of Contents Next
& White Version
THE SHAYS REBELLION
154. The Rhode Island Coup. In the meantime, the workers and farmers were preparing their resistance to the encroachments of the richer groups, especially in New England. We have seen that riots had started in Massachusetts from this source as early as 1782, before the peace treaty, as a sort of abortive revolution against the Commonwealth, largely by the same workers and farmers who had supplied most of the army and following for the old "civil disobedience" regime of 1774-6. But after the peace, and especially after the beginning of the economic depression of 1785, these elements, again backed by the old secret organization of the Okamakammessets, tried seriously to rebuild the old "civil-disobedience" regime on the old basis, still starting on a basis of a rival enforcement regime resisting the constituted authorities, but not trying to replace them until the "civil disobedience" had been sufficiently built up. In New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut, parallel organizations appeared, though without the same past experience at "civil disobedience" that their fellows in Massachusetts had had. The semi-underground "Sons of Liberty," which had come out into the open after the declaration of independence, could now no longer fulfil their original function, so the Okamakammessets had to build up a new following of the same sort in Massachusetts―groups of workers and farmers who met under cover in small numbers, unknown to their fellow citizens, so that they would apparently spread their ideas as individuals, and who recognized one another by the name "Jo Bunker," which was the hail they gave one another.
In Rhode Island, on the contrary, where independence had been gained by legislation without any change in government whatever, and where there had really been no revolution in the first place, the attempt was to organize politically in order to get control of the legislature. This attempt on the part of the poorer elements was much impeded by the property qualifications for voting which England had imposed before the war, and which Rhode Island retained by pure inertia, having, as we have said, never really had a revolution at all. Nevertheless, though the qualifications for voters for governor and judges were too high for the workers and farmers, many farmers still did have enough so-called property to be entitled to vote for the legislature, and even many workers had saved up enough to be entitled to that particular voting privilege. The result was that this goal of capturing the legislature of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was accomplished in May, 1786.
And now came the most difficult part of the problem, namely, now that they had the legislature, what they were going to do with it. The governor and the judges looked down on this legislature as rabble, while the large financiers and landowners outside the state showed their contempt by dubbing it "Rogues' Island;" to which the group in power in Rhode Island replied with the name "Red Island," which happened to be the correct interpretation of the name. Agreement within the state government was impossible, but the legislature was able to overrule the governor’s veto under the old charter of Rhode Island. Still the problem remained what to do with the legislature, now that it was captured; for all that a legislature could do was to legislate, and lawmaking does not cure economic difficulties, as a general rule.
There had, however, been those, especially among the farmers, who felt that the root of the land difficulty lay in having to pay back in full-value currency debts contracted originally in paper money, so that the remedy consisted in the legislative direction, of issuing paper money to relieve the farmers, as well as to redeem the old institutions formerly operated cooperatively by workers; and, for the workers, to get some form of manufacturing―any form of manufacturing―under way. The very fact that these groups now had legislative control made them keep all measures within the limits of governmental power, as specified in the Rhode Island charter, so that nothing more radical than a program of inflation and industrialization could be attempted. This of course, got nowhere, but merely scattered the impression in America that the way to help the poorer element was to follow the shining example of Rhode Island and issue paper money; correspondingly the aristocrats and financiers, who had been ready enough during the war to get out so much paper money that it "was not worth a continental," now went into a panic at the very mention of the idea.
Paper money was issued by the State of Rhode Island, accordingly, with the particular object in view of forcing its acceptance in payments for debts; and, to this end, it was provided that anyone refusing to accept such money when offered payment for a debt could be summoned to court, where the debt would be declared cancelled. This was the legislature’s idea of a means of turning the courts, formerly an instrument for confiscating farms and factories, into a means for confiscating the debts instead. However, the courts were not in the hands of the same elements as the legislature, and the result was that the Supreme Court of Rhode Island ruled the inflation law null and void―because, forsooth, it violated property rights guaranteed in the charter granted Rhode Island by King Charles II of England! And, though the legislature used their charter privilege of ousting the judges from office for this decision, the precedent remained, and the so-called Trevelyan case of Rhode Island has remained a precedent, extensively used later on by the Second Republic, for the courts’ declaring unconstitutional and void all legislative acts which do not pass the court’s censorship, and especially those which affect adversely any vested property interests.
