would be sent back to the petitioner, although it might not always be to their liking.
The petition below is a transcription of an 18th century document that is a part of the Harvard Project. Harvard pulled all the Native American petitions and resolves for all of the Tribes of Massachusetts. By agreement, Harvard would make the original publicly available on their website after each one had been vetted by the Community involved. In addition, Harvard provided grant money to have all the documents transcribed. Though many of the Mohican Community could both read and write English, the petition may have been written by Timothy Woodbridge, combining their expressive language with his legalese.

V33_p265268_JohnSergeant is the Harvard identifier for the petition below. This petition was authored and sent to the Great and General Court in 1763 four years after the death of Rev. John Sergeant. The issue being presented was an illegal town meeting engineered by the Ephraim Williams family in an attempt to exclude the Mohicans from town business. Below you will see images of the original petition with the transcription of those pages beneath the images.

Province of the Massachusetts Bay                                                                            

                                                            To His Excellency Francis Bernard Esqr. Captain
General and Commander in chief in and over his Majesties Province of the Mass-
achusetts Bay in New England.
And To the Honourable his Majesties council and house of Representatives in
General Court Assembled at Boston.
The humble petition of John Pophnehonnuhwoh and other Subscribers hereto Indian
Freeholders of the Lands of Town of Stockbridge and Inhabitants of Said
Town Humbly Sheweth. That the Town of Stockbridge was thro’ the goodness of the
great and general court to the Indians granted To the Tribe of Housatonnock Indians
with a part to be set off to the Rev. Mr. Sergeant our then Minister and To Mr.
Woodbridge our School master Also with further provisions for four English families
Soon after the great and general had granted the Said lands of Stockbridge they
were pleased to incorporate us with privileges of a Town in order we sup-
pose to Train us up in the customs and manners of the English which we were at
that time quite unacquainted with and by direction and Instruction of the
few English among us we were getting into some knowledge of Government
which before we had no knowledge of but a general aversion to it.
Mr. Woodbridge and others of our English Brethren have been endeavoring gently
And gradually to Lead our people into the knowledge of government and benefit
of the english laws and your petitioners are Sensible that the Indians in general
have been willing to be taught and in our Town meetings went on lovingly with
our English Brethren being directed by them as those that know what ought
to be done and for a great many years Mr. Woodbridge used to be a Selectmen
in the Town and often three of the Indians Served with him and but one English
man after a while the English multiplied in the Town and then they would
have but Two Indians and three English. Mr. Woodbridge for Several years Last
past having a great deal of business desired us to excuse him from serving as a Selectman
in the Town and to ease him of a burden we did it. and so have gone on several
years but never since he has been excused have the Indian Selectmen been called
to act altho’ Two have been chosen every year but never im-
proved as when Mr. Woodbridge Served for he would always make us be with
him and told us we must Learn what the english did in Town affairs
and when the Selectmen called the Town meeting in March Last they never Said
any thing to the Indian Selectmen abut the matter of the meeting Mr.
Woodbridge was then out of Town and so not at the meeting but some of
The Indians went To the meeting and when the meeting was opened the
people went on as we used to do and chose a Moderator and Town Clerk
and Then To the choice of Selectmen but after the moderator was chosen then the people (some of them) moved
To have the votes brought in writing we Indians did not know what that
was and nobody would Let us understand it for we always voted before by
lifting up the hand The Indians desired that Mr. Woodbridge might be made
 a Selectman because other people never minded the Indians to call them
when they did the Town business and when the Indians were chosen Selectmen
They never heard any more of the Matter but they were choose against [torn page]
Then the people brought in their papers and we did not know what [torn page]
They were doing but they said Mr. Williams was chosen a Select
man Then we desired that Mr. Woodbridge might be chosen the [torn page]
Time giving the former reason but they would not hear us and so [torn page]
we that was got To meeting went away very Soon and others [torn page]
not come To the meeting when they heard that the people were [torn page]
not mind them: Then we Said we would wait till our father Mr. Woodbridge [1]
came home so we did and Told him the whole affair and he sent for the
three English Selectmen which called the Said meeting which was held
on the Twenty first day of March but they had not Constables chosen
at the Said meeting for the Constables one being an Indian refused
To Serve by reason of the conduct of the people and so did the english
Constable that the Town was destitute of those officers as also a Town
Treasurer The English an Indian Selectmen met and finding the Town under
such Broken circumstances four of them agreed and signed a new warrant
To call another meeting (viz) Two of the English and Two of the Indian Select
men who were never made privy to the Calling the other meeting one
of the english and both Indians protested against the former meeting
and Now called the Second meeting on the 30th of March at which meet-
ing the Town went on a very orderly manner and chose Town
officers and such as were by law to be sworn were sworn first by taking
the oath respecting the Taking the Bills of Neighboring governments
and then the oath of office. The Clerk that was chosen at the first meeting
swore the officers and did not give the oath respecting the Bills as by
Law required wherefore when the Town came Together at the Second
Meeting they did not Judge such to be legal officers Soon after this some
Time in the month of May the Selectmen as they called themselves which were chosen at
The first meeting called a third meeting To chose Constables and a Town
Treasurer at which meeting the Town Judged that they were [illegible]
plyed with those officers and refused To act.
The Town now lying in these miserable and confused circumstances
Your petitioners Humbly pray the Interposition of your Excellency
and Honours in your wisdom and goodness to put an end to these confu-
sions by establishing the doings of the Second meeting or by ordering
a meeting To be called anew and that the Town voters may be Suitably

