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SOMERSET AND THE WHISKEY REBELLION

Byadmin

Sep 14, 2015

 One is surprised to note the prominent part played by whiskey in pioneer days, in Somerset as elsewhere. Present-day devotees of the flowing bowl and rugged distillers of illicit “mountain dew” should take no comfort in the fact, however, for with the early settlers the distilling of whiskey was an economic necessity.

In the early days there were no public transportation systems, not even wagon roads, to transport bulky products. Grain could be raised in abundance, but the early settler could load only four bushels of rye on his horse to take to the distant market. However, if it were distilled into whiskey, he could carry the product of 24 bushels. And then there was a lack of capital to buy
up grain crops.

Under the conditions it is not strange that western Bedford County, later
named Somerset, became involved in the “Whiskey Rebellion”, as the somewhat mythical insurrection was called. Thomas JEFFERSON later referred to it in these terms, “An insurrection was announced and proclaimed and armed against
but never could be found …”.
When the federal government placed an excise tax on whiskey, western Pennsylvanians felt unfairly discriminated against, and broke out into demonstrations against the tax and the government. Excise collectors beaten, tarred-and-feathered and otherwise abused. “Liberty Poles”, carrying a banner with the slogan “Liberty and No Excise” were erected. Two meetings of representatives from the disaffected counties were held, one at Parkinson\’s Ferry (Monongahela City) and the other at Redstone Old Fort.

HUSBAND was sent as representative to these meetings, where he met Albert GALLATIN, David BRADFORD, Hugh Henry BRACKENRIDGE among the other delegates.

Of all delegates there was only one who advocated violent resistance to the government, and that was BRADFORD. The Somerset delegate advocated peace himself and supported GALLATIN and others who wanted peace.

The federal government at first was conciliatory and reduced the tax to a
token payment, but the disturbances did not abate. The reason was that the practice of federal control was new and of all settlers, those beyond the Alleghenies had the most difficulty getting used to it. The pioneer spirit was strong in them and their thinking and problems differed from those on the eastern seaboard. There was even some talk of organizing this western region into a province called “Westsylvania”, with much local autonomy without being separated from the union.

The government suddenly became worried. Resisting the tax seemed like a move leading to secession. The meeting of the representatives on the whiskey question seemed like a “scrub congress”. President Washington immediately dispatched 13,000 militia to the Pittsburgh area, one detachment of them traveling the Braddock Road, and the other going through Bedford to Berlin and Brunerstown to quiet disturbance and pick up offenders.

The picture of the arriving federal troops, as remembered here, is not a
pleasing one. The name “Whiskey Boys” could have been applied to the soldiers better than to the rebels, said one witness, as drunken soldiers leaned against one another to keep from falling.

As the soldiers approached Berlin they were alarmed by a rumbling noise along the mountainside beyond Buffalo Creek. It sounded like the rebels preparing for defense. The colonel in charge urged them onward with great speed, and becoming enraged at a teamster who stopped to let his horses drink, struck at him with his sword. The sword missed the teamster and struck the colonel\’s
horse, which bolted and threw the colonel into the creek. The teamster fled on foot and later found that the rumbling noise was made by stones rolling down the hillside from where a man was quarrying millstones. One man, Adam MENGES, had frightened the whole regiment.

The militia arrested one man in Berlin; General Robert PHILSON, who they took to the top of the mountain to wait for a detachment from Brunerstown. General PHILSON told his captors that if they gave him his black mare and a good stick two feet long, he would whip the entire party. The soldiers took no chances, but put him on an old nag and guarded him closely. The other party soon arrived with Harmon HUSBAND and 16 others, and they proceeded to Bedford, where the prisoners were given a hearing before Federal Judge PETERS. HUSBAND seems not to have had any chance to present evidence in his behalf; it was already decided he and PHILSON should be sent to the nation\’s capitol, Philadelphia, to be tried for treason.

