<br /> Lee Letter: n860

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Rufus King
Recipient: Henry Lee?

My dear friend,1

My letter of Thursday2 informed you that Lincoln
on the 30th of Jan. was at Hadley and Shays with his Party at Pelham
distant about Eight miles. About the 2d instant Lincoln moved his
Troops to Pelham and reconnoitered Shays’ situation. This approach gave
evident uneasiness to the Insurgents, on the Morning of the 3d a Flag
was received from Shays with propositions of dispersing his party
provided the Leaders could be assured of safety. General Lincoln
replied, that he could enter into no Engagements on that
Subject – immediately after, Lincoln received intelligence that Shays
intended leaving Pelham, and taking Post at Petersham, distant 30 Miles
eastwardly, and situated in that Part of the County of Worcester, where
the People were the most disaffected to the Government. This
information was confirmed soon after, and Lincoln put his whole Force
in motion at Eight OClock that Evening for Petersham, the early part of
the night was moderate, but it became a violent North East Snow Storm
before three O Clock in the morning, and before day light the cold was
intense. The Troops could not be covered, and the Cold was too severe
for them to halt. They pressed on, and arrived at Petersham, at 9
O.Clock in the morning. They entered the town near its centre, and the
party under Shays were so completely surprized, that the flight was
totally irregular, and in all directions. 150 Men were made Prisoners,
Shays escaped, and has fled into the State of New Hampshire, every man
becoming his own General. I dont learn that there was a Gun fired, or a
man hurt.

On the 5th Lincoln disbanded a considerable part of his Forces, and gave
orders that the militia at Springfield should be dismissed except a
Guard of two companies of 50 men each for the protection of the federal
magazine. A Body of Insurgents had collected in Berkshire, and another
Body of Militia under Genl. Patterson was assembled to oppose them.
Lincoln marched on the 5th or 6th with a respectable Force for
Berkshire; since the dissolution of the Party under Shays the
Resistance will be small in Berkshire. I think this insurrection will
now be wholly suppressed, and the Government in Consequence may
[become] more vigorous. I do not form this opinion from the Facts now
communicated, but from another quarter; The Legislature of Mass. did
not assemble until the 3d, the Governor then communicated the measures
he had adopted, and stated that the Situation of the Insurgency
required the most decisive measures. The Speech was committed and the
two Branches adjourned until the next day, the Report was agreed to,
and the Legislature on the same day that Lincoln dispersed Shays
declared that a Rebellion existed in the Commonwealth, approved the
conduct of the Governor, and requested him to adopt the most vigorous
Measures to suppress the same. You will remember that when the
Legislature declare the existence of a Rebellion the powers of the
Governor, by our Constitution, become almost absolute. He may exercise
Law martial, and in every Respect Treat the Citizens in arms agt. the
state & their adherents as open Enemies.

What think you of this?

Farewel,

R King

I hope to see you very soon. Nine states are represented.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Miscellaneous Manuscripts, Library of Congress.

1 Not identified, but apparently a delegate from a state other than
Massachusetts whom King expected to return soon to Congress (see
postscript). The letter was acquired by the Library of Congress in
1908 with a group of 82 documents of almost entirely southern, and
principally Virginian, provenance, 12 of which were addressed to
Henry Lee or Henry Lee, Jr. If King was indeed addressing a
Virginian, Henry Lee is the only delegate who fits the recipient’s
requirements. He had been reelected to Congress December 1, 1786, and
was expected to return soon to New York, although he did not actually
resume his seat until April 19. In addition, the two men were of the
same general political persuasion, and Lee is known to have been
keenly interested in the “disturbances” in Massachusetts.

2 This letter has not been found.