The John Frew House

An 1883 depiction of the Frew House

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is the unexpected connections that I make. One of my Irish dancing friends – who didn’t know that I blog  – accidentally came across my recent post about pre-1800 buildings in Pittsburgh. As she read, she was excited to realize that, not only did she know the author, but she knew the owners of one of the houses. She asked if I’d like to see the inside of the John Frew House. Would I ever!

Mona and I spent a delightful morning touring the house and learning a little about its history from the current owners, David Majka and Connie Eads. The view from the street is deceptive. The house sits almost directly on the street and the front, with its two distinct wings and added-on garage, isn’t especially graceful. But step inside, or walk into the back yard, and you are in a different world.

First, a little history

The springhouse and the original three-story section of the Frew House were built in 1790 of locally-quarried cut sandstone. The Greek Revival addition was added in 1840. John Frew originally owned ninety-four acres between present-day Crafton Boulevard and Noblestown Road, on a Revolutionary War land claim. Frew planted an orchard on the property, and built a cider mill directly across the street from where his house still stands. Their barn stood on the present-day site of the Poplar Apartments.

John Frew and his wife had nine children. Over the course of the nineteenth century successive Frews, Sterretts and Chesses owned, subdivided and lived on the original Frew farm. After 1900, the house was rented and fell into disrepair. The farm was subdivided one last time in 1941, leaving the poor, dilapidated house on a mere eight-tenths of an acre.

The house was in pretty sad condition by the time this photo was taken around 1935

In the 1940s, Robert Goron, a horticulturist at the Phipps Conservatory, and his friend, Clifford McFall, bought the Frew house and spent the next decades restoring the house and gardens. It deteriorated again towards the end of Mr. Goron’s life, and was greatly in need of love when Dave and Connie bought it in 1996.

Our tour of the Frew House

We entered the house on the bottom floor of the 1790 section. The cozy room features a large stone fireplace and original ceiling beams of pit-sawn white oak.

The magnificent original fireplace in the bottom floor of the 1790 wing

Ascending a set of steep, narrow stairs, we found ourselves in the living room which is dominated by Connie’s grand piano and by mid-nineteenth-century paintings of a riverboat captain and his wife, painted by David Gilmour Blythe. David Majka has a fascination with Blythe and has published a collection of his poetry and other writings.

The Blythe paintings

Other than the sleek 1990s kitchen and two enviable bathrooms, Dave and Connie have lovingly decorated the house in nineteenth-century style, and have made every effort to maintain the integrity of their home. Old family photos and early-era paintings and photographs of the house hang on the walls. Early nineteenth century tiles decorate a bedroom fireplace. The original wood-plank flooring has been refinished. Original iron latches adorn the outside shutters. Even the windows sashes are original six-over-sixes. All of the seven fireplaces except one still work. Closets and cupboards are ingeniously built into walls and between dormers, so that they are completely unobtrusive. Dave and Connie installed floor and ceiling heating and air conditioning, so that the walls remain undisturbed by ductwork.

The 19th-century tiles surrounding the bedroom fireplace depict Bible scenes.

Oh, and the yard!

After touring the house, the owners showed us the .8-acre grounds. You’d never guess that their house stands within the Pittsburgh city limits, a mere ten-minute drive from downtown. Their boundaries are wooded, so the back yard feels very secluded, with a porch and large lawn.

We also saw Robert Goron’s legacy in the back yard. He had planted several geometric exhibition gardens on the property. Dave and Connie have let most of them go fallow, but the structures survive. The property also boasts a large, mysterious pool, now empty. Dave and Connie aren’t sure what its original purpose was. They don’t think it was a swimming pool, because it lacks a drain. But it still has all the plumbing for a fountain and a waterfall, so they think it was just a beautiful water feature at one time.

The lovely wooded yard, showing part of the mysterious pool.

I so enjoyed seeing this beautifully maintained piece of Pittsburgh history. Think of all the lives lived there! The sharp, fruity smell of cooking cider. Sledding on the hills of Greentree during crisp Pittsburgh winters. Backyard parties beside the fountain on summer nights in the 1950s. When we preserve old places, we also preserve the memory of Pittsburghers who lived, loved, worked, laughed and cried before us.

