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Whiskey Rebellion re-enactment held to honor anniversary

| Monday, July 31, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Woodville Plantation in Collier
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Woodville Plantation in Collier

The middle of July marked the 223rd anniversary of the climax of the Whiskey Rebellion — the burning of John Neville's mansion, Bower Hill. As is their custom, a group of dedicated history buffs re-enacted that event on the grounds of Woodville Plantation in Collier.

Key to this event were the members of Wayne's 4th Sub-Legion, a group of volunteers dedicated to re-creating the campaign and camp life of the 12 members of the Army of the United States who were sent from Fort Fayette to defend Bower Hill against insurgents on July 17, 1794.

For this re-enactment they were supplemented by volunteers representing the Neville family and their servants, and a representative group of Western Pennsylvania farmers and militiamen protesting the federal government's enforcement of a tax on the production of whiskey.

They very effectively re-created the events of July 16 and 17, 1794, which culminated in the complete destruction of Bower Hill, the deaths of two of the insurgent leaders, Oliver Miller and James McFarlane, and the forced departure of John Neville to sanctuary in Pittsburgh.

Despite being staged at a different site than the actual battles and relying on a much smaller number of combatants, the re-enactment was quite credible and the discussion of what the audience was seeing, before and after the fact, was extremely instructive. It made me wish I were young enough to participate.

It would be unusual for me to visit Woodville Plantation and not come away with several interesting new bits of information. This time the source was the archaeologist-in-residence for the summer. She was displaying a large quantity of artifacts that had been discovered during various construction projects on the property.

During her discussion she showed a shard from a piece of pottery that has been attributed to the Monongahela people, the native Americans who inhabited this area from about 1000 to 1600. Like the mound builders in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys these people were much farther on the path to civilization than the Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians who succeeded them.

The Monongahela people had perfected agriculture and lived in huts in villages surrounded by a circular stockade. Apparently there were numerous such villages in this region. They were able to make and use tools and were especially competent in pottery. The causes of their demise five centuries ago are unknown, as is true of the Mound Builders and of the Anasazi in the Southwest.

In each case the possibilities of drought, or the Little Ice Age, or infectious diseases from Europe, or of domination by other aggressive indigenous peoples have been suggested. It is easy to wonder if they would have had a better chance to be assimilated into the culture of the European invaders than the warlike Eastern Woodlands tribes who supplanted them.

We are grateful to the dedicated group of individuals who are committed to preserving the heritage of the Chartiers Valley, and especially those involved with Woodville Plantation.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@icloud.com. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.

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