Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Related to Native American History

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An Overview



This guide is an overview of the Massachusetts Historical Society collections that contain information by or about Native Americans.


The collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society contain a wealth of manuscripts and other materials by and about North America's Indigenous peoples. This guide is intended to provide researchers with an overview of the materials available about Indigenous lives, society, governance, and history at the Society. It does not represent a detailed inventory of all collections items related to Indigenous history, nor does it include published materials, but is a preliminary survey of unique materials organized thematically.

The identity of Indigenous persons, groups, or nations recorded in these materials is often unknown. Many sources refer to Indigenous people only as "Indians" or refer to them using outdated and/or derogatory designations. Where known, a tribal affiliation or nation will be specified in our cataloging and finding aids. "Native American" will be used when a specific affiliation is impossible to determine, or when materials may be speaking about individuals from multiple nations and groups. "Indigenous" will be used as a descriptor.

With few exceptions, the collections of the Society represent the records and viewpoints of the Europeans who colonized North America and thus tend to portray this colonization as positive "progress" rather than violence, theft, and genocide against Native peoples.

To find more information on these resources or to request materials described in this overview, readers may consult several MHS resources. The Society's online catalog, ABIGAIL, available at, contains collection-level descriptions of the Society's manuscript collections and most of the photograph collections. Published and unpublished manuscript and photograph collection guides contain more detailed information than the descriptions found in ABIGAIL. Many of the collection guides are fully searchable at the MHS website (, and more are added on a regular basis. The collection-level records in ABIGAIL also indicate if there is a collection guide available for the collection. Copies of the paper collection guides that have not yet been converted to electronic format are available in the MHS reading room.

The manuscript card catalog contains descriptions of approximately 320,000 individual items; very few of these appear in ABIGAIL. The published Catalog of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society (G. K. Hall, 1969; 1980 supplement), available in more than 150 U.S. libraries, consists of photocopies of these item catalog cards. Although almost all of the collection-level descriptions in the Catalog have been revised or superseded in ABIGAIL, the published catalog remains a useful guide for descriptions of more than 300,000 individual manuscript items. The MHS card catalog, now available on microfiche in the Society's reading room, contains the cards in the published Catalog, as well as many additions and corrections.

Detailed Description

I. Materials by Indigenous Authors

The MHS holds a small number of documents known to have Indigenous authors. The Massachusett language documents, written by Native Americans on what is now Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, include deeds, bills, wills, correspondence, depositions, powers of attorney, and other documents, with signatures by Samson Kaata, Paul Noos, Quequenomp, Askammaboo, Soosooahquah, Jonah Hoosowit, and Joseph Cooms, among others. Evidence of the presence of early Native American students at Harvard College can be found in The Fable of the Fox and the Weasel written in Latin by Benjamin Larnell (Nipmuc) and a copy of Cicero's De Amicitia owned and inscribed by John Wompas (Nipmuc).

The Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts collection contains additional documents written by Indigenous authors. Descriptions of these items can be accessed through The Catalog of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1969; 1980 supplement). Since additions to the collection have been made since its publication, please contact the reader services staff for more information.

II. Indigenous Language Materials

European missionaries, working collaboratively with Indigenous people, translated religious texts and sermons into Indigenous languages as part of their effort to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The best known of these publications is Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God (historically referred to as the "Eliot Indian Bible"), a Massachusett translation of the Geneva Bible created in collaboration with Indigenous preachers, translators, and printers such as Job Nesuton and James Printer (Nipmuc). The collection also includes individual sermons in Massachuset and Wôpanâak by Josiah Cotton and Experience Mayhew; L'Office du Dimanche, a Catholic service with psalms set to music in the Mi'kmaq language by L'Abbe Pierre Maillard; and the Francois Ciquard prayer book written in Abenaki.

