Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Bradford Cousins and the Whiskey Rebellion - Part 3

It is 1794. At the Black Horse Tavern in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, David Bradford, his cousin, William, and others meet to discuss the rebellion. A plot to steal the mail is devised, and it is decided that William and John Mitchell will do the deed.

On July 26, 1794, they intercept the mail near Greensburg, about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. William and John tie up the carrier and grab the mailbag but only snatch letters that look pertinent to the rebellion. They race away, taking the mail to Benjamin Parkinson, and then to David Bradford. They meet at the Black Horse and the dispatches are opened. They find several letters denouncing their actions. David Bradford is incensed and decides that it is time to take action.

Word reaches the President and within days Washington orders a militia 13,000 strong to to quell the rebellion. However, by the time they arrive, the rebellion has collapsed. Many are arrested, but David Bradford flees to Spanish-held western Florida (present-day Louisiana), living there for the rest of his life, with only one brief visit back to his home in Pennsylvania. Eventually all are pardoned, including William Bradford, and an interesting period in American history comes to a close.

How did the rest of the family feel about all this? In particular, what about William and Rebecca? Did they support the rebellion? Was Rebecca proud of her brother and cousin? Or was she ashamed of the whole affair?

Long ago a descendant, Rev. D. G. Bradford, wrote: "...the historic Black Horse tavern, the scene of many an orgie [sic], the seclusion of many a culprit, and the place of planning 'ways that are dark and tricks that are vain' is to be razed to the foundation. When I last saw it three years ago, it had even a repulsive appearance, as if clad in sackcloth and ashes for what had transpired beneath its then dilapidated covering. Within its wall in Whiskey Insurrection days the intercepted mailed was opened and searched not for sordid gold, but to learn what report it carried to the government at Philadelphia concerning those engaged in the insurrection. William Bradford, a relative of the writer, had procured the pouch near Greensburg and brought it to Canonsburg for inspection. What a tale this old 'Black Horse' could unfold if to its crumbling walls speech were possible.

"[I] boarded for a time in the family of Benjamin Bradford, a son of this same William Bradford, and one of the wealthy and most highly respected citizens of the town. His father, the notorious William Bradford, was a large landowner in Braden County, Ohio, was esteemed quite rich for those times, lived in Kentucky, and loaned his money in Ohio. I occasionally saw him, an old man 'leaning upon the top of his staff.' At that time I had learned but little of the Whiskey Insurrection, knew nothing of the history of the Black Horse tavern, the interception of the mail, and was not aware that I was in the company of one of the men who dared to 'hold up' Uncle Sam's mail coach, carry off the pouch to Canonsburg, and rifle the bag. Had I known these things he would immediately have become an object of greater interest to me than he was...I suppose that William Bradford would have hesitated to make any free utterance as to what he knew of the Black Horse tavern, and his illegal handling of the mail. Away with the old "Black Horse" then to make room for a modern structure which shall never be the haunt of men who neither fear God nor regard men."

The Rev. Bradford's reaction was a mix of fascination and reproach. We will probably never know which William and Rebecca felt, but perhaps there is a clue in this: In my branch of the family (I descend through William and Rebecca's son, Samuel Miller), no word of our ancestors' participation in the Rebellion was ever passed down. It wasn't until my brother, Bill, and I began doing genealogy that this connection was discovered. I have to admit that "distance lends romance," and I tend toward the fascination reaction. I am enthralled with all my ancestors, and realize that they were just like us--their lives were filled with bad and good, failures, triumphs and adventures. And so they become more real to me, and even more beloved.

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