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Christian Themes in The Saint’s Mistress

Posted by on Dec 1st, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Saint Augustine of Hippo in old age

Readers sometimes ask me about the religious themes in The Saint’s Mistress.  I admit that I struggled with this aspect of the book.

I’m a Christian, but I didn’t write the book to evangelize for Christianity.  I wrote it to tell a story that I thought was interesting.

Augustine and Christianity

Of course, when you’re writing about Saint Augustine, you can’t avoid the topic of religion!  And one of the things that made me want to tell this story was that it takes place in at an interesting period in Church history, and one that is little-explored in fiction:  that turning point right after Christianity became the state religion, as the early Church established orthodoxy and battled the last vestiges of paganism, that hinge between the ancient and medieval worlds.

I took Augustine at his word in portraying his spiritual journey.  He well described in the Confessions how he was entranced first by the pagan philosophers, then by Manicheism, then by neo-Platonism, before accepting Christianity.  I portray him as a young man of enthusiasms, a passionate seeker of truth. He ultimately became the great leader he longed to be only when he attached himself to something larger than himself.  I’ll put it out there:  my position, as a Christian, is that God made use of him.  But you could also read my portrayal of him as a man who came into his own as he matured and subsumed his ego in a larger cause.  Again, I was not trying to evangelize.  I was trying to portray my character in a way that was true to my understanding of him.

My writing and Christianity

I could take Leona in any direction I wanted, since she left no record of herself.  And, as with Augustine, I tried to write her true to how I imagined her.

Inevitably, though, my Christian bias probably comes through, and I don’t apologize for that.  One of the things I’m interested in doing in my writing is to explore questions of faith.  Plenty of books portray Christianity in a cynical light.  And plenty of Christian fiction portrays Christianity completely uncritically:  Jesus fixes everything, The End. I plan a future post on my objections to Christian fiction.  What I try to do is write from the questions, not from either cynical or uncritical answers.

See previous blog posts on why I wrote my book:

Interview with the author of The Immortal Twin

Posted by on Nov 14th, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

D. B. Woodling is the author of seven books, including historical fiction, mysteries, YA, and now her latest, The Immortal Twin, a paranormal romance about a mortal twin brother and sister adopted by vampires. (See my Amazon review here).

I like to help other authors by promoting their books, so I recently interviewed Deb over email, to learn more about her books and her writing process.

 Did you always want to be a writer? What got you interested in writing?

 At a young age, I often wrote poetry. Later, while in high school, despite the encouragement of   several English teachers to tap into my ‘talent’ for creative writing, I set my sights on a theatrical career instead. Twenty years and a thousand or so performances later, my passion for the theater waned. Soon discovering that I needed a creative outlet, my attention turned to writing. Like many writers have often confessed, this doesn’t seem to be a vocation one chooses, but rather one that chooses us.

Where do you get your ideas?

All seven of my novels began with a single opening line that came to me out of nowhere.

Describe your writing process. Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

In the beginning, I never outlined. When I began the sequel to my detective series, I found it prevented glaring errors when transitioning from the first book to the second. After that, although having fought the idea of anything so regimented in the past, I found it extremely helpful. That said, despite the best of intentions and a meticulously detailed synopsis, the ending doesn’t always follow the prescribed course, the characters often taking the story in an entirely different direction.

How long does a first draft take you to write? How many edits do you usually do before you feel your book is ready to be submitted?

The timeline varies. I work best under pressure, so I tend to procrastinate until forced to comply with a deadline, which usually constitutes a two-to-three month period. I never submit a work until I’ve dissected and examined it four to five times. I’m an obsessive perfectionist, so I never truly feel the book is perfect.

You have written several books. Which is your favorite and why?

I have a soft spot for Shannon’s Revenge: Broken Promises—a contender for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for literary fiction and recognized by The Copperfield Review, a renowned literary journal. A fictional account of the circumstances that led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the battle itself, I hope I’ve successfully captured the story as told from both sides.

Name your favorite books by other authors.

There are so many. If pressed, I’d have to say Howard’s End by E. M. Forster and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, works that dive deep into the human spirit and, to some extent, reveal something of the authors themselves. My guilty pleasures are anything written by Janet Evanovich and several titles by Stephen King, Michael Connelly, and Karin Slaughter.

