Moses Sash: Black Worthingtonian of Shays’ Rebellion

Portrait of Moses Sash by Bryant White, https://whitehistoricart.com. Posted courtesy of the artist.

by Pat Kennedy, Diane Brenner and Evan Spring

Among Worthington’s unsung heroes is an African American man by the name of Moses Sash, remembered mostly for his significant role in Shays’ Rebellion. Sash was born in 1755 in Stoughton, Massachusetts, to Moses Sash and Sarah Colly (or Colby) Sash. His family appeared to be free people of color for at least two generations before his birth, and Moses Sr. served as a private in the French and Indian War.

Moses Sash Jr. moved to the town of Cummington before or during the War of Independence. Like many other East Coast settlers, he probably came for cheap farmland. In August 1777 Sash enlisted on the colonial side as a private in the regiment of Colonel Ruggles Woodbridge of South Hadley, serving over three months. In April 1780 he re-enlisted for a three-year term and served in the 7th Massachusetts regiment around West Point, New York, under Colonel John Brooks, starting in December 1780. For his service he received a “stipulated” enlistment bounty from the town of Cummington.

1752 marriage record for Moses Sash and Sarah Colly (or Colby), the parents of Moses Sash Jr. The record identifies them as “Mulatoes.”

In 1783, according to Daniel Porter’s Selling Worthington, Sash purchased Lot 69 in Worthington from Aaron Willard, one of the town’s five original “proprietors.” This lot is located near present-day Cudworth Road, behind the Capen-Riverside schoolhouse off Dingle Road. Town records of the time refer to “Moses Sash, black yeoman.” Sash’s original house site has not been confirmed.

This map, made by Frank Feakes for the WHS publication “Selling Worthington,” superimposes Worthington’s current roads on a property lot map made around 1763. Lot 69, which was sold to Moses Sash, is in the vicinity of the present-day Dingle Road (Rte. 112), Cudworth Road, and Clark Hill Road.

On March 17, 1785, Sash married Abigail Richardson of Cummington, and by 1790 they probably had at least one or two children, as the first federal census of that year refers to “Moses Sash and 4 free people, not white.” The only other “free person, not white” appearing in Worthington on the 1790 census is included in the household of Dr. Jonathan Brewster.

Daniel Porter reports in the WHS publication Forty Houses of Worthington that Brewster moved to Worthington in 1770 “with wife, children, and one slave.” Slavery had essentially ended in Massachusetts by 1790, but there were instances where former slaves continued to live with the families who had owned them, so the person listed in 1790 in Brewster’s home could be the same person identified as a slave in 1770.

Headings for the 1790 census.

1790 census listing for the Worthington household of Jonathan Brewster, indicating one non-white free person.

1790 census listing for the Worthington household of Moses Sash.

Sash’s military records describe him as “a farmer laborer” who was 5’ 8” with a “black” complexion and hair of “wool.” Sash likely continued to farm in Worthington until the unrest of 1786-1787, which came to be known as Shays’ Rebellion in honor of its leader, Daniel Shays. Sash was called back to action alongside his fellow veterans, who resisted what they considered unfair taxes imposed by the new colonial government to address its war debts. Farmers who couldn’t pay their taxes were jailed as debtors and lost their farms through foreclosure.

On January 25, 1787, Sash participated in Shays’ failed attempt to seize the Springfield Arsenal. Sash was then 31 or 32 years old. Government troops scattered the insurgents with mortars and pursued them to the north and east. Shays’ men regrouped and sent out parties to secure food and weapons. Sash was apprehended in South Hadley on January 30, where he was allegedly procuring or stealing guns. On February 4 government troops invaded Shays’ camp in Petersham, Massachusetts, but most of the rebel leadership escaped north into New Hampshire and Vermont. In late February a small band of insurgents marched on Stockbridge, Massachusetts, but the Rebellion was soon suppressed.

Sash was indicted by Hampshire County authorities in Northampton on April 9, 1787. Over 200 indictments were issued in Northampton that day, and in Sash’s packet of 33 indictments, Sash was the only African American, the only “labourer,” and the only person charged with two indictments. Only three other black men are known to have participated in the insurgency. Shays’ Rebellion was led chiefly by farmers, and not many African Americans were landholders. Other Worthington participants in Shays’ Rebellion include Nathan Leonard, Elijah Morse, Samuel Morse, Obidiah Palmer, and Hezikiah Partridge. At the same time, Samuel Buffington and Elisha Brewster were called up on the government side to help defend the Springfield Arsenal, pitting Sash against at least two others townspeople in battle.

The first indictment against Sash was for sedition, and the second was for stealing two guns for the “rioters.” The first indictment of Moses Sash reads as follows:

“The jurors of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts upon their oath present that Moses Sash of Worthington…a negro man & Labourer being a disorderly, riotous & seditious person & minding & contriving as much as in him lay unlawfully by force of arms to stir up promote incite & maintain riots mobs tumults insurrections in this Commonwealth & to disturb impede & prevent the Government of the same & the due administration of justice in the same, & to prevent the Courts of justice from sitting as by Law appointed for that purpose & to promote disquiets, uneasiness, jealousies, animosities & seditions in the minds of the Citizens of this Commonwealth on the twentieth day of January in the year of our Lord Seventeen hundred & eighty seven & on divers other days & times as well before as since that time at Worthington…unlawfully & seditiously with force & arms did advise persuade invite in courage & procure divers persons…of this Commonwealth by force of arms to oppose this Commonwealth & the Government thereof & riotously to join themselves to a great number of riotous seditious persons with force & arms thus opposing this commonwealth & the Government thereof as aforesaid &c the due administration of justice in the same, and in pursuance of his wicked seditious purposes aforesaid unlawfully & seditiously, did procure guns, bayonets, pistols, swords, gunpowder, bullets, blankets & provisions & other warlike instruments offensive & defensive & other warlike supplies, & did cause & procure them to be carried & conveyed to the riotous & seditious persons as aforesaid in evil example to others to offend in like manner against the peace of the Commonwealth aforesaid & dignity of the same.”

