Passion for history leads to stein-hoisting competition

Lisa Saunders at Pizzetta in Mystic after winning ladies' Samuel Adams Stein-Hoisting competition on Oct. 10.
Lisa Saunders at Pizzetta in Mystic after winning ladies' Samuel Adams Stein-Hoisting competition on Oct. 10.

It was an odd contest, but perhaps because Lisa Saunders felt a historical connection to it, she tried it and actually won.

Saunders, 52, of Mystic, was having dinner in October at Pizzetta in Mystic when the restaurant was holding its Samuel Adams Stein Hoisting competition. Contestants had to hold a one-liter Samuel Adams stein filled with water, with their arm extended, for as long as they could. The winner would compete in Boston for the grand prize - a trip to Munich, Germany during Oktoberfest 2014.

Saunders won the Mystic competition. "Shock of shock, my time was even beating a lot of the men's time," she said. "Most people can't hold it for 3 minutes."

Saunders' winning time in Mystic was 5 minutes, ten seconds.

Yet it wasn't about a contest, but research she'd done and the writing that followed.

Saunders' cousin, David Sisson, was a family genealogist and found that she and others in the family were descents of Capt. Henry Gale, one of the leaders of Shay's Rebellion. Sisson told Saunders about it, and she decided to write an article for American Spirit, the magazine for Daughters of the American Revolution.

She spent six months, full time, researching other writings and old court documents to learn about the event and her ancestors role in it. Then she went further and published the booklet, "Shay's Rebellion: The Hanging of Co-leader Henry Gale."

This is what she learned: Her descendent, Gale, was among those who tried to stop the courts prosecuting farmers and fellow Revolutionary War veterans in debt in the late 1700s.

In September 1786, Gale and a few hundred others blocked the courthouse in Worcester, Mass., holding clubs and bayonets to try to stop prosecutions of farmers who couldn't pay unreasonably high taxes. The judge warned Gale and others that preventing him from holding court was the equivalent of treason.

The judicial court in Worcester later decided rebels like Gale were criminals, and he became a hunted man.

Samuel Adams backed a group of vigilantes that raided homes at night to capture the ring leaders of Shay's Rebellion.

According to Saunders, on Jan. 25, 1787, the governor of Massachusetts called militia soldiers from Boston to guard an arsenal in Springfield, where Gale and other rebels were marching to try to get weapons to defend themselves.

Gale fled during the confrontation that followed and went home, but was later arrested at a town meeting.

Most involved in Shay's Rebellion were pardoned, but Samuel Adams urged the government to make examples of traitors, and Gale was the one named to be hanged for Worcester County. On June 21, 1787, a sheriff brought him from jail to the gallows and put a noose around his neck.

Then just before he was supposed to hang, Gale learned that John Hancock, then Massachusetts governor, had offered him a reprieve.

Saunders said she found the story fascinating, and felt a personal connection to it because she descended from Gale's daughter, Betsey, born in 1791.

"I wouldn't exist if Sam Adams convinced John Hancock to have him hanged because I come from a later child," Saunders said.

After winning the Mystic hoisting competition, Saunders headed to the Sam Adams Brewery in Boston and competed against "some really strong women," she said. While she lost out on the grand prize, Saunders said she held the full-liter stein for about 3 minutes.

Similar contests were done at different locations nationwide. The top time among women was set by a female in Seattle, at 9:26.

But Saunders wasn't upset. She'd already published a book and discovered she had a small connection to a piece of history.

"I just love history," she said. " I mean, we all exist because of decisions people made ahead of us."

D.STRASZHEIM@THEDAY.COM

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