Category Archives: The Big Picture

National and international trends impacting Lenox.

Shays’ Rebellion – Background

Home of Daniel Shays in Pelham, MA (which was destroyed by the flooding of the area creating the Quabbin in the 1930’s) was, like most in this rebellion a yeoman farmer

Western Massachusetts was ground zero for Shays’ Rebellion (1786-1788).  Lenox people and institutions were part of the action.

Not Just Shays; Not Revolution

The way most of us heard it, the revolution after the Revolution accelerated the creation of a new Constitution and the tilt toward a strong central government.  This “revolution” had something for all future historians to look back on:  rural vs. city, wealthy conservatives vs. debt ridden farmers, hard vs. soft currency, and distant government high-handedly ignoring the demands of its citizens.

However, the history of this “revolution” has fostered several long lived misconceptions.

  • Daniel Shays was one of several leaders of a largely spontaneous revolt; it is not clear why his name is attached to the uprising.  The participants frequently called themselves Regulators after a pre-Revolutionary revolt in the Carolinas.
  • “Revolution” is a misnomer in two ways:  (a)the protagonists were not shirtless rabble (most owned their own farms) nor did they abandon rule of law (until it seemed they had no choice), (b)there was a great deal of fear and military preparedness on the part of government conservatives but really only one encounter that could be called a battle.

There is even a case to be made that the triumph of the conservative Boston merchants in this interchange- and the soon to be Federalist central government – was almost a counter revolution.  Not surprisingly, the symbol for the Shaysites was a sprig of evergreen — the traditional symbol of liberty and independence for Massachusetts flags and coins.

Reasons for Shays’ Rebellion

A review of some of the literature on the topic* indicates the reasons include the following.

-We, as a new and only loosely organized nation hadn’t learned how to respond to citizens’ concerns through legislation – and had only limited infrastructure to do so.  Official courts were just beginning to be re-convened.

-The loss of breadwinners (both temporary and permanent), inflation, and lack of military pay had worked tremendous hardship on rural communities that had actively supported the Revolution.

-To make things even worse, as trade picked up, the need for cash increased.  The subsistence farmers of western Massachusetts were still a long way from operating on a cash basis and what cash there was was largely worthless paper currency issued by the Continental Congress or state government during the Revolution War.  Collection of hard currency debt by (mostly Boston) merchants (who had to supply hard currency to trade abroad) accelerated and rippled through a country side severely short on cash and long on debt.

-Objections were raised not only to the fact of debt collection but to the manner of collection.  Typically, in what was still largely a barter economy of farmers producing most of their goods for consumption or local exchange, collection was highly negotiable as to what was collected (e.g. not always hard currency) and how quickly.

-Well, there had been a  Revolution, so the notion of protesting what seemed unfair, had become plausible. The infallibility of distant (whether London or Boston) “betters” was less accepted than it had been before the Revolution.

Protests Started with Actions Against Debt Collection

As early as 1782 (prior to the official end of the war), citizens were raising issues via town meetings and protests to local officials about the uncustomary abruptness in debt collection.  Increasingly town meetings, state government representatives and county conventions were petitioned to  ask for the use of paper current,  suspension of debt collection or at least return to practices more consistent with past agrarian custom.

In February 1782, a mob of three hundred  tried to obstruct the proceedings of the Court of Common Pleas in Pittsfield (Berkshire County court met in Pittsfield and Great Barrington until Lenox was selected as the county seat.).  Later that year, Berkshire County farmers stopped the repossession of a team of oxen for debt.  It was just the beginning.

Action and Reaction

800 Close Court at Great Barrington in September 1786

By 1786 farmers were at the end of their rope and the protests started becoming more militant.  Almost 1500 stopped the Court of Common Pleas on August 29, 1786 in Northampton.  Similar actions took place elsewhere in Massachusetts including 800 Berkshire Regulators who closed down the court in Great Barrington in September (Lenox had been named the new location for court in 1782 but court sessions were still in Great Barrington).  The cause directly cited was retailers seeking immediate payment in specie.

The protestors locked up the judges until three (Whiting, Barker and Goodrich meeting at Whiting’s house) signed an agreement that they would not meet until revisions had been made to the state constitution.

The Great Barrington protest was a case of history repeating itself, since these Great Barrington courts had been closed in 1774 in protest of judges appointed by the royal government in Boston…effectively starting the Revolution in the Berkshires.

Soon to be Federalist and Revolutionary War hero, Major General John Paterson, spoke up for patience and non-violence in a Lenox convention in August and led the state militia to protect the courts in September.  Paterson decidedly represented the conservative faction and it is (Szatmary, p. 81) reported that when he marched into Great Barrington many of those in his militia forces refused to fight their protesting comrades.

Other leaders of the  pro government faction included names that continued to appear in the early Federalist history of Lenox and Berkshire County:

Theodore Sedgewick

Joshua Danforth

Simeon Learned

Erastus Sargeant

Ebenezer Williams

Azairah Egleston

William Walker

Caleb Hyde

David Ingersoll


Protests continued and in early October over 200 Regulators again closed the court in Berkshire County.

