The Whiskey Insurrection
The Whisky Insurrection was confined almost entirely to four counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, viz.: Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington and Fayette. Of these four, Westmoreland county was the least concerned. The trouble was due to the method adopted, mainly by the National Government, of raising money by taxation. This tax was known in the popular language of that days as an excise tax, a term extremely opprobrious to the English speak-in- people of all ages. These people were not opposed to paving tax, if levied, for example, on landed property, for then it was at least supposed to be based on the valuation of the land. Nor did they seriously object to a tariff, which is primarily a duty collected on all articles brought into this country from abroad. But an excise tax is one levied on home manufactures, and collected either when the material is produced, or when it is first offered for sale. If fairly collected, its very nature demands that the government imposing and collecting it shall take charge, to a very great extent, of the labor and the raw material which produces the commodity to be taxed. Because of this necessary supervision on the part of the government, the excise tax had for ages been obnoxious in Great Britain. In Scotland the inherent hatred, of excise duties had become proverbial before the days of Robert Burns, for in his age, among the peasantry, the killing of an excise tax-collector was considered almost, if not entirely a virtue. This was largely clue to the necessary supervision which the collector imposed on the private affairs of the individual.
The predominating nationality among the pioneers of these four counties was Scotch-Irish. But whether they were Scotch-Irish, English, Scotch or Irish, they brought here a deep-rooted hatred for the excise system of the English government. These four counties, as we have seen, were moreover well adapted to the product of grain, and could in that day of limited market, produce but little else that was salable to any extent. Of course, we have spoken of the skin and fur trade, but that was necessarily the business of but few of the early pioneers. and could not be followed by our people generally. There seemed to be an injustice in the excise tax on liquor for the reason that the tax was based on the quantity of goods, and not on their value. Our owners of poor lands of today could with reason object to a system of taxation if the same amount of tax was levied on every acre of land in the state. Land in our mountains may be assessed at one dollar per acre, and lands near our cities at a thousand dollars per acre, and the tax based on these valuations may be perfectly equitable. Our pioneers imagined that the very opposite of this equitable adjustment was brought about by the excise tax on distilled spirits. To illustrate their view of the situation: Whisky in any of these four counties could be purchased in any desirable quantities at from twenty to twenty-five cents per gallon, and an excise tax of seven cents per gallon was a little more than one-fourth of its value. But this same whisky, if transported to Philadelphia, or if a liquor of equal grade was produced near there, would readily sell for fifty or sixty cents per gallon, and the excise duty of seven cents per gallon was therefore less than one-eighth of its value. So they theorized and reasoned that if a farmer in Westmoreland county raised a hundred dollars' worth of rye and made it into whisky, he paid twenty-five dollars tax on it, but if he lived near Philadelphia, and by the same labor produced the same amount of rye, he paid but twelve dollars. Those who framed the law had in view, of course, the greater value of the lend in the east than in the west. Nevertheless the apparent injustice was very patent to those who, while they could not understand fine theories of economics, could see the difference between giving the government the one-fourth of their grain product in Washington county, and only the one-eighth of it in another section.