The MHS also holds several manuscript grammars and vocabularies including a Natick grammar, ca. 1666; vocabularies of the Massachuset language compiled by Josiah Cotton and John Cotton, Jr.; and an incomplete Algonquian dictionary copied by Samuel Danforth. From later periods, the collection includes a photostatic copy of a Kwakiutl language vocabulary recorded by Abraham Waters and a Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) vocabulary that forms part of Robert Haswell's Voyage round the world onboard the ship Columbia Rediviva. Further resources on Indigenous languages include a Vocabulary of the Muscogee (Creek) language, which includes additional vocabularies of Choctaw and Kickapoo. The Nahum Mitchell papers contain extensive notes on Indigenous languages by Samuel Davis.

III. Documentary Records of Indigenous People

Records about Indigenous individuals and communities not written by Indigenous people speak to specific communities and their survival during and after colonization. Indigenous vital records can be found in the English and Indian Church (Natick, Mass.) records and the First Parish (Hingham, Mass.) records, which include 18th-century death records of Indigenous members. The Nantucket census records include some 18th-century statistics about the island's Indigenous population. Notes on Hampshire County (Mass.) Native Americans include copies of 18th-century court records, account books, and other materials, mainly from the English settlement at Springfield in the lands of the Nipmuc.

The William Baylies ledgers include "Indians" among the list of patients treated in his medical practice in Dighton, Mass. The James Freeman historical essays include descriptions of the 19th-century community at Mashpee and other places on Cape Cod. The Manuscript history of the Pilgrims at Plymouth provides a colonizer's narrative of the first years of Plymouth Colony and mentions major Indigenous figures including Ousamequin (often referred to by his title, Massasoit) and Tisquantum, and early relations and conflicts with the Massachusett and the Wampanoag.

The Gideon Hawley letters and Gideon Hawley diaries and letterbook document the history of the Mashpee community in the 18th century, including vital records, correspondence around the community's governance, the building of a new meeting house in the 1750s, and conflicts over Hawley's control over community members through his state-sanctioned guardianship. Further information about Hawley's activities can be found in the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America records. The Samuel P. Savage papers,William Cushing papers,Cushing family papers, and Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts contain reports, writs, warrants, indentures, petitions, letters, wills, orders, and deeds related to individual Native Americans, as well as further documents related to the Indigenous communities at Mashpee and Sandwich.

Collections related to court cases provide further insight into individual Indigenous experiences. The William Pynchon papers contain materials related to a legal case where Pynchon raised the price of corn while trading with the Mohawk at Pocumtuc; the Papers relating to the kidnapping of Abigail Wampis include documents surrounding a case in which Wampis, a Native American woman, was illegally detained and sold as a servant; and the Saltonstall family papers include several warrants and notices from Daniel Gookin related to the arrest and trial of a Native American man at Natick in 1682. The Report of the Nipmuc Nation includes a summary of a Massachusetts state legal case related to Nipmuc lands in what is now Worcester County.

IV. The Land

European Arrival and Colonization

Some of the Indigenous tribes and nations who encountered European arrivals welcomed the newcomers, providing them with much-needed supplies and allowing them to reside on their lands. Europeans, however, often considered those early agreements as "sales" giving them title to the land and treated Indigenous people as inferiors to be pushed aside, oppressed, and enslaved. Early deeds provide information on the history of land dispossession and colonization, but also Indigenous geographies, kinship networks, and dynamics of power. The MHS holds a number of early land deeds signed by Native Americans. The quitclaim deed for the Peninsula of Boston is signed by Josias Wampatuck, the sachem of the Neponset, and the Anna E. Roth collection contains a 1657 lease from Wompatuck to John Thayer.

