Tag Archives: Lenox History

Lenox and Shays’ Rebellion

Repression in Response to Desperation

Debt Ridden Farmers Closed the Berkshire County Courts Twice in the Fall of 1787.
Debt Ridden Farmers Closed the Berkshire County Courts Twice in the Fall of 1786.

The farmers of rural Massachusetts had been struggling with debt and the non-responsiveness of their representatives since before the end of the Revolutionary War.  By 1786 protests were escalating.  Regulators, as they called themselves, closed the Berkshire County court twice in the fall of 1786.

General Benjamin Lincoln

As many as 9,000 farmers across Massachusetts were eventually involved in protesting the debt collection of the merchants and the courts.  Local militia were largely farmers themselves and sympathetic to the Regulators.  The commercially oriented elite asked Henry Knox to form (and funded) an army to protect their interests and supplement the local militia.  Knox demurred but Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Lincoln took up the cause.

Aping their pre Revolutionary British predecessors, the Boston dominated legislature passed laws in the fall of 1786 that legalized severe punishment of crowds gathered to protest or riot.  Finally in November 1786 they suspended habeas corpus  (enabling them to apprehend and imprison protestors for an indefinite period of time without bail).  It authorized the arrest and incarceration of anyone suspected of being unfriendly to the government.  Further, they passed a bill preventing the spread of false reports criticizing the government.

In an attempt to break up the Shaysites, the legislature further offered an opportunity to be awarded total indemnity if they took an oath of allegiance to the government.

The threat of both force and legal action (without addressing the debt problems at the root of the protest) gained little ground with the Regulators.

From Protest to Rebellion

Many Shaysites (including key figures such as Daniel Shays, Luke Day and Reuben Dickinson) had military experience. They knew (whether government loyal militia or paid army from Boston)troops were coming to quell further action.  They needed weapons.  The largest weapons cache in New England was in the Springfield Armory.

Stormed Springfield Armory for Weapons in January 1787
Stormed Springfield Armory for Weapons in January 1787 – the Last and Only Major Military Action

In January 1787, the Shaysites attacked the Springfield Armory. It was successfully defended by Revolutionary War veteran William Shepard.

Meanwhile Benjamin Lincoln, the failed defender of Charleston during the Revolution, was hard on the heels of the rebels with an army funded and armed by Boston. The Regulators fled first to their home area – Pelham – and then north to Vermont and west to the Berkshires breaking up into smaller groups.

Meanwhile Back in Berkshire County

Major General John Paterson Must Have Come Home to Some Prosperity Building This Lovely Home in 1783. It Still Stands at7 Main St.

Major General John Paterson was the leader of the Berkshire militia and a champion of conservative  interests in the Pittsfield and Lenox conventions of 1782-1786.

The Shaysites had, by the time they reached Berkshire County, dwindled to 300-400 dispersed and poorly armed men but still seemed to have engendered enough sympathy with the population and members of the militia to alarm Paterson.

Stockbridge, January 31, 1787

To General Lincoln:

Sir:  The desperation of the factions in the County against Government has induced a kind of frenzy, the effects of which have been a most industrious propagation of falsehood and misrepresentation of facts, and the consequent agitation of the minds of the deluded multitude.

Last night, by express from several parts of the County, I am informed of insurrections taking place.  My only security under present circumstances will be attempting to prevent a junction o the insurgents, which probably cannot be effected without the effusion of blood; to extricate me from this disagreeable situation, therefore, I pray you, Sir, to send to my aid a sufficient free to prevent the necessity of adopting that measure.” (Egleston p. 186)

By late February, Benjamin Lincoln was in Pittsfield but he had released the militia.  His force had dwindled to 30 men.

The Rebellion Had Started to Disintegrate Into Housebreaking and General Lawlessness by Late Winter 1787

In fact the “revolution” may have started to disintegrate into a general breakdown of law and order among increasingly disheartened Regulators.  Several stories that have been preserved paint the picture.

Just before Benjamin Lincoln reached Pittsfield 250 rebels,under Peter Wilcox, Jr. collected at Lee to once again block the court.  Paterson and 300 militia came out to oppose them.  The rebels took cover on Perry Hill and got a yard beam from Mrs. Perry’s loom and rigged it to look like a canon.  Paterson’s men beat a retreat.

Mum Bet Protected the Sedgwick Home in Stockbridge from Rebels

During the same 1787 winter, rebels under Captain Perez Hamlin (from Lenox but residing in New York at the time) Massachusetts and attempted to pillage, among other things, the home of leading conservative – Theodore Sedgwick.  The famous Mum Bet hid the family silver and became, once again, a great heroine.

Shortly thereafter Hamlin and his men imprisoned 32 men including Elisha Williams and Henry Hopkins.  With these prisoners and their booty they proceeded in  to Great Barrington and then, in sleighs on towards Sheffield.

The End of the Insurgency and the Consequences

The Marker Noting the End of Shays Rebellion Was Installed in Sheffield About 100 Years After the Event
The Marker Noting the End of Shays Rebellion Was Installed in Sheffield About 100 Years After the Event

They were pursued by Ingersoll and Goodrich from Great Barrington, Colonel Ashley of Sheffield and later William Walker of Lenox.  It seems to have been something like 100 men on each side but the records are somewhat contradictory.   They skirmished across modern-day Sheffield and Egremont.  The dead included Solomon Glezen who had been taken prisoner in Stockbridge and allegedly used as a human shield.