The rebellion had no formal organization but that was of limited importance since most of the actions were taken by close-knit neighbors and kin.  In Berkshire County, the Looses, Nobles and Dodges of Egremont helped stop the court in Great Barrington joined by Issac Van Burgh and his son Issac, Jr., brothers Enoch and Stephen Meachum, and Moses Hubbard an his three sons of Sheffield.  The Loveland and Morse families of Tyringham also sided with the Shaysites (Shay’s Rebellion, David Szatmary, p. 62).


The Life of John Paterson:  Major General In The Revolutionary Army, by Thomas Egleston, G.P Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY, 1894

Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitution in American History, by Mary E. Hull, Onslow Publishers, Inc., Berkley Heights, NJ, 2000

Shay’s Rebellion The American Revolution’s Final Battle, by Leonard L. Richards, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2002

Shays’ Rebellion The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection, by David P. Szatmary, The University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 1980







Industry Comes to Lenox

Challenges of Early Industry in Lenox

The challenges of early rural industry are illustrated by the number of failed attempts to get a working operation going in Lenox Dale (then known as Lenox Furnace).

To review, John Larrabee had been granted 500 acres encompassing most of modern Lenox Dale in 1739.  Despite the potential for industrialization presented by the Housatonic River, wars (French and Indian and then the American Revolution) prohibited most economic activity.

The water power would have been of interest for wood planing, grain grinding, fulling or other long- standing mill technologies.  The water power to drive the fans and other devices need for creation of iron would have made the  even more appealing after a rich vein of iron ore was found running under Lenox, Richmond, and West Stockbridge.

Iron Industry Finally on its Feet 1788

Nonetheless, there clearly was a great challenge in accumulating the capital and expertise needed.  To illustrate, here’s a list the transactions (per the unpublished George Tucker manuscript) that took place before the iron manufacturing operation got on its feet – 1788 or so.

  • 1760 – Larrabee sells to Charles Goodrich of Pittsfield
  • 1774 – Map shows Larrabee grant divided between Samuel Northrup, Elijah Northrup, Thomas Landers, Elijah Gates, Thomas Gates, James Howland and Elisha Percival (not clear whether they owned or rented given entry below – or perhaps they didn’t own the river front??)
  • 1783 – First record of a “furnace” on this property
  • 1783 – Job Gilbert leased the “furnace” property for one year to Elisha Martingale and Ephraim Hollister
    • Job Gilbert of Bristol, MA was described as someone who understood the iron ore business
  • 1783 – James Perry bought coal for the furnace; and took  to a portion of the iron ore under Bald Mountain (held by Lemuel Collins at the time)
  • 1786 – Clearly Gilbert was having difficulty holding on to enough capital to keep the iron works afloat and William Walker organized a group of 46 local subscribers to bail him out (some of whom would be repaid in hollow ware)
  • Lenox Furnace Early Industry
    William Walker

    1788 – Gilbert sold his interest in the iron works to William Walker; Walker partnered with Joseph Goodwin.

  • 1788 – Partnership divided:  Iron Works and Furnace to Goodwin, saw, oil, grist mill water rights and carding machine to Walker (apparently other small manufacturing investments had been made along with iron making capabilities).
  • 1813 – Walker sold his portion to his son (William P. Walker) and his daughter’s husband (Dr. Charles Worthington).

Iron making prospered mid 19th century – particular in meeting the demand for arms during the Civil War.  By 1877, coke, started to be mined in Pennsylvania – presenting a cheaper, hotter alternative to the charcoal used at Lenox Furnace.

However, in addition to the continued use of water power for the saw mill, another manufacturing venture, glass making, would make use of the water power starting in the 1850’s.



Lenox as a Resort – Town Life

From Little Women to Downton Abbey

In the 19th and early 20th century, Lenox evolved from farm community and county seat to a resort for the ultra wealthy.  In the early days visitors came for the fresh air and intellectual stimulation of some key families, writers and artists.  They built (by later standards) modest homes, often near town and often lived in Lenox most of the time.

Construction Workers at Shadow Brook
Construction Workers at Shadow Brook
Gardeners at Ventfort Hall
Gardeners at Ventfort Hall
Greenhouses at Ventfort Hall (Morgan Manor Today)
Greenhouses at Ventfort Hall (Morgan Manor Today)

As America moved into the post Civil War Gilded Age, Lenox moved from the atmosphere of Little Women to the atmosphere of “Downton Abbey.”  By the end of the 19th century, the visitors came to build and visit their lavish homes and grounds.  Further from town (partly to accommodate the 100’s of acres of grounds) and much, much bigger and grander (topping out – Shadow Brook – at 250 rooms), visitors came to hunt, golf and party–sometimes for just a couple of weeks a year (for instance, Margaret Emerson at Holmwood).

Parallel Town Development

Unproven but likely generalization:  at the beginning of the century the lives of ordinary Lenox residents were influenced by various local and national trends; by the end of the century, it was all about the estates.