In the matter of relieving the factory situation, efforts were made to revive manufacturing, especially to re-organize the former co-operative basis on which the secret factories had operated before the revolution; but even these could not be legislated into existence, but must be done by a slow process of volunteer work among the workers themselves, which the legislature could merely encourage. Though in this respect the new Rhode Island legislature met with little success, their constituents apparently realized the difficulty, and the people of Rhode Island proved themselves at least tolerant and patient in that regard, and supported their legislature heartily.
However, in spite of the fact that the Rhode Island legislature, as it stood, was in reality accomplishing little in the direction of materially helping the situation, that little was enough to frighten the large financiers and landowners, not only of Rhode Island, but of the entire United States. In the neighboring states, considerable public advertising was done, asking everyone to refrain from buying Rhode Island goods, because it would support the "rag-money," and encourage the rabble to take power everywhere; but this advertising had the curious result that, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, during the summer of 1785, the poorer classes seemed to have a preference for Rhode Island apples and other Rhode Island articles, which were often definitely so labeled; while those of better means actually did boycott anything and everything that could be suspected of coming from "Rogues’ Island."
155. The Hatfield Convention. The Rhode Island coup gave added impetus to the attempts in Massachusetts to reorganize the old-time "civil disobedience" regime; it unfortunately also had the effect of spreading the impression that the way to help out the workers and farmers was by an inflated currency, and this impression seems to have been current at the time among the richer people as well as among the poorer rebel classes. Towns in western Massachusetts began to elect delegates to county conventions, organized much as they had been in 1774, and largely by the very same people; only this time there was not as much attempt at secrecy as there had been the previous case. It was, of course, not the legal town-meetings that elected the delegates to the county conventions, but special meetings assembled without regard to property qualifications, as imposed by the Commonwealth regime; but the very fact that the conventions had to claim to be legal and constitutional bodies meant that their acts and resolves had to be toned down for the purpose, and delegates had to be chosen who were not in the same rebellious mood as were the majority of their constituents, otherwise the conventions would very likely be broken up before they could get well started. Therefore the conventions had to serve the purpose of merely presenting petitions of grievances in legal form to the public and to the State, while a different organization had to be relied on for carrying on any actual rebel activity. Such an organization was supplied by the formation, through the medium of the secret "Jo Bunker" groups, of what were called "councils" which represented the various groups of workers and farmers who were very active towards actual insurrection, and which operated more or less under cover pending some sort of open outbreak of hostilities.
The first of the county conventions to assemble, in the attempt to restore some of the framework of the old civil disobedience organization, was that of Hampshire County, which met at Hatfield, not far from Northampton, on the Connecticut River, on Tuesday, August 22, 1786. At the same time, conventions were in the process of formation for the other three counties of western Massachusetts―Franklin, Berkshire, and Hampden―while, in the eastern part of the state, it was not as yet deemed advisable to organize, on account of the difficulties of communication, until the western end of the state had its convention system on a firm basis. However, even in eastern Massachusetts Bristol County, which was close to Rhode Island, and which therefore expected support from the workers’ legislature across the State border in case of difficulty, proceeded immediately with the organization of its complete civil-disobedience organization, including the formation of a County Convention, which seemed to be regarded at that time as the first step.
The Hatfield Convention proved a disappointment for those who expected it to lead actual rebellion against the oppression of the Commonwealth. In fact, little else could be expected of an open organization on which the eye of the Commonwealth authorities, as well as of the public all over America, was resting every moment it was in session. It proved to be purely a petition-making body, as indeed the Continental Congress of the Colonies had been in its inception. Although it did nothing but draw up a petition to the Commonwealth authorities for redress of grievances, the authorities of the Commonwealth made efforts to prove that the County Conventions were unlawful assemblies, and treated them as actual acts of rebellion; alleging in support of this that the freedom of assemblage guaranteed in the Commonwealth constitution applied merely to the right to hold official town-meetings, and did not even apply to the unrecognized town-meetings that the Conventions represented, because those meetings included the unpropertied, whom the Commonwealth would not recognize as voters! In return, both the rebels and the supporters of the Conventions made an important issue of the freedom of assemblage, especially of the right of the people to assemble to petition for redress of grievances.
