Captain Luke Day: A Forgotten Leader of “Shays’s Rebellion”

Postwar Conflict (>1783)

February 14, 2023
by Scott M. Smith Also by this Author


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While Daniel Shays (1747-1825) has basked posthumously in the glory of leading the 1786-87 populist rebellion that bears his name, Luke Day (1743-1801) was a co-commander of the forces on the ground that fateful winter. Both Shays and Day were battle-hardened Continental army captains who returned home to rural Massachusetts to find their fellow farmers squared off against the state legislature, financially more oppressive than the British Crown which they had just helped defeat. The newspapers of the day, overwhelmingly biased against the backwoodsmen, needed a rebel leader to demonize and somewhat randomly picked Shays, condemning Day to an eternity of ignominy. In his History of Western Massachusetts, published in 1855, Joshua Gilbert Holland noted: “Day was the stronger man in mind and will, the equal of Shays in military skill, and his superior in the gift of speech.”[1]

At the end of the Revolution, Day and Shays had many similarities; it was their differences, although slight at the time, that likely led to the vast divergence in their places in history. Both men were middle to upper class farmers living twenty-five miles apart, a full day’s journey at the time, with large families to support. Day was the scion of a prominent bloodline in West Springfield, while Shays, born to landless Irish immigrants, married well, settling into a sixty-eight acre farm in Shutesbury.[2]

Both men volunteered immediately after the battles at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, fought with distinction, and were promoted to captains effective January 1, 1777. Most notably, Day slogged through northern Maine with Benedict Arnold’s ill-fated assault on Quebec,[3] while Shays was an elite light infantryman in Anthony Wayne’s surprise attack at Stony Point in 1779.[4] Henry Hallowell, a soldier serving in the Hudson River region, noted: “Captain Shays . . . belonged to our regiment in the 3 years service and respected as a very good officer, was very good to his men.”[5] Shays retired from the Army in October 1780,[6] while Day served until the end of the war, although he was furloughed home at times for medical reasons in its latter years.[7] Massachusetts records show privates, such as Ezekiel Wood, joining Day’s company early in 1781,[8] and some accounts place him at Yorktown later that year.

Once home, Shays and Day became leaders of their local militia, training their fellow yeomenon their respective village greens. In 1782, Day sided with the state government, defending the courthouse during Ely’s Rebellion, an uprising led by an itinerant preacher who “delighted in nothing more than sowing jealousies between the poor and the rich.”[9] He joined the Society of the Cincinnati shortly after its inception in 1783, demonstrating his camaraderie with his fellow army officers, while Shays pointedly did not. Shays did join the Committee of Safety and was elected warden in the neighboring town of Pelham.

With the election of James Bowdoin as governor in 1785, the Massachusetts government was dominated by merchants who were determined to pay back the state’s war debts in full to their own personal benefit as bondholders. To this end, the state raised taxes to quadruple their pre-war levels.[10] The combination of this tax increase with the national inflationary spiral following the war overwhelmed the meager coffers of the farmers of western Massachusetts. One third of the adult males in Worcester county, including Shays and Day, were hauled into court by their creditors.[11] Day was actually jailed for two months in Northampton during the summer of 1785 (although allowed out of his cell to work in town) before breaking his bond and going home.[12]

This incarceration likely proved the catalyst for Day to about-face and turn against his government. On August 29, 1786, a year to the day of his escape, Day effectively launched Shays’s Rebellion by marching the twenty miles back to Northampton at the head of a column of one hundred armed men determined to prevent the court (which had ruled against him) to imprison any more of his neighbors. Hundreds of men from other towns, also led by veteran officers, joined the protest. Reminiscent of the war, the men wore green sprigs in their hats, a symbol of liberty,[13] and were accompanied by fife and drums. Shays was offered the captainship of the Pelham delegation but declined. While there is no written documentation of the reason, one supposition was that Shays was not yet prepared to anger his father-in-law who was staunchly pro-government.[14]

