Franklin Ellis.

History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men online

. (page 36 of 193)
Online LibraryFranklin EllisHistory of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men → online text (page 36 of 193)
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" P.S. — I have just snatched as much time as to
write a short note to the Chief Justice on the above

The Mr. Graham referred to in the above letter was
the exci-e nlliccr for the district comprising Wash-
ington, WotiiH ivlaiid, aii.l r:iy,'tte. Nothing ap-
pears to -how that 111' \va- >iniihirly iiialtreated in the
two latter counties, but the iml.lic feeling in tliem, if
less aggrc- ive, was ,.,ually .Icterniined against the
excise, and no collections were made by tlie officers
in this district under the State law during its con-

Upon the adoption of the Federal Constitution, it
became necessary to provide ways and means to sup-
port the government, to pay just and pressing Revo-
lutionary claims, and sustain the army, which was
still necessary for the protection of the frontier against
Indian attack. " The duties on goods imported were
very far from adequate to the wants of the new gov-
ernment. Taxes were laid on articles supposed to be
the least necessary, and, among other things, on dis-
tilled liquors, or on the stills with which they were
manufactured." At the suggestion of Alexander
Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, a bill was
framed, among the provisions of which was the impo-
sition of an excise duty of four pence per gallon on
all distilled spirits. This bill was passed by Congress,
March 3, 1791, against the strong opposition of many
members, among the most determined and energetic
of whom was the representative of this district, Wil-
liam Findley, of Westmoreland. Albert Gallatin and
John Sniilie, both men of the highest prominence and
residents of Fayette County, were among the strongest
opponents of the measure, though not advocates of
forcible resistance to its execution.

It was argued that the "law of 1791 bore more
heavily and unjustly on the interests of the region
west of the AUeghenies than on those of any other
part of the Union. Here a principal product of the
farmers was rye. For this there was little home de-
mand, and it could not be transported across the
mountains at a profit, except in the form of whiskey.
" A horse could carry but four bushels, but he could
take the product of twenty-four bushels in the shape
of alcohol. Whiskey, therefore, was the most import-
ant item of remittance to pay for their salt, sugar,
and iron."- As a result of these peculiar circum-

"Section2. Provided iihvajs, . . . Thnt nolliingliorein cnntriiiiedsliiill
be deemed or cuiistnied to prevent the recovery of all such duties utioii
ttie ?aid .irliLles as are now due to the Coliinionvvealth, nor to release or
tai,.' a\\;ty :iM\ f.Mteitnre or penalty wliii-h any pei-son or persons may

r, uti HI', uiiijiiiitced. or which may be commenced in consequence Ihero-
i.f, may I..' iiiMs,.-i:uted to as full effect as if such acts or parts thereof

growing rich by III. I - : i .....: I 1 1 ■ .town the

in possr-ssion of tlie Spaiiioli. Tlic IViiglit on a barrel of Hour to I'hila-
delpliia was us much as it would bring in that market. • Wheal,* says
the Rev, Dr. Carnalian, ' was so plentiful and of so little value that it a conimon practice to grind that of the best quality and feed it to
tlie cattle; while rye, corn, and barley would bring no price as fond for
man or beast,* The only way left for the inlnibitants to obtain a little






stimces, tlicrc w;is in this soclion a greater number of
stills and a larger amount of whiskey manufactured
than in any other region of the same population in
any part of the country. " There were very few or j
111) large manufactories where grain was bought and \
v:\>U i)aid. There was not capital in the country for 1
that purpose. In some neighborhoods every filth or
sixth farmer was a distiller, who during the winter
season manufactured his own grain and that of Jiis
neighbors into a portable and saleable article." And 1
thus the people thought " they foresaw that what |
little money was brought into the country by the j
sale of whiskey would be carried away in the form of
excise duties."' 1

In these western counties a large proportion of the
inhabitants were Scotch-Irish, or of that descent, a i
people whose earlier home, or that of their fathers,
liad been beyond the sea, in a land where whiskey
was the national beverage, and where excise laws and j
excise officers were regarded as the most odious of all 1
the measures and minions of tyranny. "They also !
remembered that resistance to the Stamp Act and
duty on tea at the commencement of the Revolution
began by the destruction of the tea and a refusal to
use the royal stamps ; that the design was not to break
allegiance to the British throne, but to force a repeal i
of these odious laws. They were, almost to a man,
enemies to the British government, and had contri- i
buted their full proportion in service in establishing
the independence of America. To them no other tax |
of equal amount would have been half so odious." j
It can scarcely be wondered at then that among a
people holding such opinions the measure was re-
garded as a most unjust and oppressive one, nor that
the more hot-headed and turbulent ones freely and
fiercely announced their determination to oppose its
execution even to the extremity of armed resistance
to the government.

