Friday, June 3, 2005

Whiskey and Rebellions Run In My Family

My six-great grandfather Leverton Thomas settled in the Peter's Creek area of Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1769 or 1770 with his wife Mary and children. They survived the great Indian massacre of 1774 and made it through the Revolutionary War but like most people, were seeking a way to make some desperately needed cash. Because rye and wheat were the major grain crops at the time and apples and peaches were grown in abundance, the early settlers turned them into whisky and brandy, which were easier to transport and sell across the mountains.

The on March 3, 1791, the federal government in desperate need of money to fund its army after just having fought a war, passed a law for the collecting of "four pence per gallon on distilled spirits." The people of Washington and surrounding counties broke into open rebellion, (in what has been called the Whiskey Rebellion) refused to pay the tax, and generally abused the tax collectors.

"On the 6th of September (1791)... the opposition to the law broke out in an act of open violence... At a place near Pigeon Creek, in Washington County, a party of men armed and disguised waylaid Robert Johnson (collector of revenue for Allegheny and Washington counties), cut off his hair, stripped him of his clothing, tarred and feathered him and took away his horse."

Things really disintegrated from that point on with house burnings, more tarrings and featherings, robbing of the United States mail, and a general state of insurrection.

"In July, 1794, the United States Marshall, summoning offenders to court, met with mass resistance. Nevertheless, the governor of the state... thought that the courts could handle the situation."

But President Washington had other ideas about such a challenge to the authority of the new government and in October 1794 he marched some fifteen thousand militiamen into southwestern Pennsylvania. Not a shot was fired against him. That was the end of the rebellion and the beginning of authority, power and prestige of the United States Government.

My six-great grandfather Leverton Thomas and his son Edmund Thomas were among the rebels involved in the Whiskey Rebellion and were among the citizens of Washington County who took the oath of allegiance to the United States after the rebellion. The oath they took and signed was this:

I do solemnly, in the presence of Almighty God, swear and declare that I will faithfully and sincerely support the Constitution of the United States, and obey all the laws thereof, and will discontinue opposition thereto, except by way of petition and remonstrance, and all attempts to resist, obstruct, or ill treat the officers of the United States in the execution of their respective duties, so help me God.

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