One thing I wondered about The Immortal Twin is why the Toroks adopted Celeste and Nick. Can you explain that?

Guilt. Despite repercussions from the Omniscients, they could have given their parents immortality and chose not to.

Is The Turning of Nick Torok a sequel to The Immortal Twin? Will CamCat be publishing it in the future? Will there be additional books in the series?

The Immortal Twin is a revised, longer version of The Turning of Nick Torok. I am hard at work on the sequel to The Immortal Twin, with the hope it will find a home with CamCat Books later next year with a series to follow.

Tell me something that your readers would be surprised to hear about you.

During hunting season, I persuade countless deer within the safe confines of our property, enticing them with bags of corn and oats.

D B Woodling, author of The Immortal Twin

Purchase The Immortal Twin

Learn more about D B Woodling

Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress (part two)

Posted by on Nov 3rd, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Part two of a story wherein a very amateur writer who is already too busy feels compelled to write a novel about Saint Augustine and his mistress…. (Read part one HERE)

The Writing Process for The Saint’s Mistress

I had an opening scene in a pear orchard, based on an experience Augustine describes in the Confessions. Other than that, all I had was an irrational passion to tell this ghost-woman’s story.  I borrowed more books from the library, and stayed up late doing internet research.  In our crowded household, there was no quiet place to write. So, I got up at 5 a.m., was in Bruegger’s or Au Bon Pain with my laptop the minute they opened, and wrote for an hour in coffee shops before work.  Every day.  For two years. I did eventually tackle the Confessions, and had to read it twice to understand it.  My husband and I travelled to Milan, where Augustine and Leona lived for several years, and to Ostia, where his mother, Saint Monnica, died.

Then came a year of editing, rewriting, and harsh-but-loving criticism from my two beloved writing groups.  I slashed whole chapters that led nowhere, and changed confusing character names.  Hundreds of dead-weight adverbs and adjectives lost their lives.  Characters disappeared.

The Search for a Publisher for The Saint’s Mistress

And that was easy compared to the five years that it took to find an agent or publisher. 

Try being a first-time novelist with zero contacts, trying to sell a novel in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and while the publishing industry is in the process of the biggest transformation since the printing press.  Or, on second thought, don’t try it.  It isn’t fun.

The Saint’s Mistress was finally accepted by a very small publisher, SynergeBooks. It came out in 2014 as an e-book, and then in print in 2016. When your publisher is small, you do most of your own marketing, similar to self-publishing. I bought Goodreads ads, and offered author talks at local libraries. I ended up making a little money on the book, but not much. In 2019, Synerge was bought by CamCat, larger publisher with more resources. They asked me to revise my first chapter, gave the book a re-edit and a new cover, and re-released it in September 2020. The staff and other authors at CamCat have been helpful and generous, and I’m very excited about the re-release.

Worth It?

My book project has certainly been a long journey, and a hard, discouraging one at times. But, overall, I have loved it.  With every page I wrote, both Saint Augustine, whom the world knows, and Leona, a mere ghost, felt more real to me.  Sometimes I forgot that I was making it all up, and felt like I was telling the story the way I knew, absolutely knew somehow, that it had really happened.  I loved them.  I still do. A trail of books led me to them, and I hope that my own finished book accurately expresses their time, their love and their spirits.

The John Frew House

Posted by on Oct 13th, 2020 in Blog | 2 comments

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

Posted by on Sep 28th, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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)

Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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)

Posted by on Aug 21st, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

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)

David Bradford, Whiskey Rebellion Leader

Posted by on Jul 27th, 2020 in Blog | 1 comment

David Bradford, Whiskey Rebellion Leader
David Bradford

In rural Pennsylvania, resistance to high taxes and heavy-handed government drives political partisanship and mistrust of elites in the big cities.  A description of early 21st-century politics?  Well, yes, but it’s a description that has a long history in our state.  I’m talking about the Whiskey Rebellion.

