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Shays Rebellion

Shays Rebellion
George Washington was the 1st American President who served in office from April 30, 1789 to March 4, 1797. One of the key events just before the beginning of his presidency was
Shays Rebellion

Definition and Summary of the Shays Rebellion
Definition and Summary: The economic crisis caused by the war debts incurred during the Revolutionary War led to the introduction of a high poll tax,
based on the same head tax, regardless of income. Gold and silver was scarce and paper money was printed which quickly devalued. Farmers in Massachusetts were hit hard, unable to sell their harvest or pay their taxes, their lands were sold at auctions at low prices and many were thrown in debtors prison. There were protests and riots which escalated into a rebellion led by Daniel Shays. Shays Rebellion began on August 29, 1786 and ended February 27, 1787.

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The Cause of Shays Rebellion
There were many causes, but the primary cause of Shays Rebellion was the economic crisis in the country and the taxes introduced to pay the war debts incurred during the War of Independence. The causes of Shays Rebellion were politically significant and these, together with the rebellion itself, contributed to the publication of the
Federalist Papers. For additional facts and information about the causes of Shays Rebellion please refer to the following article.

Causes of Shays Rebellion  

Shays Rebellion occured in which state?
Shays Rebellion occured in the state of Massachusetts.

Who was the leader of Shays Rebellion? Daniel Shays
The leader of Shays Rebellion was called Daniel Shays. He was Daniel Shays was born c. 1747 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and died on September 29, 1825 in Sparta, New York. Daniel was the barely educated son of an indentured servant who rose from humble beginnings to purchase a small farm and serve as a captain in the 5th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. After the war Daniel returned home to face the economic chaos and hardship suffered by the citizens of Massachusetts. Well respected in his community he was elected to represent them between 1782 and 1786 in county conventions to petition their grievances to the government in 1786. Daniel Shay was 39 years old.

What was Shays Rebellionabout? The Grievances
The grievances of the Massachusetts farmers, their protests and their calls for action included the following in their petitions to the legislature in Boston between 1872 - 1876:

  • Taxes to be cut

  • Revision of the poll tax law to be based on income (this would help the poor and shift the burden to the wealthy)

  • To issue paper money & make it legal tender - "Tender Laws"

  • Institute "Stay Laws" (freeze) on payment of debts

  • Accept a barter system as a form of payment

  • Reduce legal fees of the courts and lawyers

  • Move the location of the state capital inland, near the farmers so it would no longer be in the control of the commercial elite in eastern Massachusetts

The proposals were repeatedly rejected.

Shays Rebellion: Grievances and Protests Ignored
By August 1876 the people had endured enough. Their grievances and proposals had been ignored. They decided it was time to take direct action. What happened next? Shays Rebellion...

What was Shays Rebellion? Shays Rebellion Facts and Timeline
The following Shays Rebellion facts and timeline provides details of the events:

Shays Rebellion Facts and Timeline



Shays Rebellion Events

Shays Rebellion Fact 1:

August 1786

The state legislature adjourned without hearing any protests

Shays Rebellion Fact 2:

August 29, 1786

Shays Rebellion Began. Rebel farmers (led by Daniel Shays and calling themselves 'Regulators') gathered in Northampton to prevent a sitting of the Court of Common Pleas.

  • The action was taken because the farmers said they wanted to stop the judicial processes that were depriving citizens of their lands and goods
Shays Rebellion Fact 3:

September 2, 1786

Governor Bowdoin issues a proclamation the denounced mob action
  • No military action was taken
  • Plans were made to call out the militia in the future
Shays Rebellion Fact 4:

September 5, 1786

'Regulators' gathered in Worcester and prevented a sitting of a Debtor Court under Judge Artemus Ward
  • Governor Bowdoin calls out the Worcester militia
  • The Worcester militia refuse to fight the rebel 'Regulators'
Shays Rebellion Fact 5:

September 19, 1786

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts indicts 11 leaders of Shays rebellion as "disorderly, riotous, and seditious persons."
  • The supreme judicial court of Massachusetts was next scheduled to meet in Springfield on September 26
Shays Rebellion Fact 6:

September 20, 1786

Shays Rebellion spreads to New Hampshire.
  • Rebels surround the State House
  • The governor and the assembly are held for 5 hours
Shays Rebellion Fact 7:

September 26, 1786

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts convenes at Springfield. 300 'Regulators' demonstrate outside the courthouse
  • 300 Militia had been called out to protect the court
  • There was no attempt by the rebels to seize the court but the judges adjourned the hearing until September 28 without hearing any cases
    • The militia had increased in number to 800
    • The 'Regulators' had increased in number to 1200
Shays Rebellion Fact 8:

September / October

Shays Rebellion spreads to Connecticut and Vermont
  • 'Regulators' in Concord, Berkshire, Great Barrington and Taunton also succeed in shutting courts
  • Militia are called out
Shays Rebellion Fact 9:

October 22, 1786

Congress fears insurrection (revolution)
  • Congress votes to establish a National Army
  • Congress requests 500,000 from the states to pay for the army
  • Every state, except Virginia, refuses to comply with the requisition
Shays Rebellion Fact 10:

October 22, 1786

James Warren wrote to John Adams on October 22,1786 stating:

 "We are now in a state of Anarchy and Confusion bordering on Civil War."