But even this right was not mentioned in the resolutions of the Hatfield Convention. The Convention started out by resolving that it was a constitutional body, and an integral part of the administration of the Commonwealth, even though it was in reality a restoration of the government of the "State of Massachusetts Bay" which the Commonwealth had overthrown. Then the Hatfield Convention proceeded to announce its opposition to all measures of violence and revolution―a declaration which few people, on either side of the issue, ever believed; for, though probably the politicians composing the Convention felt that way, and it was good policy to make such a statement, it was well known that the constituency represented by the Hatfield Convention was looking to start another Lexington and Concord. While the Hatfield Convention was taking care of the peaceful side of the issue, the "Jo Bunkers" were getting ready for an earnest revolutionary fight on behalf of the workers and farmers of Massachusetts.
The Hatfield Convention then proceeded to prepare a petition to the Commonwealth legislature, covering some rather strange points considering the actual issues involved. For one thing, a fairer basis of legislative representation was asked, referring to a grievance sometimes heard in Massachusetts, to the effect that legislative districts had been arranged under the Commonwealth with a view solely to political advantage on the part of the capitalists who had overthrown the old civil-disobedience government to establish the Commonwealth. It was not alone the rebels that gave voice to this complaint. The story was told that, in the office of a Haverhill newspaper, after Governor Gerry and the Commonwealth legislature had divided Essex County into strangely-shaped districts, a reporter pointed to a district map of the county, hanging on the wall, with the remark: "This district looks like a salamander," and started to sketch in the eyes and claws of the salamander; to which the editor replied: "Say rather a Gerry-mander." In view of this general feeling in Massachusetts that the legislative districts did not properly represent the people of the state, it was hardly surprising that a peaceful body like the Hatfield Convention should make a major issue out of the "gerrymandering" question, though it was hardly an important issue to the rebels who were hoping to make out of the county conventions the agency for a reconstruction of "civil disobedience."
Other strange items also appeared in the Hatfield Convention’s petition. For example, there was a demand that the commonwealth government move to the western part of the state―presumably to take it away from the lobbying influence of the seaport merchants and capitalists. Again, there was a demand for the issuance of paper money, obviously an attempt to copy the Rhode Island coup, which had been such a flat failure in so many respects.
The farm mortgage question was dealt with more at length in the petition, though there were no direct recommendations outside of a moratorium on mortgage debts. Most absurd of all was a demand for the abolition of the Courts of Common Pleas, a system of county courts operated centrally by the Commonwealth for trying cases involving small amounts. It was probably intended by the Hatfield Convention that the "common pleas" cases should be tried by courts to be set up by the town meetings, but the Hatfield petition said nothing about the matter. As a matter of fact, after the rebellion was crushed, the Commonwealth actually did abolish the Courts of Common Pleas―but gave their functions over to the Superior Court of the Commonwealth, thereby centralizing those functions instead of achieving the decentralization undoubtedly desired by the Hatfield Convention.
As to the workers’ factory issue, it was as totally ignored by the Hatfield Convention as it had been by the Continental Congress of the time of the original revolution. Therefore, from all points of view, it became obvious that bodies like the Hatfield Convention would be of little use in reconstructing the old-time "civil disobedience," and could certainly not lead any rebel group. It did have the effect, though, of crystallizing sentiment in certain directions as well as of placing the whole movement for the rights of workers and farmers in an outlaw position.
156. The Northampton Insurrection. The failure of the Hatfield Convention as an instrumentality for the reconstruction of "civil disobedience" placed its constituents in a rather difficult position. In addition, the county court was about to meet in Northampton the following Tuesday, to pass on the confiscation of more land. There was also imminent a possibility of taxation in the form of forced labor rather than money; for, as money taxes had proved difficult to collect during period of economic depression, the legislature was considering the advisability of making all the farmers leach potash without compensation, as a payment of taxes, and such forced labor was a thing that not even the military dictatorships of Andros or Gage had ever attempted in New England.
The secret rebel organization at once decided that immediate action must be taken if further confiscations were to be avoided in Hampshire County. On the morning of Tuesday*, August 29, 1786, just one week after the fiasco at Hatfield, the regular session of the Court of Common Pleas was due at Northampton; but, that morning, the main square of Northampton, and all neighboring streets, were filled with people from all over Hampshire County, in military formation, and armed and organized as a regular militia―to a great extent, in fact, the same group of minute-men that Hampshire County had sent to the siege of Boston eleven years before. The appearance of this army was a complete surprise to everyone not directly connected with the secret rebel organizations; so that it is quite possible that the members of the Hatfield Convention had known nothing of its existence―and least of all was it expected by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, or by anyone connected with the Commonwealth authorities. No attempt was made to demonstrate for anything, or to make any demands of the State authorities―but the judges, when they reached Northampton, were not allowed anywhere near the court house. After futile attempts to raise volunteers to open a way for the judges to get to court, they had to abandon all efforts to hold sessions, and the "councils" were left in sole control of Hampshire County. The red pine-tree flag was again victorious in rebellion in Massachusetts.