  1. In the early part of the 19th century, the population mix was changing in concert with national trends.  The original families of Lenox were almost entirely descendants of The Great Migration (English Puritans).  Some descendants of those early families remained into the 20th century(Sedgwick, Egleston, Walker, Tucker, Rockwell), but others had started to move on to better opportunities in the west shortly after Revolution (Paterson).  At the same time, European revolutions and hardships were bringing in newcomers from Europe — particularly the Irish.
  2. In the early part of the century, Lenox residents were evolving from strictly agriculture employment to serving the courts, serving the wealthier families or trade.  In keeping with the rest of the northeast, employment was also moving into manufacturing (Lenox Furnace) – and particular to Lenox and Richmond – mining.  The new arrivals from Europe moved into many of these serving and manufacturing jobs.  Over time, they became managers and owners — of stables, of freight handling, etc.  New names began to emerge as families of importance in town:  O’Brien, Mahanna and others.
  3. By the end of the century, Lenox Furnace manufacturing had
    Sears and Cook with Their Wagon
    Sears and Cook with Their Wagon
    Picking up Arrivals at Lenox Station
    Picking up Arrivals at Lenox Station
    Lenox Town Band in Front of Peters Bike Shop
    Lenox Town Band in Front of Peters Bike Shop

    slowed and mining had ceased, but building had taken off.  In addition to the Mahannas, some new names (Peters, Clifford, Bull) moved from doing the work to investing in real estate and managing construction, freightage and other industries that supported their  fellow residents as well as the coming and goings of the estate families and their retinues.  After they were built, the estates employed hundreds to manage their houses and grounds.









The Beginnings of Lenox As a Resort Community

Samuel Gray Ward (about 1860)

Several authors count Samuel Gray Ward’s (1817-1907) purchase in 1844 of the original Highwood as the beginning of Lenox as a resort community.  Ward certainly set the mold for others who would follow shortly.  He was the son of Thomas Ward who sought out investment opportunities in the burgeoning American economy for London based Barings Bank.

Young Samuel was a member of Emerson’s circle (a Transcendentalist Groupie?) and he longed to pursue the life of a country scholar.

Time Was Right for an Early Summer Resort

But to understand how this act set off a bit of a ripple of grand summer homes, we should probably consider how the stage was set as New England rolled into the new century.

  • The economy was shifting from agricultural subsistence to a cash based economy with the emergence of wage labor, professional services and trade as increasingly important — particularly in the Northeast.  A mobil wealthy class was emerging.
  • Other areas – particularly the Northwest Territories and  Upstate New York offered better agricultural opportunities than New England.  Starting as early as 1790 with Major General John Paterson moving to upstate New York, the phenomenon of  investing in land for its economic potential was shifting away from New England.  The quality was better and there wasn’t much open land left in Massachusetts
  • Population density (in the 1830-1850 censes Massachusetts had one of the highest densities per square mile) motivated those who were able to seek the health and beauty of the countryside.
  • Transportation improvements were accelerating allowing more people to go where they wanted to go and allowing economic specialization (i.e., wheat from the midwest, dairy and fresh food from New England moved to cities).  Roads had improved steadily since the Revolution and even before rail service was established, there was regular coach service stopping at what would become the Curtis Hotel.   Then several major developments occurred 1820-1850.  The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 eased east west transport through the Great Lakes.  The railroad came to Berkshire County by 1841 providing relatively easy access to the countryside for movers and shakers from Boston and New York.
  • America was just beginning to define its own art and culture and patronage and discussion were eagerly sought by the elite.  Between the courts, the Sedgwicks, and the schools there apparently was enough critical mass to attract a steady flow of artists and literati such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Thomas Cole.


Highroad now part of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Program; Much Altered from the Original Italianate Design

Samuel Ward purchased land from farmer Daniel Barnes’ farm – selected for its beautiful view of the Stockbridge Bowl.  Although their home was famously chilly, the Wards lived year round at Highwood from 1845 to 1849 and quickly merged with the Sedgwick cultural circle for teas, talks, recitations and concerts.  The original Highwood (the one shown above had been considerably altered) was  designed by Richard Upjohn who was, at the time, also working on Trinity Church in New York.  Although the country intellectualism of the Wards and the Sedgwicks was much less pretentious than other what would follow later in the century, the trend of out of town architects and conscious design had begun.

Oakwood, Designed by Charles McKim for Samuel and Anna Ward c. 1870
Drawing of Cottage Rented to Hawthorne in 1850 (Re-creation now on Hawthorne Rd. Across from Tanglewood)

The couple attracted other Boston visitors and, when Sam was forced to return to Boston to take over his father’s business he rented Highwood to the Tappans who would eventually take up residency on what is now part of the grounds of Tanglewood.  In 1850 they rented the little red house at the end of the drive to Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family.


