Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To John Adams from Charles Storer, 16 September 1786 Storer, Charles Adams, John
From Charles Storer
Dear Sir, Boston. 16th. Septemr: 1786.

I wish you would finish your business in London & return home—We want you here more than a little— Every thing seems to be going wrong, and there is great reason to fear that we soon shall be in a state of anarchy & confusion— When Government has not energy eno: to enforce the laws, what is to be done? When our executive Officers have not power to suppress Mobs, Riots & armed associations, what is to be done? ’Tis herein we want your advice, counsel & assistance: You, who had so principal a share in framing our Constitution, can best apply a remedy for its defects— The story in short is this—The people of Hampshire & Berkshire Counties find themselves much aggrieved in being sued for their debts: here blame is thrown upon the Lawyers, who, ’tis said, have wantonly ruined many worthy, good families— This is the case likewise in Bristol County— In consequence of this grievance a Convention was sometime ago proposed to almost every County & Town in the State to consider of the present state of public affairs & to petition for a redress— Many towns met—many refused to join—& some sent Members to try to keep them in order— They publish’d many grievances, such as their heavy taxes, the present mode of representation, the State debt—the great salaries given to the Officers of Government, and above all, the sitting of the Court of Common Pleas—1 In consequence of these proceedings an armed Mob prevented the sitting of the Court in the upper Counties— Hearing the same thing was intended at Concord & again at Taunton, where the Court was to sit last week, the Governor, with the advice of his Council, called upon the Officers of the Militia to defend & protect the Court— The rioters in the mean time, fearing perhaps something serious might ensue fm. the above orders, proposed to the several neighboring towns of Concord the choosing each a Committee to meet at Concord the day before the sitting of the Court—in order to prevent such violent measures as were pursued the week before at Worcester, where a body of armed men, abt: 500., took possession of the Court house— 459 bayonetted the Judges when they offered to enter it & obliged them to retire to the tavern where they again obliged them to adjourn sine die— This seemingly pacific disposition induced the Governor, who consulted the whole Council, the Bench of Judges, & as many of the House of Representatives as he could get together, to countermand the marching of the Militia to Concord— Notwithstanding the above measures, the mob assembled at Concord, took possession of the Court-house, called on every one to join them or they would destroy the town—were riotous—ill-treated the inhabitants & finally obliged the Court to adjourn without day— They were about 300. in number—a set of miserable, unprincipled wretches, tis said—& were headed by several Officers who had been disgraced during the war & a Nathan Smith of Groton, who has been outlawed— They declared publickly their intention was to put an end to all debts & begin anew again—to annihilate the State Debt & to lessen their taxes— At Taunton, the same day, the Court sat & adjourned to a distant day, being protected by Genl: Cobb at the head of about 200. of the Militia— A mob collected to oppose their sitting, but nothing was attempted— Within these few days we hear nothing of them, any further than that they complain of the Senate being a grievance, & the Attorney General a Nuisance— The Governor has issued several proclamations for apprehending the Ringleaders—but without effect— He accordingly called, in the first instance, the Genl: Court together the 2d. week in October—but since the affair of Concord, he has called on them to meet next week— What will be the result is yet uncertain.—2


Things appear again quiet— It was expected the Rioters would have opposed the sitting of the Supreme Court, which met at Worcester a few days ago—but no attempt was made— “The Chief Justice gave a most interesting & pathetic charge to the Jury, in which the ruinous consequences of the late Commotions were pointed out in a manner wh: could not fail of forcing conviction upon the minds of all who heard it”—3 I wish it may have that happy effect—

The Gentleman who will deliver you this is Mr: Thos: Martin of Portsmo: He is a Kinsman of ours & therefore I take the liberty of introducing him to you & will be bound in equal obligation with him for any attentions—4

I shall leave town soon for my new settlemt: at Passe: where the 460 Govr: & Council have been pleased to appoint me Justs: Pacis & one of the Quorum5 If I shd. be the means of any good, it will repay me for the anxiety this entirely new employment occasions me—

I am, sir, with much esteem, / Yr: oblig’d, huml: servt:

C: S—

RC (Adams Papers).


In letters to AA of 15 Aug. ( AFC , 7:321–322) and to JA of 19 Aug., above, Storer reported the calling of county conventions to address grievances and his apprehension about the results.

The first convention met on 23 July at Taunton in Bristol County, Mass., and within a month similar gatherings were held in the counties of Worcester, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Berkshire. The resulting resolves varied from county to county but laid out the participants’ grievances regarding debt, taxation, the shortage of money, and the legal system and demanded a radical revision of the commonwealth’s constitution that included the abolition of the senate and the election of state officials by the lower house (Richards, Shays’s Rebellion , p. 8–9).

In the remainder of this paragraph, Storer, relying on newspaper accounts, reports on the next phase of the growing rebellion, the closing of the courts. This step, taken partly because the General Court’s adjournment until Jan. 1787 left no one to act on the protesters’ grievances, began on 29 Aug. 1786 when hundreds of protesters stopped the court at Northampton, Mass., from meeting and conducting business. Storer then describes subsequent incidents at Worcester on 5 Sept. and Concord and Taunton on the 12th. In all three cases, Worcester being the most violent, large groups of armed men assembled and coerced the courts into adjourning without conducting business. The most detailed newspaper account was of the Concord incident, where a mob led by Capt. Nathan Smith of Shirley and Capt. Job Shattuck of Groton essentially held the town for three days. At one point Smith, allegedly drunk, declared that “every person who did not follow his drum, and join the Regulator, in two hours, should be drove out of town at the point of the bayonet.” Although the incident at Taunton was the least threatening of the three episodes because Gen. David Cobb and 300 militiamen protected the court, the final result was the same. What was most alarming for Massachusetts authorities was that only at Taunton did the militia mobilize in support of the government (Boston Independent Chronicle, 14 Sept.; Boston Massachusetts Centinel, 16 Sept.; Springfield, Mass., Hampshire Herald, 19 Sept.; Boston Independent Ledger, 11 Sept.; Richards, Shays’s Rebellion , p. 9–12).


On 24 Aug., James Bowdoin called the General Court back into session on 18 Oct. to consider Congress’ 1786 requisition from the states, of which Massachusetts’ share was $240,370. By 13 Sept., however, the growing crisis led him to issue a new proclamation ordering the General Court to meet on 27 Sept. to deal with “the many tumults and disorders which have since taken place, in several counties within this Commonwealth, in obstructing the sitting of the Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace” (Boston Independent Chronicle, 31 Aug., 14 Sept.).


Storer quotes verbatim from a newspaper account of the relatively peaceful opening of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court’s session in Worcester on 19 Sept. (Charlestown American Recorder, 22 Sept.).


Storer was a distant relative of AA. Thomas Martin’s father-in-law was a brother of Storer’s grandmother, Anna Peirce Greene. JA nominated Martin for the post of collector for the District of Portsmouth, N.H., in 1798 (Frederick Clifton Peirce, Peirce Genealogy, Worcester, 1880, p. 236–238; AFC , 5:ix–x; U.S. Senate, Exec. Jour. , 5th Cong., 2d sess., p. 283). Martin also carried Storer’s 26 Sept. 1786 letter to JA , below, and his 12 Sept. letter to AA ( AFC , 7:339–340).


Appointed as a justice of the peace for the disputed territory near Passamaquoddy Bay, Storer relocated to eastern Maine in late 1786, but by 1790 he had moved to Troy, N.Y. This and his 26 Sept. 1786 letter to JA , below, are his last until that of 23 Feb. 1790 (Adams Papers) wherein he requested a position in the new federal government ( AFC , 5:ix).