Restoring a 200-year–old house is all fun and games until you have to scrape off 7 layers of wallpaper!


Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress

The new cover. The original cover was different.

Six years later…

SynergEbooks, a very small publisher, published my first novel in in 2014 as an e-book. The publication and marketing journey was rough and winding, with many twists and turns. I had lots of fun giving author talks in various local libraries, and meeting with reading groups who had selected my novel. In 2016, the book came out in print, and, last year, CamCat publishing bought SynergE. CamCat is re-releasing The Saint’s Mistress later this month with a new cover, improved editing, and some nice art work.

As part of the marketing effort for the re-release, I’m re-blogging some posts from 2014-15. I’ll develop some new material, too. Here’s Part One of a two-part post, describing how I wrote the book. These posts became the basis for my author talks at libraries.

How I got the idea for my first novel

I came to write The Saint’s Mistress via a trail of books.

At the library one April night in 2006, a book called The Well-Educated Mind caught my eye.  The Well-Educated Mind recommended Saint Augustine’s Confessions as the first example of a modern autobiography.  That intrigued me, but I was a little daunted by the prospect of a book written in the 5th century by an early Father of the Church.

A few months later, again at the library, I noticed a short biography of Augustine by Garry Wills.  I remembered my interest in the Confessions and thought this short, modern book might be a way to ease myself into Augustine.  In the Wills book, I first discovered Leona – or, more accurately, the faint, ancient scent of her.

Wills wrote a little of Augustine’s beloved, whom he mentions briefly, but never names, in his Confessions.  I learned that this unnamed woman had been Augustine’s mistress of many years, and that they had had a child together who died as a young man.  Wow, I thought, what must her life have been like?  Then:  Hmmmm, what WOULD it have been like?  And so a flame was lit.

So many reasons NOT to write this book…

The wonderful thing about Leona is that history knows nothing about her, other than what little I learned from Wills.  She was Augustine’s mistress.  They are believed to have met in Carthage.  They had a son.  The son died.  After that, history is absolutely silent.  I could make up anything I wanted, including her name.  My only constraints were the historically established facts of Augustine’s life and 4th-5th century Christianity.

I was an amateur, sporadically published, writer of short stories, travel articles and essays.  I had finished one novel that I wasn’t quite satisfied with and had no idea how to submit for publication anyway.  And I had no experience with historical research.  My life also included a demanding full-time job, a husband, a son in college, and a daughter and baby grandson who had just moved back in with us.  So, of course, I had to write this book….TO BE CONTINUED

Here are some images from some of my author talks and book festivals. One of the best parts of being an author is meeting other people who love books!


Whiskey Rebellion (part two)

The Whiskey Rebellion Flag

In my previous post on the Whiskey Rebellion, we left the Rebels gathering near John Neville‘s stately home, Bower Hill, intending to tar and feather the U.S. marshal they believed was staying there, and possibly to do harm to Neville himself . . .

The Burning of Bower Hill

Neville didn’t get to own 10,000 acres of prime frontier real estate by being a fool.  He knew the rebels would be back.  But by the time they returned the next day, July 17, Neville was still defending his house with the help of only his slaves (wonder how they felt about that?) and a small detachment of federal troops led by Abraham Kirkpatrick, another veteran of the Revolution, who also happened to be Neville’s brother-in-law.

Captain McFarlane was killed in the brief ensuing gun battle, and became a martyr to the rebel cause.  He was given a hero’s funeral and is buried at Mingo Creek Cemetery, near Finleyville, PA. 

Neville escaped his house before it was breached by the approaching rebel militia, and hid in the nearby woods.  Kirkpatrick was taken prisoner but later released.  History is silent on what became of the enslaved people who had been conscripted to defend their master. 

Bower Hill was burned to the ground. 

David Bradford and the U.S. Mail

It took only a day for word of the uprising to reach David Bradford in Washington, PA.  Bradford was a militant Washington whiskey rebel (see my previous blog post on Bradford), and saw the fighting at Bower Hill as the signal for a larger battle.  By July 18, he had gathered Washington County rebels at Mingo Creek Meeting House near present-day Finleyville.  There, they made plans to intercept the mail between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, to determine who was a friend to the rebellion, versus who might betray them. They also began planning a march on Pittsburgh. 