It appears that President Washington was personally interested in having
HUSBAND arrested. It has been surmised that when WASHINGTON was associated with the royal governors during the French and Indian War, he heard a one-sided account of HUSBAND\’s part in the uprising in Orange County, North Carolina. From this he may have received a harmful impression of HUSBAND which led to an unjust judgment of him later. Washington mentions HUSBAND in several letters, and the following letter was written to Washington from HUSBAND\’s nephew, John STUMP, from Maryland:

“A member of congress informs me that he heard you say Harmon HUSBAND was an old offender. This makes me think you are misinformed. Certainly his always detesting British tyranny could not make you view him as an old offender, because you resisted them with success yourself. He has many friends because he is a friend to liberty and mankind and is a friend to our government … “.

From Bedford jail, HUSBAND wrote to his wife Emy asking her not to worry and saying that he should know better what evidence to present when he saw his indictment. He evidently did not know on what grounds he had been charged with treason. And he never saw any indictment, for there was no evidence to support one. His friends, senators from North Carolina and influential citizens from Pennsylvania, came to his support and pleaded on his behalf.

May 12, 1775, the 70-year old Quaker was released with seven others, but his health was broken. He started at once for his beloved home beyond the mountains but was able to go no farther than a tavern on the outskirts of Philadelphia. His wife Emy came from Brunerstown, and his son John came from North Carolina to be with him as he lingered over a month with fever. His wife probably told him of the new county of Somerset which was being set up, for which he had petitioned the legislature five years before. He was buried June 19, 1795, but the location of his grave has been forgotten.

It has been said, “Only the world\’s best and the world\’s worst are thrown into prison”. Truly, the founding father of Somerset may be classed among the world\’s best.

One hundred fifty years ago residents of the thriving village of Somerset, which had 15 or 20 log houses, were looking forward to an era of development and growth for their town. And grow it did, for the Moravian missionary John HECKEWELDER in 1797 found 20 to 30 houses, mostly two-story, while ten years later there were 72 houses, stores and business places.

The first plot of Milfordtown, as it was first called, was made by Harmon HUSBAND on land he had sold to Ulrich (or Woolrich) BRUNER. Settlers later called the town “Brunerstown”, after BRUNER. HUSBAND had acquired the land in
the early 1770\’s from two hunters, Isaac COX and William SPARKS, who in turn had claimed it from the wilderness.

BRUNER came in 1773, building his cabin where the armory now stands, and was followed the same year by John PENROD, John VANSEL, Michael HUFF, and Henry BRUNER. Other settlers making up the community came the following year, including Christian ANKENY, Peter ANKENY, Jacob BARNHART, Peter BARNHART, John ROWLEY, and James BLACK. This James BLACK, who settled on the Glade Road east of Somerset, was the grandfather (line missing) Secretary of State in the BUCHANAN administration.

There is no record that BRUNER sold any lots in his proposed town, and in 1787 he sold his holdings, the land north of Main Street, to Adam SCHNEIDER who with Peter ANKENY became a co-founder of the town.

Peter ANKENY, a descendent of the French Huguenots, settled on the well-known HUGUS farm and became owner of that part of Somerset south of Main Street and west of Rosina Street. He later had two homes, one now the home of Mrs. Jessie GAITHER FOWNES, one of his descendants, west of Somerset, and the other in the Edgewood vicinity, the late Frank WOY property.

George W. HOFFMAN in a masters degree thesis, “A Brief History of Somerset”, gives many interesting details about Somerset history and about Peter ANKENY, some of which are included here. Born at Conococheague, Washington County, Maryland, Peter ANKENY and his brother Christian brought their possessions to Bedford County, like other settlers, on pack horses. Among Peter\’s possessions was the first stove to be brought here, a ten [tin?] plate affair weighing 400 pounds. Christian settled a short time in Brothers Valley, later moving to Brunerstown.