and come To a new choice of Town officers and consider and act all
matters and things as the Town Shall find necessary To be done.
And further your petitioners would humbly inform the Honourable house of Repre-
sentatives That Elijah Williams Esqr. High sheriff of this County of his [torn page]
who with others has acted as unreasonable a part in the matter of the chos [torn page]
of a representative he having the precept in his own hand he with the other
pretended Selectmen chosen at the Said first meeting he being one [torn page]
It appears as he and that party who have given the Town so much [torn page]
Found as soon as he had the things writ for Issuing a precept the Indians
Many of them being out of Town immediately with the others afore said pre-
tended Selectmen called a meeting but never gave notice to the Indians
of the meeting but a few hours before the meeting and we understand to none of the English
but such as he and the Said Selectmen had procured to vote for his El [torn page]
and the Said Williams now pretends to be chosen a Representative [torn page]
I believe he is none for we no not what he means by being chosen in
the way he was for he brought in many Strangers to vote for him
and we always used To chuse our own representatives ourselves
but many voted for him that we know nothing about many were
poor fellows that we never heard had any business in this Town only
as they were hired To work and we have reason to believe to vote
Likewise The voters till now never was forty in number at the choice of a representative
But now all at once more than Sixty for Mr. Woodbridge had Twenty nine of
the proper Standing Inhabitants of the Town and the Pretend Selectmen
Said Williams had Thirty two but they were not people that belonged to this
Town as we ever heard or knew of before only as day labours. Therefore
Your humble petitioners and informers pray that the Said Williams
may not be allowed To Sit as a representative for this Town for he was ne-
ver chosen Legally as such and your petitioners are Sensible the Said
Williams and a party he has made in the Town are endeavouring
Not only to get all the power but our Lands too into his hands.
Wherefore as the great and general court has always Sheltered us from
the designs of those that have been our enemies So your petitioners
humbly pray that it would please the Great and General in
their wisdom and goodness now to do it and your petitioners shall
as in Duty bound Ever pray             John (his mark) Konkapot
Mokk (his mark) hewwauweet       David (his mark) Naunaneekaunuck
Johannis Mthksin
Daniel (his mark) Quans                    Benjamin (his mark) Kokhkeweaunnaut
Solomon Uhhaunnauwaunmut        Jacob Cheeksonkun

Ephraim (his mark) Waunaunqueen
Jonas Etwakaun
John Naunauphtaunk
Daniel (his mark) Poochose
Joseph (his mark)  Shawquethquot
Hendrick (his mark) Poopunkseet
Josiah (his mark) Mhuttauweh
Abraham (his mark) Naunauphtaunk
Wauwokaum (his mark) mooh
Ephraim Paumpkhaunhum
Susnun (his mark)
Notangshun (his mark)
Peter Naunauwant
John Peethous
Isaac Paushkaumppoh

Freeholders Indian
Inhabitants of Stockbridge
May 31 1763 [2]

Woodbridge, known to the Indians as Solohkuwauneh, by now had an established reputation [3]. Jonathan Edwards claimed that ‘Mr. Woodbridge, from his childhood, has had the character among all that have been acquainted with him, of being a man of uprightness, and of a generous disposition, and one who greatly abhors any mean, clandestine and injurious management from private views, and of very easy, placeable natural temper. By his long proved justice and integrity he has gained a vast esteem with the Indians, who are a people in that respect particular. If once they find that a man is mean, deceitful man, they will never trust him again; but their friendship is mightily gained by upright dealing.’ [4]
“Besides his Stockbridge arrangements the schoolteacher was involved in the controversial Susquehanna Land Company. [5] He tried to use influence with the Indians to gain a foothold for Connecticut emigrants in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania, a settlement that effort that resulted in bitterness and violence for more than forty years.” [6]
Ironically, in 1797 Attorney Barnabas Bidwell penned a one hundred plus page article called The Susquehannah Title Stated and Examined, in support of the Connecticut Colony claims. First published in The Western Star, a Stockbridge newspaper, it was later published in booklet form, printed in Catskill, by Mackay Croswell, “for the benefit of the public in general, and all persons concerned in particular.” The land in question covered 8340 square miles, or 5,337,600 acres, and it, of course, does not allude to how many native people were dispossessed or even if they had title. A story for another day.
“Woodbridge obviously did not become ‘first man of the county’ on his salary, which in 1749 was only a little more than L87 for six months of teaching. He had a wife, nine children, and a slave servant couple with their own child, all of whom had to be supported.” [7] What Frazier fails to note is that Woodbridge came from a politically prominent family who were likely well-to-do. Woodbridge, fairly early in his time in Stockbridge, was referred to as Esquire, the highest rank in the English-American caste system and often, but not always, an inherited title. 
In this short article it is not possible to include all of Timothy Woodbridge’s acts of kindness in support of the Stockbridge Mohicans, often going up against the powerful Williams family. With all due respect to William Shakespeare, both the good and not so evil deeds of Timothy Woodbridge’s life have lived after him.

Come back next week when we begin a tale of a Stockbridge meeting house, a Mohican burying ground, and an Arboretum.

[1] “Father Woodbridge” would be an honorific used by the Mohican to indicate their trust and respect.

[2] To date, 199 Petitions and Resolves have been transcribed for Harvard and approximately 100 for Yale.

[3] 1752-1754. Patrick Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge (University of Nebraska Press: 1992).

[4] Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge.

[5] The company operated in New York State, as well as in Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River, where Stockbridge resident Samuel Brown, Jr., acquired 230,400 acres from the native people or the equivalent of 10 Indian Towns, as one example of the scope of land taken.

[6] Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge.

[7] Frazier, The Mohicans of Stockbridge.