The Charlestown (Boston, Mass.) papers include land deeds and legal papers signed by the Massachusett saunkskwa (female sachem) of Mistick and her husband Webcowites. The John Davis papers include letters signed by the saunkskwa Awasuncks of the Sakonnet, and confirmed by the marks or signatures of Totatomet, Somagaonet. Tunnokum, Sausamon, and 42 other members of the Sakonnet. The Hutchinson-Oliver papers include three deeds marked by sachems of the Narragansett (Canonicus and Mianhinonen), Sakonnet (Awasuncks), and the Pocasset (Nanumpum/Weetamoo). Additional 17th-century deeds can be found in Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts and Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

The Winthrop family papers include materials related to the establishment of Massachusetts Bay Colony on lands of the Neponset band of the Massachusett; relations with the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Pequot, and Pocasset; land deeds and grants; and papers related to John Winthrop, Jr.'s governorship of the colony of Connecticut. The Saltonstall family papers include deeds and papers of early Massachusetts governor John Leverett. Other collections which contain individual land deeds, leases, testimonies, or other documents signed by or spoken by Indigenous people include: the Naushon papers; the Hardwick (Mass.) Proprietor's records; the Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts records; and the Nahum Mitchell papers.

The MHS has a number of related collections and documents pertaining to early European claims and colonization of Dawnland, the Abenaki name for the area that encompasses present-day Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New Brunswick. In 1629, the Council for New England issued the Muscongus Patent (later known as the "Waldo Patent"), a grant for 36 square miles between the Muscongus and Penobscot Rivers, the ancestral lands of the Wabanaki Confederacy (sometimes referred to in documents as "the Eastern Indians"). Although the Council had no legal right to disperse lands belonging to Indigenous peoples, these patents opened the door for British colonization of the area. The Fayerweather family papers include typescripts of diaries kept by Thomas Fayerweather during two expeditions to negotiate for land with Madockawando, sachem of the Penobscot, on behalf of the Lincolnshire Company, and the Lincolnshire Company records include 17th- and early 18th-century deeds tied to the Muscongus/Waldo Patent. Other collections with materials related to the colonization of Maine include the Pejepscot Company deeds;Thwing family papers;Hutchinson family papers;Nathan Dane papers; David Cobb papers, and the Kennebec Purchase deeds.

The Samuel Waldo papersinclude letters on relations with the Wabanaki, administrative correspondence, and correspondence about broader Indigenous-colonizer relations. The Saltonstall family papers contain diaries kept by Middlecott Cooke during two expeditions to the St. Georges River to negotiate with the Penobscot, as well as Waldo's "Interview with the Indians," describing a council between some members of the Penobscot and Samuel Waldo debating the validity of land sales made by the sachem Madockawando in 1695. The Henry Knox papers II include copies of deeds, legal papers, and correspondence; letters from Waldo; and later 18th-century depositions by colonizers describing interactions with the Wabanaki. The Jonathan Belcher letterbooks and the William Shirley papers include documentation concerning Indigenous relations and land disputes during their terms as governors of Massachusetts.

The Northeast Boundary papers include testimonies from members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and other Wabanaki Nations about the history of Indigenous and European inhabitation of the land surrounding the St. Croix River, which was claimed by both the U.S. and Britain in their boundary disputes following American independence. Petitions regarding Mohegan lands in Connecticut and the Dorr family papers contain documents concerning land holdings of the Mohegan in Connecticut.

Nineteenth-century Expansion into Indigenous Lands

The Benjamin Shattuck diary and survey notebooks in the Caleb Davis papers detail Shattuck's 1823 survey of the borders of the Cherokee Nation. The Henry Dearborn papers contain official documents about Indigenous land rights related to the Louisiana Purchase and the purchase of lands from the Chickasaw Nation west of the Tennessee River. The Jackson family papers II contain materials on the Tennessee Company, a land speculation company involved in the Yazoo Land Fraud, which illegally purchased millions of acres of Yazoo, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Natchez lands from the Georgia Legislature.

The 1830s saw the consolidation and legalization of the removal and genocide of Indigenous peoples by the United States government, using techniques that had been in use since the earliest settlements on North America. The United States went to war against some nations, such as the Seminole. The Joseph Lincoln Brigham family papers and Howe-Fogg family papers contain correspondence describing conditions in the Seminole Wars (1835-1838). The Francis Parkman papers contain copies of official documents in Spanish and "Florida Indian Languages," as well as a series of "Notes on Florida" related to Parkman's historical research.