Events in Northampton were caustically summarized in the American Mercury:

about one hundred men from West Springfield . . . commanded by Captain Luke Day whose private character and circumstances as well as his personal liberty made it very convenient . . . were joined by a number from various other towns and by a body of horse and foot from Amherst, Pelham, etc under the command of Captain Hinds and Lieutenant Billings . . . making in the whole about four hundred . . . but instead of calling upon the militia . . . the day was spent in frequent and idle conferences . . . the court complied with all the wishes of the insurgents and adjourned . . . without making the least attempt to do their duty.[15]

The court’s action here confirmed the popular support the rebellion garnered, particularly outside of Boston. Unsurprisingly, every county west of Boston voted in their local conventions to support the rebellion.[16] In fact, farmers closed courts in Concord, Taunton, and Great Barrington, where 80 percent of the town’s militia actually crossed lines to join the rebels.[17]

Needless to say, Bowdoin and his fellow Bostonian bluebloods were not pleased with Day’s success in Northampton. On September 2, the Governor issued a proclamation calling for “judges, justices, sheriffs, grand jurors, and constables . . . to suppress all riotous proceedings . . . prosecute and bring to condign punishment the ringleaders . . . of the atrocious violation.”[18] To this end, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court met in Worcester on September 19, indicting twelve of the rebels (but not Day for some unknown reason) on riot and sedition charges. Since Day and the other leaders were entirely focused on debt relief, they had not made any effort to close the Worcester court, believing correctly that it would be pursuing criminal matters.

This indictment shocked Day and others who fancied themselves “Regulators,” a timeworn moniker for commoners trying to rein in the excesses of the wealthy, not “revolutionaries” trying to overthrow the government, and certainly not “criminals.” Daniel Shays now stepped up to lead the next protest at the courthouse in Springfield on Sept 25, fearing that Day would get arrested if he appeared out front again (although he was present anyway[19]), and worse, bloodshed might ensue if this arrest happened on Day’s home turf.

The indictments clearly aroused the countryside as two thousand men converged on Springfield, doubling the number of militia the state could muster to guard the courthouse.[20] For the first time, the newspapers highlighted Shays as the rebellion’s leader while also noting: “the governmental party were men of property, virtue and consideration [while] half the insurgents were men of the vilest principles and desperate in their fortunes.”[21] After much parading and parleying, but no gunfire, the court adjourned until December without issuing any rulings or warrants, a victory for the Regulators.

The conflict intensified over the course of the fall. Prodded by Samuel Adams, incensed that American citizens now appeared to be rebelling against their own elected government, the Massachusetts legislature undertook discussion of the Riot Act, which would allow militia and other officials to shoot rioters who failed to disperse, and the Militia Act, which could punish any soldier who left his post or joined or incited any riot with death.[22]

In response, a communication circulated to the western towns under Shays’s signature calling on the farmers to turn out fully armed on a minute’s notice. Shays disavowed writing this letter, claiming it was planted by bondholders to spur the legislature to action.[23] Regardless of the letter’s true authorship, the government passed both acts in the last week of October and suspended habeas corpus (the right to a speedy trial) two weeks later. On November 30, a posse arrested Job Shattuck, a prominent rebel leader in central Massachusetts who had threatened to put all opposition to the sword, and carted him off to jail in Boston.[24]

While escalating the battle with the rebellious farmers, the legislature also passed several measures of relief for their dire circumstances. Massachusetts would now allow payment in kind (not just specie) for various taxes, extend the deadline for payments, rescind selected legal fees, impose a tax on imported luxury items such as jewelry, and sell off land in Maine to reduce the public debt. The state, however, would not yield to the rebels’ demands to print paper money, move the seat of government out of Boston, or temporarily close the debt courts. Finally, on November 15, despite Samuel Adams continued harping that “the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic should suffer death,”[25] the government offered amnesty to “rioters” who took no further actions against the state and signed an oath of allegiance by January 1.

