Friday, June 5, 2015

"After getting what arms and arminition (sic) they could find, and what plunder they pleased": The Final Fight of Shay's Rebellion (Part II)

Theodore Sedgwick memorial stone
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Captain Perez Hamlin's first move during the night of February 26-27, 1787 with the rebel forces under his command was to cross over from New Lebanon, New York into West Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Many of Hamlin's fellow insurgents were from this very community, including at least 21 subsequently taken prisoner in the aftermath of the Sheffield fight that afternoon¹ -14 of whom were subsequently brought up on charges.

The impetus for this incursion may have been the opportunity presented by the withdrawal of most of the Commonwealth's troops from the region on February 21st after their terms of enlistment expired.  There was also a field piece that they may have hoped to capture, though it had already been removed to Pittsfield and was beyond their reach².  Finally, there was a score to settle with Theodore Sedgwick and other government supporters in the adjacent town of Stockbridge, and that is where Hamlin turned next with approximately 120 men under arms.  According to historian Lion G. Myles, Sedgwick was a particular target³, but there were many other loyal citizens in Stockbridge whose persons were tempting hostages and whose properties invited plunder. 

At this stage in the Rebellion, the "Regulators of Government" were on the defensive.  They had lost much of their unit discipline and their political and military aims had given way to marauding and revenge.  A 1938 newspaper article on file at the Pittsfield Atheneum references old court records - rediscovered by WPA workers -  that describe some of what took place when the insurgents reached Stockbridge that morning.

Isaac Marsh would bring charges against Peter and Nicholas Brazee of West Stockbridge, Daniel Owen 
Elizabeth Freeman and Catherine Sedgwick memorials,
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
of Tyringham, and Isaac Vosburgh, Jr. of Sheffield for housebreaking and theft that day of

"a silver mounted sword valued at six pounds; one gun bayonett(sic) valued at one pound sixteen shillings, one powder horn and cartridge box valued at twelve shillings". 

These items were of military value, but these four men also entered the house and stole from Erastus Sergeant

"personal effects and clothing therefrom to the value of 13 pounds, including a beaver hat valued at two pounds, a shirt worth ten shillings, and did damages to the house of around six pounds." 

At Theodore Sedgwick's house (from which the owner had wisely decamped on the news that he was a target of the incursion), the same four men stole numerous items, though they famously missed the family silver thanks to the quick thinking of former slave Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman. Nevertheless, they made off with

"a mare valued at 30 pounds; 50 pounds of beef worth three cents a pound; two firearms valued at 30 pounds;  a silver mounted hanger worth six pounds; a broadsword valued at seven pounds, four shillings; a horse pistol worth one pound and 10 shillings and three shirts worth 2 pounds and 14 shillings, a total of 74 pounds and six shillings for lost articles and damage done."

They also took a gelding worth 20 pounds and a saddle worth six from Samuel Kirkland, among other items.

Daniel Owen was also charged, along with Stephen Seyley, Aaron Knapp, John Minclair and Asahel Newell (all of West Stockbridge) and Nathaniel Austin of Sheffield with the theft from Silas Pepoon, among other items, of "a gun valued at 45 shillings and a cartridge box worth 12 shillings.

Similar acts were repeated throughout the town as the insurgents went from house to house.  Other sources tell us that from Captain Josiah Jones they stole a considerable amount of wampum, while at Timothy Edwards' place they appropriated and consumed a great amount of alcohol, which only contributed to their marauding.

They also took many citizens prisoners.   Dr. Erastus Sergeant described his ordeal a few days later in a letter to Major General Shepherd dated March 5, 1787:

"...On Tuesday morning the 27 ulto. about daybreak I had my house surrounded by twelve armed men, with a demand of enterance (sic) and surrender to Shays with the most horrid imprecations and diabolical visages that it is possible to possess the human appearance before we could have time to determine whether it would be best to grant them enterence (sic), they drove their bayonets thru the window of my lodging room and by repeated thrusts broke the sash and 6 or 8 lights of glass, in the room I, my wife and small children lodged, then with the same degree of violence burst an outside door and an entery (sic) door which led into the same room, pointed the bayonet to my wives breast, with a demand of arms and arminition (sic) at the same time they had found enterance (sic) into almost every room of my house, after getting what arms and arminition (sic) they could find, and what plunder they pleased, which consisted of cloathing (sic), silver buckles some cash hats etc etc they ordered us to preparte to march immediately to head quarters, which was then at Mr. Bingham [the current Red Lion Inn], where I found almost all my neighbours in the same unhappy situation.  The commanding officer, Capt. Hamlin, informed me I must go with him and gave me permission to return home and take a horse or sleigh and what other comforts I pleased, which I considered as a very great indulgence, they plunders 6 horses and mounted them as videts and marched out of town sun almost two hours high in the morning with 32 prisoners, we went to Barrington where they were joined by a number more, our Friends at Barrington got information timely to make their escape to Sheffield..."

Solomon Glezen Stone, Stockbridge, Massachsuetts
Other prisoners of the Shayites included twenty-six-year old school teacher Solomon Glezen, jr., who would be killed in the crossfire during the fight that afternoon at Sheffield.   Also taken captive was Judge Jaheel Woodbridge, whose son Timothy was just three year sold at the time and recalled the event in later life as one of his earliest memories.  Timothy Woodbridge remembered

"...seeing a number of brutal soldiers with their green boughs (the insignia of rebellion) waving over the bed where my father and I lay.  The dreadful gleam of their arms was reflected by the burning lights in the room.  They demanded the surrender of my father, and I shrieked in an agony of terror as my father passed me between the guns to the arms of my sister.  They plundered the house most unsparingly, and continued these deprecations for some time - going from house to house, frightening the inmates unmercifully..."

Other prisoners of Hamlin's men taken at Stockbridge included a number of leading citizens and their family members, among whom were Moses Ashley, Ephraim Williams, Silas and Daniel Pepoon, Edward Edwards, Henry Hopkins, Deacon Stephen Nash, jr., Henry W. Dwight, Jonathan Woodbridge, Silas Whitney, Captain Joshua Jones and Joshua Jones, Jr.

The insurgents left Stockbridge with their prisoners and plunder and headed south toward Great Barrington.  The alarm had been raised and pursuit could be expected, but there were friends of the Regulators to be freed from gaol before crossing back over into New York and beyond the jurisdiction of the Bay State.  The next post in this series takes up the story in Great Barrington and the response of loyal militia forces to Hamlin's incursion into Berkshire.

1.  "List of Prisoners taken at Sheffield 27 Febr' 1787", Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society
2.  Starkey, Marion L. (1955) A Little Rebellion; Alfred Knopf: New York;  pg. 176
3.  Myles, Lion G. (2002) "Shay's Rebellion in the Housatonic Valley"; Upper Housatonic Valley Heritage Area pamphlet, National Park Service.
4.  "Shays Rebellion Recalled By Old Court Records" (March 22, 1938); courtesy of the Pittsfield Atheneum local history collection, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
5.  "Extract of a letter from Hon. General LINCOLN, to his Excellency the GOVERNOUR, received last evening" - Pittsfield March 3d. 1787

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