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HomeLife In the BerkshiresUnresolved 'resolves' and...

Unresolved ‘resolves’ and other Berkshire conflicts

The battle is not couched as in the 18th century: the merchant class versus the farmers. Today, it is Main Street versus Wall Street.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America 2014

There are never-to-be-resolved Berkshire conflicts…

The comfort of history is not that it gets it right every time in real time. Those who say history is written by the victors make a solid point. The comfort of history is that when time cools the heat of the moment; when the very vocal self-server is dead and yesterday’s special interest is irrelevant tomorrow, history corrects itself and reports the facts. With time there is truth and justice usually, but sometimes two versions of historic events stand without hope of resolution.

The Sheffield Resolves

On January 5, 1773, eleven men met in an upstairs room of Col. John Ashley’s house in Sheffield. Together they wrote a declaration against British tyranny and for the rights of the people of the Colonies. It was sent to the town meeting on January 12 for approval.

Once approved, The Sheffield Resolves were published in the “Massachusetts Spy” (also known as Thomas’ Boston Journal).

The resolves open: “Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty, and their property.”

There are ten “resolves” including no taxation without representation, the right to a trial, and equality under the law.

Some historians dismiss the Sheffield Resolves; others call the Sheffield resolves the first American Declaration of Independence.

Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitution

In 1787 as the Constitution of the United States was being written, Shays’ Rebellion was squelched on a field in Sheffield. Shays’ men were called the “Regulators” because they wanted to regulate laws that disproportionately favored the wealthy and give more protection to the poor. They were also called traitors and murderers. They were tried and sentenced to prison and to hang.

George Washington dismissed Daniel Shays as irrelevant, but James Madison said Shays exposed weaknesses, excesses, and injustices that had to be addressed in order to have a strong Republic. Was Shays an enemy of the new Republic or a contributor to the shape of the new nation?

Today, we have a growing number of Americans who can easily be described as discontent with the American economy. The battle is not couched as in the 18th century: the merchant class versus the farmers. Today, it is Main Street versus Wall Street. So whatever Shays’ contribution may have been, in the last 225 years, we have not adequately addressed Madison’s concerns.

Thomas Gardner and the Massachusetts Bay Colony

In “Thomas Gardner Planter” F. A. Gardner wrote, “Thomas Gardner was indeed slighted by history…he not John Winthrop was the first governor of Massachusetts.”

In the intervening centuries, the Gardner and Winthrop families have been unable to agree. The families still argue about who was the first governor of Massachusetts – as if life were a criminal trial.

The prosecution: Winthrop is identified as the first, without denigrating Thomas Gardner’s contribution to the early settlement, because John Winthrop was the first man officially granted the title Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The defense: Thomas Gardner acted with the authority and responsibility of a governor and was therefore de facto governor. He should be remembered not just for his contribution to the settlement of Massachusetts but as its first governor.

Four hundred years later, there is no resolution.

The most fun is not to contemplate who was right but to imagine the dinner table conversation in Lenox in the Gilded Age. You see, Miss Gardner married Mr. Winthrop and built a Berkshire Cottage on Yokun Street. In her memoir, the granddaughter of Mrs. Winthrop nee Gardner makes clear the disagreement was unresolved and the conversations at dinner were spirited.

The Shadow Brook and the Tangle Wood

Similarly, descendants of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Caroline Sturgis Tappan find it impossible to agree about who named Tanglewood – the author or the owner.

At a family reunion in the 21st century, the battle raged on. During her life, Caroline Sturgis Tappan claimed credit and swore Nathaniel Hawthorne stole the name from her. Hawthorne descendants demur.

Caroline Tappan built the house she named Tanglewood almost 10 years after Hawthorne used the name Tanglewood in a published book. The Tappans say that is irrelevant. In 1850, before “A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls” was published, Hawthorne rented a house from Caroline in Stockbridge. She may have had the name in mind then and told Hawthorne. The Hawthornes say that is speculation and the publication date of the book and construction date of the house tell the tale.

History eventually chooses between versions by placing different weights on different opinions. Based upon a preponderance of evidence, history anointed Winthrop the governor and Gardner a really good guy; Hawthorne the originator and Tappan the imitator; Shays neither as bad as the courts found in 1787 or as good as Madison thought. Finally, since historians are so careful what they say about the Sheffield Resolves, I encourage you to read them and decide for yourself.




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