Day, Shays, and their fellow Regulators spent October and November back on the farm, likely tracking events in Boston, fifty miles away, as closely as possible with winter approaching. There is little surviving documentation of their actions during this period other than a record that only one Regulator accepted the legislature’s offer of amnesty,[26] an indication of the countryside’s palpable mistrust of the state government.

The lone protest occurred on November 21 when Adam Wheeler, another retired army captain, led 160 men to Worcester. After the sheriff read the newly enacted Riot Act to Wheeler’s men blocking the courthouse steps, the judges met briefly in a local tavern before adjourning till the new year.[27]

In late November, Day and Eli Parsons, a veteran of Valley Forge who “bore all the earmarks of a dangerous character,”[28] hiked to Vermont to meet with Ethan Allen and offer him command of the Massachusetts rebellion.[29] They hoped to find common ground with the fabled leader of the Green Mountain Boys who were in their own conflict with the aristocracy in New York over land rights.

Was this meeting authorized by Shays or were the two captains acting on their own? The prevailing assumption is the former; however, documentation is slim. Based on Day’s leadership at Northampton in August and in Springfield the coming January, it is entirely possible that he chafed under the attention Daniel Shays received and was seeking a new, more forceful, leader on his own, particularly one that could attract national attention. Regardless, Allen, whose priority was statehood for Vermont, chose not to risk further wrath of the establishment by supporting the Massachusetts insurrection. He summarily rejected the overture, booting Day and Parsons out of his colony.

Upon Day’s return, the rebels more formally organized their forces, settling on a leadership committee of seventeen former Army captains who would command six regiments. Day had the second regiment, while Shays led the fourth. Notably, the rebels did not name a “general.”[30]

The arrest and incarceration of Job Shattuck spurred the committee to action. Hoping for a massive show of support, Shays (and likely Wheeler and others) circulated a proclamation throughout the countryside calling for a massive show of volunteers to stop the court from sitting in Worcester on December 5.[31] The goal was five thousand men.

The scope of the rebellion was beginning to strike fear not only in Governor Bowdoin and the Massachusetts legislature but also in leadership throughout the new nation. Boston battened down, fearing the insurgents would launch an attack to break Job Shattuck from jail, while alarm spread down the Atlantic seaboard. The rich and powerful would not demonstrate much empathy with the insurgent cause, but rather chose to assail the motives of its leadership.

George Washington, retired from public office and residing at Mount Vernon, closely tracked events in Massachusetts through correspondence with his inner circle of former Continental Army generals. Henry Knox, now Secretary of War, wrote to him: “The people who are the insurgents have never paid any, or but very little taxes—But they see the weakness of government; They feel at once their own poverty, compared with the opulent, and their own force, and they are determined to make use of the latter, in order to remedy the former.”[32] Benjamin Lincoln, the Massachusetts general who would ultimately lead the mercenary force that put down the rebellion, added: “In short the want of industry, economy, and common honesty seem to be the causes of the present commotions.”[33] Washington, in turn, surmised: “They [the insurgents] may be instigated by British Councils—actuated by ambitious motives—or being influenced by dishonest principles.”[34]

Intent on steering the United States towards a centralized federal government, the Founding Fathers needed to smash the farmers’ revolt not only on the ground in Massachusetts but, more importantly, in the minds of citizens in every state. Their message would be much more forceful if they could blame a single leader, preferably an anarchistic madman manipulating the farmers, rather than a “committee of seventeen” veteran Army officers. Major newspapers throughout the country were only too happy to oblige, singling out Daniel Shays, rather than Luke Day, as their pinata of choice.

Day was from a prominent landholding family, served in the Army until its very end, defended the courthouse against Ely’s Rebellion, and joined the Society of the Cincinnati. Shays, on the other hand, had no such lineage and, more important, had retired early from the Army amidst a semi-scandal. After serving for five years with virtually no pay, Shays had sold a sword presented to him by General Lafayette, incurring the wrath of his fellow officers.