Written on the back of this indictment are the words “a Captain & one of Shaises [Shays’] Councill Misdemr,” implying Sash had an official rank and prominent role in the Rebellion. No other indictments in this packet of records contain similar markings. Sash was eventually pardoned by the new state governor John Hancock, along with almost all other participants charged in the Rebellion.

Sash probably lived in Worthington after the Rebellion until at least 1793, as he is listed in the “Valuation Taken for State Taxes” that year. In a 1797 census, Sash is apparently listed in Townshend, Vermont. The Sashes had family connections to the Peters family in Hinesburg, Vermont, as detailed below, though Townshend and Hinesburg are not close to each other.

The 1800 census shows Moses Sash still living in Worthington with six additional non-white free persons. By this time the census shows 20 non-white free persons in Worthington altogether, including two other heads of household.

By 1810 the Sash family had moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he appears on the federal census as “Moses Sash, Black, 4,” suggesting a household of four persons.

In 1820, for his service in the Revolutionary War, Moses Sash received a pension of $8 per month. His statement to the court reads, “I have no property real or personal. I am by occupation a day laborer at farming can labor but very little. I have a wife aged 56 in tolerable health my wife’s mother aged 97 & have no other family. I have been partly supported by the town of Hartford for several years cannot subsist without a pension & that is not sufficient to support myself & family without some aid from the charitable of Hartford.”

1820 pension application for Moses Sash.

In February 1820, a few months before submitting the pension application above, Sash sued Samuel Peters, a black resident of Hinesburgh, VT (now Hinesburg) for $1000 as repayment for the care of Peters’ mother. Sash won the lawsuit, but Peters was ordered to pay only $300 in damages plus $23.02 in court costs. According to Elise Guyette’s book Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890, Samuel Peters was the brother of Sash’s wife Abigail, even though her maiden name was Richardson. Abigail and Samuel had another brother named Prince Peters, who, like Sash, enlisted for the War of Independence in Cummington. Prince Peters also appears as a black head of household in the 1800 Worthington census. 

A daughter of Moses and Abigail Sash died in 1805 at age 20. It is unclear whether the Sashes had any surviving children when Moses applied for his pension, despite his claim of having “no other family.” Marriage records do show a Huldah Sash marrying John Wright, both “people of Color,” in Hartford on December 27, 1821. Moses had an older sister by the same name.

Moses Sash’s wife, Abigail, died on May 21, 1826, in Hartford. Moses himself died May 30, 1827, also in Hartford, leaving an estate valued at $32.04. Both he and Abigail are buried in the “Ancient Burying Ground” of Hartford’s Center Cemetery.

Death notice for Moses Sash, Hartford Times, June 11, 1827. Sash was a private in the Revolutionary War, not a captain, but ironically he was referred to as a “Captain” in a notation on his indictment for participating in Shays’ Rebellion.

Death notice for Moses Sash, Connecticut Observer, June 18, 1827.

Probate inventory for Moses Sash, 1827.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Carvalho, Joseph. Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts: 1650-1865. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011. Carvalho assumes Sash was present at the Battle of Petersham on February 4, 1787, without direct evidence, while Kaplan’s 1948 article below relies on court documents to show Sash was captured on January 30. Carvalho also claims Sash was “sentenced to hang” before his pardon, but provides no citation; Kaplan says, probably correctly, that the court never pursued the indictments. Carvalho also mistakenly traces Moses Sash to Clarence, New York, after his wife’s death in 1826.

Guyette, Elise A. Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2010. This book has some information on Moses Sash’s 1820 lawsuit against Samuel Peters.

Kaplan, Sidney. “A Negro Veteran in Shays’ Rebellion.” The Journal of Negro History 33/2 (April 1948): 123-129. Kaplan researched the court documents with Sash’s indictments, and some details of his findings were apparently misconstrued and then repeated over the years. For instance, Carvalho’s book (above) and other sources claim Sash was the only African American and only laborer among those indicted in Northampton, but Kaplan’s article notes this applies only to the “packet” of 33 indictments that includes Sash.

—. “Blacks in Massachusetts and the Shays Rebellion.” Contributions in Black Studies 8 (1986): 1-10. Available free online at https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cibs/vol8/iss1/ This article is not about Sash, but addresses why some African Americans in Boston offered to help the government quell the insurgency.

Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation, website of Springfield Technical Community College: http://shaysrebellion.stcc.edu/

Calliope Film Resources. “Shays’ Rebellion.” Copyright 2002 CFR. http://www.calliope.org/shays/shays4.html

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Pat Kennedy, vice president of the Worthington Historical Society (WHS), teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. Diane Brenner, a book indexer, has lived in Worthington since 1994 and has been a longtime WHS board member and archivist. Evan Spring, jazz historian, editor, and WHS president, moved to Worthington in 1998.

Posted May 2, 2019.

2 thoughts on “Moses Sash: Black Worthingtonian of Shays’ Rebellion

  1. Eric Arthen

    Thank you for this fascinating slice of our town’s early history and insight into African American lives here at that time.

    Reply
  2. Natalie Stafford

    Pat, Diane and Evan- Thank you for writing this article. Very thought provoking and interesting.

    Reply

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