White migrants streamed out from the United States into the lands of Indigenous nations to the west. The George Frederick Tufts travel journal,Samuel L. Ward family papers, and Thomas Macintosh, Jr. diary describe encounters with Native Americans made during trips or immigration in the Mississippi region, Oregon, and the Southwest, respectively. Francis Parkman's Oregon Trail journal in the Francis Parkman papers describes his 1846 experience hunting and living with the Oglala Sioux. The John Eliot Parkman papers include documents related to the Ute in what is now Colorado.

Service in wars against Indigenous nations also became an instrument of colonization. The List of soldiers who claimed Native American bounty lands documents the disposition of land to veterans from Massachusetts and Maine in what is now Arkansas, under U.S. Statute L. 701, entitling veterans of all U.S. wars since the Revolution to 160 acres of "bounty lands"—Indigenous lands forcibly taken or illegally claimed by the U.S. government—upon presentation of a certificate or warrant by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

V. Missions to Native Americans

In addition to the loss of their homelands, the Indigenous people of North America also faced forced assimilation through religious conversion and education.

In the mid-17th century, Rev. John Eliot established a wide-reaching program of cultural colonization through the establishment of praying towns, which aimed to "civilize" Indigenous people by converting them to Christianity and encouraging them to take up English-style agriculture, homes, and social structures. The MHS holds copies of a number of the foundational texts of Eliot's enterprise, including manuscript copies of Christian Commonwealth and Brief Narrative of the Progress of the Gospel. The John Eliot letters include information on the formation and administration of the first praying town at Natick, as well as correspondence with the Society's committee in England describing the later forced internment of English-allied Indigenous Christians from Natick and other praying towns on Deer Island in Boston Harbor during King Philip's War.

British colonizers formed several societies dedicated to the goal of converting Indigenous peoples, but one of the most influential was the Society for Propagating the Gospel in New England—SPGNE, or the New England Company, which financially supported John Eliot's work. The MHS holds significant collections of correspondence, diaries, reports, and other documents of ministers working for the Society. Daniel Gookin's Indians Converted, or Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, was a tract written for publication in England to encourage financial support of colonization and the missions of the Society for Propagating the Gospel. It describes the culture and history of the Pequots, Narragansetts, Wampanoag, Massachusett, and Mohawk/Haudenosaunee; and early English attempts to proselytize among these groups, among other topics. The Josiah Cotton memoirs and John Cotton, Jr. diaries describe missions to the Wampanoag at Patuxet (Plymouth). Cotton's diaries also include materials related to his missions to Native Americans on Martha's Vineyard. The Experience Mayhew papers contain correspondence describing his mission to the Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard. The Benjamin Colman papers include correspondence from ministers working among the Narragansett, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Pequot, and Stockbridge Mohican, among others; and the Cotton and Increase Mather letters and the Increase Mather papers include letters from ministers involved in the Society, although neither Colman nor the Mathers themselves actively ministered among Indigenous communities.

Building on the foundation set by Rev. John Eliot and the Society for Propagating the Gospel in New England, in 1787 a group of Bostonians launched the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America, which continued a program of religious conversion and assimilation well into the 20th century. The Records of the Society include diaries and correspondence from missionaries, particularly to the Oneida and Penobscot, but also among the Mashpee Wampanoag, the Onondaga, and others, including diaries kept by Samuel Kirkland, William Maclean, John Sergeant, and John Strickland. Samuel Kirkland's Letters to Eleazar Wheelock contain descriptions of living among the Oneida, religious discussions, and prayers. Documents related to the Stockbridge Mohican can be found in Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts. The Jeremy Belknap papers include Belknap's notes on the history of the Oneida, a visit to the Oneida in 1796 as a commissioner for the Society, and further documents related to its administration. The William Jenks family papers describe missions to the Penobscot Nation in the first two decades of the 19th century, including lists of Indigenous families, accounts of ministering and religious discussions, and copies of letters sent to the United States' Indian agents.