Lafayette fought with the Continental Army from his arrival in America in June 1777 until he chose to return to France in January 1779 for personal reasons. He witnessed firsthand the suffering of patriot troops at Valley Forge from the lack of proper food and clothing, as well as their meager weaponry. He sailed back to America in the spring of 1780, bringing with him a cache of swords and uniforms (including black and red feathers) for the men who would serve in his new command.

Because of his valor in the assault on Stony Point, Daniel Shays was selected for Lafayette’s elite light infantry brigade set to patrol Westchester and New Jersey in the fall of 1780. Accordingly, he, among many officers, received one of these swords. Given his combat experiences, he undoubtedly sported a trusted sword at his side already. With six children at home to feed, Shays sold Lafayette’s sword. Aghast at this “insult,” his peers threatened a court-martial hearing.[35] Shays retired from the Army instead. Lafayette’s unit was disbanded in November 1780 and the Marquis rode off to Philadelphia to await further assignments.[36]

While the award of the sword factored significantly into Shays’ life story, it barely registered with Lafayette. The Marquis, born into nobility, expressed his global view of the farmers’ insurrection in western Massachusetts in a letter to Washington: “the late disturbances in the Eastern States Have Given me Great deal of Concern and Uneasiness . . . [The people] hurt their Consequence in Europe to a degree which is Very distressing, and what glory they Have Gained By the Revolution, they are in danger of losing.”[37] Knox had to remind Lafayette that “A Captain Shays who was in the light Infantry under your orders in 1780 & who was deranged at the latter end of that campaign was the principal officer among the insurgents.”[38] Knox continued on with his falsehood about the true masterminds of the rebellion: “Besides him [Shays] there were three or four others who had served as officers in the Continental army But the insurrection originated from designing men who had never served.”[39]

Clearly, the leading lights of the Continental Army, well-enough off in their own circumstances, refused to believe that the establishment of a strong central government (and assumption of all War debts), which they viewed as essential to the sustained success of America, could cause so much economic pain to the veterans who had fought alongside them. More importantly, and correctly, they feared that this pain extended well beyond the borders of Massachusetts, threatening the stability of the new nation.

The newspapers piled on to the Shays’s story. On December 2, the Massachusetts Centinel blared: “from his youth he was remarkable for subtlety and duplicity . . . in the year 1780, the distinguished nobleman, the Marquis de la Fayette, presented the officers of the army, each with an elegant sword this pledge of his affection, which a man of honor and spirit would have sacredly preserved, and handed down to his posterity as a jewel of high price, he was mean enough to dispose of for a trifling consideration.”[40] The paper followed up with a likely falsified interview with Shays himself who supposedly claimed his army was going to “lay the town of Boston to ashes . . . [and] overthrow the present [Massachusetts] constitution.”[41] The Pennsylvania Gazette bellowed: “every state has its Shays” and “should the federal government be rejected none other than Daniel Shays would seize control of Massachusetts.”[42]

The Centinal pummeled Luke Day as well. A December 23 article recounted “Anecdotes” of Day swindling both his brother-in-law on the sale of a slave and his jailer with fraudulent government securities. The article concluded: “to such persons courts of all kinds will be grievances.”[43]

In fact, Bowdoin and the legislature had little to worry about in early December as a road-choking blizzard scuttled most farmers’ plans to reach Worcester, let alone Boston. Day and his men from Springfield could only get as far as Leicester, six miles away. All told, less than one thousand rebels arrived to close the court, most of them ill-provisioned for the weather. The force, however, was sufficient to convince the judges to adjourn without incident or ruling.