The prisoners exceeded the capacity of the Great Barrington jail and the overflow was taken to Lenox.  Most were granted pardons.

Most of the Regulator leaders had fled to New York or Vermont so the Berkshire courts were somewhat hard pressed to find an appropriate number of rebels to punish.  Two were broken out of the Great Barrington jail by their wives Molly Wilcox and Abigail Austin (really – smuggled saws and everything).

Two, John Bly and Charles Rose, were hung in Lenox (apparently as of Fall 1787 taking its place as the legal center of the County).  Richards (p. 41) suspects they were guilty of not much more than breaking and entering in an atmosphere of lawlessness but had few connections so took a fall that many others avoided.

Judge Whiting, who had sympathized with the rebels in the 1786  protests at the Great Barrington courts, was savaged by strong Federalist Theodore Sedgwick.  It is likely other sympathizers in positions of authority met the same exclusionary fate.

As everyone knows, Shays Rebellion supported the arguments of men like James Madison, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton that the loose confederation that had won the war against Great Britain, needed to be strengthened.  Needless to say, Thomas Jefferson, then Ambassador to France disagreed.

A May 1787 meeting of the Continental Congress had been called and was held before the raid on the Springfield Armory in January 1787.   Many delegates decided to come after hearing of the1786-1787  uprisings in Massachusetts.

The resulting US Constitution now included provisions such as creation of a national army that could suppress revolt.  Who knows what would have happened to the Constitution sent to the states in September 1787 if the state legislators had not been worried (perhaps unduly) about falling into chaos – the perceived outcome if the Regulators succeeded.


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

Revolutionary War for Enlisted Men from Lenox

joseph plumb martin
Book Cover of Joseph Plumb Martin’s Tale of Being an Ordinary Soldier

We know of no eye-witness accounts of Revolutionary War service by Lenox enlisted men.  However, Joseph Plumb Martin from Becket gives a fascinating and colorful picture of what life would have been like for all the brave and long suffering ordinary soldiers of the Revolution.  Joseph Plumb Martin wrote of his experiences in “Ordinary Courage.”




Why and How Joseph Enlisted

Joseph, working on his grandfather’s farm, explains how he came to enlist:

“I remember the stir in the country occasioned by the Stamp Act, but I was so young that I did not understand the meaning of it; I likewise remember the disturbances that followed the repeal of the Stamp Act until the destruction of the tea at Boston and elsewhere.  I was then 13 or 14 years old and began to understand something of the works going on.  I used to inquire a deal about the French War, as it was called, which had not been long ended; my grandsire would talk with me about it while working in the field…” (Ch. 1)

In the same chapter he describes the sense of local tension and alarm:

“I was ploughing in the field about half a mile from home (which would have been Connecticut – where his grandfather lived), about the 21st day of April (1775) when all of a sudden the bells fell to dinning and three guns were repeatedly fired in succession down in the village….The regulars are coming in good earnest, thought I.”

At first, Joseph has no interest in enlisting but then:

“This year there were troops raised both for Boston and New York.  Some from the back towns were billeted at my gransire’s; their company and conversation began to warm my courage to such a degree that I resolved at all events to ‘to a sogering'”

However, his grandfather did not give him permission to enlist (he would have been only 15) and:

“Many of my young associates were with them; my heart and soul went with them, but my mortal part must stay behind.  By and by they will come swaggering back, thought I, and tell me of all their exploits….”

In July 1776 Joseph got his wish when his town was required to provide enlistees for the defense of New York.  Upon being told that the British had been reinforced by 15,000 men he reports, “I never spent a thought about numbers; the Americans were invincible in my opinion….”

Joseph’s Account of the Kip’s Bay ‘Affair’ and the Retreat from New York

Joseph has a laconic story telling style that would become classic yankee.  He speaks of battle as things getting “warm,”  and constantly makes sarcastic comments about food (and was probably hungry almost all the time.) Although many of his stories of duty in Westchester and New Jersey tell of indifferent patriots or tories, here he paints a picture of interactions between both friends and foes while on the march:

“I found myself in company with one who was a neighbor of mine when at home and one other man belonging to our regiment; where the rest of them were I knew not.  We went into a house by the highway in which were two women and some small children, all crying most bitterly.  We asked the women if they had any spirits in the house; they placed a case bottle of rum upon the table and bid us help ourselves.  We each of us drank a glass and bidding them good-bye betook ourselves to the highway again.  We had not gond far before we saw a party of men apparently hurrying on in the same direction with ourselves.  We endeavored hard to overtake them, but on approaching them we found they were not of our way of thinking; they were Hessians.” (Chap. 2)

And in this retreat he tells (as he will in all the future campaigns) of the inadequacy of rest and food:

“I still kept the sick man’s musket; I was unwilling to leave it, for it was his own property, and I knew he valued it highly, and I had a great esteem for him.  I had enough to do to take care of my own concerns: it was exceeding hot weather, and I was faint, having slept but very little the preceding night, nor had I eaten a mouthful of victuals for more than 24 hours.”