Collections with materials related to additional missions include the Benjamin Colman papers, which include extensive correspondence from ministers working among the Narragansett, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Pequots, Stockbridge Mohican, and others; the Eli Forbes diary describing his mission to the Tuscarora at Oghwaga, N.Y., and the Thaddeus Mason Harris papers, which include copies of descriptions of the Lenni Lenape, and the Lenape and Mahican languages written by Moravian missionary David Zeisberger. The Davis-Sturgis-Tappan family papers contain materials related to preaching at Mashpee in the 1810s, and Dudley Atkins Tyng's Account pertaining to the Isle of Shoals documents missionary activities among the Native Americans on the island at the turn of the century.

VI. Diplomacy and Warfare

Circa 1600-1753

Seventeenth-century collections on Indigenous relations and treaties include the Cyprian Southack letters, which contain descriptions of encounters, trade, and treaties with the Massachusett, Wampanoag, and other Native Americans along the east coast; the William Pepperrell papers, which includes a 1693 "Agreement with the Eastern Indians" (the Wabanaki Confederacy); the Benjamin Wadsworth diary and account book with entries on a 1694 mission to negotiate a treaty with the Haudenosaunee; a 1695 Letter to Charles Talbot comparing Indigenous-colonizer relations in the British and French Empires; and the Joseph Robineau, Sieur de Villebon journal, which includes entries on relations with the Mi'kmaq.

The Pequot War (1636-1638), fought between Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Connecticut Colony, and the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes against the Pequot, decimated Pequot society. Many Pequots and other Native Americans (including those allied with the English) were enslaved and sold to other English colonies in Barbados and overseas to Spain. The Winthrop family papers contain military and administrative documents related to the Pequot War, as well as the enslavement of captured Pequots and other Indigenous peoples. The John Hull diary contains descriptions of events leading up to and during the Pequot War and records of the sale of Indigenous captives into slavery. The Shrimpton family papers, Stewart Mitchell collection, and the Society's Photostats collection also contain documents related to the sale of Indigenous captives.

In 1675, as colonizers grew even more dismissive of the rights of Indigenous people, the massive armed resistance now known as King Philip's War began, led by Metacom (also known as King Philip), a son of Ousamequin Massasoit of the Wampanoag. The Winthrop family papers and the Winslow family papers II include significant military documents, correspondence, and accounts related to the lead-up to the war and its events. Accounts of the war written from colonizers' perspectives can be found in the Increase Mather sermons and the John Davis papers. As in the aftermath of the Pequot War, the English enslaved and sold Indigenous people, both those taken captive during the war and English-allied Native Americans. Certificates issued by Plymouth Colony Governor Josiah Winslow and Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Leverett authorized the transport and sale into perpetual slavery of Indigenous men, women, and children convicted of assisting Sachem Metacom. The Samuel Sewall diaries and papers include letters and entries on Sewall's attendance at the sale of Indigenous captives; mentions of Indigenous servants enslaved by his associates and friends; and later court cases brought against free and enslaved Indigenous people in Boston.

Indigenous nations played an integral role in subsequent wars and conflicts. The John Penhallow diary,John Pike diary, Israel Williams papers, and Stephen Williams diary contain descriptions of Indigenous relations, soldiers, and battles during King George's, Queen Anne's, and King William's Wars. The Samuel Sewall diaries include entries reporting on tensions with Native Americans and an account of a treaty negotiation with the Wabanaki in 1717. The William Shirley papers include correspondence discussing the Wabanaki-New England War of 1722-1725 and Indigenous military involvement in King George's War. The William Pepperrell papers mention Wabanaki military at the Louisbourg Expedition of King George's War, and the Samuel Waldo papers include correspondence concerning the Wabanaki alliance with France in the 1740s leading up to King George's War. The Thomas Saunders papers include documents pertaining to a 1751 treaty with the Penobscot made at St. George's River. Eighteenth-century collections containing relevant information include the Sir William Johnson letters and Sedgwick family papers, which include letters relative to Johnson's position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Empire; the Wendell family papers, which include documents related to a 1744 treaty with the Haudenosaunee; and the Thomas Penn letters, which mention Indigenous affairs and diplomatic relations related to the colony of Pennsylvania.