An excise law in Pennsylvania had been passed by the legislature in 1772, but had never been carried cut, particularly in the western section, largely because there were but few products here to tax. But the state still owed considerable money on the Revolutionary war debt, which had been appropriated but never paid. This law of 1772 was greatly opposed by the counties west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was complied with in a measure by the eastern counties, who rightfully complained violently of the growing injustice of forcing them and not the western counties to pay the excise tax. It was therefore concluded in '785 to pay the Revolutionary debt by an enforcement of the excise law of 1772. This, they reasoned, was such a debt that the patriotic men of the west, who had done so much for the cause of freedom, would gladly help to pay regardless of the mode of taxation. So in June, 1785. an excise collector named Graham was sent out to enforce the obnoxious law. He net with much opposition by all our people, but succeeded in collecting some money in Fayette county, and perhaps a few small amounts in Westmoreland county. When ready to begin on our county he came to Greensburg and put up at a hotel. About midnight he was awakened and called to his door by a man of gigantic proportions, in complete disguise, who told Graham that his name was Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils, and that a number of his smaller devils were outside waiting for him, and that it was his pleasant duty to hand him over to them. After much trouble, with the assistance of the landlord, the collector managed to escape the mob. He had a man arrested whom he thought to be the pretended Beelzebub, but on a trial the defendant proved an alibi, and was discharged. So he left Greensburg and went over to Washington county, where he received still rougher treatment. The Washington mob took his pistols and broke them to pieces before his eyes. They also took his commission and all of his papers, and threw them in a very muddy part of the street, and then compelled the collector to walk back and forth over them and tramp them out of sight in the mud. Then they shaved one side of his head, fixed his hat up so that it looked ridiculous, and compelled him to wear it wrong end foremost, for the cocked hats of those days were made with a well-defined front to them. They also shaved his horse's tail, and then put him astride of the animal and started him toward the Westmoreland county line, with instructions that he should not stop until he passed from Washington county. A committee of the mob went with him and made him "halt" at every still house, where they compelled him to drink a sample of their product. When he reached the county line he was passed over to Westmoreland, and threatened with treatment compared with which his present treatment was mild, should he ever return. So the west would not pay the excise tax on whisky, and rather than engage in an open war the legislature repealed the law. But in 1791, Congress passed a law laying four pence (about eight cents) per gallon on all distilled spirits. These four counties with which we are dealing, had two members in congress. They were Smiley, from Fayette county, and William Findley, from Westmoreland. They opposed its passage all they could, but it was nevertheless passed. In opposing it they undoubtedly expressed the almost unanimous sentiments of their constituents. Findley, at least, was a man of fine ability. Albert Gallatin, undoubtedly one of the greatest men of the nation, was then a citizen of Fayette county, and opposed it with all his power.
But when they came to appoint a collector, for once no one wanted the appointment. The government also, on March 3rd, 1791, modified the tax and the general provisions of the law, to take effect, however, only in 1794.
In the meantime the four western counties were united in their opposition to the law or its execution, and were boastful of the victory they had achieved over the state government. They were now emboldened by their success to resist the national authority as well.
The state was divided into districts for the purpose of collecting this excise tax on liquor, and an inspector was appointed for each district, or "survey," as they were denominated in the act. By the terms of the law each distiller was to furnish the inspector nearest his works a full description of his establishment, which was at any time to be open to a visit and a searching examination on the part of the inspector. This does not seem unreasonable to us now, but it appeared to raise the wrath of the pioneer to its highest pitch. A public meeting to oppose the law was accordingly called at Redstone (now Brownsville) for July 27th, 1791. and all of the four counties were to be represented by delegates. The meeting was held on the day appointed, with a very general attendance of delegates. They recommended county meetings in the county seats of the counties of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and Washington. The Washington county meeting was the most hostile. They resolved in a published resolution, that any one who accepted an office under Congress, and who tried by virtue of the office to execute the provisions of the excise law, should be regarded as an enemy to his country. They advised the people to treat all officers with scorn and contempt, and to refuse to associate with them. A meeting of delegates was held in Pittsburgh, on September 7, 1791, which also passed resolutions against the law.
The government finally appointed Benjamin Wells. of Fayette county, as the excise collector for Fayette and Westmoreland counties, and Robert Johnson, of Allegheny county, for Washington and Allegheny counties. Wells was not a man of high character by any means, and could not have been chosen to any office by those who knew him. Johnson was a good man, of honest intentions, though not a man of great force. Wells opened an office at his own house near Connellsville, on the south side of the Youghiogheny river. Johnson was overtaken on the road hoarse, on September 6, by a band of disguised men, who stripped him naked and gave him a complete coat of tar and feathers, then shaved his head, and, taking his horse, started him home on foot in this condition. Then came an officer to arrest the supposed offenders. He was promptly horsewhipped, tarred and feathered, and his money and horse taken from him. Then lie was blindfolded, taken to the woods, and tied to a tree where he remained for five hours, till an accidental passerby released him.