This Northampton insurrection marks a turning-point in the history of the world, for, since the rise of the capitalist system, this was the first time that a revolt against the system as such had ever been attempted by the poorer elements of the population against those in economic power, and the first time in the world’s history that the so-called "free" workers had ever gone out in rebellion against the attempts of the powers of capital to tyrannize them and extract profits out of them. In the later history of the same economic system, similar attempts were to be made numerous times in varying circumstances and methods and in many countries, but the pioneer attempt of the sort was on that memorable day, August 29, 1786, when an army of workers and farmers in Northampton, Massachusetts, raised the red pine-tree flag over Hampshire County.
The audacity of such an insurrection was enough to frighten large landowners and financiers all over the United States, and the Cincinnati, who had been busily plotting ever since the end of the war for independence as to how to overthrow the First Republic, now began to work feverishly in order to lay their plans for a counter-revolution. The press of the United States, being controlled naturally by people who had some capital and other property to lose by such unheard-of insurrections, printed denunciations of the Massachusetts rebels all over the country. The more the rebels were denounced, the more followers they gained in other States than Massachusetts, with the result that sporadic riots in sympathy with the Massachusetts rebels took place shortly after the Northampton Insurrection, at Exeter in New Hampshire, in Connecticut, at Poughkeepsie in New York State, and even some parts of Vermont. None of these, however, were of the carefully-planned surprise-attack variety, and none of them served to do any more than show where popular opinion stood, but otherwise rather injured chances of definite rebellion in those states. Rhode Island, on account of its political coup, was officially, to a certain extent, sympathetic with the Massachusetts rebels―at least the legislature was―even though Rhode Island itself, where the attempt had been to take over the old government rather than start a completely new one, was not doing so well with the balky machine its legislators were attempting to handle.
A good example of the manner in which the press in general denounced the uprising in Massachusetts is furnished by a rhyme against the insurrection and its reputed leaders, which appeared at that time in the Pennsylvania Gazette, in Philadelphia. The suggestion was made that a "Mother Goose alphabet" would be a good way of preserving the memory of these rebels as a horrible example, and, as part of this projected "alphabet," was suggested:
But neither Daniel Shays, who was the captain of the Hampshire County rebel army that took possession of Northampton, nor any of the other revolutionaries was a bit dismayed by this flow of vitriol, which rather aided their cause than otherwise. So commenced a new revolution for the principles of the former Penacook Federation, less than five miles from where the Penacook Federation itself was originally organized, and not far from the shore of the Quinnitucket River, the Penacook peoples’ river of liberty―a revolution that was to be the first of its kind in the entire history of the world.
157. Spread of the Shays Rebellion. We have already seen how the example of the Shays Rebellion came to get its followers from even outside Massachusetts, though without the same underground direction that it had in the Massachusetts instance, as a result of which nothing but fruitless and aimless rioting resulted in any of the other states. In the District of Maine, which was a non-contiguous possession of Massachusetts, and had been so since the infamous dictatorship of Sir Edmund Andros in 1689, a separatist movement arose concurrently with the Shays Rebellion, with the object of creating in Maine a separate State government, independent of the Commonwealth regime in Massachusetts.
But in the meantime the Shays Rebellion itself, in Massachusetts proper, was spreading, and during the early fall of 1786 the western counties of Massachusetts had gone through the same stages as Hampshire County, having first a fiasco convention to send the petitions for redress to the Commonwealth authorities, and afterwards an organized revolt under the "councils," so that the entire western half of Massachusetts, consisting of the four counties of Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin, was in active revolt, with the people as a whole obeying by common consent the rebel councils rather than the established government of Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the case of the Hampden County, complications arose in the existence of a federal arsenal at Springfield, which had originally been one of the key factories of the secret workers’ factory system of the old-time civil disobedience; but, since it now belonged to the Continental Congress, the rebels recognized its neutrality, inasmuch as they considered themselves in rebellion against the Commonwealth and not against the First Republic itself, though the rebels had comparatively little respect for the Continental Congress either.