Eventually, Highwood was sold to another successful Boston businessman, William S. Bullard.  When the property was turned over to the Boston Symphony Orchestra mid twentieth century,

Oakwood, Built in 1876 for Sam and Anna Ward by Charles McKim, Burned 1903

The Wards had never cut their ties to Lenox and when Sam Ward retired in the 1870’s he purchased a property near Highwood and had Charles McKim build shingle style Oakwood in 1876.  In 1891, the property was sold to Anson and Helen Stokes who would build Shadow Brook up the hill and convert Oakwoods to a stable.  It burned in 1903.

So here was another  pattern of tearing down charming existing homes to put up bigger, grander “cottages.”

For much more information on the early days of Lenox as a summer resort see, The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters

Lenox Becomes the County Seat

Lenox Becomes the County Seat in 1782

In November of 1782* the Massachusetts state Legislature appointed a committee of three men to visit Berkshire County and pick a location more centrally located than Great Barrington.

The committee recommended that Lenox become the county seat after January 1784 to give the town time to erect a suitable courthouse. It also gave Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Pittsfield the opportunity to protest the choice.  Somehow Lenox persevered and remained the center of Berkshire County legal activities until 1867.

1791 Berksx.1791 Berkshire County Courthouse, Lenox, Massachusetts. Image captured from pdf of Kevin Sweeney's 1993 "Meetinghouses,Photoshop8BIMvhes: Changing Perceptions of Sacred and Secular Space in Southern New England, 1720-1850," in Winterthur Portfolio vol. 28, no. 1 (Spring
1791 Berkshire County Courthouse, Lenox, Massachusetts. Image captured from pdf of Kevin Sweeney’s 1993 “Meetinghouses,: Changing Perceptions of Sacred and Secular Space in Southern New England, 1720-1850,” in Winterthur Portfolio vol. 28, no. 1 (Spring

In May 1786 planning for the new courthouse began and the first session of court was held in September 1787.

On September 11, 1787, the Court of Sessions appointed Azariah Egleston and Elisha Bradley to supervise building  the new courthouse.

Other names that would show up frequently in the days of the Lenox early republic, John Bacon and Caleb Hyde were put to supervision of building the jail.  It was to be located on Stockbridge Road near what was to become the Winthrop Estate and later the Windsor Mountain School.

The new courthouse was in use by 1791 or 1792.  It was located at Walker and Main — about where the current Town Hall is located.

The first courthouse had a two story courthouse** with 12 x 24 pane windows and banked seats for spectators–quite grand for a little farm town.

George Tucker’s manuscript lists public spirited citizens who donated  materials or funds.  Again, names we see again and again in the early days of Lenox appear on the list:  John Paterson, William Walker, Elias Willard, various members of the Nash family, John Whitlock, Lemuel Collins, etc.

LenoxLibrary143Court activity was robust and by 1815 Lenox had outgrown the original court house.  The handsome building on Main Street (completed in 1816) currently used as the Lenox Library was the second county court house in Lenox.

27 Housatonic St., First County Courthouse - 1791
27 Housatonic St., First County Courthouse – As It Appeared in 2014

The Fate of the Original Court House

The original simple court house still stands (with later additions and alterations) on Housatonic Street.  The, at one time, impressive entrance, now  faces Church Street where the coffee shop is attached.

The courthouse was moved to its current location when the new Town Hall was built in 1901.

defaultWhen the second court house was built, the original court house was re-purposed as a town administration building.  It was rotated (using canon balls!) to face Walker Street as the Town Hall does today.  It was an active center of 19th century town activity with a bank, post office, and shops.

Good Fortune for Lenox

The early proponents of Lenox as the county seat were far sighted to put money into this important town development. As the center of Berkshire County legal activity, Lenox attracted visitors, professionals and commerce beyond that of the typical 18th-19th century farm town.  The presence of the court attracted educated families such as the Sedgwicks who would contribute to turning Lenox into a rural literary and educational center.  1839_Print_of_Lenox,_MAThe presence of the court also created non-farm jobs ranging from working in the Old Red Inn(Curtis) Hotel, renting out horses, clerking and provisioning visitors.

An editorial from the 1830’s* paints a picture of how lively the little town would have been when court was in session:

“Lenox is alive during the administration of Justice.  The goddess has occupied her throne here for more than a week past, and our Village had abounded with Judges and Jurors, lawyers and litigants, prosecutors and prosecuted.  To us who live in the country, the occasion is quite imposing.  It presents to us a vast variety of characters:  young attorneys in the bustle of new-found business, and the older ones assuming more and more dignified gravity of the bench; waiting jurymen chatting in little clusters by the wayside; worrying clients complaining of sleepless nights; witnesses of all orders and descriptions.  Spectators trading horses in the street and politicians smoking over government affairs in the bar room.  Our boarding houses have their long tables lined on both sides with earnest applicants, and all expect more business, more calls, more conversation and more cheerfulness.  Messages are sent, and errands done between one end of the county and the other; business accounts are settled, plans laid; caucuses, conventions and singing schools agreed upon; newspapers subscribed for and distant matters in general arranged for the ensuing Winter.”


*Lenox Massachusetts Shire Town, by David H. Wood, published 1969 as a follow up to the Lenox bicentennial

**George Tucker, unpublished manuscript


Revolutionary War Ends

What was the end of the Revolutionary War like in Lenox?

This is another instance where we’ll have to guess from information about the general state of affairs.

Major Fighting Ended in 1781 – Surrender at Yorktown

Cornwallis Surrender at Yorktown 1781
This Headline May Have Been Headed to the Hudson Highlands Lauding the Victory at Yorktown and is Dated November 1, 1781

The surrender at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, was not the end of the war, but was the beginning of the end.  There’s no reason to think  Lenox residents wouldn’t have heard of the victory fairly quickly (by 18th century standards) and have been inclined to lift a glass in celebration.

Lenoxites probably would have known of the arrival of the French fleet and would have been waiting for a major “make or break” military event such as Yorktown

What Would Life Have Been Like During the Late War Years?

After the victory at Saratoga (British General Burgoyne surrendered October 17, 1777), much of the fighting had moved to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and further south. Local militia volunteers likely would have returned to their farms.

The Hudson Highlands and Westchester remained somewhat of a “no-man’s” land with some Tory sympathy but mostly just lawlessness and was the primary location of Gen. Paterson, Joseph Plum Martin and probably the bulk of the Massachusetts soldiers of the Continental Army for the later years of the Revolutionary War.

Would the Continental Army have reached as far afield as the Berkshires to provision the soldiers stationed in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey?  Maybe, but the army was penniless, so one could guess that the locals got pretty good at hiding provisions and livestock.

dollar-inflation-5-1Joseph Plum Martin describes getting his first and only wages in the form of 1200 Continental Dollars on the way to Yorktown.  It was only enough to buy a quart of rum!  In other words, inflation would have rendered any currency in general circulation more or less worthless.  Fortunately, Berkshire County was still largely an agrarian, barter economy.

Smallpox Immunization During the Revolutionary War
Smallpox Immunization During the Revolutionary War

Other hardships of war?  At the beginning of the war, smallpox was a scourge, but by the end, inoculation was commonplace.  Joseph Plum Martin reports numerous outbreaks of influenza and even yellow fever.  Fortunately, Lenox probably had some military returnees but a limited concentration to carry these virulent diseases.

Both Paterson and Joseph Plum Martin report the winter of 1779 -1780 as the worst they could remember and meteorological history bears this out. joseph plumb martin

Rule of law? It’s not clear who was in charge of what, but, other than settlement of international trade, one can imagine that property and criminal law puttered along fairly smoothly.  After all, New England towns and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had been governing themselves for some time. In 1780 Massachusetts ratified a new state constitution written largely by John Adams and a model for the 1787 US Constitution.

Although the war probably stalled major investment – and certainly westward movement – local farmers probably continued to improve their landholdings and shelter through promissory notes and or barter.

From Yorktown to 1783 Peace of Paris

One can guess, even in the absence of Pew Polls, that after eight years the population was sick and tired of war.  George Washington struggled to hold the starving and unpaid Continental Army together during the tedious two years after Yorktown.

9651.14277Joseph Plum Martin describes the constant rumors of peace and General Paterson continued to lobby for clothes and food for his troops.  Conditions were bad and abetted by boredom and impatience.  With his troops wintering in Windsor, NY (near Newburgh), George Washington faced down an officer’s revolt with that bell ringer speech including pulling out his new spectacles and saying,”Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”

The incident was so moving that many of his officers wept, remembering how much Washington had endured alongside them.

Washington also killed some time during the wait for the peace settlement by inventing the Purple Heart.  Strangely it was pretty much ignored after the Revolutionary War until 1932 (lobbied for by that famous publicist Douglas MacArthur).

The Treaty of Paris Granted Territory to the New United States that Would be Settled by Families from New england

The new Whig British government was, fortunately, also anxious to end the War. The British also cleverly realized that granted the fervent American wish for western lands would give them a great source of trade that somebody else had to maintain against Indians and other potential enemies.


1st April 1783: 'Mustering Out' at the end of the American Revolution. A line of soldiers queue up to register their discharge from the army. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
1st April 1783: ‘Mustering Out’ at the end of the American Revolution. A line of soldiers queue up to register their discharge from the army. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

The regular soldiers who had fought under severe hardship, would come home with worthless promissory notes and impoverished families–at least part of the reason for Western Massachusetts’ Shays Rebellion which was to follow.

Pre-Revolutionary Lenox Dale

Larrabee Grant Shown in Yellow above “Glassworks”

Pre-Revolutionary Lenox Dale

As Jan Chague points out in her excellent new book, History of Lenox Furnace and Lenox Dale, the official history of Lenox Dale begins with a 500 acre 1739 grant to John Larrabee.

What Did Larrabee Want?

Although the grant was destined to encompass the primary site of greater Lenox’s industrial operations, it is doubtful that potential entered Larrabee’s mind.