In May 1792, Congress lowered the rate of tax and permitted the distiller to take out a monthly license instead of a yearly one, but the penalty for not complying with the law was raised from one hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars. No office could be procured for the officer in Washington or Westmoreland county, but each officer established his home as his office in the other two counties. In June, 1792. Wells undertook to open an office in Greensburg and one in Uniontown, but lie was soon forced to abandon both offices.
Some of our distillers returned their establishments, but the large majority refused to do so. hoping that by a united opposition they could soon force the government to abandon the execution of the law. Still others abandoned the liquor business as manufacturers entirely. On August 21, 1792. a meeting was held at Pittsburgh, which was attended by prominent men from all of the four counties. They drafted resolutions urging the people to obstruct the execution of the iniquitous law in every legal way possible. and to petition Congress to repeal it at once. On September 15th, 1792. President Washington, in a very dignified but firm published address, admonished all good citizens to retrain from unlawful combinations and from doing anything looking toward the obstruction of the law. The time for returning stills was in June of each year, and the difficulty with the government was to get offices in the various counties in the district. On June 1st, notices appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette, giving the location of the various offices. Philip Reagan's house was. designated as the place where the office would be opened for Westmoreland county.
The Secretary of the Treasury at that time was Alexander Hamilton. He made a complete report of the entire trouble, and this report has been the ground work of nearly all that has been written about the subject since. In it he notes the great difficult- the officers found in procuring an office in Westmoreland count-. Wells was still the officer for our county, and held to his position with a zeal that might be expected from a better man. He was insulted and abused both at home and abroad, and his family was ostracized, and even threatened with violence, when he was not at home. His house was attacked in April, 1792. by a large part of men in disguise. It is likely they thought he was at home, for on finding him absent they left without doing much mischief. On November 22 a similarly attired band found him at home, compelled him to surrender his books and commission, and to sign and publish his resignation in the papers within two weeks, or have his house burned on his failure to do so. This he promised to do, and the disguised band left without committing further depredations. The reader has doubtless noticed that the entire community seemed to be personally interested in overthrowing the law. There were. of course, many distillers in comparison to the whole number of inhabitants, but these could not have held up as they did had they been unaided. The sequel to the popular uprising, lies in the fact that nearly every man in the community was engaged in producing rye, and therefore the law came home to each and every one of them.
Finally, in June, 1794, John Wells, a son of the collector, was made deputy for Westmoreland county, and actually opened an office in the private residence of Philip Reagan, on the Big Sewickley, and not far from his father's house near Connellsville. Both Wells and Reagan had charge of the office. The likelihood is that Reagan knew the sentiments of the community, and was to stand guard over the office. At all events, he at once converted the house into an old-fashioned blockhouse, with portholes, and barred doors and windows. They also employed a few men to assist them in defense, though these were hard to procure, for the sentiment among the good and had people of the community was decidedly on the other side. The wane nights of June had scarcely arrived till the new blockhouse was put to a test. It stood several nightly attacks, and each night the attacking part o grew more formidable. Finally, a large band of armed citizens gathered round it and began firing. The fire was returned by Reagan and his forces, and this was kept up for several hours. Fortunately no one was hurt on either side, and the crowd repaired to Reagan's barn, which they burnt to the ground, and then repaired to their homes.
In two or three days the whole community was thoroughly aroused, and a small army almost, numbering not less than two hundred and fifty, went to renew the attack. Reagan, under a sort of an armistice, held a conference with their leaders. Knowing that they would soon overpower his small party, he proposed to surrender if they would grant him honorable terms, and also assure him that his property and person should not be destroyed or injured. In return for this he was to give up his commission, and forever wash his hands of excise tax in the future. These arrangements were put in writing, each party taking a copy. Then Reagan came out, and brought with him a keg of whisky. Upon the whole, it was too much of a victory to pass over without properly celebrating it. and a great many of the victors became intoxicated. Later in the celebration it was proposed that Reagan was escaping too easily, and that he should be set up as a mark to be shot at. Others, who were opposed to this, were bent on giving him a good coat of tar and feathers, for they had brought an abundant supply of these materials with them. Others, who were more honorable, said that he should go unmolested as was stipulated in the agreement when he surrendered. This controversy was finally settled by agreeing that the party should go and capture Wells, and that he and Reagan should then both be tried by a court martial and tried together. So they set out for his residence to capture Wells, but fortunately he was not at home. This enraged them still further, and they burned his house to ashes, with all its contents. They also posted a few of their party in ambush to capture him on his return. But during all this, Reagan escaped, and the mob having recovered from the effects of too much whisky, let Wells go.