This rebellious sentiment was so wide-spread, so :
unmistakable in its character, and indicated by such
open threats of violence to any officers who might be
hardy enough to attempt the collection of the excise
duty, that it became difficult to find any proper person
■ willing to take the risk of accepting the office of chief
inspector of the Western District. The position was :
finally accepted by Gen. John Neville,- of Allegheny

1 Address of Rov. Dr. CaniahHti.

" " In order to alliiy opposition as far as possible,'' saj's Judge Wilke-
son, "Gen. Jidiii Neville, a man of tlio most deserved popularity, was
appointed to the iiispectorsliip for Western Pennsylvania, lie accepted
tlie appointment from a sense of duty to liis country. He was one of tlie
few men of great weullii who liad put his al] atliazardfor independence.
At liis own expense lie raised and equipped a company of soldiers, marched
them to Boston, and placed them, with his son, under the command of
Gen. Washington. He was brolher-in-Iaw to the distinguished Gen.
Slorgan, aud father-iu-Iaw to Blaja. Craig and Klrkpatrick, •officers
higlily respected in the western country. Besides Gen. Neville's claims
as a soldier and a patriot, he had contributed greatly to relieve the suf-
ferings of the settlers in his vicinity. He divided his last loaf with the
needy; and in a seiison of more than ordinary scarcity, as soon ^s his
wheat was snIBcienlly matured to be converted into food, he op'^ned his

County, a man who iibove nearly all others was, on
account of his great personal popularity and unques-
tioned honesty and patriotism, the proper man for the
place. But the confidence and respect of his fellow-
citizens proved insufficient to screen him from their
insults and violence when against these was weighed
the fact that he had accepted an office the duties of
which obliged him to attemjit llio execution of a law
which they detested.

The popular excitement increased rapidly, the spirit
of resistance became more determined, and soon found
expression in a public act which may be said to have
marked the commencement of the famous " Whiskey
Insurrection." This a preliminary meeting held
in Fayette County, at Eedstone Old Fort (Browns-
ville), on the 27th of July, 1791, composed of people
opposed to the execution of the law. At this meeting
it was concerted that county committees should be
formed in each of the four counties of Fayette, West-
moreland, Washington, and Allegheny, to meet at the
respective county-seats and take measures looking to
a common end, — successful resistance to the operation
of the law. These committees were formed accord-
ingly, and the temper aiid ideas of the men composing
them may be judged from the proceedings had at a
meeting of the Washington County Committee, held
at the county-seat on the 23d of August, on which
occasion resolutions were passed to the effect that any
person who had accepted or might accept an office
under Congress in order to carry the excise law into
effect should be considered inimical to the interests
of the country, and recommending to the people of
their county to treat every person who had accepted,
or might thereafter accept, any such office with con-
tempt, and absolutely to refuse all kind of communi-
cation or intercourse with him, and to withhold from
him all aid, support, or comfort. These resolutions
were printed in the Pitfsbimjh Oaze/le, the proprietor
of which paper would doubtless have feared the con-
sequences of a refusal to publish them if he had been
so disposed.

Each of the four county committees deputed three
of its members to meet at Pittsburgh on the first Tues-
day of September following, for the purpose of ex-
pressing the sense of the people of the four counties in
an address to Congress " upon the subject of the excise
law, and other yrkvancrs." The meeting of delegates
was held at Pittsburgh, as appointed, on the 7th of
September, 1791, on which occasion (according to the
minutes of the meeting) "the following gentlemen
appeared from the counties of Westmoreland, Wash-
ington, Fayette, and Allegheny, to take into consid-
eration an act of Congress laying duties upon spirits

fields to those who i

citizens. The first :

. He entered upon
(<nt among the most
n force the law were



distilled within the United States, passed the 3d of
March, 1791.

"For Westmoreland County: Xeheniiah Stokely
and John Young, Esqs.

" For Washington County : Col. James Marshal,
Rev. David Phillips, and David Bradford, Esq.

"For Fayette County: Edward Cook, Nathaniel
Bradley [Breading], and John Oliphant, Esqs.

"For Allegheny County: Col. Thomas Morton,
John Wond.s,"E>.|', and William Flumer, Esq.

"Edward C'»ik, K-,|.. was voted in the chair, and
John Young ai.i".iiitfd seiTitary."