Bradford’s men accomplished the mail theft on July 26.  Bradford, a former assemblyman of both Virginia and Pennsylvania, was now a federal criminal. And the rebels’ fears were confirmed.  Among the stolen mail were letters from several prominent Pittsburghers urging that the rebellion be put down forcefully. 

And Bradford wasn’t the only person who was galvanized to action by the burning of Bower Hill.  The Whiskey Rebellion now had the full attention of President George Washington. 

A Small Segue:  Pittsburgh in 1794

Pittsburgh 10 years after the Whiskey Rebellion
Pittsburgh in 1804

While Bradford, Washington and our old friend Hamilton wait in the wings, let’s pause and consider the position of the growing city of Pittsburgh at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. 

Pittsburgh’s population in 1794 was only about 376.  The city consisted of about 200 buildings of brick, frame and log, and a warren of muddy, unpaved streets, stretching from the Point only as far as present-day Grant Street.

But this modest town was what passed for The Big City on the 18th-century frontier.  By 1794, the city boasted a post office, a newspaper (The Pittsburgh Gazette), at least one iron furnace, and several smithies and boat works.  Already, the air was smoky and dusty from the coal burnt in homes and new small manufactories.  The rivers swarmed with commerce.

And commerce makes money.  Money makes gentlemen.  And gentlemen usually like to maintain the status quo. 

To the whiskey rebels, ramshackle little Pittsburgh was the seat of the moneyed elites who kept them from making a decent living. 

Men like Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founder of The Pittsburgh Gazette and prominent Pittsburgh citizen, sympathized with the Whiskey Rebellion.  He called it “a stand of the democratic, poverty-ridden West against the encroachments of the aristocratic Money Bags of the East, a people who feel themselves taxed in order to fasten the yoke of Plutocrats about their necks.”  But Brackenridge was also a businessman and business thrives on law-abiding order.  Doubtless, most Pittsburghers felt the same, even in the working class.  Their city was prosperous and growing and the future looked bright. 

Now an angry mob of rye farmers with guns threatened that.

Meanwhile in Braddock…

Braddocks Field a key site in the Whiskey Rebellion
Stereopticon image of Braddock’s Field as it looked about 100 years after the Whiskey Rebellion

Bradford had mustered as many as 7000 rebels at Braddock’s field, intending to march on Pittsburgh and burn it.  Brackenridge, playing both sides, urged them to merely march through the city as a show of force.  Meantime, he had also advised the Pittsburghers to welcome the rebels, and offer them food and drink. 

It worked.  Bradford and his militia completed their march, enjoyed the hospitality of the young city and left it unharmed. 

The Whiskey Rebellion falls apart

On August 14, 1794, Brackenridge and Albert Gallatin met with the rebels again at Parkinson’s Ferry in Monongahela, PA, and convinced them to allow time for negotiation with the federal government.  Brackenridge and Gallatin must have been persuasive, because Braford and his men stood down – for a while. 

But negotiations failed.  The federals were willing to reduce the tax further, but would not guarantee amnesty to the rebels.  On September 19, President Washington personally led a 13,000-man army out of Philadelphia, on their way to the west to crush the rebellion. 

George Washington on his way to crush the Whiskey Rebellion 1794
Washington personally led 13,000 federal troops west to crush the Whiskey Rebellion

Washington turned back at Bedford, PA, leaving his army in the hands of Hamilton and “Light Horse Harry” Lee.  Hamilton and Lee continued west, arriving in Washington County on October 24. 

Anyone smart enough to survive on the frontier is also smart enough to know that a rabble of 7000 farmers doesn’t stand much of a chance against 13,000 trained federal troops. 

David Bradford escaped down the Ohio River, eventually resettling in Spanish Louisiana (see my previous blog post on Bradford).  An estimated 2000 of the rebels left western Pennsylvania for parts further west, primarily Kentucky.  Most of the rest laid low. 