And he gives a personal account of the hopes of the enslaved to be freed by serving with King George:

“The man of the house where I was quartered had a smart-looking Negro man, a great politician.  I chanced one day to go into the barn where he was threshing.  He quickly began to upbraid me with my opposition to the British.  The king of England was a very powerful prince, he said–a very power prince; and it was a pity that the colonists had fallen out with him; but as we had, we must abide by the consequences.  I had no inclination to waste the shafts of my rhetoric upon a Negro slave.  I concluded he had heard his betters say so.  As the old cock crows, so crows the young one; and I though, as the white cock crows, so cross the black oe.  He ran away from his master before I left there and went to Long Island to assist King George; but it seems the King of Terrors was more potent than King George, for his master had certain intelligence that poor Cuff was laid flat on his back.”

(This may refer to death by small pox which was rampant — particularly among the former slaves who enlisted with the British troops.)

Why Joseph Re-Enlisted for the Duration of the War

By 1777 the rage militare of 1775 had all but disappeared.  It was now apparent the war would be a prolonged affair and that the ‘sogering’ Joseph had looked forward to was more hunger and exhaustion than glory.

Nonetheless, like soldiers throughout history, Joseph re-enlisted because his friends did — and perhaps we can speculate–because he was young and wasn’t sure what else to do.

The Suffering of the Continental Army

(From Chapter 3)

“One of my mates, and my most familiar associate who had been out ever since the war commenced, and who had been with me the last campaign, had enlisted for the term of the war in the capacity of sergeant.  He had enlisting orders, and was every time he saw me, which was often, harassing me with temptations to engage in the service again.  At length he so far overcame my resolution as to get me into the scrape again, although it was at this time against my inclination, for I had not fully determined with myself, that if I did engage again, into what corps I should enter.  But I would here just inform the reader, that that little insignificant monosyllable–No–was the hardest word in the language for me to pronounce, especially when solicited to do a thing which was in the least degree indifferent to me;  I could say Yes, with half the trouble.”

And he gives us an account of the army’s war on smallpox:

“….with about 400 others of the Connecticut forces, to a set of old barracks a mile or two distant in the Highland to be inoculated with the smallpox.  We arrived at and cleaned out the barracks, and after two or three days received the infection….I had the smallpox favorably as did the rest, generally.”

And he describes the growing hardship of his squad:

“Their whole time is spent in marches (especially night marches) watching, starving, and in cold weather freezing and sickness. If they get any chance to rest, it must be in the woods or fields, under the side of a fence, in an orchard or in any other place but a comfortable one, lying down on the cold and often wet ground, and perhaps, before the eyes can be closed with a moment’s sleep, alarmed and compelled to stand under arms an hour or two, or to receive an attack from the enemy; and when permitted again to endeavor to rest, called upon immediately to remove some four or five miles to seek some other place, to go through the same maneuvering as before; for it was dangerous to remain any length of time in one place for fear of being informed of by some tory inhabitant (for there were plenty of this sort of savage beast during the Revolutionary War.)…..”

He recounts more on the lack of provisions:

“In the cold month of November without provisions, without clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my feet or legs, and in this condition to endure a siege in such a place as that was appalling in the highest degree.”

Joseph’s suffering goes on throughout the war – and often in situations where surrounded by plenty.  He rightly resents the lack of sacrifice of the civilians who claimed to be patriots.

It is interesting to note that there was no such thing as an “American” yet.  Joseph refers to the Pennsylvanians as foreigners.

Peace and Prosperity – Not

When the war ended in 1783 Joseph was still only 22 years old.  He had had little education and is grandfather’s farm was gone.  After a brief stint teaching school among the Dutch settlers in the Hudson Highlands, he made for Maine in response to rumors that land was available on easy terms.  Like most of the common soldiers of the Revolutionary War, he mustered out with little except whatever tattered clothes he had on his back.

Settling near the mouth of the Penobscot River, he married, had children and lived another 66 years.  He was apparently well thought of by his fellow townsmen — elected to the board of selectmen seven times.  However, he never prospered and, like many veterans of the war, received scant reward for his service.  In 1797 he finally received title to 100 acres of land in the Ohio territory, but he was already in Maine and owed for the land he had settle on there.  His bounty land was assigned to a land agent for whatever cash could be raised.


Ordinary Courage, The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, Fourth Edition, Edited by James Kirby Martin, Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2013 (e edition)

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

**Shmoop.com – 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

Causes of the Revolution – Political

Almost up to the time of the American Revolution, Lenox residents probably would have been satisfied that they could have the rights  of self government to which they were accustomed and be loyal subjects of King George III.

However, from the end of the French and Indian Wars to the Revolution decision making at the local and colony level was -step by step – taken away.   Eventually, the cumulative sense of loss of control over their own destinies moved even ordinary citizens to be willing to fight for a change in government.

Background – Colonial Government Structure

The governmental structure of Massachusetts had changed considerably since the early Puritan self-government compacts. By the 18th century Massachusetts, like many of the other colonies, had an appointed royal governor.  That governor  had the right to veto acts of the colony’s General Court, as did the king. The governor was the commander-in-chief of the militia and appointed all military officials; he had the right to summon and adjourn the General Court.

The  rest of the government consisted of a 28 member Council selected by the House of Representatives and a House of Representatives consisting of Freemen (e.g. property owners) elected from towns across the colony.

