Shays' Rebellion monument in Sheffield gets preservationist cleanup
SHEFFIELD — The rains have subsided and the mosquitoes are hungry. A young man pops through a bower.
He is now peering at a rough slab of marble along the Appalachian Trail that marks the spot of a final battle, 230 years ago. It was an uprising against high taxes that were sinking landowners and keeping debtors' prisons full, in a debt-ravaged, post-Revolutionary War America.
But now the monument is clean and ready to keep reminding everyone of the rebels' defeat in 1787 and the battle that transpired there.
This monument to the last battle of Shays' Rebellion got a refresh by a historic preservationist this week, on the advice of an archaeologist who said algae and fungus were eating it up.
It took $2,550 to do it — paid for by a matching grant funded in part by L.L. Bean. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy awarded the money to the Berkshire Appalachian Mountain Club committee that manages this section of the contiguous, 2,190-mile footpath from Georgia to Maine. The committee then hired a Cambridge historical restorer to scrub it with acid-free natural cleaning agents, and then wrap it in a poultice to sit overnight before it is washed and rinsed.
The young hiker, who would only give his trail name, "Patches," had arrived just after the plastic wrap was removed. He is on his way to Route 7, where, he said, he would head to a supermarket in Great Barrington to restock for the rest of his hike, which will end in Maine.
"Do they have bug spray there?" he asked about the store, having borrowed some that had been rolling around in this reporter's car all winter. "I ran out."
Patches had started out on the trail in Georgia in February, the same month of this last battle of the rebellion and the bloodiest for Daniel Shays and his rebels. In 2016, that same archaeologist took his metal detector into the field and found buckles and spent bullets.
This field in Sheffield was the end of the line for those "Shaysite" rebels who were organizing, arming themselves, marching around the region and shutting down courts, including one in Great Barrington. Before coming here, they looted shops and merchants' homes in Stockbridge, prompting local Brigadier John Ashley, with government authorization, to stage a clampdown. Ashley gathered men and the two forces clashed, wounding many on both sides and killing at least two, before 150 rebels were taken prisoner.
Now, two American flags are planted here in remembrance, as well.
The monument cleanup is a "once-in-a-lifetime expense," said Steven Smith, cultural resources coordinator for the Berkshires AT club. He said that, after this initial cleaning, all that's required is a good wash every two years. "We'll be able to do it ourselves for $10," he said. "I'm gonna make sure that thing gets maintained ... so it doesn't crumble to dust."
Smith lives on the other side of the state, in Westford. But he is passionate about the trail and hiking. He spends 400 hours a year here, doing trail work.
"I love trails. I'm retired and I get to do what I want," he explained.
Patches, who is from New Jersey, clearly loves trails, too. He's still hiking the full length of this longest hiking-only trail in the world, 12 to 14 hours per day. He's far from retired, and has a long trail ahead — he's heading to medical school in the fall, having just graduated from college.
"I figured I wouldn't have another chance for a very long time," he said of the adventure.
There are other ardent fellows who have come to this very spot.
In 1904, right down the road, there was one with a hammer and chisel. James Tully was the superintendent of the now-abandoned Goodale Marble Quarry. He took a rejected chunk of marble that had broken during cutting, inscribed it and stuck it in the ground here, Smith said.
Until 2016, the marble slab leaned at such an incline that it appeared to bestow appropriate honors to Shays' defeat. But it might have eventually fallen over. It had no foundation, so volunteers dug a proper one and landscaped around it a bit, and the Sheffield Tree Project planted some trees.
Patches is about to continue on, but first asks where the Big Y is. He says that when he gets to Route 7, he won't walk all the way to the store.
"I'll hitch," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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