George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Lee, Jr., 1 October 1786

From Henry Lee, Jr.

[1 October 1786]

dear Genl

I have not written to you for a long time having nothing important or agreable to communicate.

Nor have I now any thing agreable, but alas the reverse.

The commotions which have for some time past distracted the two eastern states, have risen in Massachusetts to an alarming height—In New Hampshire the firmness of their President the late General Sullivan has dissipated the troubles in that state—I enclose a full narration of his decided conduct, and the effects which it produced.1 But affairs are in a very different situation in Massachusetts—After various insults to government, by stopping the courts of justice &c, the insurgents have in a very formidable shape taken possession of the town of Springfield, at which place the supreme court was sitting—The friends to government arrayed under the Militia General of the district Shephard in support the court, but their exertions were not effectual—the court removed and broke up, the insurgents continue possessed of the town & General Shepherd has retired to the United States arsenal one mile from Springfield—this Arsenal contains a very important share of our munitions of war.2 Congress have sent their Secretary of this department, General Knox to take the best measures in his power in concert with government for the safety of the Arsenal. What renders the conduct of the insurgents more alarming is that they behave with decency & manage with system, they are encamped and regularly supplied with provisions by their friends & have lately given orders to the delegates in Assembly from their particular towns, not to attend the meeting of the Legislature.

It must give you pleasure to hear in this very distressing scene the late officers & soldiers are on the side of government unanimously—the Insurgents it is said are conducted by a Captain of the late army, who continued but a small period in service & possessed a very reputable Character.

This event produces much suggestion as to its causes—Some attribute it to the weight of taxes and the decay of commerce, which has produced universal idleness.

Others, to British councils[,] the vicinity of Vermont & the fondness for Novelty which always has & ever will possess more or less influence on Man. The next accounts will I hope produce favorable intelligence, but present appearances do not justify this hope.

Has your china arrived, & does it please Mrs Washington. Be pleased to present my best respects to her and accept the repetition of my unceasing regard with which—I have the honor to be most sincerely your ob. ser.

Henry Lee Junr

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, MH: Lee Family Papers.

1Enraged by the failure of the New Hampshire legislature to respond to their petitions for economic relief and by false rumors that confiscated land was to be returned to the Loyalists, more than a hundred armed farmers descended on the legislature in Exeter on 20 Sept., where they were faced down by Gen. John Sullivan, president of the state, and on the next day were put to flight or captured by a force of militia. The enclosed account of the incident has not been identified. The fullest contemporary account of the Exeter riot is to be found in William Plumer’s letters of 20 and 21 Sept. 1786 to John Hale, in Publications of Col. Soc. of Mass., description begins Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Boston, 1895—. description ends 11:390–96.

2William Shepherd (1737–1817) was major general of the 4th division of the Massachusetts militia. For reference to his role in putting down Shays’ Rebellion, see editorial note in Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 4 Dec. 1786–4 Mar. 1787.

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