Shortly after this tearing up of the Westmoreland office about one hundred and fifty men from our county, emboldened by this success, went to Somerset county and attacked Captain Webster. They destroyed his commission, and made him promise never to act as collector of excise tax again. They made him accompany them part of the way home, and also mount a stump and give three cheers for "Tom the Tinker," that being the popular name of the day used to personate the opponents of the law. It probably originated with a distiller who would not join the opponents of the law, and had his still cut into pieces by the mob. This they called mending, that is, "tinkering" the still. So many anonymous letters from the outlaws were signed "Tom the Tinker."
It is difficult now to appreciate the extent of this uprising, or the rapidity of its growth. Reason was thrown to the winds. Many ministers took the side of the people, though they did not encourage mob violence. No minister could have retained his pulpit had he sustained the excise law. The lawyer was popular if he defended the rabble, and not otherwise. No man's property was safe if his neighbors even suspicioned that he was against them. In their general opposition they were led by the best men in the community, who, however, never sanctioned mob violence. Findley, Smiley, Brackenridge, Cook, Young. Ross, Bradford, Holcroft and others were all in sympathy with any legitimate methods of opposing the execution of the law. They probably laughed at head-shaving, and were not entirely cast down when the excise man was clothed in a coat of tar and feathers.
In 1794 the law was modified by Congress, but nothing short of a general repeal would satisfy the people. Some of the outlaws were indicted before the courts, but able lawyers defended them, and no jury could be found to all agree to convict them, no matter what the evidence might be. A number of distillers who had not complied with the law were finally summoned to be tried in the United States courts at Philadelphia. General Neville and the marshal of the district went to serve a summons on a distiller named Miller. A furious outbreak followed, which was due more to Neville's presence than to the serving of the summons, for others had been served before this. Men came from the surrounding harvest fields and chased them out of the country. The same day a military meeting was being held at Mingo Creek, in Washington county, to draft men for service against the Indians. The report of chasing the marshal and Neville soon reached this meeting, seven miles away, and a mob at once took across the country for the marshal's house. When they arrived they demanded a surrender of his commission, his papers, etc., which was refused. A general battle began at once. The inmates of the house were better armed and better protected than the attacking party. Six of the mob were wounded, and one man was shot dead. On this the besiegers retired, but only to better prepare for another attack. A meeting was called, and all good citizens were warned to "strike for freedom," or be "forever enslaved," etc. In response a large meeting was held at Mingo Creek meeting-house, the purpose of which was to avenge the outrages of the previous day. They appointed three men as their leaders, and Major McFarlane, an old and experienced Revolutionary officer, was elected commander of the forces. In the meantime United States soldiers were collected by the marshal to guard General Neville's house. The mob marched at once to his house and demanded his papers and commission. This, of course, was refused. Then the women were allowed to pass from the house unmolested, and the battle began. The regular soldiers defending the house were in command of Major Kirkpatrick. It is hardly fair to say that McFarlane commanded the insurgents, for they very soon reached that degree of excitement that the commander was impotent. Early in the fight, Major McFarlane stepped from behind a large tree to confer with Major Kirkpatrick. As he did so he was shot, and died immediately. The death of their leader only added fuel to the fire. The barn and out-houses, with all their harvested crops, were at once set on fire, and Kirkpatrick and his soldiers were allowed to retire.
