Berkshire Hills

I was raised in Massachusetts
On the farm where I was born
From the time I was a young lad
To the fields I was sworn
Before our corn could go to market
It was stolen from the mill
And sent to Mother England
From here in the Berkshire hills

So when I heard there’d be a rising
I put on a uniform
Slept barefoot in the mud
Beneath the thunder storms
In war there is no glory
Just friends and comrades killed
Shattered lives and broken homes
Here in the Berkshire hills

In the Continental Army
The years dragged on and on
With the French we fought the Redcoats
So many people dead and gone
Ticonderoga they surrendered
We had won this test of wills
And those of us left alive
Came back here to the Berkshire hills

Then began the nightmare
All over once again
The revolution’s debtor’s prisons
Filled with good upstanding men
We said to hell with King John Adams
Of this farce we’d had our fill
And we set our sights on liberty
Here in the Berkshire hills

Their courts they couldn’t function
Their judges on the run
Each new day we had our farms
Was a victory we’d won
For years we ruled our land
Stood our ground until
We made our last stand by Great Barrington
Here in the Berkshire hills

My name is Daniel Shays
And I’m speaking to you now
If I fought a revolution
Maybe you can tell me how
I was born a poor man
And I’m a poor man still
Bury me beneath the hemlock
Here in the Berkshire hills

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Berkshire Hills

“Berkshire Hills” first appeared on my 2009 CD, Ten Thousand Miles Away.

The US was a newly-sovereign country, a few years after the successful expulsion of British colonial authorities. Before and after the revolution, it was a land of wealthy landlords and poor peasants. But in the New World we don’t have peasants, right? So they were called “tenant farmers.” AKA peasants. Well, the tenant farmers of western Massachusetts came back from their years in the Continental Army, fighting the British on behalf of the biggest landlord and wealthiest person in the 13 colonies at the time, George Washington, only to find that other landlords, their landlords, were busily dispossessing them of their farms, because they were in arrears in their rent. That is, they weren’t able to pay the rent during the years they were off fighting for liberty and freedom and slavery and expansionism and all that.

So the peasants rebelled, as they periodically do in the history of the world, when pushed up against the wall hard enough, especially if it happens all of a sudden like that. They called it Shays’ Rebellion. Daniel Shays was apparently not really the leader, so much as the figurehead. The farmers picked him because he was the highest-ranking former Continental Army officer involved with the rebellion. The rebel farmers ran western Massachusetts for three years, keeping the courts closed, and thus preventing evictions from taking place for the duration.

The rebellion is widely attributed with being the biggest inspiration for the passing of the Bill of Rights. The ruling class (“Founding Fathers”) of the time felt that some significant crumbs needed to be thrown at the roiling masses, to prevent further rebellion. What many peasants would have preferred would have been plots of their own land. That kind of initiative wouldn’t come in a serious way for almost a century, in the form of the Homestead Act of 1862.