The next test came at Springfield just after Christmas. Captains Shays, Day, and Tom Grover (6th regiment) took the lead. Gen. William Shepard, veteran of twenty-two battles of the Revolution,[44] led the government forces, smartly deploying his men to protect the federal arsenal in town, rather than the courthouse. With no militia to shield them, the judges adjourned without an argument. Shays headed home to Pelham, while Day and Grover actually dined with the judges.[45]

Governor Bowdoin was not going to rely on the weather, or local militias with divided loyalties, to put the insurgency down once and for all. Raising funds from the Boston elite, he assembled four thousand mercenaries under the direction of Benjamin Lincoln, the state’s favorite son despite a checkered war record.[46] With this army marching their way and the death penalty hanging over their heads, the Committee of Seventeen began to waver.

Shays, who had literally been thrust into the spotlight by the newspapers, indicated in a clandestine conversation, likely with his old commander, Rufus Putnam, that he would accept a pardon if offered; but it never materialized.[47] The government wanted Shays to plead his case in Boston, while Shays feared he would be jailed, like Shattuck, if he showed his face anywhere near the state capital. Accordingly both sides girded for war, with Shays barracking his men in Rutland to maintain their unity of force.

The federal arsenal in Springfield would be the first battleground. While the Regulators had ignored the armory in December, an indication of their relatively benign intentions at the time, they knew they could not stand up against the mercenaries without better munitions. In fact, had the Regulators secured the arsenal, they would have become the best-armed military force in North America. By late January, the armory was effectively surrounded: Day with 400 men in West Springfield, Parsons with a similar number to the north, and Shays commanding eleven hundred marching from the east.

Until General Lincoln arrived with his mercenary force, the Regulators would have roughly twice as many men in Springfield as the government. On January 19, with Lincoln still a week or longer away, Shepard wrote to Lincoln asking for money and arms:

Let me urge you, Sir, to use your whole influence to process what is of the most importance to the speedy and effectual success, money . . . Two thousand pounds at least must be sent . . . failure . . . it appears to me, must defeat the plan of government, for the men can not be kept together long, unless they are pretty well supplied with rum, hay and a little money . . . no leave has been obtained from the Congress or General Knox to take any [arms] from the Arsenal of the United States . . . It will be very disagreeable to me to be defeated by such bandits, when I am guarding the arms of the union . . . because I had no arms to defend myself[48]

Even at this late stage, Shays was still proselytizing for a peaceful solution. He sent a petition to Lincoln stating:

Unwilling to be any way an accessory to the shedding of blood, and greatly desirous to restoring peace and harmony to the convulsed Commonwealth [Massachusetts], we propose that all the troops on the part of government be disbanded immediately, and that all and every person who has been acting, or in any way aiding or assisting in any of the late risings of the people, may be indemnified in their own person and property . . . on which conditions, the people now in arms, in defense of their lives and liberties, will quietly return to the respective habitations, patiently waiting and hoping for constitutional relief[49]

Day likely surmised the government would never accept these terms. As Holland noted: “Day was not like Shays a tool of the rebellion but an active agent . . . [he] carried the boldest and most determined spirit.”[50] Day drilled his men daily and instituted martial law in West Springfield, arresting and imprisoning several prominent locals who resisted.

When a reply from Lincoln, still on the march to Springfield, was not forthcoming, Shays relinquished his hope for peace. He sent a courier to Day informing him that he would launch his assault on the armory the next day, Thursday January 25. Day immediately penned a note indicating that he would not be ready to move until Friday.

Day’s men were ready to fight, so why the delay? Perhaps Day wanted to establish his own control of the assault. To this end, he sent a militant proclamation to Shepard, demanding that “the troops in Springfield lay down their arms . . . and return to their homes on parole.”[51] Regardless, Day’s message never reached Shays. It was intercepted by government supporters (when the courier stopped at a tavern for a libation—or three) and delivered to Shepard instead.

Shays dragged his heels until late afternoon on Thursday, likely waiting for Day to appear, before at last ordering both his and Parsons’ men forward, fearing Lincoln’s imminent arrival. In fact, Lincoln was still more than a day away, and had just received Shays’ petition, summarily rejecting it.[52] Shepard, now well armed, gave Shays every chance to stand down. He purposely sent two cannon volleys over the heads of the Regulators, but they still pressed forward in the dwindling winter light. Finally he ordered his artillerymen to lower their aim. The next three volleys ripped through the advancing Regulators, killing four. The rest turned and ran, despite Shays’s cries to rally. At last, Shays had no choice but to follow his men into the darkness.

