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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/


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

“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.


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