© 2008 Bryant White
Reuben Wells was one of 10 children born to Ebenezer and Elizabeth Field Wells, of Greenfield, Massachusetts. In 1758, when Reuben was 5 years old, illness swept through the family, and within days, took the lives of 3 of his 5 siblings. Reuben Wells was only 19 when he married Experience Severance in 1772. Eight of their twelve children had been born by 1786. During the American Revolution, Reuben enlisted for a 3-month tour in 1780. The muster roll described him as being 5'10" and possessing a "light" complexion, hair and eyes. In 1781, he enlisted for a three year tour of service in the Continental Army. Reuben's duties as the town tax collector during the war made him acutely aware of the economic hard times during the war and in its aftermath; he was chronically years in arrears in collecting these taxes.
Although Reuben Wells himself apparently was not actively involved in Shays' Rebellion, like many other Greenfield people he was connected to people who took up arms for and against the Massachusetts government during the Regulation. Reuben knew many of the men who were at the United States Arsenal on January 25, 1787, both among the government militia called out to defend the Arsenal and its stores, and the Regulators determined to commandeer the barracks, weapons and supplies. Reuben's first cousin once removed was Captain Agrippa Wells, an outspoken local Regulator leader who led a company of Greenfield men in the storming of the Arsenal. Agrippa's daughter was married to Reuben's younger brother. Meanwhile, Reuben's cousin Elisha Wells served in the government militia called up to oppose the Regulators. In the months following the bloody encounter at the Arsenal and the collapse of organized armed resistance, thousands of former Regulators came forward to surrender their arms and take an oath affirming their loyalty to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. When Seth Catlin, a justice of the peace from nearby Deerfield, announced that he would be administering oaths of allegiance in February, 1787, he chose Reuben Wells' tavern as the location. We may wonder what Rueben's thoughts might have been as he stood behind his bar observing Seth Catlin administer the loyalty oath to former Regulators from Greenfield and the surrounding towns, some of whom may have frequented his tavern or been among his friends and acquaintances.
Reuben Wells did not remain in Greenfield for long following Shays' Rebellion. He sold his tavern in 1789 and moved to Waterbury, Vermont, where "Lieutenant Ruben Wells" held many town offices. Wells moved his family to Richmond, Vermont before moving to Massena, New York where he died in 1815.
Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources.
See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People of Shays' Rebellion