Luke Day likely heard the cannon blasts from his post in West Springfield but made no move towards the armory. Assuming his message was delivered, he had little reason to expect Shays to attack without him. By evening on the 25th, Day would certainly have learned of Shays’ rout. Now outnumbered, however, he did not attack on the 26th; nor was there any communication from Shays. Since West Springfield was his home, Day did not make any attempt yet to flee, either.

Lincoln’s mercenary army, including infantry, artillery and cavalry, arrived in Springfield on the morning of the 27th. Taking no chances that the two captains would unite their forces, the wizened general ordered an immediate assault across the frozen Connecticut River to Day’s stronghold. The Regulators were completely surprised, breaking at the first onslaught of the invaders. Lincoln sent his horsemen in pursuit, chasing the Regulators into the hills. He routed the bedraggled, and steadily dwindling, Regulator forces on February 3 in Petersham and again in Sheffield on February 27. Shays, Day, Wheeler and Parsons ran to Vermont (still not part of the United States) for their lives.

Without its leadership, the rebels lost any semblance of military discipline, looting and tormenting the local population as they fled through the countryside. Barns, warehouses and a factory owned by merchants who supported the government mysteriously burned to the ground; General Shepard’s property was ransacked and two of his horses mutilated. In fact, the only two Regulators who were actually executed late in 1787 were condemned much more for their criminal actions after Springfield than their participation in the rebellion.[53]

To his death in 1830, Captain Parsons believed that the Regulators would have captured the armory had Day joined the assault on the 25th.[54] If so, what would have been the next step? A march on Boston? Based on the inability of all three Regulator regiments to stand up to battlefield pressure from government forces, it is hard to see how Day’s presence would have achieved any lasting victory.

On February 4, Governor Bowdoin formally declared “a horrid and unnatural rebellion hath been openly and traitorously raised,” setting a $750 bounty on the head of Shays and $500 for the other three leaders.[55] All four, as well as other Regulator leaders, faced execution if captured. Two weeks later, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Disqualification Act, empowering the governor to pardon privates and non-commissioned officers who delivered up their arms, took an oath of allegiance, and accepted disqualification from public office for three years.[56] Four thousand men took the oath, almost 10 percent of the free white men living outside of Boston.[57]

While the armed rebellion was effectively defeated, the people of western Massachusetts were not placated. The town elders of Colrain wrote: “However, it may be admitted that the cause of the assembled in arms is bad . . . yet it must we think be admitted that many persons of valuable private character have embarked in that cause, and that taken collectively they are no despicable part of the community and their numbers great.”[58] Williamstown leadership asked for: “a cessation of the effusion of the blood of our dear brethren may take place immediately for a time sufficient that the real grievances under which the people labor may be fairly stated and petition for redress thereof duly presented to our legislative body or the General Court.”[59]

Before the year was out, Bowdoin would be overwhelmingly defeated by John Hancock in the 1787 gubernatorial election and 75 percent of the state legislators would be voted out of office.[60] These electoral victories occurred despite the fact that the signers of the Disqualification Act oath were not eligible to vote. Under Hancock, Massachusetts passed a moratorium on debts, cut taxes by as much as 90 percent, and pardoned the leaders of the rebellion, including Shays and Day.

More important than Massachusetts politics, the rebellion had a marked impact on the Constitution of the United States which would be drafted in the summer of 1787. Ninety percent of the towns in western Massachusetts initially voted against ratification, forcing the state’s leadership to adopt amendments guaranteeing a grand jury review for capital cases and reserving powers for the states not expressly given to the federal government. Even then, the constitution only passed by a vote of 187-168 on February 6, 1788.[61] By reluctantly acquiescing to support these and other amendments, the Founding Fathers were able to convince voters in hesitant states to approve the Constitution, thereby ensuring its ratification by mid-1788. The ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were ratified on December 15, 1791.