When this became more generally known, lawlessness became the rule, even in our own county. The United States mail carrier was waylaid within a mile of Greensburg by two men, who perhaps had no other motive in view than to show their contempt for the authority of the government of the United States. They broke open the mail bags and rifled their contents, not for financial gain, but to show that the people, and not the government, held complete sway. After this trouble at Neville's. and the Greensburg mail robbery, a public meeting was called for by David Bradford, of Washing-ton. who claimed to be a leader of the united forces of the four counties. This meeting was held at Braddock's Fields, the location of which is well known. The call was that all should come armed, and provided with four days rations. ?.bout sixteen thousand citizens actually came together on the day appointed, though thousands came through curiosity, and with neither arms nor rations. David Bradford was chosen commander-in-chief of the forces. and Edward Cook was his chief lieutenant. Bradford's idea was to besiege the town of Pittsburgh and burn the houses of the leading citizens interested in sustaining the law, such as Neville, Gibson, Brison, Kirkpatrick, etc.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge was then the most gifted and eloquent lawyer in Western Pennsylvania. He had defended free of charge many of the ringleaders of this insurrection who had been indicted heretofore, and was thoroughly trusted by all of them. When he and his friends saw that no power would prevent them from marching to Pittsburgh, they tried to induce them to go in a peaceable and orderly manner. `'Let us go there to show them that we are not a mob, as they believe us to be, but that we are law-abiding citizens who are only asserting our rights," etc. "Let us march through the town, turn around and come out again, and encamp on the banks of the river in peace, then we will have won the people of Pittsburgh to our side." Cook advocated the same behavior on their visit, and the mob could not well turn a deaf ear to the advice of either of them, particularly to the advice of Brackenridge. The inhabitants of Pittsburgh were greatly alarmed, but their fears were allayed on the arrival of the army, for they had, indeed, very largely been governed by Brackenridge's advice. Had they attempted to burn the buildings marked by Bradford for destruction, the citizens of Pittsburgh would have fired on them, and undoubtedly a general conflagration and slaughter would have ensued. As it was, there was little harm done. Some one in the night set fire to Kirkpatrick's barn, and we believe this was the only damage done the town. In a day or so the greater part of the army was disbanded, or disbanded itself, and peace and quiet again reigned in the four counties.
About this time the more conservative citizens of the four counties began to see the inevitable result of this opposition, if not in some way gotten under control. A meeting was therefore called for at Parkinson's Ferry on August 14th. 1794. This was attended by two hundred and sixty delegates from the four western counties. Edward Cook was made chairman of the meeting. and Albert Gallatin secretary. They, as usual, protested in a series of resolutions against the excise law and against taking offenders to Philadelphia, three hundred miles away, for trial, etc. The meeting was the most conservative held yet in the district. There were some very eloquent addresses made by such men as Gallatin. Brackenridge, Rev. Edgar and others, and a slow procedure be purely legal methods was the trend of their remarks. It is now generally supposed that these men and many of the delegates were there for the purpose of manipulating the convention, and to thus gain, by clever management and wholesome advice, what could not be gained by open opposition to the rabble. The whole force of the insurrection was here represented by two hundred and sixty delegates, and by the management of Brackenridge and his friends their power was delegated to one representative from each township, which reduced them to sixty delegates. Then these sixty delegates appointed a committee of twelve who would thereafter represent them and serve as a standing committee in the future. The newly constituted committee could therefore bind the four counties,. and could be much more readily handled by the conservative leaders than a larger body could be. It was certainly a master stroke on the part of the managers, and went far towards a re-establishment of order in the excited community. The committee of sixty met at Redstone on September 2nd, and the standing committee of twelve was ready at any time to meet a similar committee appointed by the government or the state.