The General Court appointed officers, passed laws and orders, organized all courts, established fines and punishments, and levied taxes, all with the consent of the governor. The House alone controlled the salaries of the governor and judicial officers.

The elected arms of the government had more power than this description of the charter suggests since they controlled appointments, land distribution, the salaries of the governor and judicial officers and could veto orders of the governor (although they rarely did).

In addition, as Englishmen, the colonists believed they had the right to pay only the taxes they had agreed to.

The Old State House - Boston
The Old State House – Boston

John Paterson was a representative from Lenox to the House of Representatives at the time of the Revolution.

Background – Local Government

The Puritans brought a history of local government with them from England.  For 150 years Lenox and other towns carried on the tradition in at least three ways:

  • Towns were initially organized like corporations and run by the proprietors (original purchasers – owners of major tracts of land)
  • As the original proprietors sold off land,  towns – such as Lenox – moved on to the town meeting form of government which we still use today
  • Congregational management – the Congregational Church (the descendent of the original Puritan Church) was still supported by local taxes;  the members of the local Church worked together to organize construction of a meeting house and calling a minister.
Towns Used to Meeting to Manage Roads, Local Laws and Taxes
Towns Used to Meeting to Manage Roads, Local Laws and Taxes

What Changed

As we have discussed, the end of the French and Indian War and the ascendency of King George III, touched off a flurry of attempts to bring North America more firmly into the imperial fold.

The economic impact of actions is discussed in the entry on Economic Causes of the Revolutionary War.  However, the various actions taken by Parliament from the end of the French and Indian War to the Revolution, also had the effect of political clamp down.

First, there was the issue of enforcement.  Prior to the 1760’s there had been duties on molasses and restrictions on who the colonists could trade with.  However, with the help of a little bribery of customs officials, these duties and restrictions had not been strictly enforced.  Beginning with a new Sugar Act in 1764 that changed and enforcement became confrontational with colonial merchant ships being stopped and searched.  This became an even more visible interference with colonial prerogatives with the imposition of additional duties in the Townshend Acts of 1767.

Second, and more threatening, was the issue of taxation without representation.  As far as the colonists were concerned the Stamp act of 1765 (which required payment for stamps for all nature of legal documents and other items) was a tax they had not agreed to. As a matter of fact the Virginia colonists, in March 1765, declared it illegal for “anybody outside of Virginia to assess taxes on Virginia.”

Finally, the “Intolerable Acts,” of 1774 (called the Coercive Acts in Parliament) directly stripped Massachusetts of its charter rights.   Although the Stamp Act and most of the Townsend Act duties had been repealed, new King and the Parliament felt they had reached the end of their Royal patience when the colonists revolted against the Tea duties that remained.  These “Intolerable Acts”

  • Closed the Port of Boston until the East India Company was reimbursed for its tea
  • Disallowed election of the upper house and made it a body appointed by the governor
  • Eliminated the lower house’s veto power
  • Made the governor or the King responsible for judicial and other appointments
  • Gave the governor the authority to order trials involving royal officials to be held in England
  • Prohibited any Massachusetts town meetings other than one annual town meeting.

And just for good measure, Parliament threw in

  • the Quartering Act, requiring, as the name suggests, quartering of British soldiers in all colonies
  • the Quebec Act enlarging the boundaries of what had been French Quebec and providing for more favorable treatment of French Catholics (particularly annoying to the formerly Puritan New Englanders who felt these were the people they had been fighting for almost 100 years.)

The “Intolerable Acts” were intended as a punishment for the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  But instead of creating the desired obedience, these Acts touched off colonial unity in the form of the first Continental Congress, Committees of Correspondence, Non-importation agreements and general preparation for revolt.


The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauf, Oxford University Press, 1982

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

The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society, Volume One: to 1877, Third Edition, Nash, Jeffrey, Howe, Frederick, Davis, and Winkler, Harper Collins College Publishers 1994

“The Intolerable Acts”, Wikipedia as of April 2014

Note:  add info on 1766 Declaratory Act — no law that does not conform to laws passed by Parliament??


Causes of the Revolutionary War – Economic

Because records are limited for early Lenox, we probably will not be able to draw conclusions about why Lenox in particular took up the cause of independence from Great Britain.  However, we can look at the issues that energized the colonies as a whole and guess which would have been most relevant to Lenox residents in the period leading up to 1775.

Getting Harder and Harder to Meet Basic Household Needs

It’s doubtful that the few hundred Lenox residents would have articulated economic policy as a rationale for war, but it is very likely they were feeling the effects of Great Britain’s increasingly heavy-handed attempts to make the colonies profitable for the mother country.

They struggled to acquire enough cash to pay taxes, pay debts, and buy English goods. They probably were acutely aware of growing pocketbook pain, and they knew it somehow was connected with the control distant lords of commerce seemed to be exerting over their daily economic lives.

Particularly after the French and Indian Wars, it was getting harder to satisfy household needs  in the Berkshires.  it is estimated it took 50 acres to support a family and the land available was increasingly marginal (particularly in Lenox!).  It has also been etimated that it took an acre of trees a year to heat a household.  In early days, that probably would have been hard work but doable in Lenox, but families would have had to go further and further to find wood and eventually would have to resort to the purchase of wood or coal.  To the degree Lenox farmers could raise livestock or cut wood to sell for the hard currency needed they would have to face the additional challenge of getting to their goods to relatively inaccessible cash markets (Springfield? Albany?).