Ankeny Avenue, Rosina Street, which was named for Peter ANKENY\’s wife Rosina, and Ankeny Square all perpetuate the name of this pioneer family. Peter ANKENY, pioneer adherent of the Reformed Church west of the Alleghenies, donated Ankeny Square for use of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, accordng to “People and Pastors of the Somerset Classis”, published by the Reformed classis at Berlin. The plot, known as “God\’s Acre”, was to revert back to the heirs if no longer used for a church edifice, it was stated in the deed.

However, in 1887, when the Reformed Church moved to its present site, and the land was to be transferred, so many of the old families had been buried there that the heirs were persuaded to renounce their claims. Under the supervision of an organization “The Village Improvement Society”, of which Mrs. Maude O. KOOSER was president, it was incorporated. Attorney John G. OGLE donated his legal services, and descendants of those buried there raised enough money to pay one thousand dollars for cleaning and improving the place, and to provide an endowment, which brings enough interest for upkeep of the grounds.

Two massive stone pillars, which were a part of the old courthouse, mark the West Patriot Street entrance. Elizabeth HUGUS, Peter ANKENY\’s granddaughter, who died in 1915, was the last person to be buried there. “Aunt Betty”, as she was called, was born in 1825, and although she was crippled and sat in a wheelchair from her childhood, she was organist in St. Paul\’s Reformed Church for many years.

Another historic spot just east of Somerset is Coffee Springs Farm, which takes its name from a spring around which was found chicory. From the chicory was made a brew called “Indian coffee”. HOFFMAN quotes an old issue of the “Somerset Herald” that the farm house was built around a log cabin built by Harmon HUSBAND. Probably the oldest house in the borough is the old HERR property at the corner of West Main and Rosina Streets. An old log house, it has been weatherboarded and was recently the residence of the former county superintendent of schools, the late William H. KRETCHMAN.

A new jail, made of logs and costing $27.75, was built in 1775 on “Gaol Square”, which fronted on West Patriot Street and South Center Avenue. In 1798 the contract for building a two-story courthouse costing $5,600, was let to Robert SPENCER. This courthouse, which was forty by forty-four feet and located on the site of the present courthouse, was used until 1852. In 1802 two county office buildings were erected back of the courthouse, and the same year a permanent jail was built next to the courthouse. This jail, two stories high and costing $2,600.50, was used until 1856.

The early residents of Somerset followed a surprising variety of trades and crafts. Rudolph URICK was a silversmith and James BOYLE a coppersmith. John MICHAEL and Michael HUGUS were clockmakers especially adept at their trade. The assessor\’s list of 1807 includes the trades of clockmaker, wagon-maker, joiner, attorney, saddler, tanner, weaver, wheelwright, barber, print-
er, hatter, potter, and many others.

Nor were the settlers without a physician. Dr. William Gore ELDER, who came in 1795, had a practice extending from Turkeyfoot to the Conemaugh River, in addition to which he was also in the mercantile business. In 1800 he married Magdalena ARMSTRONG in one of the first marriage ceremonies to be held in the town of Somerset.

Probably the first regularly educated physician to come to Somerset County was Dr. John KIMMEL, who came from York County, four or five years before Dr. ELDER, and settled in Berlin. Dr. KIMMEL also had a practice which covered about half of Somerset County, but nevertheless, found time to keep a store and tavern and to serve as a colonel of the militia and as associate judge
of Somerset County.

Somerset County, which was practically a total wilderness two decades before, now had 1,238 taxable inhabitants and 972 cabins and houses. There were about 24 sawmills, a woolen mill and a flax oil mill. Twenty grist mills were grinding flour and meal for the settlers.

Remarkable progress had been made since 20 years before when Harmon HUSBAND went to Cumberland to get millstones to start the first gristmill. Posterity can only conjecture how the two stones, three feet wide and a foot thick, were brought through the roadless forests and mountains to Brunerstown, but brought they were. The stones never went into the intended mill, for Indian troubles stopped the project. The first mill was built in 1779 by William JONES at the foot of Laurel Hill. HUSBAND\’s millstones lay unused until 1843, when they were put into the “HUSBAND” Mill, later run by Isaac METZLER, then by the HOOVERs.

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