Shays Rebellion Fact 11:

October 24, 1786

The Massachusetts legislature passes suppressive measures against the rebels

  • The Riot Act: The Massachusetts Riot Act declared 12 men or more gathered with guns were committing treason
    • Authorities were required to read the Riot Act before they could enforce it, hence the expression "Reading the Riot Act"
Shays Rebellion Fact 12:

November 10, 1786

Massachusetts suspends Habeas Corpus
  • The suspension of Habeas Corpus permitted authorities to keep people in prison without a trial
  • This action caused great alarm as it was viewed by many as an act of tyranny
Shays Rebellion Fact 13:

November 16, 1786

The Massachusetts legislature passes the Sedition Act
  • The Sedition Act prohibited speech critical of the government
Shays Rebellion Fact 14:

November 16, 1786

The Massachusetts legislature also made some concessions to soothe the rebel farmers
  • "Tender Laws" stating that taxes could be paid with goods (tendering goods)
  • "Stay Laws" that prevented people who were owed money from enforcing their rights
  • Indemnity Act was passed in which pardons were offered to protestors willing to take an oath of allegiance
Shays Rebellion Fact 15:

November / December

Warrants were issued for the arrest of several of the leaders of Shays Rebellion including Daniel Shays, Luke Day, Adam Wheeler and Eli Parsons.


Shays Rebellion Fact 16:


November 28, 1786

300 men are sent to Groton to arrest Job Shattuck and other rebel leaders in the area.

Shays Rebellion Fact 17:

November 30, 1786

Job Shattuck was captured and arrested and wounded by the slash of a sword

  • Other rebels were also arrested
Shays Rebellion Fact 18:

December, 1786

Leaders of Shays Rebellion and other 'Regulators' began to plan the overthrow of the Mass. Government
  • A force of over 9000 men was raised
Shays Rebellion Fact 19:

January 4, 1787

Governor Bowdoin proposed the formation of a privately funded army of militia soldiers


Shays Rebellion Fact 20:

January, 1787

Leaders of Shays Rebellion spoke of breaking the "Tyrannical government of Massachusetts"


Shays Rebellion Fact 21:

January 19, 1787

Governor Bowdoin had raised over 6000 from merchants and recruited a private army of 3000 militia. He had taken possession of the federal armory in Springfield to arm the private army.

  • Permission had not been received from the Secretary of War, Henry Know, to take this action
  • January 19, 1787: The armed militia marched on Worcester
Shays Rebellion Fact 22:

January, 1787

The forces of Shays Rebellion were spilt into 3 groups
  • Daniel Shays - Palmer, Springfield
  • Luke Day - West Springfield
  • Eli Parsons - Chicopee
Shays Rebellion Fact 23:

January, 1787

The Rebel groups failed to communicate with each other and form a cohesive force
  • 4 rebels were killed by cannon shot
  • 20 were injured
  • The rebel forces fled north into New Hampshire and Vermont where they were given shelter
  • They were pursued by General Lincoln
Shays Rebellion Fact 24:

February 12, 1787

The Legislature passed the Disqualification Act banning any rebels from future office


Shays Rebellion Fact 25:

February 27, 1787

The number of the militia had decreased as their enlistments expired. A group of about 120 rebels from Shays Rebellion mounted one last attack in Sheffield, in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Militia, under the command of Brigadier John Ashley

  • I Rebel was killed
  • 29 rebels were wounded
  • I militiaman was killed and many others were injured
  • 150 rebels were captured and taken prisoner, the remainder fled
Shays Rebellion Fact 26:

March 10, 1787

Rewards were offered for the apprehension of the rebels signed by Benjamin Franklin
  • Daniel Shays - One hundred and Fifty Pounds
  • Luke Day, Adam Wheeler and Eli Parsons - One hundred and Fifty Pounds
Shays Rebellion Fact 27:

The Aftermath

Shays Rebellion was crushed
  • 4000 rebels signed confessions in exchange for amnesty
  • 18 leaders of Shays Rebellion were convicted and sentenced to death
  • Most appealed, were pardoned or had their sentences reduced
  • Two of the condemned rebels, Charles Rose and John Bly, were hanged on December 6, 1787
  • Daniel Shays was pardoned in 1788

Shays RebellionSignificance
The importance and significance of Shays Rebellion is detailed in the following article:

Importance and Significance of Shays Rebellion

Shays Rebellion - President George Washington Video
Shays Rebellion: The article on the Shays Rebellion provides an overview of one of the major events just before his presidential term in office. The following video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 1st American President whose presidency spanned from April 30, 1789 to March 4, 1797.

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