Tag Archives: Lenox Revolutionary War

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.

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

Judge William Walker and Judge William P. Walker

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Judge William Walker – Photo of Portrait Hanging in Pittsfield Probate Court

William Walker was born in Rehoboth in 1751.  This location is not far from one of the early Puritan settlements,  and he is undoubtedly one of the many Lenox settlers who was three-four generations removed from the Puritans of the Great Migration of the 1630’s.

William Walker came to Berkshire County at 20 years of age in 1770, Lenox in 1773. He, like Egleston and Paterson, signed the non-importation agreement, was in Boston during the battle at Bunker Hill, the failed invasion of Canada, the crossing of the Delaware, the battle of Princeton and at the battle of Bennington (part of the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga) and marched as captain with a company of Lenox men to Sheffield to put down Shay’s rebellion .

A lawyer by training he attended the Berkshire Convention in Stockbridge in 1774 and was a member of the convention that framed the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. He was instrumental in important business enterprises including the iron industry in Lenox Dale and land development. He was a stockholder in the Phelps and Gorham purchase in central New York.

As the list of offices he held indicates, William Walker was a true pillar of the community:

  • President Berkshire Agricultural Society in 1820
  • President of the Berkshire County Bible Society from 1817-1831
  • Member of the Congress of Deputies of Berkshire held at Stockbridge July 6, 1774`
  • Member of the convention which framed the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780
  • General Court in 1778, 1780, 1784, 1787, 1791, 1794 and 1795
  • Appointed by Gov. John Hancock February 16, 1781 as Register of Wills for Berkshire County (until 1785)
  • Selected by the two branches of the General Court on October 16, 1783 as State Senator for the District of Berkshire
  • Samuel Adams appointed him Judge of Probate for Berkshire County (resigned 1824 when his son succeeded him)
  • Appointed February 25, 1794 by Gove. Samuel Adams as one of the justics of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Berkshire
  • James Sullivan appointed him a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Berkshire County in 1807
  • Associate justice of the Berkshire Court of Sessions in 1809 and from 1811-1814 (commission from Gov. Elbridge Gerry)
  • Presidential Elector in 1824 for Berkshire.

His most important role was as a judge for Berkshire County with court being administered from 1789 to 1868 in Lenox. He was described as “tall with white locks and of great personal dignity.”

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