In hindsight, whether the rebellion was, in fact, led by Daniel Shays or Luke Day (or Adam Wheeler or Eli Parsons or Job Shattuck or a Committee of Seventeen) is largely irrelevant. Day’s absence from the Springfield assault, and the subsequent rout of Shays’ forces, has enabled modern historians to recast the rebellion as “peaceful,” preserving the patina of martyrdom for Shays himself. Had Day joined the fight that January afternoon, it likely would have turned into a full-scale melee, the bloodshed staining the rebellion for all time. In the end, Luke Day’s role in helping his fellow farmers of western Massachusetts organize, protest, and ultimately assert their rights at the ballot box is his lasting legacy.


Daniel Shays escaped to Vermont where he and his followers established a settlement on Egg Mountain, building a fort, inn, mill, dam and school.[62] While Vermont officially indicated it would not harbor the Regulators, it made no attempt to apprehend them. Shays was pardoned by Massachusetts in 1788, sold his property in Vermont shortly thereafter, and returned to Pelham. In the 1790s he migrated west to Sparta, New York, where he settled into obscurity. In 1818 he was granted a military pension by the federal government for the five years he had served.[63] He died in 1825 at age seventy-eight.

Shays’s stature grew steadily after his passing. Poems were written, ballads sung, monuments erected, and highways named in his honor.[64] On the two hundredth anniversary of the assault on the Springfield armory, President Ronald Reagan declared January 25, 1987 Shays’s Rebellion Day, noting: “Shays’s Rebellion was to have a profound and lasting effect on the framing of our Constitution and on our subsequent history.”[65]

Luke Day’s memory has been far less hallowed. Fleeing the sanctuary of Vermont, he was captured in New Hampshire in January 1788 and carted off to prison in Boston (after Massachusetts paid the promised bounty). Pardoned two months later, Day returned to Springfield where he lived meagerly until his death in 1801. The Society of the Cincinnati expelled him in July 1787 and his father left him out of his will in 1791. Luke Day’s grave was unmarked until the local historical society added a headstone in 1987 after President Reagan’s proclamation.


[1]Josiah Gilbert Holland, History of Western Massachusetts: The Counties of Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire, Embracing an Outline, Or General History, of the Section, an Account of Its Scientific Aspects and Leading Interests, and Separate Histories of Its One Hundred Towns, Volume 1 (Springfield, MA: S. Bowles, 1855), 245.

[2]Leonard Richards, Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002),6.

[3]Ibid., 43.

[4]Daniel Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion(Yardley , PA: Westholme Publishing, 2021), 63.

[5]Howard Kendall Sanderson, Lynn in the Revolution(Boston: W.R Clarke and Company, 1909) 180.

[6]Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution (Washington DC: Rare Book Shop Publishing, 1914), 492.


[8]Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War: A Compilation from the Archives (Boston: Wright and Potter, 1908), 735.

[9]Reverend John H. Lockwood, ed., Western Massachusetts: A History: 1636–1925, volume 1. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1926), 116.

[10]Scott M. Smith, Insurrection and Speculation: A Farmer, Financier and a Surprising Sharper Seeded the Constitution (Journal of the American Revolution, July 14, 2022),

[11]David Szatmary, Shays Rebellion: the Making of an Agrarian Insurrection (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press 1980), 29.

[12]Marion Lena Starkey, A Little Rebellion (Alfred Knopf, New York 1955), 27.

[13]Szatmary, Shays Rebellion, 69.

[14]Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion, 137.

[15]“Northampton, Sept. 6,” American Mercury (Hartford, Connecticut), September 11, 1786.

[16]Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion, 117.

[17]Richards, Shays’s Rebellion, 12

[18]“Legislative Acts/Legal Proceedings,” American Herald(Boston, Massachusetts), September 4, 1786.