The Christopher Gist journal documents the 1754 expedition which initiated the Seven Years' War, and mentions Tanacharison (Seneca), Monacatoocha (Oneida), and Pollatha Wappia; and meetings with the Lenni Lenape (referred to as the Delaware). The Sir William Johnson letters and William Pepperrell papers include correspondence related to military and diplomatic affairs, and the Albany Congress minutes contain information about the British government's effort to conciliate the Six Nations of Haudenosaunee. The journal of Captain Isaac Wyman within the Israel Williams papers describes battles between British, French, and Indigenous military forces at Fort Massachusetts on the Hoosac River in 1756, and the Elisha Jackson journal describes relations between Indigenous, French, and English militaries while serving at Fort Cumberland in Nova Scotia from 1759-1760. Collections speaking to Indigenous involvement in the Quebec Campaign from 1758 to 1760 include the James Wolfe journal,Timothy Nichols diary, and Samuel Ward diary, which describe battles with Indigenous and French military forces. The Nathaniel Wheelwright diary describes negotiations with Indigenous and French diplomats for the return of English prisoners of war in Quebec. The Francis Parkman papers contain a range of materials related to Pontiac's Uprising and the Haudenosaunee (referred to as the Iroquois) during the Seven Years' War.


Although British imperial policy stressed, to some extent, respect of Indigenous sovereignty over issues of land ownership and occupation, many white, American-born colonizers vehemently opposed Indigenous land rights. Eager to continue colonization further westward, they often squatted on lands protected under treaties between Indigenous nations and the British Empire, which did little to stop this migration. This desire for land, along with a growing sense of political and cultural difference between Britain and America, led to the declaration of war in 1775.

Indigenous military support would prove crucial in this conflict, particularly in the northern and southern theaters of the Revolutionary War where powerful Indigenous nations controlled the balance of power. Speeches at a meeting with the Sachems of the Six Nations include transcribed orations delivered by sachems of the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora Nations and descriptions of the negotiations in which white Americans in favor of a political split from Britain negotiated for Indigenous aid in the war against Britain. Further documents related to Indigenous alliances, including transcribed speeches by leaders, can be found in Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, and the Adams family papers include discussions of British and American alliances with different nations, Indigenous military participation in the war, and meetings with individual Native American leaders and warriors.

The Solomon Lovell papers and William Heath papers contain documents related to alliances and military involvement of the Penobscot, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy during the 1779 Penobscot Expedition. The Moses Greenleaf diary and Benjamin Farnum diary contain descriptions of battles with the Haudenosaunee, and the William Heath papers include military documents mentioning the Haudenosaunee, the Kahnawake, and the Wabanaki.

Official documents and correspondence pertaining to the 1779 Sullivan Campaign--a massive offensive against the British-allied Haudenosaunee ordered by George Washington to cause "the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible"--can be found in the John Sullivan transcripts. The William Hudson Ballard papers, the William McKendry diary,George Reid journal,William M. Bell orderly book, and Henry Dearborn papers contain descriptions of individual battles and documents related to military orders and movements.

The microfilm of the Henry Knox papers, the Henry Knox papers II, and Henry Knox papers III contain military papers related to the Cherokee Nation and other Indigenous involvement in the war, and the Benjamin Lincoln papers contain correspondence related to a potential Cherokee-Loyalist alliance, as well as documents related to negotiations with the Muscogee Nation in 1789, a later diplomatic mission undertaken with Timothy Pickering to the Shawnee and Erie in 1794, and letters to the U.S. agent to the Penobscot.

