Shay’s Rebellion in Connecticut

An obscure bit of New England and constitutional history recently came into our collections. Colonel David Humphreys of Connecticut was charged with raising a small army to suppress Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. In a letter to Governor Samuel Huntington, dated December 18, 1786, Humphreys informed the governor “of all the resignations which have taken place, together with the names of such persons as might be proper to fill their vacancies.” Captains Clift and Robinson, Lieutenant Hart and Ensign Keeler “declined accepting their appointments. After making unsuccessful overtures to Captain Rogers, Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Mix,” Humphreys asked for Huntington’s permission to recruit Captain Moses Cleveland of Canterbury, Lieutenant Joseph Wilcox (then in service at West Point) to be a Captain, Mr. Russel Bissel of Windsor to be Lieutenant and Mr. John Thomson to be Ensign.

Humphreys further reported that “Tho’ no public money has been advanced, several officers have made considerable progress in enlisting men. About twenty recruits have arrived . . . [and] I made arrangements with Colo. Wadsworth to furnish them with all necessary supplies.”

Shay’s rebellion was an armed uprising in western Massachusetts from 1786-1787. The rebels, led by farmer and former soldier Daniel Shays, were mostly small farmers angered by crushing debt and high land taxes. Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, called for armed troops to suppress the uprising but had no power to recruit the men or pay them. Massachusetts managed to mobilize a privately financed army and eventually defeated the rebels on February 3, 1787. Connecticut was the only other state to respond, but obviously not without some effort and eventually without result. The small Connecticut force was never needed.

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