On November 19, Hamilton and Lee arrested and imprisoned about 150 rebels on a cold, sleety night known as “The Dreadful Night.”  In the end, they released most of the prisoners, transporting only twenty of them to Philadelphia for trial.  All were ultimately pardoned.

By 1799, even Bradford, the leader of the 7000-man militia, had been pardoned.  And on April 6, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson repealed the whiskey tax.  Turns out it was hard to enforce. 

but it lives on

The new U.S. federal government had prevailed in the first test of its sovereignty.  But Pennsylvania became, and still is, a microcosm of one of the most stubborn fault lines in American politics: rural, working-class, anti-taxers who mistrust the distant federal government versus elites in the big cities who favor big business and big government and tend to be the ones making the rules.  The little guys suspect that the elites are looking down on them and making rules to favor themselves.  Our nation’s two-party system owes its existence to the internal conflicts exposed by a few thousand struggling farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania who didn’t want to pay their taxes. 

Sources

Bradford House Historical Association; The Bradford House: A National Historic Landmark; Washington, PA; 2015

Lorant, Stefan; Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City; Lenox, MA, Authors Edition, Inc.; Fourth Edition, 1988

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion

http://www.maptherebellion.com/neatline/show/the-whiskey-rebellion#records/10

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bradford_(lawyer)


Whiskey Rebellion (or: Why Hamilton’s portrait is hung upside-down in Washington, PA)

This is how Alexander Hamilton was viewed by the Whiskey Rebels. His portrait is still hung upside down at Liberty Pole Distillery in Washington, PA.

Some of us who live in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia jokingly call the rest of our state “Pennsylbama,” referring to the rural nature of northern and central Pennsylvania and to the anti-government, anti-tax political sentiments of the area’s residents.  But most of us aren’t aware that the roots of those sentiments go all the way back to the first major challenge to the sovereignty of the young United States.  That challenge was the Whiskey Rebellion, and it took place right here in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Hamilton – AGAIN

Anyone who’s seen the musical “Hamilton” or read the excellent Ron Chernow biography on which it is based, knows that the first Secretary of the Treasury advocated federalizing the finances of the young nation.  He fought for a national bank.  He wanted the federal government to take over state debts resulting from the Revolution.  But how to raise the revenue to pay off that debt? 

Hamilton proposed a tax on whiskey, and Congress enacted it in 1791. You can see why they thought it would be a good idea.  They believed that the tax would fall on a small minority of citizens.  And sin taxes are common sources of revenue.  Since sin is pretty consistent, they also tend to be very reliable sources of revenue.

What Hamilton failed to consider was that, on the western frontier, fully one man in five was running a whiskey still. 

“Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky; Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to tax our whiskey

A broadside protesting the tax

The reaction to the tax was intense.  Western Pennsylvania was the frontier in 1791, a virtual wilderness.  It was expensive for area farmers to transport their grain to the east for sale.  But whiskey was both easier to transport and more profitable.  The rye that they grew sold for 40 cents a bushel.  A packhorse could carry four bushels east, earning the farmer on $1.60.  But the same pack horse could carry twelve bushels if they had been turned into eight gallons of whiskey – which sold for $1 a gallon.  Eight dollars versus $1.60. Even 18th-century farmers could do math. 

Also, currency was in short supply on the western frontier.  Deer hides and whiskey were used for barter just like cash. One farmer put it this way:  He never saw more than $10 cash in a year, spent mostly on “salt, nails and the like; nothing to wear, eat or drink was purchased, as my farm provided all.” So, to many small farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania, the whiskey tax amounted to an illegal income tax.

Perhaps worst of all, the tax seemed intended to favor large distillers over small ones.  The sales of large distillers were easier to measure, so they were taxed on what they actually sold.  The little guys were taxed on the size of their stills, which may or may not correspond to what they actually produced and sold. Small distillers who couldn’t afford to post a tax bond also had to pay their tax up front, and they had a harder time passing the cost of the tax on to customers.

The Whiskey Rebellion begins

The tax act passed in the U.S. Congress on March 3, 1791.  It took a while for the news to make its way west and for the guys with stills in their backyards to reach the conclusion that Secretary Hamilton was trying to put them out of business in favor of rich, smart guys like himself.  Angry small distillers from all four southwestern counties – Allegheny, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland – met on July 27, 1791 at an old French & Indian War fort in Connellsville.  They agreed that rebel groups would be formed in each county, meeting in the county seat to plan resistance measures.