Although the United States negotiated peace and treaties with most of the Indigenous nations surrounding its colonies, it did nothing to stop colonizers from flooding into Indigenous lands. When Native Americans retaliated by raiding and attacking their settlements, the U.S. reverted to warfare, destroying Indigenous towns, burning crops, and murdering defenseless civilians. The Winthrop Sargent papers include documentation of Sargent's 1786 survey of the Northwest Territory and the 1791-1792 Sinclair Expedition against the Western Confederacy. The Samuel Shepard diary includes descriptions of conflicts between the Shawnee Nation and American colonizers on their lands in Kentucky, as well as the 1790 Harmar and the 1794 Wayne campaigns. The Hayward family papers contain letters written during Anthony Wayne's 1794 campaign against the Northwest Confederacy, and the Stebbins family papers contain a copy of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, with some additional related documents. The Timothy Pickering papersinclude documents related to negotiations with the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy that culminated in the Treaty of Canandaiuga in 1794, which was meant to settle the borders between the U.S. and the Haudenosaunee; papers of diplomatic missions to Native American nations, 1786-1809; and records of his involvement in speculation in the Wyoming Valley Company.

VII. Trading Voyages to the Pacific Northwest

As early as the 1780s, Americans were already trading with Indigenous nations of the Pacific Northwest and the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawai'ians) as part of their trade with China. Three narratives on trading expeditions to the Pacific Northwest on the ship Columbia RedivivaNarrative of a voyage to the Northwest coast of America and China by John Hoskins, and Voyage round the world onboard the ship Columbia Rediviva and sloop Washington and Voyage on discoveries in the ship Columbia Rediviva by Robert Haswell—chronicle trade in the 1780s and 1790s with the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, Kanaka Maoli, and other nations. Further materials on Indigenous-American trade in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii can be found in the Bernard Magee journal and logbooks, the Log of the snow Polly, the Log of the ship Eliza, and the William Sturgis papers. Descriptions of Indigenous trade in Sitka, Alaska, and an account of the murder of an Indigenous prisoner by Americans can be found in Sturgis's Autobiographical reminiscences of the sea otter trade.

VIII. Government Surveillance and Sovereignty

The United States government attempted to control Indigenous peoples' access to their own lands, resources, and even the food and other necessities that had been guaranteed by earlier treaties. The MHS holds significant collections of papers related to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners, and private organizations and individuals who played a role in these efforts.

The Endicott family papers include the papers of William C. Endicott, Sr., secretary of war during Grover Cleveland's administration, including papers on Indigenous-U.S. affairs, the suppression of Indigenous uprisings, and the ongoing U.S.-Indigenous wars from 1885-1887; as well as specific papers on the capture of Goyaałé (Geronimo) in 1886.

The Robert G. Valentine family papers include Valentine's correspondence and papers related to his work as secretary of the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs (the head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior) before being appointed commissioner in 1909 by President William Taft. Valentine's correspondence to his wife Sophie French Valentine details his 1906-1908 trip across the West and include descriptions of reservations, schools, Indigenous towns, living conditions, and culture.

The Edward S. Tobey papers and the Samuel A. Eliot papers include extensive materials related to the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners, an advisory body founded in 1896 and made up of private white citizens including businessmen, industrialists, philanthropists, and missionaries who advised the U.S. government on policy toward and treatment of Indigenous nations. Although founded to create more humane policies toward Native Americans, the board quickly consolidated around a policy that advocated for breaking up reservations, ending all forms of tribal self-governance, and forcibly absorbing Indigenous nations into the American citizenry. The Eliot papers include reports on boarding schools; the breakup of reserved lands into individual allotments; Indigenous wage labor and employment; and advisory documents addressed to the Secretary of the Interior, among other topics.

Control over Indigenous life and labor was not limited to the gaze of public officials. The Indian Industries League papers contain materials related to a private organization which sought to promote craft industries on reservations among the Acoma (pottery), Arapaho (beadwork), Cheyenne (beadwork), Laguna (pottery), Navajo (rugs, silverworking), Oneida (lace-making), Pima (basket-making), and Pueblo (pottery and textiles). Minutes describe life on reservations, agriculture, economic and social conditions, health and illness, illegal land seizures in Oklahoma, and notes on a trip to the Mission, Navajo, and Yuma reservations.

