Oyler discusses Whiskey Rebellion
For history buffs in this area, July is Whiskey Rebellion month — 224 years ago this month farmers in Western Pennsylvania initiated the first real resistance to our new federal government.
This year there were major celebrations of these events in Washington, Pa., at the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park, and at Woodville Plantation.
We went to Washington for their festival the first weekend and to the Miller Homestead the second weekend.
Washington’s Festival was staged at two venues – downtown Washington and at Washington Park (Schneider’s Fort).
We went to the downtown celebration and had an excellent experience there. They re-enacted a number of Whiskey Rebellion incidents using Maiden Street between Strawberry and Maiden as a stage.
We especially enjoyed the re-enactment of Albert Gallatin’s well-known speech to a convention of the rebels at Parkison’s Ferry (now Monongahela) on Aug. 14, 1794, in which he persuaded them to reject David Bradford’s pleas for violence in favor of negotiating with the federal officials. The gentleman re-enacting Gallatin was excellent as were the folks in his audience.
Our tour of the David Bradford House was an eye-opener. If John Neville was the wealthiest man the area, Bradford must have been a close second. The handsome stone house must have been a sharp contrast to its log cabin neighbors. And the magnificent interior furnishings further emphasize that contrast.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the Schneider’s Fort site and the military re-enactments there; next year we will go there first!
The following weekend we went to the Oliver Miller Homestead and witnessed another impressive re-enactment, the attempt of federal Marshall David Lenox to serve a writ on farmer William Miller that required him to appear in Federal court in Philadelphia for failing to pay the excise tax on his still.
This re-enactment seemed even more relevant when we were able to see the actual still that was involved and to appreciate the consequence of the excise tax on the average farmer. We were told that Miller’s still had a capacity of thirty gallons and that the tax was three dollars a month for each month the still was operated. This apparently was a significant burden for the Millers and their neighbors.
It is easy to understand the farmers’ anger, which was compounded by the general opinion that the federal government was not doing enough to protect them against the hostile Indians. It is also easy to understand the collapse of their resistance when the large federal army finally arrived.
I have had very little success determining if any of the settlers in our immediate region were involved in the revolt. We know Christian Lesnett stayed out of it, because of his respect for John Neville. So far I have been unable to get a copy of the list of sixty farmers to whom Marshall Lenox served writs; that would be of some help.
We are indeed fortunate to live in an area with such a rich historical heritage and which is peopled with so many people committed to preserving and celebrating it.