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Armory museum opens exhibit on Shays and Brown assaults

Date: 12/5/2014

SPRINGFIELD – Two controversial figures who shaped American history and have local ties are the subjects of a new exhibit at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

The stories of Daniel Shays, one of the leaders of the rebellion on the Massachusetts state government, and John Brown, the abolitionist whose raid on the Harpers Ferry Arsenal led to his execution, are both featured along with notable artifacts in the exhibit “Arsenals Under Attack! Daniel Shays’ Assault on Springfield & John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry.”

The exhibit is on display now through March 22, 2015. Admission to the museum on the grounds of Springfield Technical Community College is free.

 The exhibit notes that Brown lived in Springfield in the 1840s and worked as work merchant here. Brown’s efforts to overturn slavery became an important element in American history prior to the Civil War.

Shays was a Revolutionary War veteran who lived as a farmer in Pelham.

According to the exhibit, there was growing dissatisfaction with the state government in the years following the revolution and Shays, with others, assembled a group of rebels who eventually attempted to capture what was then the federal arsenal in Springfield. Historians credit Shays’ effort was a key reason the Constitution was drafted and adopted.

Curator Alex MacKenzie, who assembled the exhibit with Gavin Gardner, explained that while there are many artifacts regarding Brown’s life and work, there were little for Shays. One of the Shays items is a broadsheet issued by Massachusetts Gov. James Bowdoin regarding Shays’ revolution.

MacKenzie pointed out the two rifles that were used at the time. The Massachusetts forces used a French-made musket, while Shays’ men used “a classic American made musket.”

Among the artifacts for the half of the display about Brown are several long handcrafted pikes, which were intended to be used as weapons.

Chief of Interpretation Joanne Gangi-Wellman said, “Shays and Brown represent a part of Springfield Armory history not covered in our permanent exhibit. Educators from Springfield and surrounding communities are lining up school groups who study both Shays’ Rebellion and the John Brown raid in middle and high school. The special exhibit is fascinating, disturbing and encourages visitors to grapple with action of these passionate men who lived in Springfield and Western Massachusetts.”

For more information, go to or call 734-8551.