White domination of the continent also led to the entrenchment of cultural colonization through education, and a boarding school system that served to separate Indigenous children from their families, traditions, and homelands. Information about boarding and reservation schools can be found in the late 19th- and 20th-century records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America and the Gregg-Tileston family papers.

IX. Native American Art, Artifacts, and Photographs

A carved elm burl bowl was crafted by an unidentified member of the Wampanoag. Purchased for the MHS in 1804, it is believed the bowl once belonged to Metacom, or King Philip, and was taken as a trophy of war after his murder.

A string of white and purple wampum, excavated from the Powerhouse site near Lima, N.Y., was likely made by east coast Native American allies of the Dutch for use in their fur trade in what is now upstate New York and the upper Midwest. The collection also includes a string of shell beads, possibly from the midwestern United States.

In 1846, historian Francis Parkman travelled to the West for a hunting expedition and spent a number of weeks living among the Oglala Sioux, an experience that led to his book The Oregon Trail. In 1984, the MHS received artifacts Parkman acquired during his time with the Oglala Sioux, including a shield, bow and arrows, peace pipe, and a pair of animal horns with tooled copper collars.

Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners of war incarcerated at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida in the late 1870s produced this volume of ledger drawings in ink, watercolor, and colored pencil. Identified artists include Making Medicine, Bear's Heart, Buffalo Meat, Etahdleuh Doanmoe, and Koba. Bear's Heart, whose drawings can be found in this volume, also produced an earthenware vase in the collection.

The collection also includes three artworks depicting Native Americans through the colonizers' eyes: Boston tinworker Shem Drowne's ca. 1716 copper weathervane; Mary Woodbury's naive folk art portrait of Pocahontas; and Charles Osgood's 1837 painting of an unidentified Native American.

Peace medals were issued by Britain, France, and Spain to build alliances with America's Indigenous peoples beginning at earliest contact. In times of peace, these medals acted as confirmation of trade agreements for commodities exchanged between the parties. In wartime they bolstered military alliances between the warring European powers and their native allies. The Society has examples of medals issued by George II and the "Happy While United medal issued by George III, as well as peace medals issued by every president beginning with George Washington's "Seasons" medal to a medal issued in 1885 by Grover Cleveland. To access records for these medals, search ABIGAIL, the online library catalog of the MHS under the heading "Peace medals."

In the early years of the twentieth century, artist Edward Warren Sawyer (1876-1932) travelled to the American West on at least three occasions, in order to pursue his goal of "model[ing] a series of heads from all the different tribes." In the end, Sawyer produced more than 40 portraits, of which the MHS holds 31, acquired in 1920-1921 from the sculptor. Links to images of the MHS's Sawyer medals may be found by searching ABIGAIL, the online library catalog of the MHS under "Sawyer, Edward Warren" as author/creator.

The Francis Parkman photographs contain two volumes of carte de visite portraits of Native Americans, many of which have been digitized.

The Kingsmill Marrs photographs include two volumes of photographs of Native Americans of the American Southwest and their pueblos that were taken by Adam Clark Vroman between 1895 and 1904.

Photographing the American Indian: Portraits of Native Americans, 1860-1913 is an online exhibition featuring images of Native Americans from the collections of Parkman, Marrs, and Charles W. Jenks, as well as photogravures taken by Joseph Kossuth Dixon during the Wanamaker expeditions to the American West in the early 20th century.

Preferred Citation

When using the items described in this guide, researchers should cite the collection containing the item.

Access Terms

For information about the collections and items described in this guide, consult ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In addition to the headings below, search the catalog under headings beginning with the phrase Indians of North America, as well as the names of specific Indigenous Nations and languages.


Indians of North America--Artifacts.
Indians of North America--Government relations.
Indians of North America--History.
Indians of North America--Massachusetts--History.
Indians of North America--Photographs.