The Allegheny County rebels met for a three-day brainstorming session at the Whale and the Monkey Tavern (later renamed the Sign of the Green Tree) in Pittsburgh, between September 6 and 8, 1791.  The tax rebels signed a formal petition that went both to the U.S. Congress and the Pennsylvania state legislature. 

Their petition was actually successful. . .sort of.  Congress reduced the tax by one cent. 

Let’s just say that the westerners were less than satisfied.

Tar, Feathers and Haircuts

Whiskey Rebellion in action

The rebels issued a decree that said, in part, that any person “who had accepted or might accept an Office under Congress in order to carry (the tax) into effect, should be considered as inimical to the interests of the Country; and recommending to the Citizens of Washington County to treat every person who had accepted or might thereafter accept any such office with contempt, and absolutely to refuse all kind of communication or intercourse with the Officers, and to withhold from them all aid, support or Comfort.”

It was open season on excise tax collectors for the next two years.  A farmer, hunter and small distiller named Daniel Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) was a ringleader of the violence.  Hamilton had a reputation as a bully. His gang attacked tax collectors – and anyone who helped them – in all four counties.  Their first victim was Robert Johnson.  The mob cut his hair, then tarred and feathered him.  When John Conor tried to serve warrants on Hamilton and his men for the attack, they whipped, tarred and feathered him.  Then they blindfolded him and tied him up in the woods.  Thorough men, they also didn’t forget to rob him of his horse and his money. 

Many similar attacks took place over the next two years.  The rebels took vengeance on anyone who paid their tax. A man who complied with the tax law was likely to have his barn burned or his still damaged.  Men were also attacked merely for renting offices to the tax collectors.  Tarring and feathering, destruction of property and whippings were meted out so diligently that the federal government soon had a hard time finding anyone to take the job of tax collector.

Oliver Miller and John Neville

Oliver Miller homestead, near where U.S. marshal tried to serve a write on William Miller. This stone house was built in 1830 replacing the log structure that was on the site in 1794. The Homestead is named for the original Oliver Miller, William’s father, not his nephew who was injured in the Whiskey Rebellion.

One gentleman who was not afraid to enforce the tax was John Neville, a wealthy landowner (and slaveholder) in present-day Scott Township and Bridgeville.  Neville had a large distilling operation and it was in his economic self-interest to see the small distillers put out of business by the tax.  (See a little more about Neville in this previous post)

On July 15, 1794, Neville brought U.S. Marshal David Lenox to the property of William Miller. Their purpose was to serve a writ on Miller, fining him $250 for operating an unregistered whiskey still.  Miller was required to appear in court in Philadelphia.  For a frontier farmer, the travel was almost as great a hardship as the $250 fine.  William, who had already sold off part of his farm and was planning to move to Kentucky, refused to accept the writ.  Other nearby farmers heard the argument and fired shots at Neville and Lenox, forcing them to depart. 

The next day, William Miller and 30-40 other farmers marched on Neville’s home, Bower Hill.  Their goal was to capture Lenox, the U.S. Marshal, who they believed was at Bower Hill with Neville.  Oliver Miller, a relative of William’s, was wounded in the skirmish that followed.  The rebels retreated to another old fort, Couch’s Fort (near present-day South Hills Village) to gather reinforcements.  By the next day, more than 500 men had gathered.  They were led by a Revolutionary War veteran, Captain James McFarlane.  And they were mad.

Park Two of the Whiskey Rebellion coming soon!

Sources

Bradford House Historical Association; The Bradford House: A National Historic Landmark; Washington, PA; 2015

Lorant, Stefan; Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City; Lenox, MA, Authors Edition, Inc.; Fourth Edition, 1988

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion

http://www.maptherebellion.com/neatline/show/the-whiskey-rebellion#records/10

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bradford_(lawyer)


Are You a Writer?

Check out my post on da AL’s blog: https://happinessbetweentails.com/2020/08/12/whats-a-writer-plus-kathryn-bashaars-review-of-grace/


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