I promise that I will write a blog post on the Rebellion itself, soon. But as research the subject, I keep coming across colorful characters whose stories I feel I must tell before treating the Rebellion as a whole.  My subject today is David Bradford: lawyer, big-time land-owner, conspirator, Revolutionary War general under Washington, and friend of the Marquis de Lafayette.  Yes, another one.  I’m starting to think there was hardly a landed gentleman anywhere in Pennsylvania who didn’t know the (apparently super-friendly) Marquis. 

David Bradford comes to Western Pennsylvania

For decades, the colonies/states of Pennsylvania and Virginia had disputed their borders in the west. Finally, in 1781, Mason and Dixon drew their famous survey line in favor of Pennsylvania.  That same year, David Bradford arrived in Washington County.  Bradford was born in Elizabethtown, NJ, and raised in Maryland, but he had family connections in southwestern Pennsylvania.  His family were founders of the academy that later became Washington & Jefferson College, and his sisters married prominent local attorneys.  Bradford gained admittance to the bar and, by 1783, became Deputy Attorney General for Washington County.

He served in both the Pennsylvania and Virginia General Assemblies, by virtue of being a landowner in both states, In 1788, he married Elizabeth Porter and that same year built one of the first stone houses west of the Allegheny Mountains.  More about the house later.  Interestingly, he bought four slaves in 1789, but freed them in 1793.  More about Bradford and slavery later, too.

The Whiskey Rebellion

Call me crazy, but, so far, Bradford’s life story sounds to me like he was a guy who would definitely not be rocking any boats – let alone escaping in one. He doesn’t sound like someone who would lead a rebellion and become a fugitive from justice. 

But David Bradford was an independent thinker.  In the early 1790’s, he increasingly disapproved of the centralized-government approach of Washington, Hamilton and the other Federalists.  Of particular concern in southwestern Pennsylvania was the excise tax on whiskey.  Congress approved the tax on March 3, 1791, and by 1794 several Pennsylvania counties were in full-blown rebellion. 

Bradford whole-heartedly agreed with the rebellion and assumed leadership of the insurrection in Washington County.  In early August of 1794, he led a militia of 5-7000 men on a march to Pittsburgh to protest the tax. 

That had President Washington gnashing his wooden teeth.  Washington ordered a federal militia to the west to put down the rebellion, and led the troops himself as far as Bedford, PA. 

Whiskey Rebellion: These guys make our 21st-century militias look like kittycats

Bradford’s escape

Legend has it that Bradford escaped out a back window of his house mere minutes before Alexander Hamilton knocked at his door to arrest him.  He galloped by horse to McKees Rocks, where he set off down the Ohio River by boat, firing shots at his federal pursuers on the shore.

The real story is both more boring and more interesting.  Bradford made his way rather leisurely to Pittsburgh on the advice of friends,. He sailed down the Ohio from there, completely unmolested by federal troops, who apparently had no interest in inflaming the situation by arresting a prominent local attorney and former member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. 

Bradford’s departure may not even have been motivated by imminent arrest.  Around the same time as the rebellion, Bradford had argued a case that an enslaved Washington man ought to be freed because his owner had failed to properly register him.  He won the case and the embittered slave-owner threatened him with death. 

Regardless of his motivations, Bradford escaped the justice of the young U.S. government by re-settling in Spanish Louisiana.  In 1797, he completed construction of a new home, which he originally named Laurel Grove and is now called The Myrtles Plantation. It is reputed to be haunted; if you’re interested in that sort of thing, read more HERE.  Once the house was completed, he brought his wife and their five children from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, where he and Elizabeth had five more children. 

Bradford’s later life

Elizabeth Bradford repeatedly petitioned George Washington to pardon her husband. But Bradford remained a fugitive from justice until 1799, when President John Adams issued a pardon.  Meanwhile, though, Bradfod prospered in Spanish Louisiana.  By the time he died of yellow fever in 1807, he owned 1050 acres in Louisiana, 3155 in Pennsylvania, 4282 in Virginia, 2000 in Kentucky and 9000 in Ohio.  Apparently, a little boat-rocking doesn’t do much damage to land-rich lawyers!

In the early 1800s, Bradford sold the stone house on Main Street in Washington, PA, but it still stands. After stints as a general store, a furniture store and home to the 19th-century American Realist novelist Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis, the house was beautifully restored in the 1960s and named an historic landmark.