Larrabee was awarded the grant (plus some cash)in response to his complaints about not being reimbursed for the expenses he incurred managing Fort William in the Boston Harbor.

It is doubtful he ever saw the place or had any plans for it other than cashing in when land values rose.  This, in fact, he did, selling to Charles Goodrich in 1760.

Why Not Industry?

Short answer — too soon.  Many of the components for even rural industry were not yet in place.

  1.  No Peace – The French and Indian Wars went on until 1763 and made colonists (and investors) fear commitment to western Massachusetts, Vermont and upstate New York.
  2. No Government – Berkshire County was not formed until 1761, and, although there were settlers in Lenox as early as 1751 (Jonathan Hinsdale), the town of Lenox was not founded until 1767.
  3. No Transportation – The Housatonic River this far north was not navigable and Berkshire County had a few footpaths but no roads to speak of in the 1730’s
  4. No Capital –  By 1739, the English Industrial Revolution was underway, but the role of the colonies in the British mercantilist scheme was to supply raw materials – not manufactured goods.  The colonies had no independent currency or banking system.

Moreover, there is no indication that Larrabee knew of the iron ore deposits in Lenox, Richmond and West Stockbridge that were soon to jump start manufacturing in Lenox Dale.

Subsistence farming was the primary occupation and Larrabee, correctly, was probably counting on settlers to move west, clear the land, and eventually turn it into property suitable for farming.

The groundwork for industry was slowly but surely being laid but wouldn’t be fully in place until after the Revolution.



The Revolution Came Early – 1774 – to the Berkshires

Although no shots were fired, the Revolution in the Berkshires could have been said to have begun in 1774.  The revolt of 1774  was a demonstration by Berkshire and Litchfield County colonists (some estimates are as high as 1500) blocking the meeting of the Berkshire County Court in Great Barrington on August 15.

Sketch of Unknown Origin of Colonists Reacting to the Stamp Act
Sketch of Unknown Origin of Colonists Reacting to the Stamp Act

This could easily have erupted into open warfare.  The size of the crowd (whatever the actual number) was huge for the sparsely populated Berkshires, it had been planned, and included carrying off some important individuals who disagreed with the protestors.


Since the end of the French and Indian Wars (1763), the English Parliament had tried (and  largely failed) to collect taxes and tariffs from the American colonists to help pay the cost of maintaining their newly enlarged North American empire.   Much of the American resistance to these taxes and tariffs was in the form of what, in modern parlance, would be called a boycott.  The latest of these, the Boston Tea Party in December 1773 (dumping tea in Boston Harbor rather than paying the tariff)

Boston Tea Party - December 1773
Boston Tea Party – December 1773

touched off a series of reprisals which included

  • appointment of a new governor who was also head of military operations – and who was no longer paid by the elected representative body
  • prohibition of town meetings except for the annual election of town officers or unless an agenda was approved by the royal governor
  • moving authority to appoint and pay judges from the elected representatives to the royal governor.

Technically the 1774 Great Barrington protest was a refusal to let the judges appointed by this new mandate be seated to hold court.  As is so often the case, there was more to the protest than the stated objection.

  1. It was critical to have judges the county property holders felt they could trust — and for them that meant having recourse through their elected representatives.  Courts were important to early Berkshire County; with court decisions often making the difference between poverty and plenty.  Everyone, even those with a profession such as the attorneys who came to these courts had a farm. Property was the primary source of wealth and boundary disputes were common.   It was a hand to mouth existence and the currency that land holders had to have to pay taxes and buy manufactured goods was almost non-existent.  Consequently, there was a great deal of borrowing – sometimes with the very land that was the property owners means of earning a living – pledged as collateral.
  2. The elimination of town meetings was a lightning rod for these colonists who had been self governing for generations.  They had important local issues to discuss – roads, schools, fencing – as well as wanting to have the opportunity.
  3. Even though Berkshire County was still remote, they had organized themselves and were in regular communication, through the Committees o Correspondence, with Boston and the rest of the North American colonists.
  4. Lacking a visiting governor or, as was the case in Boston, a standing British army,  the meeting of the County Court was the only face of the royal government in this frontier area.

So, the Berkshire protesters definitely didn’t want judges that had no tie to their elected representatives but they also were, in retrospect, well on the road to Revolution.

For More Information

An excellent paper prepared by Ryan Bachman for History 499:  The Western Massachusetts Agrarian Revolt of 1774, Dr. Peretti on December 12, 2011, “Popular Rage:  The Background to the Closing of the Berkshire County Courthouse.”





Lenox and the Non Importation Agreement

On July 14,  1774 one hundred and nine Lenox men made their first official act of rebellion against the British empire by signing an agreement not to buy British manufactured goods.

As early as 1764 colonists had been using refusal to buy goods imported from England as a way to avoid paying taxes and tariffs.  The first boycott (a more modern term) occurred in response to the Stamp Act.  It worked; the Act was repealed.  However, Parliament kept trying new ways to collect taxes.

