Friday, September 4, 2009

The Bradford Cousins and the Whiskey Rebellion - Part 1

A little known episode in American history, the Whiskey Rebellion, which took place in western Pennsylvania in the 1790's, is known as the Federal government's first real test of power, but it also revealed the mood of a frontier people who just a few years earlier had fought a war to free their young nation from what they considered harsh and unfair taxation by mother England. Also, many of these farmers were of Scots-Irish origin, and curtailing the production of their whiskey was not destined to be a popular notion.

According to Wiki: "The Whiskey Insurrection was a popular uprising that had its beginnings in the 1791, and culminated in an insurrection in 1794 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the Monongahela Valley. During George Washington's presidency, the government decided to tax whiskey in order to pay off the national debt. This infuriated the citizenry and lead to the Whiskey Rebellion... The tax on whiskey was bitterly and fiercely opposed..on the frontier from the day it was passed. Western farmers considered it to be both unfair and discriminatory, since they had traditionally converted their excess grain into liquor. Since the nature of the tax affected those who produced the whiskey, but not the people who bought the whiskey, it directly affected many farmers. Many protest meetings were held, and a situation arose...From Pennsylvania to Georgia, the eastern counties engaged in a campaign of harassment of the federal tax collectors. 'Whiskey Boys' also made violent protests in Maryland, Virginia and North and South Carolina."

Thus it was not only western Pennsylvania that was in the grips of dissent. However, by the summer of 1794 when tensions reached a fever pitch and civil protests turned into armed rebellion, it was in western Pennsylvania that the first shots were fired at the William Miller* homestead 10 miles south of Pittsburgh. General Neville had ordered a group of insurrectionists to stand back, then fired into the group, a bullet mortally wounding William's son, Oliver Miller. The locals considered this murder. "As word of the rebellion spread across the frontier, a whole series of loosely organized resistance measures were taken, including robbing the mail, stopping court proceedings, and the threat of assault on Pittsburgh. One group, disguised as women, assaulted a tax collector, cropped his hair, coated him with tar and feathers, and stole his horse." (ibid).

In the next post, we will examine the role of Rebecca Bradford Miller's brother and cousin in this intriguing, and even disturbing, story from American history.

[*research is continuing into whether or not this William Miller was a relative of our William Miller. This William's father, Oliver Miller Sr., is said to have immigrated to America from County Antrim in Northern Ireland in 1742, settling in Cecil County, Maryland]

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