In the regions that once came under rebel control, the first thing that was done was to bar all regular court sessions of the Commonwealth, which were replaced by town meetings and by local council sessions; in furtherance of this same program, all lawyers, and, in many cases, even civil employees of the Commonwealth, were exiled from rebel territory; these were, in some towns, quite dramatically chased out, with the report brought back to the revolutionary council that "they are running yet." Next came the destruction of existing court records in the counties captured by the rebels―a task which they accomplished so effectively that, at the present time, most of Massachusetts has no court records antedating 1786, and many court precedents which the Commonwealth had been at pains to build up for the oppression of the poor were thus effectively wiped off the slate. Land that had been foreclosed on was largely restored to its previous owners, and the large estates that the Commonwealth had been building up since its assumption of power were now broken up once more. Unfortunately, little could be done towards restoring the old workers’ factories, since the best opportunity in that direction―the Springfield Arsenal―had to be passed by in order to avoid what would be a declaration of war on the entire First Republic, which otherwise would remain neutral.
Although it would seem that the original moving force for the rebellion came from Middlesex County, it was not considered advisable by the councils to attempt open rebellion in the eastern part of Massachusetts until the revolt had been well established in the western portion of the state, though under-cover insurrectionist units were organized in Middlesex and Worcester Counties. Military companies sent out to suppress rebels in western Massachusetts had a way of disappearing mysteriously en route, while passing through Middlesex and Worcester Counties.
However, after western Massachusetts was once definitely in rebel control (though subject to frequent raids, as was the "civil disobedience" before the war), the first outburst of rebel activity in the eastern part of the state came, not from Middlesex, which furnished the initiative for the revolt, but from Bristol County. This was probably partly because Bristol had been a center for the war-time workers' factories, and at New Bedford an attempt was already being made by the capitalists to build their own spinning-jenny cotton mill, so that there was in Bristol County something with which the workers' side of the rebellion could actually operate. But, from the tactical point of view, the rebel councils considered Bristol a good point from which to start in eastern Massachusetts, largely because of its contiguity to Rhode Island, where there had already been a political coup in favor of the workers and farmers, and which, besides moral support, could serve as a refuge in case of failure. Also, by postponing uprising in Middlesex as long as possible, the real center of the revolt at Groton in Middlesex County could continue functioning unsuspected and uninterrupted by the militia raids that were troubling the openly rebel territory.
Consequently the rebellion in eastern Massachusetts was inaugurated early in November by a convention and an uprising in Taunton, following the example set by Hampshire County, and this insurrection kept the Commonwealth authorities definitely out of Bristol County. Following this event, the rebels in the western part of the state started an eastward drive to join their eastern allies in Bristol, who proceeded to drive northward for the same purpose.
The key region for the eastward drive from western Massachusetts was Worcester County, which was the actual separation between the eastern and western portions of the state; and, to prevent the recurrence there of the same type of county-wide uprisings from the county seat as had taken place in the four western counties and in Bristol, a garrison of Commonwealth militia were stationed in the town of Worcester during November. It was supposed that, from this center, it would be possible to control the county so as to forestall any conventions or revolts there. In fact, the militia kept scouting around the county, from Worcester as a center, looking for rebel armies to annihilate. But, since there was no particular way of telling a rebel army from a group of farmers working in the fields, these rebel armies were never found, until the Worcester garrison woke up on the morning of Thursday, November 30 to find the town besieged by rebel armies, not only from Worcester County, but from all over the state.
In the meantime, Middlesex, now placed in contact with the western portion of the state by rebel activity in Worcester County, began to show activity of its own. It was here that the rebellion actually centered, as it had been in Middlesex that the civil disobedience headquarters had been before the revolution, and as it had been in Middlesex that the first uprisings of the American Revolution had occurred. When it was attempted to hold court session in Concord, a large force of "regulators" (as the rebel army called themselves) appeared in the town, looked up the judge in the inn where he was staying, and sent him on his way to Boston. Then the officers of the rebel group stood up in the town square and made a call for volunteers. Job Shattuck, who came from Groton, where the Okamakammesset organization had been secretly operating since the Great Ohio War, and who was supposed to have been actually a quarter-blood Okamakammesset, and who was also one of the moving spirits behind the rebellion, was the chief speaker on this occasion, calling for a general confiscation, firstly of all debts, and secondly of all other large property holdings, his theory apparently being that "dividing up" and starting all over again was the remedy for the situation. It is said, indeed, that on one occasion Shattuck was heckled, when he warmed up to his subject with "The time has come to confiscate all debts and start anew," with the reply from the town audience: "Well said Job! We know all about them two farms you can’t never pay for!" But Shattuck, and several other speakers, such as Smith and Parker, who followed him on the speaker’s stand, did succeed in enlisting a fair number of volunteers from the same town which, less than twelve years before, had administered a smashing blow to the powers of constituted authority.