The David Bradford House: a Whiskey Rebellion site

Al and I had a delightful time touring the house and gardens last week.  The log cabin in back of the house is not the original log cabin where Bradford conducted his law business, but it is an 18th-century Washington log cabin moved from elsewhere.  Our tour guide, Laney Seirsdale, was friendly, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable, and shared with us many tidbits of information about Bradford, the house, and life in late-18th-century Pennsylvania.  And the tour cost only $5!  Afterward, we had a very nice lunch at a bakery/café down the street Chicco Ballacco.  I’m become kind of a connoisseur of iced chai lattes during this overheated summer, and theirs is among the best. 

The Bradford House is located at 175 S. Main St., Washington, PA.

Stay tuned for my post on the Whiskey Rebellion. It’s coming, I promise! Meantime, in case you missed it, here’s a link to my previous post on Albert Gallatin.

Sources

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

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)

Albert Gallatin

Posted by on Jul 16th, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Albert Gallatin

“Immigrants: they get the job done”

These two guys had a lot in common, but they would soon be enemies

He was an orphaned immigrant who made good in the young United States, becoming Secretary of the Treasury and founding a bank.  He was an early abolitionist, an advisor to George Washington, and a friend of the Marquis de LaFayette.  No, I’m not talking about the toast of 21st-century Broadway, Alexander Hamilton.  I’m talking about Albert Gallatin.

Gallatin’s career included three terms in the U.S. Congress and 13 years as Treasury secretary under both Jefferson and Madison. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent and served as minister to both France and England.  Yet – similar to Hamilton before the Chernow biography and the hit Broadway musical – Gallatin doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.  A quick Amazon search for books about Gallatin gave me 26 results, a more respectable number than I expected.  A search for books about Hamilton gave me 100 results before I stopped scrolling. That’s counting coloring books, children’s books and books about his wife, Eliza Schuyler, and her sisters, but not counting wall calendars, sketch books, blank books and something called 499 Facts About Hip Hop Hamilton.

Yeah, this is a real book

Like pre-Chernow Hamilton, Gallatin deserves to be more famous than he is.

Gallatin’s early life

Abraham Alphonse Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 29, 1761.  By 1770, his parents had died, but they left a substantial estate and a relative made sure that Albert received an excellent education.  At age 18, Albert set off for the New World with a friend and business partner, Henri Serre.  The two young men had the notion of setting themselves up in business in Boston, but their inability to speak English was an impediment. 

After a business failure and a stint as a French tutor at Harvard, Gallatin and a new partner, Jean Savary, headed to the western frontier as surveyors.  Young Albert fell in love with the Monongahela Valley in southwestern Pennsylvania, and, when he received his inheritance in 1786, he bought 370-3/4 acres in present-day Fayette County, which he named Friendship Hill. 

Gallatin’s dream was to establish an industrial community on the banks of the Monongahela River, similar to what he remembered of his birthplace, Geneva.  He purchased 650 acres along the river, about a mile from his estate. There, he established a glass works, a gun factory, a distillery, a saw mill and a grist mill in the town that he named New Geneva. 

New Geneva in the 1790s. The river at left is the Monongahela. The stream with the covered bridge is George’s Creek.

Hamilton again…

But politics soon distracted Gallatin from New Geneva.  He was selected as a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1790, and was subsequently elected to the state legislature.  By 1793, he was elected by the legislature to the United States Senate – where he and Hamilton became instant enemies. 

Gallatin objected to Treasury Secretary Hamilton’s financial plans for the United States, such as the plan to federalize the states’ Revolutionary War debts.  He became such a thorn in the side of Hamilton’s Federalist Party that the Federalists raised an objection to Gallatin’s election as Senator, because he had only been a citizen for 8 years. The Constitution required 9 years.  In a vote along partisan lines, Gallatin was expelled from the Senate. 

But Albert Gallatin’s political career was far from over.  Storms were brewing on the western frontier, and Gallatin would be a key figure in the coming crisis. 

Watch for my next post on the Whiskey Rebellion, coming soon!

Sources

Murray, Meridith A. To Live and Die Amongst the Monongahela Hills: the Story of Albet Gallatin and Friendship Hill. Eastern National, 1991.

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType