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Taking the Oath: Punishment and Appeasement

The bloodshed and death at Springfield horrified the people of Massachusetts and shocked observers abroad. An uneasy peace followed as thousands of men surrendered their weapons and took an oath of loyalty to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that would keep them out of prison and off the gallows.

Reuben Wells' Tavern, Greenfield, Massachusetts, March 1, 1787


Grim Occasion
Barely a month had passed since the bloody confrontation at the United States Arsenal in Springfield. The grim-faced men gathering at Reuben Wells' tavern in Greenfield were in no mood to socialize. Like thousands of other Regulators across the state, the men standing before Seth Catlin of Deerfield were there on government orders.

Regulators Defeated
In the days following their devastating defeat at the Arsenal, many Regulators had fled to their homes or gone into hiding. People along the way offered food, shelter and sympathy, defying General Benjamin Lincoln's stern warnings not to aid the fleeing men. The remnants of Captain Daniel Shays' forces retreated, only to be defeated at Petersham on February 4 by General Lincoln's government militia. Shays escaped to Vermont while the Massachusetts government ordered his arrest and imprisonment for treason, along with other Regulator leaders. Organized violence in the Berkshires ended when government militia and Regulators met in a final, deadly clash at the town of Sheffield on February 27.

Partial Pardon
The Disqualification Act passed on February 16 was part of the government's attempt to deal with the thousands of citizens who had taken up arms against the state. The act pardoned any rank-and-file Regulator who came forward and paid nine pence to take an oath of loyalty to the state before a town selectman like Seth Catlin. The pardon was conditional. It did not apply to men identified as leaders. Oath takers had to surrender their weapons. They were prohibited from running a tavern, teaching school, holding office or voting for three years.

Spring Elections
The men taking the oath had no way of knowing that the onerous conditions spelled out in the act would melt away with the coming of spring and new state elections. Nor could they know that the newly-elected Governor John Hancock would unconditionally pardon almost all the Regulators except Daniel Shays and a handful of others.


Welcome News
In between carrying out his government duties at Reuben Wells' tavern, Seth Catlin could read with stern satisfaction news of the rebellion in the much-handled copy of the Hampshire Gazette on the table before him. Still more reassuring was the stream of former rebels coming before him to take the oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Rebellion Crushed
The government militia had wasted no time in following up on the supremely successful and spirited defense of the United States Arsenal at Springfield. General Lincoln and General Shepard's militias dispersed Captain Day's rabble at West Springfield on January 28. Petersham residents witnessed a spectacular rout of Shays' mob on February 3. As Lincoln marched west to Pittsfield to put down what remained of the rebellion in the Berkshires, the Massachusetts government turned to the task of dealing with the many misguided citizens who had followed the treasonous leaders of the rebellion.

Merciful Government
Like other friends of law and order, Catlin hoped the Legislature's recently-issued Disqualification Act would help people put the recent disorder and violence behind them. The Act allowed former insurgents to surrender without fear of arrest so long as they paid nine pence and took the oath of allegiance. The Act kept taverns and schools from becoming hotbeds of political intrigue by barring known insurgents from running taverns or teaching. It also disarmed them and denied them the vote for three years.

Stern Measures
Of course, the state's leaders, while offering clemency to most, also needed to make examples of the rebellion's most notorious leaders. The Legislature arrested known ringleaders and called upon neighboring states to aid in the arrest and return of Shays and other men who had fled Massachusetts. Catlin administered the oath hoping that these stern government measures would bring peace and stability to his state.


No Choice
Four weeks ago, the men of Captain Agrippa Wells' company had marched on the Arsenal at Springfield. Now they stood together at Reuben Wells' Greenfield tavern, taking an oath of allegiance to the very government that had not hesitated to open fire on them. Like thousands of other Regulators across Massachusetts, Caleb Philips and his comrades had little choice but to accept the harsh terms of the government's February 16 Disqualification Act and take the oath which denied them the right to vote for three years.

Following the bloody defeat at the Arsenal, Phillips and many other Regulators had fled rather than take their chances with Captain Shays' forces. The warm food and sympathy people offered along the way could not disguise the fact that the Regulators were on the run and all the news was bad. The government mercenaries attacked and arrested or put to flight Captain Day's men at West Springfield. General Lincoln's army hounded Shays' remaining men to Petersham in a howling blizzard and defeated them there. Now Lincoln was putting down the Regulation in the Berkshires. Shays and other leaders had gone into hiding in neighboring New York and Vermont, exiled from their homes and families.

A Bitter Pill
To receive the government pardon, Regulators had to surrender their weapons to a local militia officer. Many also faced the humiliation of taking the oath before pro-government selectmen. For men from Colrain, this meant taking the oath before Colonel Hugh McClellan, the Colrain selectman who had fired the Arsenal cannon. For some, paying nine pence for this final insult was too bitter a pill to swallow. Like Phillips, they chose to travel to other towns to throw themselves on the dubious mercies of a government in which they possessed little faith.


Text for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

Joseph Stebbins
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Stebbins of Deerfield has confiscated many guns from former Regulators, including Caleb Phillips. Now, he watches as Phillips and other local men take the oath of allegiance Click for more information.

Edward Allen
Edward Allen of Greenfield takes the oath.

Caleb Phillips
Caleb Phillips of Ashfield has traveled to Greenfield to take the oath of allegiance alongside men who marched with him at the Arsenal three weeks earlier. Click for more information.

Seth Catlin
Like other Massachusetts town officials, Seth Catlin will be required to declare the same oath of allegiance he now administers to the Regulators. Click for more information.

Sympathetic Bystander
Reuben Wells' sympathies lie with the men taking the oath. Click for more information.

Moses Bascon
Moses Bascom, Jr., of Greenfield takes the oath of allegiance.

Surrendered Firearms
Not all regulators who own guns are willing to give them up, despite the government's order Click for more information.

Seth Catlin refreshes himself with a glass of West Indies rum from Reuben Wells' bar. Click for more information.

Latest News
Seth Catlin and other tavern visitors can read a defiant letter from Regulator leader Eli Parsons in this latest issue of the Hampshire Gazette. Click for more information.

Record Keeping
Seth Catlin carefully records the names of each man who comes before him to take the oath. Click for more information.

Conditional Pardon
Governor James Bowdoin's Proclamation offers a conditional pardon to Regulators who surrender their weapons and take an oath of allegiance to the governemtn by March 21, 1787. Click for more information.

Marked Men
A Proclamation offers a rewrad for the capture of the four men the government believes are the principal "Abettors and supporters of this unnatural, unprovoked and wicked Rebellion against the dignity, authority and Government" of Massachusetts. Click for more information.

Tavern Offerings
Taverns often list the beverages and other services they offer.

Reuben Wells stores rum and other spirits in a cellar below the bar. He decants smaller amounts into glass bottles. Click for more information.

Rum Glasses
Drinks made with rum are among the most popular beverages at Wells' tavern. They are usually served in glass tumblers. Click for more information.

The Bar
The tavern bar can be locked, offering additional security for rum, wine, glassware and other valuable items.

A Warm Drink
Joseph Stebbins warms himself with a tankard of flip, a warm drink made with beer and milk. Click for more information.

Both comfort and fashion dictate that men, women and children wear hats. Click for more information.

Winter Travel
Male travelers wear wool greatcoats, or cloaks, to protect themselves from the bitter February cold. Click for more information.

"So Help Us God"
Each man taking the oath declares that he "will bear true Faith and Allegiance, to the said Commonwealth, and...will defend the same against traiterous Conspiracies and all hostile Attempts whatsoever." Click for more information.

Windsor Chair
Catlin rises from his chair to administer the oath of allegiance. Click for more information.

Functional Furniture
Tavern furniture like this table tends to be sparse, functional and inexpensive to replace. Click for more information.

Related to this scene


Major General Benjamin Lincoln Pittsfield, MA, February 17, 1787
"The opposition to Government is giving way in every part; the people are hourly surrendering themselves, giving up their arms, and taking the Oaths, &c.—"
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Captain Eli Parsons Vermont, March 1, 1787
"Will you now tamely suffer your arms to be taken from you, your estates to be confiscated, and even to swear to support a Constitution and form of government, and likewise a code of laws, which common sense and your conscience declare to be iniquitous and cruel..."

James Madison Virginia, February 21, 1787
"Our latest information from Mass/ts gives hopes that...the Rebellion is nearly extinct. If the measures however on foot for disarming and disfranchising those concerned in it should be carried into effect, a new crisis may be brought on..."
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George Washington Virginia, February 25, 1787
"On prospect of the happy termination of this insurrection I sincerely congratulate you; hoping that good may result from the cloud of evils which threatned, not only the hemisphere of Massachusetts but by spreading its baneful influence, the tranquillity of the Union. Surely Shays must be either a weak man, the dupe of some characters who are yet behind the curtain, or has been deceived by his followers."
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Getting By and Getting Ahead
In the wake of the violence, the General Court began enacting legislation that would pay for the expenses of the militia called up to put down the insurgency.
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We the People
The crisis facing the Massachusetts state government did not end with the defeat of Shays' force at Petersham on February 3, 1787.
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The Wider World
Throughout the remainder of the winter of 1787, leaders in other states eagerly sought out and shared information on the rapidly developing situation in Massachusetts.
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Everyday Life
Relations remained strained as Regulators and pro-government militia men returned to their communities.
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