About this time Governor Mifflin, of Pennsylvania, appointed Justice McKean and General William Irvine to investigate matters in the four counties, and to report the situation as soon as possible. He also ordered that the Pennsylvania troops be equipped for service at once, and issued a call for an extra session of the General Assembly. The capital of the United States was then in Philadelphia, and President Washington was not slow to act in a matter of this magnitude. On August 7th he issued a proclamation commanding all insurgents to lay down their arms before September 1st, or abide the consequences. He also began to raise an army, and in a few days had 12,950 men ready to march at a moment's notice. They were largely from the drilled soldiers of the Revolution, and were recruited from Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. The President appointed James Ross, Jasper Yates and William Bradford to represent the government and to confer with a like delegation, should one be appointed, representing the insurgents. Governor Lee, of Virginia, commanded the troops raised by Washington, and the Governors of the several states commanded the troops sent out by them. The President himself, as commander-in-chief of the army, arranged to accompany the troops, and with him were General Henry ;Kos, Secretary Hamilton and Judge Peters, the latter judge of the United States district court of Pennsylvania. The army set out from Philadelphia on October 1st, and President Washington, leaving a few days later joined them at Carlisle. There he met William Findley, Ephraim
Douglass and Thomas Morton, who were appointed to represent the insurgents in a conference with the President. It is probable that Washington learned for the first time at Carlisle from these three representatives of the conciliatory movements that were in progress, and of the actions of the committees referred to above. Washington came on west with the army as far as Bedford. where he arrived on October 19th. There he remained for two or three days, and then went back to Philadelphia, reaching that city on October 28th. It is often claimed that he came on west and was-in Westmoreland county, but the claim is entirely unfounded. From the fact that he came west at all and then returned without coming near the real seat of war, it is supposed that he learned on the way that the backbone of the insurrection was broken by the conciliatory meeting, and the uprising of the loyal and conservative citizens. It will be remembered that news did not travel rapidly at that time.
The United States commissioners and those appointed by the state and also those on the part of the insurgents appointed by the Parkinson Ferry meeting, all met in Pittsburgh on August 20. The commissioners had no power to compromise, and refused to make any recommendations for the postponement of the trials of those who had been summoned east, or for pardons for those who had committed crimes, until they had been full assured of a sincere determination on the part of the people that they would thereafter obey and assist in the execution of the laws. The committee on the part of the people presented their grievances as to the injustice of the excise law, and also the new grievance, viz.: the injustice of being taken three hundred miles away from home for trial in a strange land and by a strange jury. They were in session about a week, and then adjourned to Brownsville, where they met on August 28. There they held a two days' session. Brackenridge and Gallatin both talked long and with more even than their usual eloquence in favor of law and order, and in favor of a complete submission of the people to the provisions of the excise tax law. Bradford spoke in favor of forcible resistance, but he failed to carry the committee with him. They were afraid to vote openly lest they be ill-treated by their neighbors, who were still in favor of resistance. So each delegate was provided with a piece of paper on which was written the two words, "yea" and "nay." They tore off the one word and destroyed it while they voted the other, thus securing an absolutely secret ballot. The result of all this was a final decision to submit the matter to the people. They were to have an opportunity to sign a paper pledging loyalty to the government and its laws, and for that purpose the polls were to be open on September 11th, which was the last day given for them to submit. But many of the remote sections did not learn of this decision, and therefore thousands did not turn out at all. It was no small matter, it must be remembered, to circulate this decision over our four large counties in that day of slow travel. In some places a lawless element prevailed, and the polls were broken up. Mani-, however, refused to sign this pledge of allegiance. Bradford came over and signed, and urged the people to do the same. Nevertheless, from all these circumstances, the signatures were very few compared with the population, or with the number of men in revolt. The commissioners had gone east, all except James Ross, who remained here to carry the report back to Washington. at Philadelphia. The result did not by any means satisfy the President, and he determined at once to send the army to the west.
Then the sixty township delegates met on October 2nd and drafted resolutions explanatory of the meager number of signatures to the allegiance papers. The burden of their explanations was that it was owing to want of time, and in proof of the general feeling in the community, they, the representatives of the district, resolved to submit, and so severally pledged themselves. They appointed Findley and David Reddick, the latter from Washington county, to wait on the President and the Governor. They met Washington at Carlisle on October ro. as has been above stated, and with them were delegates Douglass and Morton, who, with Findley, composed the other delegation. Their purpose in presenting the matter to the President was with the hope that after learning the true situation here-that is, after being made familiar with the real change of sentiment-he would not permit the army to march further west. They tried, therefore, to prove the genuineness of the change of sentiment, and to show that the meagerly signed allegiance papers did not fairly represent the situation. President Washington heard them patiently, but declined to stop the progress of the army, inasmuch as it was then nearing the seat of war. He assured them that there would be no violence done by the soldiers, and that all that was necessary on the part of the people was to show a genuine evidence of their return to their former allegiance to the United States government and its laws. A rapid change was taking place all over the survey, but particularly here in Westmoreland. Shortly before this a man's property and person were not safe if he was even suspicioned by the Greensburg people. To illustrate: Colonel Gibson came to Greensburg, and, having been guilty of no offense except that he tried to have the people remain loyal to the law, he should have been safe any where. Yet his arrival was scarcely known until he was waited on by a body of men who ordered him to quit the town within half an hour. He was concealed in the house of General William Jack. Yet in October our people had so far backed down that they were almost falling over each other in order to sign the allegiance papers.
