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hays’s Rebellion Worksheet

Use the information to answer the questions IN COMPLETE SENTENCES.

Thomas Jefferson, writing to James Madison from Paris, France, however, felt safe and assured when he wrote on January 30th, 1787, that:

"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion."


Daniel Shays (born Hopkinton, MA in 1747 and dying in Sparta, NY in 1825) was a decorated Continental Army captain who later helped lead a rebellion and protest against politicians, economic injustice, and inequitable laws. These included excessive taxes on property, unjust court actions, heavy polling taxes, the costly lawsuits, and an unstable currency. They pressed for an issue of paper money.

The Revolutionary War was over, but the Constitutional Congress also had yet to convene. The country was in chaos. Beginning in the summer of 1786, the “Regulators,” as the rebels called themselves, forced courts in Northampton, Great Barrington, Worcester and Concord to close, preventing the sitting of the courts. Massachusetts's Governor, James Bowdoin, quickly raised an army by private subscription of 4,400 militiamen under General Benjamin Lincoln to restore the courts and to protect the state.

On January, 25th, 1787, Shays led insurgents to the Federal Arsenal in Springfield with about 1,500 armed men behind him. This was the high-water mark of this violent and wide-spread rebellion that crested in the bloody clash at the arsenal as the rebels attempted to seize the muskets, cannon, barracks, and ammunition stored here.

The rebel column approached from the East on what is today State Street toward today’s Federal Square before they rushed toward the militia standing on today’s Armory Square [the grass quadrangle in front of the Springfield Armory NHS Museum]. Massachusetts militia General William Shepard commanded 1,200 local militiamen who fired several cannons into the ranks of the advancing rebels, killing four and wounding many more. No muskets were fired by either side. Crying "murder", Shays’s men scattered in disarray toward Chicopee.

General Lincoln had moved westward from Boston to defend the Worcester court while Shays and the Regulators marched on the Arsenal late in the afternoon of January 25th, 1787. He and his nearly 4,400 militiamen arrived in Springfield a few days after the attempted rebel effort with reinforcements and quickly chased Shays's army northward. On the morning of February 3rd, the insurgents were taken completely by surprise in Petersham, Massachusetts. General Lincoln had marched his troops from Hadley through a snowstorm the previous night to attack as Shays and his men sat down to breakfast. The regulators scattered, and the rebellion was effectively ended with some fighting and bloodshed continuing in the months ahead in the Berkshire hills to the west.

Fourteen of the rebel leaders, including Shays, were soon sentenced to death for treason. Pardoned months later by newly-elected Governor John Hancock, only two men, John Bly and Charles Rose of Berkshire County, were later hung, and they as outlaws. By that summer, he and the newly-elected Massachusetts Legislature began the work of reform.

That following summer, the Federal Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia struggled to create a stronger central government that would "establish justice and insure domestic tranquility." Shays's Rebellion is today considered one of the major events leading to the formation of the United States Constitution.

- Edited & compiled by Richard Colton, historian, Springfield Armory NHS-

Shays’s Rebellion Worksheet

1. What did the rebels call themselves and what did they force?

2. Where did Daniel Shays lead the insurgents and what did they want to seize?
3. Who fired on the advancing rebels at the Springfield Armory? and what happened to the rebel forces?
4. Describe what happened when the Regulators marched on the Arsenal late in the afternoon of January 25, 1787?

5. What happened after General Benjamin Lincoln marched his troops from Hadley through a snowstorm?

6. What sentence was handed down to the rebel leaders? and for what?
7. What did John Hancock do after he was elected governor of Massachusetts?
8. Shays’s Rebellion lead to the formation of what?

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