Shays Rebellion, Shays and Shattuck, Woodcut

This woodcut from 1787 depicts Daniel Shays (left) and Job Shattuck, two of the leaders of the Shaysites. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Shays' Rebellion — The Last Battle of the American Revolution

1786–1787

Shays' Rebellion was an insurrection in Massachusetts that showed the weakness of the national government under the Articles of Confederation and helped lead to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

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Summary of Shays’ Rebellion

Shays’ Rebellion was an armed insurrection by people living in western Massachusetts in 1786 and early 1787 against the Massachusetts government. The insurrection was led by Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran. Shays and the insurgents, mostly poor farmers, were protesting crippling economic policies that caused many farm foreclosures and the imprisonment of debtors. Shays’ followers, who called themselves Regulators, marched on several Massachusetts courthouses in 1786 to halt foreclosure proceedings and the imprisonment of debtors. Shays’ Rebellion reached its climax on January 25, 1787, when the Massachusetts militia defeated Shays and his followers as they attempted to capture a federal arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts. The insurgency ended for the most part on February 3, 1787, when the remainder of Shays’ followers were surprised by militia forces and took advantage of an offer of a general amnesty.

Significance of Shays’ Rebellion

Shays’ Rebellion was important, even though it failed, because it underscored the position of those who argued that the federal government established by the Articles of Confederation was weak and ineffective, and prompted support for the Constitutional Convention.

Shays’ Rebellion Facts — Details, Dates, and Statistics

Shays’ Rebellion started in 1786 as an insurrection of farmers in western Massachusetts against the state government.

The leader was Daniel Shays, a Revolutionary War veteran.

Shays’ followers called themselves Shaysites and Regulators.

Shays and his followers were protesting property taxes that led to:

  1. The imprisonment of debtors.
  2. A wave of farm foreclosures.
  3. Poll taxes that prevented poorer citizens from voting.
  4. Unjust procedures of the Court of Common Pleas.
  5. Costly lawsuits.
  6. The refusal of the government to issue paper money to relieve economic hardships.
  7. An unstable monetary system made day-to-day life more difficult for many than it had been before independence.

Regulators acted to address their grievances by storming courthouses to halt the imprisonment of debtors.

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 protect the state.

The Rebellion reached its climax on January 25, 1787, when the militia intercepted and defeated Shays and nearly 1,500 Regulators as they attempted to seize the federal arsenal in Springfield.

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With the exception of a few small skirmishes, the Rebellion ended when the remainder of Shays’ followers were surprised and captured by the militia in Petersham, Massachusetts on February 3, 1787.

Most of the insurgents later took advantage of a general amnesty and surrendered.

Shays and a few other leaders escaped north to Vermont.

The Supreme Judicial Court sentenced fourteen of the rebellion’s leaders, including Shays, to death for treason. However, they were later pardoned by the newly-elected Governor John Hancock.

Only two men, John Bly and Charles Rose of Berkshire County were hung (for banditry).

Shays was condemned to death on a charge of treason He petitioned for amnesty in February 1788, and was pardoned by John Hancock on June 13.

Shays moved to New York where he died, impoverished, on September 29, 1825.

Shays’ Rebellion is sometimes referred to as the “Last Battle of the American Revolution”.

The Rebellion underscored the position of those who argued that the federal government established by the Articles of Confederation was weak and ineffective.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Shays' Rebellion — The Last Battle of the American Revolution
  • Coverage 1786–1787
  • Author
  • Keywords shays' rebellion
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 14, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 20, 2022
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