The meeting then proceeded to [lass a series of
resolutions, censuring the legislation of the late Con-
gress, especially the obnoxious excise law, which they
characterized as "a base ofl'spring of the funding
system, . . . being attended with infringements on
liberty, partial in its operations, attenilcd with gieat
expense in the collection, and liable tn niucli mIuhi."
and declaring that " it is insulting to thr r,rUii-~ ni the
people to have their vessels marked, lioii~(.s |iMinlcd
and ransacked, to be subject to infornu'r-. jaiiiiiij- Ky
the occasional delinquency of others. It i- a l^nl pii_-
cedent, tending to introduce the excise laws ol (ireat
Britain, and of cnuntries where the liberty, property,
and even the morals of the peoitle are s]iorted with, to
gratify particular men in their ambitions and inter-
ested measures." The meeting also adopted a renidu-
strance to "be presented to the Legislature nf IV-nn-
sylvania," and further " 7?' -■/'■,, /, That the f>

presented to the Legislature of the United States."
An address was al-o ad i}. ted, which, together with
the proceedings ot' thr day, was ordered to be printed
in \\\c I'itti'buriilt (Jn:,<t:\ and the meeting then ad-

In reference to this meeting at Pittsburgh, and
others of similar character, ^slw Hamilton, Secretary
of the Trca-urv. said that, bein- " .•oniposed of very
influential individuaK, and conducted without mod-
eration or prudence," they were ju<tly chargi-alile
with the excesses which were afterwards committed,
serving to give consistency to an (qipo^ition which at
length matured to a degree that threatened the foun-
dations of the government.

On the (;th of September, the day before the meet-
ing of the conunittees' delegates at PittslinrL'h, the
opposition to the law broke out in an a' t of .,|.,ii vio-
lence, said to have been the tirst of the Vu\i\ < i-

mitted in the western counties. At a i>lair luar
Pigeon Creek, iu Washington C-iUnty, a party of imai,
armed and disguised, waylaid Kobert Johnson (col-
lector of revenue for Allegheny and Washington ), cut
olf his hair, stripped him of lii^ clothin-, tarred and
feathered him, and took away hishor-e, " obliginghim
to travel on fo,)t a eon-iderable distance in that morti-
fying and painl'ul -itn.iiioii." The case was brought
before tlic Li.^tiiet ( 'ourt, out of which processes issued
a-ainst John Kobertson, John Hamilton, and Thomas

I JlcComb, three of the persons concerned in the out-
rage. The serving of these processes was confided by
the then marshal, Clement Biddle, to his deputy, Jo-
seph Fox, who in the month of October went into Al-
legheny County for the purpose of serving them ; but
he was terri fied by the " appearances and circumstances
which lie observed in the course of liis joyruey," and
therefore, instead of serving them himself, sent them
forward under cover by a private messenger. The
marshal (Mr. Biddle), in his report of this transaction
to the district attorney, said, " I am sorry to add that

I he [the deputy, Fox] found the people in general in
the western part of the State, particularly beyond the
Allegheny Mountains, in such a ferment on account

' of the act of Congress for laying a duty on distilled
spirits, and so much opposed to the execution of said
act, and from a variety of threats to himself personally
(although he took the utmost precautious to conceal
his errand), that he was not only convinced of the im-
possibility of serving the process, but that any attempt
to effect it would have occasioned the most violent
op]iosition from the greater part of the inhabitants,
and he declares that if he had attempted it he be-
lici-es he iroiild nni have reiurited alive. I spared no

' expense or pains to have the process of the court ex-

1 ceuted, and have not the least doubt that my deputy
would have accomplished it if it could have been

In Fayette County the collector of revenue, Benja-
min Wells, was subjected to ill treatment on account
of his official position. That Mr. Wells was pecu-
liarly unpopular among the people of his district ap-
pears from the letters of Judge Alexander Addison,'
and from other sources, and he was afterwards several
times maltreated, and his house sacked and burned.
These acts were done in 1793 and 1794, but the first
instance of abuse to him appears to h.ave occurred in

I the fall of 1791, as the Secretary of the Treasury in
his report to the President, after narrating the cir-
curnstances of the attack on Robert Johnson, in
AVashington County, on the Gth of September, con-
tinues : '■ Mr. Johnson was not the only olficer who,
.ihnnt flir s,ime period, experienced outrage. Mr.
Well \ collector of the revenue for Westmoreland and
Fayette, was also ill treated at Greensburg and Union-
town. Nor were the outrages perpetrated confined to
the officers, they extended to private citizens who