[19]Holland, History of Western Massachusetts, 245

[20]Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion, 140.

[21]“Hartford, October 2,” Connecticut Courant(Hartford, Connecticut), October 2, 1786.


[23]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 91.

[24]George Minot, The History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts (Boston: James Burdette and Company, 1810), 42.

[25]Richards,Shays’s Rebellion, 16.

[26]Ibid., 17.

[27]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 97. The leader of this minor action is in dispute, but was not likely Shays. Historian Marion Lena Starkey clearly implicates Wheeler, while Josiah Gilbert Holland leaves the leader nameless; Daniel Bullen places Shays in front “for the sake of narrative convenience,” but also acknowledges that other historians “fail to see Shays as the ‘generalissimo’ the government saw and cast doubt on his participation in the court closings beyond the September 25, 1786 closing in Springfield.” Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion, 372, 375.

[28]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 114.

[29]Greene, James M. “Ethan Allen and Daniel Shays: Contrasting Models of Political Representation in the Early Republic.” Early American Literature 48, no. 1 (2013): 125-151.

[30]Holland, History of Western Massachusetts, 257.

[31]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 101

[32]Henry Knox to George Washington October 23, 1786,

[33]Benjamin Lincoln to George Washington, December 4, 1786,

[34]George Washington to David Humphries, December 26,1786,

[35]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 71.

[36]David A. Clary, Adopted Son – Washington, Lafayette and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 2007), 242.

[37]Lafayette to Washington, January 13,1787,

[38]Gilder Lehrman Collection; Henry Knox to Lafayette, February 13, 1787,


[40]“Anecdotes of Daniel Shaise, Leader of the Insurgents,” Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), December 2, 1786.

[41]Ibid., January 17, 1787.

[42]Pennsylvania Gazette, February 5 and 12, 1787; Richards, Shays’s Rebellion, 139.

[43]“Miscellany,” Massachusetts Centinel(Boston), December 23, 1786.

[44]Reverend John Lockwood, Westfield and its Historic Influences 1669-1919 (Springfield, MA: Springfield Printing and Binding Company, 1922), 44.

[45]Starkey, A Little Rebellion, 117

[46]Smith, Insurrection and Speculation.

[47]Holland, History of Western Massachusetts, 258; Bullen, Daniel Shays’ Honorable Rebellion, 205.

[48]William Shepard to Benjamin Lincoln, January 19, 1787, Massachusetts Historical Society, Lincoln Papers.

[49]Boston Gazette, January 29, 1787.

[50]Holland, History of Western Massachusetts, 295, 262.

[51]“The following is a Copy of a Letter from Luek Day, at West-Springfield, to the Commanding Officer at Springfield,” Connecticut Courant (Hartford,), January 29, 1787.

[52]Benjamin Lincoln to James Bowdoin, January 26, 1787. Massachusetts Historical Society; Lincoln Papers.

[53]Richards, Shays’s Rebellion, 41.

[54]Ibid., 28.

[55]Boston Gazette, February 12, 1787.


[57]Richards, Shays’s Rebellion, 43. According to the census of 1790, roughly half of Massachusetts (population 378,000) lived in the Boston metro area with legal voters (free white men) totaling 96,000. Assuming a similar 50/50 split between city and farmlands, there would have been 48,000 free white men residing outside of Boston. Population of States and Counties of the United States 1790-1990 (Department of Commerce; United States Bureau of the Census) 15,

[58]Colrain to Benjamin Lincoln, January 29, 1787, Massachusetts Historical Society, Lincoln Papers.

[59]Williamstown to Benjamin Lincoln, January 28, 1787, Massachusetts Historical Society, Lincoln Papers.

[60]Richards, Shays’s Rebellion, 118.


[62]Stephen Butz, Shays Settlement in Vermont (Charleston SC: History Press, 2017), 24, 140.

[63]The Pension Roll of 1835(Washington, DC: United States War Department; 1992), 294.





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