Tribal Overseers

Variant name:

Honourable Overseers

Description:

Several of the early colonies appointed prominent men called overseers as "guardians" of Indian interests and affairs, especially concerning the sale of lands and the rights to land use. In the Colony of Connecticut, overseers dealt directly with Tribes on behalf of the General Assembly and reported to it, and were allowed to levy fines on white settlers for abridgment of Native lands rights. These were particularly thorny issues for tribes like the Mohegans, who had long-standing treaties and understandings with the Colony and shared lands under dispute with white settlers in the contentious Mason Land Case. Although the position of overseer was created to apprise Indians of their rights and protect them, the historical record indicates that overseers intervened in and disrupted Mohegan tribal governance and served colonial interests. In March 1764, tribal overseers met with the Mohegan sachem Ben Uncas III, considered by Occom and others as a puppet of the Colony, and received a lease of Mohegan lands from Uncas for a white farmer. This violated previous agreements about land between the Mohegans and the tribal overseers and also disregarded traditional Mohegan protocols of consensus. Occom complained to Wheelock about this situation in a letter of May 7, 1764 (J. Brooks 71). The overseer arrangement continued, at least in Connecticut and Massachusetts, after statehood.

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Sources:

Trumbell, James Hammond, Charles Jeremy Hoadly, eds. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut [1636-1776]. Lockwood & Brainard Company 1873, ebook; Strong, Albert Clifton. Indian Policy in the Colonial Period: Part I, New England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1901, ebook; Occom, Samson. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan. Ed. Joanna Brooks. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006.