The Commonwealth authorities, taking advantage of the fact that Middlesex County borders on Boston, reconvoked court session for Middlesex County at Lechmere’s Point, a swamp region on the Cambridge shore of the Charles River, highly inaccessible from Middlesex proper, though actually in a corner of the county, but within sight and gun range from Beacon Hill in Boston. This had the desired effect of brining the court out of danger from the rebels, although the location was extremely out of the way; in fact, its being out of the way from the body of the county was, under circumstances of rebellion, a desirable feature from the authorities’ point of view. From here, warrants were issued charging with treason Job Shattuck and several others of the leaders of the uprising at Concord. It is interesting, in this connection, to note that the courts of Middlesex County have to this day remained where they fled during the Shay Rebellion, on the former site of Lechmere’s Point (now filled in and known as East Cambridge)―in a remote corner as far as Middlesex County is concerned, but almost in the shadow of the State House in Boston.
These warrants having been issued, the governor immediately called for the enlistment of a special army to serve these warrants, to be assembled at Boston; it was also attempted to use the Springfield Arsenal, hitherto regarded by both sides as neutral ground, as a point of assembling anti-rebel recruits who wished to enlist from the western part of the state. The recruits actually obtained were mostly from merchant families in the immediate vicinity of Boston. In the meantime, even Boston’s own county, Suffolk, did not remain completely unaffected by the rebellion, since the farther end of the territory which Suffolk then included formed a wedge between the rebelling counties of Worcester and Bristol, and bordered on Rhode Island, which was in sympathy with the Massachusetts rebels. Thus, at that end of the county, a certain amount of movement in favor of the rebels was found, though not well-co-ordinated or organized, but still enough to establish a line of contact and communication between the rebel forces in western Massachusetts, and those in the southern part of the state, that is, in Bristol County. The Commonwealth government in Boston was thus, in the early part of December, 1786, threatened by rebels from both northwest (from Middlesex) and southwest (from the outlying pro-rebel towns of Suffolk); while the body of the state was under rebel control, but largely after the fashion of the old-time "civil disobedience," that is, control was not complete, allowing the authorities a certain amount of come and go, but not permitting, in rebel territory, any court sessions or enforcement of court orders on the part of the Commonwealth.
It was this situation against which the Commonwealth was mobilizing its newly-recruited volunteers, while, in Middlesex County, only a few miles across the Charles River, a rebel army of workers and farmers was assembling at Concord, ready for a final advance on Boston. The two forces met at Bedford, a Middlesex town located halfway between Concord and Lexington. Since the Shays Rebellion had unfortunately not developed the same sort of efficient spy system that the civil disobedience system of 1775 had, the rebels were found unprepared to meet a militia force of the size they actually encountered.
158. Defeat of the Rebellion. Thus, although the regulators had at their disposal a military force actually outnumbering anything that the Commonwealth was able to bring against them, they were on this occasion as unprepared to meet it as the Commonwealth itself had been to meet the rebels the preceding August. The "regulators" were now scattered quite evenly over the greater portion of Massachusetts, while the Commonwealth militia was concentrated in southeast Middlesex. Consequently the battle that ensued at Bedford was an overwhelming victory for the Commonwealth, although a defeat which the rebels could probably have avoided had they paid as much attention to their spy system as to the rest of their military organization. It is usually the spies that have more to do with winning and losing wars than actual fighting forces, and in this case the lack of attention to that end of the activities proved fatal to the rebel forces. The defeat of the rebels was a rout, while the Commonwealth militia swept on through Middlesex, and the warrants on Job Shattuck and the other rebels sought by the militia were served. Shattuck was arrested at his home in Groton, and held to be tried after the rebellion should be over, for the Commonwealth administration had already suspended the rights of habeas corpus.
