The Whiskey Rebellion Flag
(picture courtesy of http://franceshunter.wordpress.com)
This post continues the story of Rebecca Bradford Miller’s brother, our great, great uncle, William Bradford. In the last post we learned that Rebecca and her brothers lost their father, Samuel Bradford, probably very soon after their move (in about 1783) from Cecil County, Maryland, to
Of this time, family researcher, Shirley Ramsey writes: “It appears that the father of William died when the son was but a child, and the little fellow was placed in a family of strangers, somewhere in Virginia, with whom he lived until he grew to the years of manhood. In 1819 he left
This post will examine the period of “lost time” on which the preceding paragraph is notably silent – that is, from when William as a child was “placed in a family of strangers” until the time that he, as a fully grown, married man, moved to
I submit that it was to his Uncle James Bradford’s family, just over the county line in Washington Co, PA (an area that historically was considered part of Virginia1) that young William was sent. What of the “strangers” remark? Though relatives, possibly these people were like strangers to the young William. While the families probably lived near each other in Cecil County, Maryland, William’s uncle and family had moved west earlier, and this youngster probably had not seen his relatives for a long time. Thus, they would have been as “strangers” to William. His uncle James had become fairly well-to-do and William’s mother, Sarah Bradford, having just lost her husband, probably felt it wise to send her young son to live with her better-situated brother-in-law in the next county.
Here, William would have grown up with his cousins, including the “older and wiser” David, and William’s association with this particular cousin changed his world.
For this cousin, David Bradford, grew up to become the infamous instigator of the little known, but very important incident in American history known as the Whiskey Rebellion.
For more information about the Whiskey Rebellion, the reader is encouraged to search online for the many accounts of this historical event2, as well as to review posts from this blog (just put “Whiskey Rebellion” in the blog search box).
To summarize, in 1789 the Federal Government imposed a tax on whiskey, a commodity of great importance to farmers of southwest
David Bradford (who, again, was cousin to our Rebecca and her brothers, including William Bradford, the subject of this post) was, in fact, the ringleader of this rebellion. And he brought his younger cousin William right into the middle of the fray!
David and other insurgents were certain that President George Washington was going to send troops to quell the rebellion. In order to discover more details of the government’s plans, David concocted a plan to steal the
At the Black Horse Tavern in
On July 26, 1794, they intercept the mail near
Word reaches the President and within days
William was not so lucky. The government sought to make an example of the rebellious settlers and illustrate the newly created government's power to enforce its laws. Many were arrested and our great, great Uncle William Bradford and his accomplice in the mail theft were eventually indicted3. The original document is very difficult to read, and it must be remembered that this is written in the legal language of the era:
In the Circuit Court of the
The grand Inquest of the United States of America for the Pennsylvania District upon their respective oaths and affirmations do present that John Mitchell and William Bradford late of the County of Washington in the District of Pennsylvania Yeoman - on the twenty sixth day of July in the year of our lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety four in the county of Allegheny - in the district aforesaid with force and arms in and repose one Thomas Gould in the peace of God and the said United States of America. Then and there being which said Thomas Gould was then and there carrier of the mail of the United States of America from the town of Pittsburg to the city of Philadelphia in the District aforesaid feloneously did make an assault and [him] the said Thomas Gould in danger of his life then and there feloneously did put and the said mail of the United States of America from the person and against the will of the said Thomas Gould so being carrier of the same then and there feloniously and violently did steal take and carry away against the form of the act of the Congress of the said United States of America in such case made and providence and also against the constitution peace and Dignity of the said United States of America.
John Cannon Esq
Luckily, President Washington eventually pardoned these two rebels who had been convicted of treason. The whiskey tax was repealed in 1802.
So what of William? As mentioned above, though he was indicted, he was eventually pardoned. He married the daughter of one of the rebels, and after a few years moved north to join his brother, the “other” David Bradford, of Adams County, Ohio, and then on to nearby Maysville, Kentucky (see previous three posts) where he led a seemingly happy, successful, and comparatively uneventful life.
This, then, is the story of the “lost time” in the life of William Bradford.
It is difficult for me to pass judgment on these rebels, including our relatives. After all, it was less than two decades earlier that these same men or their fathers fought a revolution over, in part, unfair taxation. Thus the Whiskey Tax must have seemed eerily similar to the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Townshend Revenue Act, and finally the Tea Act of 1773 which inspired the Boston Tea Party, catalyst to the American Revolution. It may be that their methods were not well thought out, but their passion on this issue is certainly understandable.
Perhaps it is easier to interpret history through the eyes of one closer to the event. Here is an account written by a nephew of William:
“William Bradford, a relative of the writer, had procured the pouch near
It isn't hard to understand why William and our other ancestors of this era would have wanted this incident “swept under the rug,” but from my 21st century perspective, I actually feel a bit of guilty pride in these proud and committed men who thought they were doing their best to preserve the new and hard-fought American way of life out on the frontier. And while their methods were rough4 and yes, even illegal in the stealing of the
I, for one, am proud to claim these people as my ancestors, and will leave judgment to history and the only true Judge of all.
* * * * * * * * * *
(picture courtesy of http://www.bradfordhouse.org/
1: Throughout the early 18th century, what is now
2: One such site of interest is: http://www.bradfordhouse.org/history.html
3. The original document of indictment which is held at the National Archives is available to read online at: http://www.archives.gov/midatlantic/exhibits/franklin/images/revenue.pdf
4: “Over the next three years the excise act was somewhat modified but the tax was still considered unfair by the whiskey boys who conducted a tug-of-war against the government regarding the disposition of their profits. Unfortunate tax collectors, mostly locally based federal employees, were harassed and threatened. Between 1791 and 1793, a handful of excise men were roughed up and intimidated, but this was quite restrained behavior for the wild frontier of a young country which, on the issue of unfair taxation, had less than two decades earlier wrenched independence for itself by violent revolution.” (http://www.essortment.com/whiskey-rebellion-1794-21032.html)