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  • Shay's Rebellion Provided Amusing Papers for NEHGS Files

    Published Date : February 1984
    An account of the suppression of Shay's Rebellion from the point of view of an eight year old, has been found amongst the papers of William Foster, Jr., of Boston.

    "I must have been a larger boy when I volunteered in the expedition against the rebel, Shaise, and I'm not sure that it was from the old house that I started.

    "To quell that rebellion a number of gentlemen formed a company of cavalry; my father was one of them and knowing how to take care of himself, instead of going all the way on horseback he went in his comfortable two-horse shay well provided with eatables and drinkables. To get clear of school, which I never loved, I begged hard to accompany my father and by the solicitation of Colonel Hitchborn, our commander, I was admitted. I can say without boasting that I did my full share in the attack -- on the gingerbread and the mulled wine. We conquered the gingerbread, but so far as my memory goes the mulled wine conquered some of our bravest men.

    "When this important preliminary was accomplished and we were all well charged with Dutch Courage, we marched up to the charge fearlessly, the fortress or house, as it seemed to me, surrendered at discression (sic). Since that time having learnt something on those subjects I now see that if Shaise had barricaded his house and garrisoned it with a dozen wall armed men he would have made a sad havock among the Boston troopers. It is somewhat singular that two rebels, both with the names of a vehicle, Shaise and Charrette, should have been my enemies, the one in my own country and the other in France. It was said at the time that Mr. Templeman, who pursued Shaise and wounded him badly need not have fleshed his maiden sword on that occasion for the man had fallen on the ice."

    Foster, who was always a rebel at heart, was sent by his father, a respectable merchant of Boston in trade with Spain and the Indies to Cadiz, in 1790 when he was thirteen. He was supposed to learn business methods and languages. Business methods were never of much interest but he learned languages and revolution. (He was arrested briefly by the Inquisition.) In 1794 he went to Normandy, there saving a beautiful fifteen year old girl from a revolutionary mob which was attacking her father's house, and he married her. Her sister married General Moreau of the Republican army.

    Foster joined with his brother-in-law and spent some time fighting the rebellious Charette, the leader of the reactionary movement in Brittany known as La Vendee. In 1809 he returned to Boston and spent the rest of his long life trying to bring America up to the standards set by the French Revolution. He corresponded with seemingly all the politicians of his day as wall as the humanitarians.

    Foster's papers, which have recently been processed and are now available for study at NEHGS, are typical, although more amusing than most of the collections of family papers which the Society possesses.

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