When Findley and Reddick came hack to Westmoreland from their visit to President Washington. they called a meeting of the committee for Octobcr 24th to report the result of their mission. Many citizens' meetings were held in all parts of the four counties, so that the delegates who were to meet ron the 24th could know for a certainty that there was a change of sentiment generally, and could act accordingly. They also wanted these expressions made public before the army should reach here. One of these meetings was held in Greensburg on October 22d. They drafted resolutions and in no uncertain sound set forth their disposition to sustain the law. David Marchand, afterwards a member of Congress, was president of the meeting. The resolutions adopted here were as follows:
i. Resolved, As the sense of this meeting, that it is the duty of every good citizen to yield obedience to the existing laws of his country.
2. That we discountenance all illegal acts of violence from whatever motive, and. that for redress of grievances the privilege and right of the citizen is to petition and remonstrate if necessary.
3. That we will support the civil authority and all officers in the lawful exercise of their respective duties, and assist in securing for legal trial all offenders against: the laws when called upon.
4. That the citizens of this town and township will give no opposition to the open-in of an office of inspection therein, should the same be contemplated by the government, and that we will use our endeavors to remove improper prejudices, and recommend a peaceable and general submission.
5. That a copy of the preceding resolutions be given to one or more of the deputies of the town or township who are to meet at Parkinson's Ferry on Friday the 24th inst.,. together with a copy of the assurance paper, signed by the citizens of this meeting, in order that the same may be laid before the members of the said committee, and that another copy may be made out for publication in the Pittsburgh Gazette, and that the same be attested by the chairman and clerk of the meeting.
Four hundred and twenty citizens of Greensburg and vicinity signed these resolutions. Similar resolutions were adopted in all parts of the four counties and, as may be supposed, when the convention met all was harmony. The-same committee was appointed to carry this general expression of sentiment to President Washington. They started at once for Bedford, but, learning that Washington had left there for Philadelphia, they went to Uniontown to confer with General Lee, whose advance forces had reached there. Lee was a brave officer of the Revolution, and a most refined and cultured gentleman. He treated the committee with great courtesy, and assured them that the soldiers would respect the rights and property of the citizens, and asked them to pass that word over the four counties as rapidly as possible. All the General required was allegiance to the law. He asked of the people that they be only as active in restoring law and order as they had formerly been in raising a disturbance. The report of this conference with General Lee wast printed and rapidly circulated throughout the four counties, and greatly allayed the fears of the people, who had great fear of the approaching army, for they remembered too well, and to their sorrow, the visits of the British army a few years before this. Books were now opened at nearly all of the offices of the justices of the peace, so that the people might take the oath of allegiance. A day was fixed for the entry of stills, and, almost without an exception, the distillers reported them as required by law. It indeed seemed that the people were, as General Lee requested, as anxious to sustain the law as they had formerly been to oppose it.
The army came on west, most of them marching as far as Pittsburgh. But all was quiet, and thousands were daily taking the oath of allegiance. So, on November 17th, orders were given for the return of the troops. In a few days all were gone except a small battalion under General Morgan, which it was thought best to have remain all winter in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. One company was stationed at Greensburg and one at Uniontown.