Why the English Did What They Did

In these early days of international trade the English came to excel at the practice of mercantilism. This meant protecting domestic industry and agriculture by charging duties on goods manufactured by any other country – making everyone else’s goods more expensive. If, like Great Britain, you have colonies even better – you can pay them a low price for raw materials and force them to buy your higher priced goods.

This was accomplished by requiring  that all goods from the colonies be shipped to or through England – effectively eliminating the opportunity to shop internationally for the highest bidder. Also, if you’re England, you can choose to require the use of money backed by gold and silver to pay for land, repay debts and buy manufactured goods. If you’re the colony, you have to get that “hard” English currency by trading with other English colonies (including the West Indies) or hoarding what little hard currency you have by making as many exchanges as possible by using commodities.  The clever colonists figured out how to acquire much needed hard currency by transporting slaves to the West Indies and the North American colonies, converting West Indian sugar to run and selling the rum and  other raw materials to Great Britain or the English Carribean colonies.  (More on this when we discuss the growth of slavery in the northern colonies.) They also started building their own ships.

2008 December WFA
Turning Raw Materials and Slaves into Hard Currency for Import Commodities and Manufactured Goods

The earliest attempt at colonial economic management was with the Navigation Acts of 1651 which required all goods that entered England be carried on English or Colonial ships.  In 1660 further acts specified certain goods that colonies could only ship to England.  In 1675 The Lords of Trade were established in an early attempt to enforce these laws.  In the 17th century the royal succession was still pre-occupying Great Britain and the colonists were able to largely ignore any trade limitations that didn’t serve their purposes.

The Colonists’ Needs

However, over the course of the 18th century, colonial demand for goods imported from England or the southern colonies such as tea and sugar as well as manufactured items — particularly books, cloth, china, and fine metal goods picked up.   Increased enforcement of trade laws and increased colonial demand doomed the colonies to constantly racing to keep up. And it left the colonies with few alternatives when demand for their trade goods and services cycled up and then down. The French and Indian wars – particularly the last – interrupted trade and inflated prices as demand spiked to feed, cloth, and house the military; and when the war ended the colonists suddenly had less demand for their goods.

Boston Harbor at Sunset
Boston Harbor at Sunset

And to add insult to injury, everything the English did after the French and Indian War worsened the economic bite.  The peace settlement included outlawing settlement west of the Appalachians – cutting off expansion to the fertile Ohio River Valley.   They (Currency Acts) cut out the colonies’ attempt to make up for the lack of currency by minting their own. And the English raised taxes on their North American colonies to try to cover the cost of the war and the continued policing of western boundaries; hence the Sugar Acts, the Stamp Act, and the Townshend Acts (see Non Importation Agreement.)

For further information see:

Revolutionary War Timeline, History.org

The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society Volume One, Third Edition, Nash, Jeffrey, Howe, Frederick, Davis, Winkler, Harper Collins

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

The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, Bernard Bailyn

The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauff, Oxford University Press, 1982

An Economic History of the United States from 1607 to the Present, Ronald E. Seavoy, Taylor and Francis Group 2006


Seavoy, Ronald (2013-10-18). An Economic History of the United States: From 1607 to the Present (p. 65). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.




Bellefontaine Talk by Richard Jackson at Ventfort Hall

Richard Jackson Talk on Bellefontaine at Ventfort Hall April 11, 2015
Richard Jackson Talk on Bellefontaine at Ventfort Hall April 11, 2015

Bellefontaine was built in 1896-1898 for Giraud and Jean Foster.  Giraud Foster (born in 1851) lived at Bellefontaine until his death in 1945 and could be considered to have watched over the sunset of Lenox’s Gilded Age.




The estate was sold in 1946 and burned in 1949.  The fire destroyed most of the interior but the shell remained and the mansion was rebuilt.  It has taken on a new life as a key part of Canyon Ranch.

Bellefontaine after 1949 Fire
Bellefontaine after 1949 Fi



The talk included personal reminiscences from Giraud Foster’s granddaughter Jane.

Granddaughter Judy Foster and Great grandson Giraud Foster.
Granddaughter Jane Foster and Great Grandson Giraud Lorber at Ventfort Hall








Estate and Treasures Part of a Prototypical Gilded Age Life

Postcard of Bellefontaine in all its Glory - Rear Entrance
Postcard of Bellefontaine in all its Glory – Rear Entrance

Carrere & Hastings were the architects.

They designed the New York Public Library and the Newport home of Mrs. Foster’s sister, Anna Van Nest Gambrill.  In keeping with the recreational rhythm of the Gilded Age, the Fosters spent summers in Newport and Mrs. Gambrill (and others) spent fall in Lenox.  Of course there were trips in between to Palm Beach; Aiken, South Carolina; and the south of France.

The pillared rear entrance showed some obeisance to the Petit Trianon at Versailles and the interior was furnished in the manner of various Louis’s.

