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COLLECTION Identifier: HOLLIS 9861143

Mashpee Indian Land Case Records


The Mashpee Indian Land Case Records consists of depositions, trial transcripts, memoranda and research materials related to the Mashpee Wampanoags's suit against the town of Mashpee, Massachusetts and its large landowners. These materials are related to a preliminary trial which sought to establish the Mashpees's legitimacy as a legal Native American "tribe" who could be rightfully awarded former tribal lands on Cape Cod.


  • 1977-1978

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open to the public, but is housed off-site at Harvard Depository and requires 2 business days' advance notice for retrieval. Consult the Special Collections staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


12 boxes

The records in this collection are primarily products of the trials Mashpee Tribe v. Town of Mashpee, et als. v. United States of America and Mashpee Tribe v. New Seabury Corp., et al. and include depositions and deposition digests from Mashpee Wampanoags, trial transcripts, briefs and memoranda. These documents present an incomplete picture of the proceedings of the entire trial, but are materials relevant to the research and preparation of expert witness and collection donor, Jeanne Guillemin. The collection also contains Guillemin's research and reference materials, which include handwritten notes, correspondence, articles and periodicals, depositions from the trial Mohegan Tribe v. Connecticut, newspaper clippings, and other related miscellany.

Historical/Biographical Information

In 1976, the Mashpee Wampanoag brought action against the town of Mashpee, Massachusetts and its local landholders in an attempt to recover lands allegedly taken from it in 1870. The tribe sought the return of 11,000 acres of undeveloped land in the town of Mashpee, but a preliminary trial first required the tribe to prove that they did, in fact, legally constitute a "tribe." Formally unrecognized as such by the federal government and Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Mashpee Wampanoag are the tribe that greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and were present at the colonists's first Thanksgiving. The defense argued that since the time of the early European colonists, the descendants Mashpee Wampanoag who were not killed by European diseases carried by the colonists had intermarried and assimilated into the wider population to such an extent that the tribe no longer existed. Though the plaintiffs argued that that they still consituted a functioning tribe, it is nonetheless true that in 1976, the tribe that had once numbered an estimated 25,000 before the 17th century had decreased to only about 400 people still living in Mashpee and the surrounding area as a result of death, intermarriage and migration.

The 40 day trial, which convened 17 October 1977 in U.S. District Court in Boston, called numerous Mashpees and expert witnesses to the stand, including the donor of this collection, Jeanne Guillemin, a witness for the defense. While the plaintiffs argued that they constituted a tribe in a sociological and anthropological sense, Guillemin testified that the group had no political autonomy and therefore could not be considered a true tribe, a view other witnesses for the defense supported. In January 1978, a jury found that the Mashpee Wampanoags did not constitute a tribe at the time the lawsuit originated, nor did they constitute a tribe at several other key points in their history. The judge in the case, Walter J. Skinner, dismissed the land claim case. In 1979, the verdict was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case later in the year.

As of February 2006, the time of processing, the Mashpee Wampanoags's petition for recognition as a tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has still not been resolved, but a preliminary ruling is expected in March 2006.

Series List

  1. Series I: Mashpee Tribe v. Town of Mashpee, et als. v. United States of America 1977-1978 1977-1978

    This series mainly consists of depositions and deposition digest in the above mentioned case, but also contains several memoranda from the trial itself.

  2. Series II: Mashpee Tribe v. New Seabury Corp., et al. 1977-1979 1977-1979

    This series contains an incomplete collection of trial transcripts from the above case, as well as memoranda, newspaper clippings and other resource material compiled by Jeanne Guillemin.

  3. Series III: Research and Supplementary Materials 1977-1981, undated 1977-1981, undated

    Series 3 contains research and other materials gathered by Jean Guillemin in her role as researcher and expert witness during the trials, and consists of notes, bibliographies, articles, clippings, correspondence, depositions from the case Mohegan Tribe v. Connecticut, and other miscellaneous resources.

Within each series and/or subseries individual items or folders are identified by box and folder number. For example, the number 5-12 corresponds to box 5, folder 12.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was donated by Jeanne Guillemin, a Boston College sociology professor and expert witness for the defense in the Mashpee land case. The records were transferred to Special Collections in January 2006.

Processing Information

Processed by Rebecca Fenning, February 2006.

Mashpee Indian Land Case Records, 1977-1978: Finding Aid
Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA 02138
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

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