While the army was passing through here it became its duty to hunt up and arrest men who had been most active in raising this disturbance, as well as distillers who had failed to make their reports as required by law. Most of those who were arrested were guilty, but Judge Peters, perhaps in every case where he could do so without stultifying himself, ruled that they were not guilty of any offense against the government. Some who had been arrested were released after a hearing, and others were sent to Pittsburgh. While confined there, some were released, because they had influential friends, it is said, while others, no more guilty than the}-, were sent to Philadelphia for trial. There they were confined nearly a Year before they were tried. This was a great injustice to them, and particularly does the injustice appear when it is learned that nearly all were eventually acquitted. Two were :convicted from Westmoreland county. Probably by even a fair construction of the law all might have been found guilty of treason, for they had levied -war against the United States, had incited and engaged in rebellion and insurrection.' John Mitchell was the leader of those who robbed the mail near Greensburg. He was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, but was afterwards pardoned by the President. The other conviction was for arson, he being the one who had set fire to Wells' house. After being sentenced to be hanged it was learned that he was a very ignorant man, and was subject to epileptic fits. Washington first reprieved and then pardoned him.
The march of the army eastward may be fraught with interest to those who are accustomed to the rapid mobilization of soldiers in our present day. The first day's march was to Hellman's, fifteen miles east of Pittsburgh; the second day's march was to a point near Greensburg, marching fourteen miles that day ; the third day they marched to the Nine Mill Run near Youngstown, eleven miles; the fourth day they camped two miles east of Fort Ligonier, eleven miles: the fifth day they crossed Laurel Hill. and encamped at the foot of its eastern slope, nine miles. The sixth day's march they reached Stony Creek, where Stonystown now stands, or a mile beyond, making eleven miles. On the seventh and eighth days they marched respectively eleven and twenty-four miles, and reached Bedford. From Bedford they marched to Carlisle, a distance of ninety-five miles.
David Bradford was the leading spirit of the Whisky Insurrection. He was a citizen of Washington county, and was a prominent lawyer, practicing both there and in Westmoreland. He was a very unsafe man to follow, but had great powers as an agitator. When the government issued a general amnesty proclamation it included all citizens engaged in the insurrection except Bradford. He had fled to Louisiana, then a Spanish possession, and become an extensive planter. He was always respectably connected, being during the insurrection a brother-in-law of judge Allison, the grandfather of John Allison, late register of the treasury of the 'United States. His granddaughter was married to Richard Broadhead, United States senator from Pennsylvania, from 1851 to 18S7. His son was married to a sister of Jefferson Davis, late President of the Southern Confederacy. In Louisiana he became wealthy, and as a planter attained a fairly high social position. He died there in 1809.
James McFarlane had been a soldier and officer of undaunted courage in the Revolution. He was born in 1751, and was therefore but forty-three years old when he was killed near General Neville's house, on July 17th. On his tombstone are engraved these words among others: "He defended American Independence against the lawless and despotic encroachments of Great Britain. He fell at last by the hands of an unprincipled villain in the support of what he supposed to be the rights of his country, much lamented by a numerous and respectable circle of acquaintances."
General John Neville was born in Virginia in 1731, and was one of the few brave officers of the Virginia troops who escaped death at Braddock's defeat. Afterwards he was colonel of the Fourth Virginia Regiment in the Revolution, and was in the battles of Trenton, Princeton. Germantown and Monmouth. After the Revolution he moved to Pennsylvania, and was a member of the supreme executive council. President Washington appointed him inspector of revenue for the counties of Western Pennsylvania, and this was why his residence. etc., were burned on July 17, 1794, as has been told above. He died near Pittsburgh. July 29, 1803.
William Findley was by far the most noted man connected with the Whisky Insurrection, but as he represented Westmoreland in Congress for nearly a quarter of a century we shall refer to him at length among special biographies of distinguished men of Westmoreland county.
The Whisky Insurrection is an important event in our history and one that has been much written of. It was the first attempt on the part of the people to disobey or overthrow the national authority. It came when the new government was in its infancy. It is well for us that Washington was then president of the United States, and that lie met the opposition with that strength and dignity which characterized his every act. Those who would know more of the insurrection will be abundantly repaid by reading `The Lattimers," a novel of great strength founded entirely on the Whisk l- Insurrection.
Source: Page(s) 194-207, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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