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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Shays, Daniel

SHAYS, Daniel, insurgent, b. in Hopkinton, Mass., in 1747; d. in Sparta, N. Y., 29 Sept., 1825. He served as an ensign at the battle of Bunker Hill, and attained the rank of captain in the Continental army, but “resigned his commission for reasons quite problematical.” He then resided at Pelham (now Prescott), and in 1786 took part in the popular movement in western Massachusetts for the redress of alleged grievances. This had begun as early as 1782, and had increased as popular discontent, incident on the unsettled condition of affairs at the close of the Revolution, became greater. Conventions were held in several western counties, lists of grievences were drawn up, committees of correspondence were established, and the same machinery was sought to be used against the state government that had been successful in overturning British rule in 1775. The complaints were divers, but were, in general, that the governor's salary was too high, the senate aristocratic, the lawyers extortionate, and taxes too burdensome. Among the demands were, that the general court should no longer sit in Boston, and that a large issue of paper money should be made. Though the conventions deprecated violence, there were uprisings in several counties, directed against the courts, which were popularly regarded as the instruments of legal oppression, especially in the collection of debts. The tribunals were prevented from sitting, in many cases, and the malcontents grew bolder. The militia was often powerless, as its members largely sympathized with the mobs. An attempt by the legislature to redress some of the popular grievances proved futile. Shays first became known as a leader in the rebellion when, at the head of about 1,000 men, he appeared at Springfield to prevent the session of the supreme court at that place. The court-house, by the governor's order, had been occupied by a somewhat smaller body of militia under Gen. William Shepard, which sustained the court, but, after sitting three days, it adjourned, having transacted little business, and on the fourth day both parties dispersed. Shays was also present at the large gathering of insurgents that took place in Worcester in December, and retired at the head of a large part of them to Rutland, Vt., on 9 Dec. At this time he seems to have regretted his part in the agitation, as, in a conversation with a confidential agent of the state, he expressed his desire to desert his followers and receive a pardon. The officer was afterward empowered to offer him one on that condition, but had no opportunity to do so. In January, 1787, three bodies of insurgents concentrated on Springfield, where they hoped to capture the Continental arsenal, which was defended by Gen. Shepard with 1,000 militia. The largest body, under Shays, numbered 1,100 men, and approached by the Boston road. Meanwhile the state government had raised and equipped an army of 4,000 men, under Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, whose approach made hasty action necessary. Shays sent a message to Luke Day, the leader of one of the other bodies of insurgents, saying that he should attack the arsenal on 25 Jan., and desiring Day's aid. The latter answered that he could not move till the 26th, but the despatch was intercepted by Gen. Shepard, and the militia were therefore in readiness. Before advancing, Shays had sent a petition to Gen. Lincoln, who was then two days' march from Springfield, proposing a truce till the next session of the legislature, but before a reply could reach him he attacked the arsenal early on the afternoon of the 25th. After repeated warnings, and two volleys over the heads of the approaching body, the militia fired directly into their ranks, killing three men and wounding one. Shays attempted to rally his men, but they retreated precipitately to Ludlow, ten miles distant, and on the day effected a junction with the forces of Eli Parsons, the Berkshire leader, after losing about 200 by desertion. After the arrival of Gen. Lincoln's army, and the consequent flight of Day and his men, Shays continued his retreat through South Hadley to Amherst. He was pursued by the state troops to this point, and then took position on two high hills in Pelham, which were rendered difficult of access by deep snow. On 30 Jan., Gen. Lincoln summoned him to lay down his arms, and Shays returned a conciliatory answer, suggesting a truce till a reply could be obtained to a petition that had just been sent to the general court. Gen. Lincoln refused. Meanwhile the legislature met, declared the state to be in rebellion, and rejected the petition, which too much resembled a communication from one independent power to another. On 3 Feb. the insurgents moved to Petersham, under cover of a conference between one of their leaders and a state officer, and they were followed by the state troops in a forced march of thirty miles through a blinding snow-storm and in a bitter north wind. When they were overtaken the insurgents made little resistance. They were pursued for about two miles beyond the town; 150 were captured, and the rest dispersed. This ended Shays's rebellion. Several of its leaders were sentenced to be hanged, but they were finally pardoned. Shays, after living in Vermont about a year, asked and received pardon, and removed to Sparta, N. Y. He was allowed a pension in his old age, for his services during the Revolution. See “History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts in the Year 1786, and the Rebellion Consequent Thereon,” by George R. Minot (Boston, 1810), and Josiah G. Holland's “History of Western Massachusetts” (2 vols., Springfield, 1855).