1 Jiulgo AddiE

Iilrossed to Governor Slifflin (Pa. Ar-
i<l. " lienj.iiiiili "Wells, so fiir as I have
iil.Tiiplilili' iind unworthy man, wlioni,
i\ \MiiiM never wish to see in any office
i .M;,iHc" Bnt it should I'e reniarlied

i Wells.



only dared to show their respect for the hiws of their
country." ' j

Another outrage was committed in AVasliington
County, in the month of October of the same year,
on the person of Robert Wilson, who was not an ex-
cise officer, but a young schoolmaster who was look-
ing for employment, and carried with him very
reputable testimonials of his character." - It was
supposed that lie was a little disordered in his intel-
lect, and having, unfortunately for himself, made
some inquiries concerning stills and distillers, and
acted in a mysterious manner otherwise, he was sus-
pected of being in the service of the government.
On this account he " was pursued by a party of men
in disguise, taken out of his bed, carried about five
miles back to a smith's shop, stripped of his clothes,
which were afterwards burnt, and having been inhu-
manly burnt in several places with a heated iron, was
tarred and feathered, and about daylight dismissed,
naked, wounded, and in a very pitiable and suffering
condition. These particulars were communicated in
a letter from the inspector of the revenue of the 17th
of November, who declared that he had then himself
seen the unfortunate maniac, the abuse of whom, as
he e.xpressed it, exceeded description, and was suffi-
cent to make human nature shudder. . . . The
symptoms of insanity were during the whole time of
intlicting the punishment apparent, the unhappy
sufferer displaying the heroic fortitude of a man who
conceived himself to be a martyr to the discharge of
some important duty."^ For participation in this
outrage Col. Samuel Wilson, Samuel Johnson, James 1
Wright, William Tucker, and John Moffit were in-
dicted at the December Sessions, 1791 ; but before the
offenders were taken upon the process of the court,*
the victim, Wilson (probably through fear of further
outrage), left that part of the country,^ and at the
June Sessions, 1792, the indicted persons were dis-

The demonstrations above mentioned comprise all
of the more notable acts of violence which were done
in these counties by the opponents of the law during
the first year of its existence. On the 8th of May,
1702, Congress passed an act making material changes
in the excise law, among these being a reduction of
about one-fourth in the duty on whiskey, and giving
tlie distiller the alternative of paying a monthly in-
stead of a yearly rate, according to the capacity of
his still, with liberty to take a license for the precise

1 Pii. Archives, 2d Series, vol. iv. p. S8.

! Letter of James Brison, of Allegliony, to Governor Mifflin, J:\ted

IV. 9, 1792.— Pa. Archk-ei, 2cl Series, vol. iv. pp. 44, 4.3.

1 Report of the Secret.lly of tlie Treasury ; Pa. Archives, 2d Sei i( s, vol.

* Pa. Archives, Brison's letter, before quoted.

^ '* Tlie audacity of the perpetrators of these excesses was so great that
armed banditti ventured to seize and curry off two pei-sons who were
tnepses against the riotei-s in ihe case of 'Wilsou, in order to prevent
eir giving testimony of the riot to a court then sitting or about to
."—Almnukr llnmiUoii to Prcsklent WiiMiiglm ; Pii. Jrch , iv., p. SO.

term which he should intend to work it, and to renew
that license for a further term or terms. This pro-
vision was regarded as peculiarly favorable to the
western section of the State, where very few of the
distillers wished to prosecute their business during
the summer. "The effect has in a measure,"
said Hamilton, in 1794, " corresponded with the views
of the Legislature. Opposition has subsided in sev-
eral districts where it before prevailed," and it was
natural to entertain, and not easy to abandon, a hope
that the same thing would, by degrees, have taken
place in the four western counties of the State."

But this hope was not realized. The modifications
made in the law, favorable as they had been thought
to be to the western counties, did not produce acqui-
escence and submission among the people of this sec-
tion. On the 21st and 22d days of August next fol-
lowing the passage of the modified law there was
held at Pittsburgh " a Meeting of sundry Inhabitants
of the Western Counties of Pennsylvania," the pro-
ceedings of which plainly indicated that the ieeling
of opposition had not been lessened, but rather inten-
sified. At that meeting there were present the fol-
lowing-named delegates from the western counties,
viz.: Edward Cook, Albert Gallatin, John Smilic,
Bazil Bowel, Thomas Gaddis, John McClellan, John
Canon, William Wallace, Shesbazer Bentley, Benja-
min Parkinson, John Husy, John Badollet, Joh;i
Hamilton, Neal Gillespie, David Bradford, Rev.
David Phillips, Matthew Jamison, James Marshall,
James Robinson, James Stewart, Robert MeClurc,
Peter Lyie, Alexander Long, and Samuel Wilson.
The persons composiiiLr ihi - iiiiMtiiii; were, in general,
men of ability and iiilluinrc, ami in this particular
the Fayette delegation iciniiiiri-inu- the first six named
in the above list) surpassed those from the other