By 1774, lead by John Adams cousin Samuel, committees of correspondence had been organized to coordinate reaction to these waves of Parliamentary attempts to get the American colonists to help pay for the costs of running the empire.

The non-importation agreement signed in Lenox would have been modeled on similar agreements being signed all over the colonies.  By this time the committees of correspondence had become (particularly considering 1774 roads and postal services) a surprisingly efficient organization.  The agreement would have been discussed at the Berkshire Congress held at about the same time in Stockbridge at the site of the current Red Lion Inn.

Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA; First Berkshire Congress Was Held at This Site in 1774
Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA; First Berkshire Congress Was Held at This Site in 1774

There are a number of remarkable things to be said about the Lenox signers.

  • To say they had a lot of other things on their minds is a modern understatement.  Many of the signers would only have arrived in Lenox only a few years before and would still have been trying to clear enough land to plant and get up a rudimentary shelter.  Nonetheless, they probably would have found time to make it to one of the taverns in town (yes – even though there were only a about a hundred households, there were multiple taverns) to have lively debates about taxes and who owed what to whom. Some of these debates would be a continuation of grievances their parents had been accumulating since the end of the French and Indian War.
This is From Munroe Tavern in Lexington, MA, But is Typical of Taverns - Really Rooms Set Aside for Drinking and Entertainment in an Ordinary Home
This is From Munroe Tavern in Lexington, MA, But is Typical of Taverns – Often  Rooms Set Aside for Drinking and Entertainment in an Ordinary Home
  • Since they were all farmers (even those who had professions or other sources of income)who would have been growing their own food, one might wonder why doing without British imports would make much difference.  Although Lenox would have had little currency in circulation and few manufactured goods available for purchase, doing without the British goods that came their way was a genuine sacrifice.  Some of the foregone purchases – such as salt, sugar and tea – were easily transported and had few substitutes. noStampAct Others such as paint, china, and fabric could have theoretically been made in the colonies, but the British had a monopoly on the manufacturing capabilities and had found it to their advantage to limit the colonies to being providers of raw materials. So again, these few opportunities to improve their lifestyle were realistically available to the colonists only through importation.
  • Finally Lenox (and perhaps all of the Berkshires) must have been   at least as inclined to protest as their Boston fellow travelers.  The 109 signers probably represented most of the households in Lenox at the time.  By the 1790 census there were still only 181 households in Lenox.  Also, the signers seem to have had the courage of their convictions since, by one estimate, 55 of them show up on military rolls for the Revolutionary War.  It is also noteworthy that leading citizens were willing (a la the national founding fathers) to put their hard won gains on the line – nine of the signers were original proprietors or holders of county grants.

We can only speculate– but perhaps just because they were still wrapped in the struggle to wrestle a living from what was still really wilderness, the thought of losing their property to taxation of courts ruled by royal judges was felt even painfully.  Or perhaps (many of these signers would have moved west by 1790), they were thinking ahead (and looking around at the last of the open land in Massachusetts) and were particularly concerned about the 1763 treaty that closed the Ohio frontier to settlement.

For more information see:

Original Non-Importatiaon Agreement available at the Lenox Library

Lenox Massachusetts Shiretown, David H. Wood, 1969

Non-Importation Agreements, Wikipedia, June 2014

George Tucker manuscript (unpublished but available at Lenox Library and Lenox Historical Society)

A People’s History of the American Revolution, How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence, Ray Raphael, The New Press, 2001

The Marketplace of Revolution, How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T.H. Breen, Oxford University Press 2004

Causes of the Revolutionary War – The Glorious Cause

2008505717-rev war soldiersWe’ve discussed the economic and political reasons for the Revolution, but there were also emotions that drove colonial Lenox citizens to endure eight years of war and sacrifice.  Idealistic reasons for the Revolution include the growing unity of the North American colonies, hopes for the future,  and the increasing rift between the attitudes of Great Britain and their North American subjects.  In short, Americans started to become Americans before the Revolution.


In The Marketplace of Revolution,  T.H. Breen, describes the 18th century growth of trade and the increasing importance of British  china, fabric and imported metal goods in homes around the world – particularly in the British colonies of North America.  By the 1770’s North American consumption accounted for as much as a third of British production.  The dawn of mass consumption had arrived in America and consumer mass movement was to follow.

Colonial dismay over the Stamp Act  of led to the first attempt at mass boycott, but the boycott lost momentum after the comparatively speedy repeal of the Stamp Act.

3bc9bHowever by  1774 when the Intolerable Acts had been passed, there had been almost a decade of  accelerating grievances.  The British had succeeded in creating a trade in which the colonists struggled to sell enough in raw materials to trade for British finished goods – at protected prices that were profitable for British industry.  This cycle of the British attempts to tax (as well as manage the trade and expansion of their colonies)  succeeded, Breen argues, in creating both mass consumption and then mass protest.

Even remote Lenox had, by 1774, become part of this mass protest.  (see discussions of the non-importation agreement and the closing of the courts in Great Barrington)

The cooperation across the highly independent colonies proved they could work together.  Revolution would have been unthinkable without this unity.


