The United States’s first national government, the Articles of Confederation, was approved by the states beginning in 1777. In Connecticut, this was done through town meetings. Despite this support, the Articles did not solve all the young nation’s problems. Many farmers returning from war found themselves in debt and unable to pay their taxes in the gold or silver that Massachusetts required. When, in 1786, courts in that state began seizing the farms of delinquent taxpayers, angry farmers in western Massachusetts took up arms in an attempt to shut down these courthouses. The leader of the this movement, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays, gave his name to the rebellion.
Shays and his men marched on courthouses throughout the central part of the state, while other Shaysites closed the court in Great Barrington. In January 1787, Shays led a force in an attempt to seize the federal armory in Springfield. There they were met and routed by Massachusetts militia led by General Benjamin Lincoln. Shays’s force dispersed, with many men making their way to New York and Vermont. Many of those attempting to reach the Empire State were cut off by militia on February 27, 1787, on the road between Sheffield and Egremont. In the ensuing battle, the last organized part of Shays’s forces was defeated.
Several of Shays’s men – as well as the spirit of the rebellion – crossed the border into Litchfield County. In the spring of 1787, Dr. John Hurlbert of Alford, Massachusetts, a supporter of Shays, arrived in Sharon to awaken “a similar spirit.” Hurlbert organized a number of men under William Mitchell, who as captain trained his company in secret. Hurlbert, Mitchell, and three others were arrested, but when Shays’ Rebellion collapsed, the prosecutions were discontinued. The alarm raised by Shays’ Rebellion – and the inability of the federal government to act to stop it – resulted later that year in the Constitutional Convention that would meet in Philadelphia.