The meeting was organized by the choice of Col.
John Canon as chairman, and Albert Gallatin, of
Fayette County, as clerk. The subject of the excise
law was then " taken under consideration and freely
debated ; a committee of five members was appointed
to prepare a draft of Resolutions expressing the sense
of the Meeting on the subject of said Law;" and on
the second day the resolutions were reported, de-
bated, and adopted unanimously. After a preamble
denouncing the excise law as unjust in itself, opprcs»
sive upon the poor, and tending to Iiriug imnic'diate
distress and ruin on the western country, and dcchir-
iug it to be their duty" to persist in remonstrances to
Congress, and every other legal measure to obstruct
the operation of the law, the resolutions proceeded,
first, to appoint a committee to prepare and cause to
be presented to Congress an .address, stating objec-
tions to the law, and praying for its repeal ; secondly,

'Opposition to the law of 1791 was violent, not only in the "four
western counties" of Fayette, Westmoreland, Washington, and Alle-
gheny, b\it also in several other counties of the State, notably Chest( r,
Bedford, Bucks, and Northumberland.



to appoint committees of correspondence for Wash-
ington, Fayette, and Alleglieny, charged with the
duty of corresponding together, and with such com-
mittee as should be appointed for the same purpose
in Westmoreland, or with any committees of a simi-
lar nature from other parts of the Union. The com-
mittees appointed for this purpose for the three coun-
ties named were composed of the following-named
persons, viz. : Thomas Gaddis, Andrew Rabb, John
Oliphant, Robert McClure, James Stewart, William
Wallace, John Hamilton, Sliesbazer Bentley, Isaac
Weaver, Benjamin Parkinson, David Redick, Thomas
Str)kcly, Stephen Ga|:ien, Joseph Vanmeter, Alexan-
der Long, William Whiteside, James Long, Benjamin
Patterson, Samuel Johnston, William Plummer, and
Matthew Jameson.

The final declaration of the meeting was to tlie
effect that, " Whereas, some men may be found
amongst us so far lost to every sense of virtue and
feeling for the distresses of this country as to accept
ofiices for the collection of the duty, Resolved, there-
fore, that in future we will coii-Mii- siirli [icrsons as

dealings willi tliein ; u'UIidrau: from thciii e eery assist-
ance, and withhold all the comforts of life tohich depend
upon those duties that a^ men and fellow-citizens we owe
to each other; and upon all ofri<in„s t,-::,if f hem with
that contempt they deserve ; and //i ii it In- n-nl it in hereby
most earnestly recommended to tin pr^.p^ ,ii l^irije tofol-
loir the same line of conduct Ininiiul.^ fin m."

It is difficult to undiTstaml Imw men of character
and good standing, such as were a niajnrity of those
composing the Pittsburgh meeting, could have given
their assent 'to the passage of these extreme resolu-
tions. They were aimed in a general way (as appears
on their face) at all wlm might be even remotely con-
cerned on the siile nf tlju gnvernment in the collection
of the revenue, but in particular, and more than all,
at Gen. J..I111 Xcvillr. a-ainst wli.ini no rliarge could
be broiiul.t. .x.-.-pt that he liad <larud to aexept in-
spectorship (if thr 'Western Revenue District.

A lew <lays L.-lDie the holding of the Pittsburgh
mectini;. an iiu'.raL;e had been committed upon Capt.
William faulkiiei-. ,>f the United States army, who
had permitted his Inane in Washington (.'.unity U> be
used as an in-peeti..n-(,lliee. lieing out in pursuit of
deserters in the same nei-hliorhood where Johnson
was maltreated in the |)ieviiius autumn, he was en-
countered by a iiunilier c,|' disguised men, who re-
jjroached hihi with liaviiiL' let liis house to the govern-
ment officers, drew a knife on him, threatened toscalp
him, tar and feather him, and burn his house if he
did not solemidy jiromise to prevent all further use
of it as an inspection-office. He was induced by
their threats to make the promise demanded, and on
the 21stof August gave public notice in the Pitt-^hiiryh

Online LibraryFranklin EllisHistory of Fayette County, Pennsylvania : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men → online text (page 36 of 193)