Bernard A. Drew: Shays' marker made right

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> An Arbor Day event in Sheffield echoed the current upheaval in national politics over class inequities. Veteran and impoverished farmer Daniel Shays lent his name to a post-Revolutionary War agrarian protest that was in its last gasp when Perez Hamlin helmed a mob from New York state to cross the state line and ransack Stockbridge. Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman famously protected Theodore Sedgwick family valuables by hiding them in her wooden chest and sassing the looters.

Hamlin, a native of Sharon, Conn., was a miller in Lenox Dale until financial pressures riled him to action. He hustled his group plus captives to Great Barrington, where an early warning had cleared much of the town.

Jumping to the present day, South Berkshire tree specialists as they do each year planted trees, talked about their profession and perked up a particular place on Arbor Day. This year, it was the Shays' Rebellion marker, a drill-scarred hunk of limestone from the old Chester Goodale quarry, lettering and the date "Feb. 27, 1787" chiseled in by quarry Superintendent James Tully in 1904. Maintained by the National Park Service, the marker is now part of the Appalachian Trail.

In anticipation of the tree planting, under the auspices of the Sheffield Tree Project (newly aligned with the Sheffield Land Trust), the NPS uprighted the stone.

Donna and I went to the public event. I whispered to Steve Smith, Appalachian Mountain Club's Berkshire Chapter natural heritage coordinator, that I thought the old, tilted stone was suggestive that the Shays' uprising was itself a little askew. He said he felt the same until he met with several Sheffield residents who persuaded him the stone needed to have a more dignified appearance.

The late Arthur Delmolino felt responsible for the stone. It was part of his family's farm for decades until NPS took the land to secure the Appalachian Trail corridor in 1985. Art frequently checked on the marker, his widow Barbara Delmolino told me, and was particularly upset when students from a preparatory school in town purposely tried to tip it. There's only 18 inches of stone below ground, she said, not enough to hold it stable, she said. Art would put a chain around it and pull it straight again with his tractor.

Smith credited Appalachian Trail Conservancy and NPS staff for expediting permits to plumb the marker, install crushed stone and solidify the monument in concrete. Civil engineer Jeff Collingwood did the design work, Arrow Cement of Connecticut, Lane Construction, Century Acquisitions, Joe Wilkinson & Sons Excavating, Jacquier Welding & Steel Sales, David E. Lanoue Builder, contributed some or all of their services.

Proper tree-planting

Since it was Arbor Day, Tom Ingersoll, who is in business as Ingersoll Land Care, described to visitors the process of properly planting trees, stressing the soil not be banked too high up the trunk. This is a mistake often seen in landscaping efforts: mounds of chips around the base of a tree. This robs the roots of oxygen and encourages high strangling roots. Most publicly planted trees survive only seven years, he said.

While Ingersoll and workers from Tom Whalen Nursery planted a swamp oak, a white oak and an American elm near the marker, Donna and I walked across the road to where Dennis Gibbons of Dennis Gibbons Landscapes and others were unpacking a sycamore near the AT trailhead. That's an unusual looking spruce tree, I said to Dennis. He got my joke, but at least one of the others helping out thought I was seriously ignorant. It's a sycamore, he said.

Gibbons and Winthrop Barrett of Barrett Tree Service and Michael King of Berkshire Stump Grinding also put in two red maples.

Ingersoll, as emcee of the day's event, noted that Sheffield, Great Barrington, Lenox, Pittsfield and Dalton are recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as official Tree Cities USA. He also offered a little local history.

A Revolutionary war veteran in Great Barrington, Major Thomas Ingersoll — his namesake though not a direct ancestor, Tom Ingersoll noted — led a hastily organized contingent of townsmen to pursue the raiders, who had headed by horse and sleigh toward Egremont. Another group of protectors arrived from Lenox. Gen. John Ashley of Ashley Falls mustered a third party to confront the protestors.

To keep a fascinating story short, all converged near the site of the monument and fought it out. Two Shaysites were killed outright in the six-minute confrontation, a third later died of wounds, several more were wounded (including Hamlin) and captured. Militiaman Ephraim Porter of Great Barrington and captive Solomon Gleason of Stockbridge were killed.

Another Ingersoll descendant, Tim Abbott of North Canaan, researched the history that his cousin Tom Ingersoll read, bringing a delightful modern-day connection to the activity.

As a bonus, NPS archaeologist Joel Dukes of Lowell, who paced the adjacent cornfield with a metal detector (dairy farmer Jim Larkin hadn't yet plowed it this year) during the tree plantings, reported he found an 18th century lead shot and a shirt button.

At program's end, all of us gave a big shout to arborist Caleb Turner, who had taken pity and spent the morning working with saw and clippers to give a severely over-branched apple tree a much-needed pruning.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.

Tom Ingersoll, kneeling, explained the proper planting of a tree during an Arbor Day celebration at the Shays' Rebellion marker in Sheffield on April 30.


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