Grand Salons
Grand Salons
Dramatic Hallways
Dramatic Hallways











Venetian Glass and Other Bellefontaine Treasures on Display at Ventfort Hall
Venetian Glass and Other Bellefontaine Treasures on Display at Ventfort Hall

VH Talk on Bellefontaine-7





Fountains and Formal Gardens
Fountains and Formal Gardens







The landscape included statuary (most of which was subsequently destroyed by one of the religious orders that took over the building after Foster’s death), formal gardens and a large greenhouse complex.

Extensive Greenhouse Complex part of the Responsibility of Mr. Jenkins, the Superintendent
Extensive Greenhouse Complex part of the Responsibilities of Mr. Jenkins, the Superintendent.






A Life from Another Time

Although Giraud Foster’s fortune at the time Bellefontaine was constructed was attributed to coal, the Foster family had had a flourishing business in the clipper ship era (some of the tableware from China is in the Ventfort Hall exhibit). The Giraud name traced back to Huguenots who were among the earliest settlers of New York and Jean Van Nest Foster was from an old Dutch family with wealth and property of its own.

Jean Van Nest had suffered from rheumatic fever when she and Giraud met so they delayed marriage until he was 43, she 32.  The birth of their one child more than ten years later was a surprise.  The younger Giraud, known as “Boy” when young,  was Jane Foster’s father.   Jean predeceased Giraud in 1932.

One of the Famous Birthday Parties with the younger Giraud ("Boy") Standing Behind his Father
One of the Famous Birthday Parties with the younger Giraud (“Boy”) Standing Behind his Father

Giraud continued to live a life Downtown Abbey fans would appreciate as a horseman, regular attendee at Trinity Church, and head of the Lenox Club and Mahkeenac Boating Club.  He was an avid bridge player and was famed for his birthday parties.


See The Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930, Richard S. Jackson Jr. and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, Acanthus Press

Easter Fire on Lenox Main Street 1909

The Lenox Easter Fire

Lenox Main Street Before the 1909 Fire
Lenox Main Street Before the 1909 Fire

The Easter Fire on Lenox Main Street on April 11, 1909 changed the face of Lenox Main Street and cost six people their lives.

The area now occupied by the Village Shopping Center included, before the fire, the wooden buildings shown here.  They housed Clifford & Sons which stocked the turpentine, paints and oils thought to be the source of the fire.

The Mahanna Building Was Gutted but Rebuilt and is Now the Shops and Apartments of 74 Main

Fire Burned From Main to Church

The fire burned all the way back to Church St. and destroyed the Clifford building shown above, the Bull buildings and the residences of Joseph Gilbert, and Mrs. Rose Colbert and some smaller structures.

Looking Back Toward Main from Church Street
















Lives and Property Lost

Here’s an excerpt from the April 12 special to the New York Times:

Six persons were killed in the fire which almost wiped out the business section of Lenox early this morning. Four business blocks and two dwellings were destroyed. The property loss is estimated at $250,000, with insurance of $111,000. New Yorkers who were at the Curtis Hotel on an Easter visit helped persons driven from their homes.

The six persons who were killed were asleep in the Clifford Building, a three-story structure, when the fire started.

They were:

COOK, Miss ISABEL, 40 years old, a bookkeeper.

FRENCH, Miss ALICE, 41 years old, a bookkeeper.

SPARKS, Miss MARY, 26 years old, a school-teacher.

VENTRES, EDWARD S., 41 years old, an electrician; his wife, 35 years old,
and their daughter, Leslie, 12 years old.

Mrs. Catherine Root and her sons, George and Arthur, were badly burned in escaping from the building.

Explosion Causes the Fatalities.

The fire is supposed to have started from spontaneous combustion in the stock of James Clifford & Sons Company, hardware dealers. They had turpentine, paints, oils, and dynamite stored in the basement.

George Root, who lived in the upper story of the Clifford Block, was awakened shortly after 1 o’clock this morning by smoke that rolled into his room from a partly covered chimney hole. He called his brother and mother, and they ran down the front stairs in their night clothes, shouting to the other occupants of the upper floors as they went. They found the front door in flames, but the men wrenched it open and they dashed through.

The Roots had barely crossed the street before there was a traffic explosion in the building behind them, and in an instant the Clifford block was all aflame. This explosion was heard for a distance of six miles, shattered windows within a wide radius and caused the fire alarm to ring.

Horace Perrill and his wife, other occupants of the top floor, aroused by the shouts of the Roots, had got half way down the front stairs when they saw the flames leaping up to bar their exit. Three women were below them, trying to get out through the front door, but Perrill saw that the attempt was useless. He rushed his wife through a long corridor to the back stairs, and got out in safety.

All the other occupants of the Clifford Block lost their lives. While the fire was at its height a woman was seen to climb out of a flame filled room to a veranda on the second story with her night clothing and hair ablaze. Staggering to the railing, she leaped to the sidewalk, landing in a heap within a few feet of the blazing walls. Some of the onlookers tried to rush in to drag her out, but the intense heat drove them back, and it was hours later before the body, that of Miss Alice French, was recovered. The bodies of the other victims are probably in the cellar of the block, but they cannot be reached until some time to-morrow.

Within ten minutes of the explosion the flames were licking up the Eddy Building on the south. In this block the people had been almost hurled out of their beds by the explosion, and they lost no time in making their way to the street in their night clothes. The night air was cold, the temperature being about 20 above zero.

