Since neither the form nor the content of this volume follows a conventional pattern, an explanation of its provenance is in order. In the late 1960s the Colonial Society of Massachusetts adopted a policy of holding conferences on various aspects of colonial history and then publishing the papers delivered at these sessions. The first gathering, held in 1971, focused on Boston Prints and Printmakers and was followed by a volume with that title. Since then conferences have been held on diverse themes, including Boston Furniture of the Eighteenth Century, Seafaring in Colonial Massachusetts, Law in Colonial Massachusetts, and Seventeenth-Century New England. Equally varied has been the geographical scope, confined in some cases to Boston, extending in others to Massachusetts, widening out in still others to the New England region as a whole.
In the early 1980s, Ralph J. Crandall, Director of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society and at that time Recording Secretary of the Colonial Society, and James O’Toole, then Archivist of the Boston Archdiocese and presently Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, proposed to the Colonial Society Council that a conference be convened on Shays’s Rebellion to commemorate the bicentennial of that event. The Council approved the project, and as a result, the Colonial Society invited ten scholars to deliver papers, followed by “Final Reflections” from Harvard Professor Oscar Handlin. Messrs. Crandall and O’Toole staged the meeting, held October 3 and 4, 1986. In due course, it was assumed, the Colonial Society would publish the essays in a volume of its own, as part of the series of volumes from its conferences. An initial step toward the realization of this aim was taken when Robert J. Taylor, a member of the Society, the former editor of the Adams Papers project at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the author of Western Massachusetts in the Revolution, read all the papers delivered at the conference and made a number of useful suggestions on each.
A little over a month later a second bicentennial conference, entitled “Shays’s Rebellion and the Constitution,” gathered in western Massachusetts. Held on November 13–15, 1986, the meeting was hosted by Historic Deerfield, in cooperation with Amherst College. The program grew out of the efforts of many people in the Connecticut Valley, who were anxious to conduct a commemoration of Shays’s Rebellion in the very region where the farmers’ uprising had gained its greatest support and taken its most dramatic turns. Several people at Historic Deerfield played key roles in bringing the conference into being. Donald R. Friary, Executive Director of Historic Deerfield, sustained the project from its inception. J. Ritchie Garrison, then Director of Education at Historic Deerfield, helped to initiate the gathering; his successor, Robert J. Wilson, saw to the details of organizing the meeting; Kevin Sweeney, in turn, carried the conference to a successful conclusion. Joining the Historic Deerfield staff throughout this effort was Robert A. Gross, then Professor of History and American Studies at Amherst College. The conference was supported in part by a grant from the Division of Research Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Further assistance was provided by Amherst College, the Baybank Valley Trust Company, Deerfield Academy, the Peter Pan Bus Lines, the Southworth Company, the Strathmore Paper Company, the Hammermill Foundation, the Monarch Life Insurance Company, and the following individuals: Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Dalzell, Jr.; Mr. and Mrs. Irving N. Esleeck, Jr.; Mrs. Francis McInnerney; Janet A. Riesman; and Joseph Hill Torras.
Where the Colonial Society conference had been a relatively small gathering, attended by some fifty invited participants, the Historic Deerfield conference was much larger, drawing several hundred people to most of its sessions at Amherst College and Deerfield Academy. The conference opened with a keynote address by Professor Garry Wills; in the next two days thirteen papers were delivered, with commentaries by distinguished scholars, musical performances in the evenings, and a screening of a new documentary film on Shays’s Rebellion. Professors Michael Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania and Carol Berkin of Baruch College delivered summary reflections on the conference as a whole.
At the close of its sessions, the organizers of the Deerfield conference began to contemplate publication of the papers. They were thus amenable to a proposal from the Colonial Society to combine the conference proceedings. Through such cooperation, all the latest scholarship produced by the bicentennial of Shays’s Rebellion would be available in a single volume. Accordingly, a formal agreement was drawn up between the two institutions to pool their resources.
Professor Robert A. Gross agreed to edit the volume, and both institutions must consider themselves fortunate to have acquired his service for this project. Not only did he do an outstanding job in editing the work of the individual contributors; he also wrote a splendid introduction to the whole, as well as contributing a delightful paper that he had delivered as the keynote to the Colonial Society conference. The editorial work and the original writing involved a tremendous amount of labor for which all those interested in Shays’s Rebellion must be forever in his debt. In a very real sense, this volume is Bob Gross’s book.
Frederick S. Allis, Jr.
Editor of Publications
Colonial Society of Massachusetts
87 Mount Vernon Street