In the meantime the Commonwealth authorities were offering to settle peaceably all grievances with such of the workers and farmers as would abandon the rebellion, and submit the questions at issue for peaceful settlement―not that there was any intention on the part of the authorities to actually do so, but the promise had the effect of withdrawing from the rebels the support of many of the farmers in central Massachusetts who had been less enthusiastic in their rebel attitude. This weakened the rebel position, and the advance of the Commonwealth militia continued across Worcester County with undiminished speed, while the "regulators" retired into the western part of the state, where they concentrated their forces, though with less support than at first, for there were many who now had some hope of a peaceful settlement. The workers, who were ones to cling more closely to the rebellion, were also won over by the authorities to some extent when, following the Commonwealth’s recapture of the eastern and central counties, work was started in the building of factories, and in actual factory work in the places that had formerly belonged to the workers but had been confiscated by the contributors of capital. The rebellion had been one uprising in a period of economic depression, when lack of work was one of the chief complaints of the workers, and anyone who could offer a large amount of employment―even if it were temporary emergency employment―could effectively break the back of any rebellion on the part of the workers.
However, the insurrection was by no means suppressed, but merely driven into a corner. Even in the parts of the state recaptured by the Commonwealth, guerrilla fighting on the part of the rebels was kept up for a long time, while driving the main army of regulators westward simply had the effect of concentrating their forces. The rebels were again defeated at Wilbraham, leaving the way open on the southern part of the front, though the hilly nature of the terrain made such advance difficult along the rest of the front. In Hampshire County, which represented the center of the new fighting front, a new "county convention" was assembled at Hadley, largely consisting of the same people who had been in the famous Hatfield Convention, and the Hadley convention urged the rebels to surrender and settle differences by peaceful means. Their advice, fortunately, went unheeded, and the Hadley Convention was ridiculed by both sides in the rebellion under the title of "The Pallbearers."
It was at this stage that the Commonwealth sought to carry out the plan of using the Springfield Arsenal as a concentration point for new recruits to the militia. The rebels had been for five months in a position to take possession of this point, but recognized its neutrality as federal territory; but, when the Commonwealth forces entered Springfield and drove the Hampden County regulators across the Connecticut River, the neutrality of federal territory was totally disregarded, though actual Commonwealth occupation was not attempted before the concentration date, February 3, 1787.
On that Saturday morning two large concentrations of forces took place in the region around Springfield, as the Commonwealth militia poured into the town from the east, to take possession of the supposedly neutral arsenal, while, on the other side of the Connecticut River, the regulators massed in thousands at the head of the bridge leading into Springfield, and marched from their concentration point in West Springfield across the bridge to the Springfield Arsenal, to forestall, if possible, Commonwealth occupation of federal ground. However, the race for the arsenal was won by the Commonwealth, since the militia reached the arsenal at about nine o’clock, while it was eleven o’clock before enough regulators could be brought into Springfield to dispute possession seriously. Of course, the side in actual possession was at a tremendous military advantage. In spite of this fact, a battle was kept up and hotly contested on both sides, about Springfield Arsenal and all through the town of Springfield. The Battle of Springfield proved to be the last stand of the Shays Rebellion, which from that time on was definitely defeated.
The rest of February was occupied in chasing the rebel forces across western Massachusetts, and finally out of the state at Williamstown. During this time a message was sent by the Commonwealth militia to Daniel Shays, asking him whether he would surrender personally if a pardon were offered, providing the rest of his army were not included. On the authorities’ assumption that Shays was the prime moving spirit that caused the rebellion and kept it going, they supposed that this would be a betrayal of this rebellion, and considered Shays a coward when he sent a reply accepting the offer. It would seem, however, that he did this merely to gain time, since Shays himself disappeared, and was next heard of a few years later in Arlington, Virginia.
After the rebel army had been driven out of the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, at a point which was "between the lines" in the Green Mountain War between New York and Vermont, a last attempt was made to re-form and start the rebellion over again. An attempt was made to assemble the regulators along the Massachusetts line, at Pownal in Vermont, and at North Lincoln in the State of New York, with the idea of a last-minute comeback―or, as the rebel officers, expressed it, "to burgoyne them." However, by this time the rebel army, being very much scattered and broken up, and out of its own territory, was unable to assemble any great strength, and the attempt at "burgoyning them" had to be given up. The insurrection was over, and the rebels were mainly either prisoners in Massachusetts, or refugees outside the Commonwealth.
