Mashpee is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States, on Cape Cod. The population was 14,006 as of 2010. It is the site of the headquarters and most members of the federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
For geographic and demographic information on specific parts of the town of Mashpee, please see the articles on Mashpee Neck, Monomoscoy Island, New Seabury, Popponesset, Popponesset Island, Seabrook, and Seconsett Island.
Cape Cod was occupied for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. The historic Algonquian-speaking Wampanoag were the native people encountered by the English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century. These two cultures would interact, shaping each other for decades.
After English colonists arrived, they began to settle the area of present-day Mashpee in 1658 with the assistance of the missionary Richard Bourne, from the neighboring town of Sandwich. In 1660 the colonists allowed those Christian Wampanoag who had been converted about in "their" settlement. Beginning in 1665, the Wampanoag governed themselves with a court of law and trials according to English custom (they had long governed themselves according to their own customs).
The colonists designated Mashpee on Cape Cod as the largest Indian reservation in Massachusetts. The town's name is an Anglicization of a native name, mass-nippe: mass is "great", or "greater" (see Massachusetts), and nippe is "water". The name has been translated as "the greater cove" or "great pond," or "land near great cove", where the water being referenced is Wakeby Lake, which is greater at one end.
In the year 1763, the British Crown designated Mashpee as a plantation, against the will of the Wampanoag. Designation as a plantation meant that the area governed by the Mashpee Wampanoag was integrated into the colonial district of Mashpee. The colony gave the natives the right to elect their own officials to maintain order in their area, but otherwise subjected them to colonial government. The population of the plantation declined steadily due to the conditions placed upon the Wampanoag. They also suffered from encroachment on their lands by the English.
Following the American Revolutionary War, the town in 1788 revoked Mashpee self-government, which American officials considered a failure. They appointed a committee, consisting of five European-American members, to supervise the Mashpee. William Apess, a Pequot Methodist preacher, helped the Mashpee Wampanoag lead a peaceful protest of this action, and the governor threatened a military response.
In 1834, the state returned a certain level of self-government to the Wampanoag, although they were not completely autonomous. With the idea that emulating European-American farming would encourage assimilation, in 1842 the state broke up some of the Wampanoag communal land. It distributed of their property in allotted parcels to heads of households, so that each family could have individual ownership for subsistence farming.
The legislature passed laws against the encroachments on Wampanoag land by European Americans, but did not enforce them. The competing settlers also stole wood from the reservation. It was a large region, once rich in wood, fish and game, and desired by white settlers, who envied the growing community of Mashpee. The Mashpee Indians suffered more conflicts with their white neighbors than did other more isolated or less desirable Indian settlements in the state.
In 1870 the state approved the incorporation of Mashpee as a town, the second-to-last jurisdiction on the Cape to undergo the process. Ultimately the Wampanoag lost control of their land and self-government, although many of their descendants have remained in the area. In the early 1970s they reorganized and filed a land claim against the state for the loss of lands. A 1999 video, Mashpee, describes the effect of 1970s land claims by the Wampanoag. While they did not win their case, the Mashpee continued to develop as a community and gained federal recognition as a tribe in 2007.
Today the town of Mashpee is known both for tourist recreation and for its distinctive Wampanoag culture. The population is predominately European American in ancestry. As the town attracts numerous summer visitors, there are many seasonal businesses and service jobs to support this tourism.
It is the site of the headquarters of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, one of two federally recognized tribes of Wampanoag people in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag hold an annual pow-wow at which they display traditional activities and crafts.