The impact of the enlightenment and its emphasis on reason, secularism and optimism on both the American and French Revolutions is often discussed.  Although Lenox  had its share of well-educated individuals at the time of the Revolution, it is unlikely that the hard-working settlers had formal intellectual discussions about free-will and the nature of government.  However, it is likely there were spreading and increasingly emotional debates going on in the surprisingly frequent social occasions available to early Lenox residents.

These debates may have been  about what modern politicians would call “pocketbook” issues — taxes, closing the land west of the Appalachians for settlement, potential bias in settlement of property and debt claims through the courts, etc.  Lenox residents would have taken risks (as there fathers had done) to move to a new area based on hoped for opportunities to provide for their families.  Any threat to realizing growth potential would have been highly personal.

It is also likely there would have been some self-righteous religious fervor born of origins and – in New England at least – some vestiges of a sense of having a higher moral standard than the corrupt England of their fore-fathers.

CountyElectionSmIn The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789,  Robert Middlekauf writes about the impact of these origins.  As noted elsewhere, many Lenox residents would have been descendants of the Great Migration of Puritans fleeing religious persecution of Charles I in the 1630’s.  By 1765, there may also have been some descendants of the Scotch Irish Presbyterians who had fled religious persecution in Northern Ireland (although they tended to concentrate in the mid Atlantic and southern colonies).  All would have been descendants of a group with continued kinship ties and deep memories of escape from poverty and/or religious persecution.  They would have been well aware that they had established a better lives for themselves than those left behind in “the old country.” Imposition of “old” culture or government structure would have been resented deeply.


These ideas, as well as the tactical details of specific actions such was the non-importation agreement would have been debated at weekly Church services, militia drills (held regularly well before there was any thought of Revolution), and in the omni-present taverns.  It has been argued that there were taverns in New England for every 40 adult males — must have been sort of a pre-TV man cave.  We know of at least three (Hinsdale, Dewey, Whitlock) in Lenox.  One only has to listen to modern talk radio for a few minutes to imagine the heat that could be created after a couple of glasses of ale.  Additionally, we don’t know that sedition was preached from the pulpit, but we do have Rev. Munson signing the non-importation agreement.  The British referred to the Congregational and Presbyterian clergy as “The Black Robe Brigade.”

The Viet Nam/ Iraq Problem

The English decided to impose statism on the colonies they had been semi-ignoring for 150 years at just the wrong time.  And their understanding of their colonists was poor.  They were separated by a two to four month journey and few in England had actually lived in the colonies.  It was therefore , hard to recognize that their colonies had become bigger, prouder, and more self sufficient.

The Americans had played a major role in all the French and Indian Wars and particularly in the last (Seven Years War) which resulted in an enormous English victory in North America (Canada and what would become the USA west to the Mississippi). Washington_1772 The American troops (including officers such as George Washington) felt belittled by the English officers  and in fact many under-estimated the American’s willingness to fight all the way up to Bunker Hill.  (Some British officers, however,  knew what they were getting into and even refused to serve in the American Revolution – see The Men Who Lost America).

George III at the Time of His Coronation (James Ramsey)
George III at the Time of His Coronation (James Ramsey)

Instead of recognizing the colonials growing pride in their own capabilities, George III and Parliament picked this time to start more rigorously imposing island based government.  George III was, according to Andrew Jackson O’Shaugnessy, neither a tyrant or crazy (that came later), but did have sort of a Dick Cheney complex of wanting his views of good government enacted and respected no matter what.  George III thought the colonists would welcome the redcoats as defenders of their Parliamentary rights.

American trade was growing and population had exploded.  By the Revolution there were 2.5 MM** people in the 13 colonies (about 20% of whom were slaves).  These Americans were not, like most Europeans, concentrated in limited areas.  Ninety-five percent lived in rural areas. Conquering a city (even the capitol – Philadelphia) would  not equate to capturing either hearts and minds– or even provisions.

The English, particularly those close to the actual fighting, knew they were dealing with challenging logistics and a vast country,  but they thought they could overwhelm what they thought was a small number of radicals with  “shock and awe” blows in Boston and New York.  They continually over-estimated the degree of loyalist support they would get once they landed and ended up having to ship most of their manpower and provisions from Canada and Britain.

In fact, the American colonists were three to five generations removed from their English heritage.   At the start of the Revolution only about a third (probably more in New England) were active participants, but that did not mean the many neutral to indifferent colonials were willing to fight their neighbors and countrymen.  The Americans had evolved to a more egalitarian and future oriented culture and had become highly capable of self government.


*George Tucker Manuscript Galley 28-1

** – Revolutionary War Statistics June 2014

Also see: The Marketplace of Revolution, How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T.H. Breen, Oxford University Press, 2004

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauff, Oxford History of the United States, 2005

The Men Who Lost America, British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire, Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, Yale University Press, Published with assistance from the Annie Burr Lewis Fund, Copyright 2013