159. Refugees and Prisoners. The Commonwealth authorities of Massachusetts, not content with suppressing the uprising, put through a hasty trial of all the prisoners, finding them all guilty of treason against the state, and proceeded to round up all rebels they could locate so as to be able to pass sentence of death on these also. Most of the rebels, however, received only long sentences in prison, while fourteen actually were sentenced to death, including, of course, Job Shattuck. Since many of the prisoners had surrendered voluntarily during the last stages of the insurrection, understanding that they were being merely prisoners of war, this turn of events gave rise to a new undercurrent of protest and defiance that made it look for a while as though rebellion were going to burst out afresh.
Most of the active rebels, however, had been dispersed to points outside of Massachusetts. In fact, the defeat of the Shays Rebellion had the tendency to cause a general wave of reaction in the United States as a whole, and those who had been most active as rebels during the War for Independence began to recognize that, as events now stood, the United States was no longer a safe place for people with rebellious inclinations, and were beginning an exodus from this country. Since most of the French Canadians who had been rebels in Canada during the American Revolution, and who, after the war, had escaped into the United States, were on the side of the Shays Rebellion―many of them had been even in the Shays Rebellion actively, and had even formed their own "Jo Bunker" groups in which the hail "Jo Bunker" was translated into "Jacques"―their natural refuge (Canada not being open to them) was France, where their own language was spoken, and where the "Jacqueries," the French "Jo Bunker" groups of the Shays Rebellion, were gradually transplanted by the stream of refugees arriving there during 1787 and 1788. And as, during that same period, many other Americans who had been active as rebels during the revolution chose the same refuge from the increasing reactionary tendency resulting from the defeat of the Shays Rebellion (Thomas Paine being one of these refugees who went to France on this occasion, and Thomas Jefferson having been sent to France as ambassador so as to leave the followers of the Cincinnati a clear field), it began to look as though, by 1788, the American Revolution was moving in a body to France.
But the refugees from the Shays Rebellion were mostly poor people, and sought refuge in neighboring states rather than across the ocean. Some crossed the border into Canada, and, taking advantage of the fact that the Massachusetts authorities had accused the rebels of being British agents, claimed to be loyalists, and, to a great extent, it was apparent that the Canadian authorities did not know the difference, though they did have some qualms about admitting rebels against even the United States. However, the most important refuges of the rebels were the states adjoining Massachusetts, namely, the states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut, and the unrecognized and de facto independent republic of Vermont.
The Governor of Massachusetts sent requisitions to the neighboring states for extradition of rebel refugees, and extradition was granted by the states of Connecticut and New York, while New Hampshire went so far as to give Massachusetts’s permission to send in their own militia after any armed rebels that may have found their way to New Hampshire. Vermont presented a more difficult problem, since the United States considered Vermont as a section of New York State that was in rebellion, and none of the states had ever recognized the Vermont government; besides which, the intervention of Massachusetts in the Green Mountain War did not add to the friendliness of the situation. But now Massachusetts was only too ready to forget that it had ever laid claim to Vermont territory―the Commonwealth was ready to exchange that for the privilege of hanging some poor workers and farmers whose offense was that they had fought for the freedom of Massachusetts. The Governor of Vermont, however, replied to Massachusetts’s extradition requisition, that he was ready to issue a proclamation subjecting all rebel refugees to extradition, but he wished it to be known that this proclamation would be merely a matter of form, since Vermont could not afford to discourage immigration!
If Vermont was a difficult problem to handle in the matter of extradition, much more was this true of Rhode Island, where a political coup had already placed in control of the legislature a group of similar views to the Massachusetts rebels. In Rhode Island, the old charter―which the courts there had used to declare legislation invalid, and which had been later turned against the same judges―gave the legislature considerable veto power over administrative acts, and the Governor of Rhode Island sent a reply to Massachusetts’s extradition requisition, to the effect that he personally would be glad to comply with the requisition, but that the rabble that were now in the legislature would not allow him to do so, and it would be necessary to convince them first. The Governor of Massachusetts accordingly sent down deputies with extradition warrants to Providence, to seek the permission of the Rhode Island legislature to arrest rebel refugees for extradition. The deputies were duly welcomed by the Rhode Island Senate, and invited to attend their sessions, where two of the faces on the senate floor looked somehow familiar to the Massachusetts deputies. On inquiry, the deputies were told that these two men were the new honorary members of the Senate, who had just lately come in from Massachusetts, where they had done good service for liberty! Of course that was the end of the quest, and the Massachusetts deputies had to return to Boston disappointed.
* Sidis included the day of the week with this date.