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Named for one of its leaders, this uprising involved debt-ridden farmers in western and central Massachusetts. Faced with high taxes, many of them were threatened with loss of their properties and imprisonment.
Beginning in August 1786, groups of discontented farmers began meeting at county conventions and petitioning the state for rights they believed they had won in the Revolution, including court reforms and the issuance of paper money for paying their debts.
After the Massachusetts Legislature refused their demands, a band of armed farmers went to Northampton on August 29, 1786, and closed a court that was preparing to prosecute debtors. In September, about 500 farmers, led by Daniel Shays, stormed the town of Springfield to prevent the State Supreme Court from charging them with treason. Although Shays' "soldiers" were opposed by an equal number of militiamen, bloodshed was avoided and both groups dispersed without major incident. On January 25, 1787, Shays led 1,200 men armed with pitchforks and staves in an attack on the Springfield arsenal, but the attack was repulsed. Three rebels were shot during the altercation, and the rest fled.
Left: The attack on the Springfield arsenal.
In order to end the rebellion, the Massachusetts Legislature placed Benjamin Lincoln in command of about 4,400 state troops. The majority of the rebels were rounded up by the end of February 1787; most of the rebels were subsequently pardoned. Shays escaped to Vermont, but he was eventually caught and sentenced to death; he was pardoned in 1788. Many of the farmers' demands were later granted by the Legislature.
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This page was last updated on April 26, 2017.