Lenox has only a small volunteer Fire Department, and until aid came from Pittsfield, Richmond, and Lee the flames spread rapidly. The Clifford, Eddy, Mahanna, and Bull buildings, the residences of Joseph Gilbert and Mrs. Rose Colbert, and some smaller structures were destroyed. Only a shift of the wind from northwest to southwest saved the Public Library and the Curtis Hotel. Seven of the large elm trees, which are the pride of the Lenox Main Street, were so badly damaged that they will have to be cut down.

New Yorkers Aid Victims.

Many prominent New York and Boston society people were at the Curtis Hotel over Easter. When the explosion was heard many of the hotel party thought that burglars were at work in the Lenox National Bank, across the street. The sudden glare and crackle of the flames, however, aroused them speedily and they hurried to the scene, where they at once took in charge the shivering people 20 degrees above zero, were watching the destruction of their property. The sufferers were taken to the hotel, where warm clothes and every care were given to them.

Among those who assisted in this work were Mrs. Frank K. Sturgis, Mrs. John E. Alexandre, Miss Helen Alexandre, Mrs. Lindsay Fairfax, and Mrs. William H. Bradford. At the Curtis Hotel to-night Mrs. Lindsay Fairfax headed a subscription paper to aid the sufferers and $2,600 was raised.

A proposition was made to-night to raise a fund of $10,000 among the New York Summer residents of Lenox for the fire sufferers. All the villa owners will be asked to subscribe to the fund. A committee will meet in New York to-morrow morning to take up the matter. Easter guests at Curtis Hotel may further assist by a benefit entertainment.

Valuable plans for work on the Robert W. Paterson place, the new Lenox High School, and other villas which the Cliffords had under way were burned, and nothing can be done until new plans have been prepared, and many men will be thrown out of work. It is expected that temporary buildings will be put up by storekeepers. Without these shops villa owners would be compelled to purchase in Pittsfield, Lee, and other towns.

Horses Saved

The South Side of Franklin Street was the Tillotson Livery Complex
The South Side of Franklin Street was the Tillotson Livery Complex

At the time, most of Franklin Street was taken up by the Tillotson livery complex.  The horses were released and ran for miles.  It took days to recapture them all.


Fire  Department Better Late than Never

New LaFrance Fire Truck the Next Year
New LaFrance Fire Truck the Next Year

There had been discussion of a Lenox Fire Department but nothing had been done.  After the fire a department was quickly formed and a Fire Truck purchased.


Lenox Town Business – Late Nineteenth Century

As we approach the annual town meeting it’s interesting to see what constituted important Lenox town business in the late nineteenth, early 20th century.

Getting the Sunday mail at the old town hall


Pauper Costs

One issue we’re not concerned with these days is the cost of paupers.  More than 10% of the town budget went to the support of paupers and there was apparently a constant effort to get people off the town’s rolls and onto someone else’s.  For instance, in 1868, the town warrant identified Mrs. Garnier as a pauper who was the widow of Frank Garnier who had been born in France – which meant she should be supported by the state alms house.  Apparently the argument didn’t fly as Mrs. Garnier shows up in several subsequent years on the pauper rolls.

The support for paupers tells sad tales.  Here is the 1875 detail for one family:

  • J.F. Morrell coal for Mrs. Farrington                                                  $10.50
    • F. McDonald good for Mrs. Farrington                                      $15.79
    • ”                                                                                                                         $11.53
    • Otis Clapp pasturing Mrs. Farrington’s cow                           $10.40
    • J.F. Morrell coal for Farrington family                                        $13.94
    • E. McDonald supplies Farrington family                                   $24.29
    • C.G. Banks attending funeral for Farrington child              $   9.00
    • D. Wood wood for Farrington family                                          $   8.00
    • S.P. Millard coffin for Farrington child                                        $15.00
    • Perry & Co. coal to Mrs. Farrington’s                                          $18.63
    • E.McDonald goods Farrington family                                         $10.27
    • Dr. C.E. Heath services for Farrington family                        $78.00
    • Wm. Perry wood, potatoes Farrington family                      $   8.00
    • Perry & Co. coal Farrington family                                              $   8.46
    • D.W, Noyes medecine Farrington family                                 $36.58
    • Thatcher and Stone supplies for Farrington family           $13.20
    • G.F. Washburn supplies for Farrington family                    $176.35

Unfortunately the Farringtons show up again in subsequent years.

In 1889 the town report noted that the number of persons requiring support was increasing and the costs kept exceeding allocation.  It was recommended consideration be given to purchasing a farm where they could be taken care of.


In 1889, the town set aside the considerable sum of $7500 for new sewers and disposal field.  Ernest Bowditch was the engineer and we hope he did a great job because we’re probably still using some of those pipes.


In 1875, primary (common) school and high school were still in the Academy building.  The School Committee had a slight surplus that year so was to be able to buy some advanced equipment – suitable maps and globes.

The school committee was pleased to continue using graduates of the high school to teach in the common school (so money did not go out of town).  The methods of instruction had been improved with the help of Mr. Walton of the State Board of Education and the school committee said they “hope for further assistance from him.” (Be careful what you wish for)


In hindsight, the 1915 report of tree warden F. Francis Mackey is so sad,  it is repeated here almost verbatim:

“Early in March the work of removing tent caterpillar nests from the trees on the highways was taken up.  Most of the wild cherry and wild apple trees were cut down and the egg clusters of the caterpillar destroyed………The maples on Court House Hill are in very poor condition being too old for any effective repairs, and I would advise the planting of elms on that street as in a year or two most of the maples will have to be removed.  ….  There is a movement throughout the state for the planting of more shade trees.  The Mass. Forestry Association has offered a prize of 200 trees for the town doing the most planting during the year.  The Lenox Improvement Society has already planted about 50 elms, and I would advise that 50 more be planted, trees being needed on Christian Hill in New Lenox and Lenox Dale.  …”

The next report is from the Moth Superintendent – so we can’t say our forefathers weren’t tried to beat back the gypsy moth problem.

Thanks to the Lenox Historical Society for Town Reports.

King George’s War (1744-1748)

Colonial Claims
Colonial Claims

In King George’s War, New France (Canada) Continued to Use Indian Allies to Terrorize New England and Upstate New York

In Europe this was known as The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). It was the third of four wars between English and French colonists along with their Indian allies.  As with earlier French and Indian wars,

-Europe was the focus of the conflict

-There was no major change in who held what in North America

-It was not a modern war in the sense of impacting the majority of the population; however, it effected New England and continued to retard settlement.

Upstate New York and the borders of Northern New England were again fighting locations.  Massachusetts colonists led an effort to successfully capture Louisburg (which guarded entrance to the St. Lawrence).  However, in the treaty negotiations that ended the war, Great Britain returned Louisburg to the French in return for Madras in India.

Fort Massachusetts (Now North Adams) Attacked

Replica of Fort Massachusetts (now North Adams)
Replica of Fort Massachusetts (now North Adams)

Massachusetts colonists were also largely on their own in their attempts to defend Fort Massachusetts (modern day North Adams.)

The Berkshire towns that were beginning to be settled (i.e. Sheffield and Stockbridge) would have called for their citizens to both defend their towns and come to the aid of nearby towns that were attacked.

The war had cost the lives of 8% of the Massachusetts adult male population and the victories they achieved (with little help from the mother country) added to their sense of identity and interests independent of Great Britain.

The French and their Indian allies raided and destroyed Saratoga and attacked other New York settlements playing into the English colonists’ stereotypical fear of Indians despite the fact that the Mohawks remained steadfastly loyal.

Google 2014 “King George’s War”,  A Few Acres of Snow, A Saga of the French and Indian Wars by Robert Leckie

Lenox Crossroads and Bypasses

The Curtis Hotel - mid 19th Century
The Curtis Hotel – mid 19th Century

Started as a Stagecoach Stop

Since the earliest days of the county  Lenox’s Main St. has been a path-road-highway from the southern entrance to the county to Pittsfield.  The site of the Curtis Hotel was a stagecoach stop before Lenox even existed as a town.


Lenox Main Street Settled Into Current Location About 1800

Entering Lenox from Kemble Street in Horse and Buggy Days
Entering Lenox from Kemble Street in Horse and Buggy Days

Until about 1800 Lenox Main St. wandered to the East and to the West, finally settling on approximately its current course.  The entrance to town was Old Stockbridge Road with Walker St. and Kemble St. added later.

Main Street Before Route 7 and Before Bypass
Main Street Before Route 7 and Before Bypas

We have some photos of the way Main St. would have looked with first buggies – then flivers tootling down the street.

Prior to 1922 the Berkshire County north- south route was marked by blue bands on telephone poles.  Beginning in the 1920’s, hotel operators and automobile clubs initiated the development of a numbering system in which this route was known as Highway 4.  The Federal Government had taken over route numbering and in 1926 Highway 4 was renamed U.S. Route 7.

Until the 1949 Bypass, Hills Remained a Problem

Looking North on Main Street Toward Church on the Hill
Looking North on Main Street Toward Church on the Hill

The same topography that makes Lenox so scenic created a challenge for travelers in the form of the hill up Old Stockbridge Road (known from the 19th century shire town days as Court House Hill) and the Hill up to the Congregational Church — both of which were burdens for wagons and later  trucks. This may have been one of the main reasons historic Lenox village was able to retain its old Main Street when the bypass was (per MassDOT) began in 1949.

Mid Twentieth Century Fun for Residents and Visitors Along the New Bypass

Miniature Golf on Route 7
Miniature Golf on Route 7

There is a great Facebook Page – You Know You’re From Lenox If.. where contributors have shared some photos from the 1960’s and 1970’s Route 7 including the Miniature Golf Course (site of the current Burger King) and favorite restaurants including the Yellow Aster (site of current Mazzeo’s)

The Yellow Aster - A Popular Route 7 Restaurant of the 1970's
The Yellow Aster – A Popular Route 7 Restaurant of the 1970’s,





How Much Expansion?

The initial bypass was controversial – some new businesses were created while others were – well – bypassed.  However, the flood of tourists to Tanglewood and other summer events continued and more highway expansion was planned – and protested – and planned again.  The four lane traffic flow on Route 7 from Lenox to the Pittsfield line was completed in 2000.  A further expansion of four lane road was contemplated to Lanesborough.  We’ll see.

See Old Route 7, Along the Berkshire Highway by Gary T. Leveille