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Whiskey Rebellion

Extracted from
History of Monongalia County, West Virginia
by Samuel T. Wiley
Kingwood: Preston Publishing Company, 1883


Chapter X
Whiskey Insurrection
1791-1795.
Origin, History and Suppression - Mobs at Morgantown - Action of the State and National Authorities.

After the adoption of the Constitution, the first act of rebellion against the Government was the Whiskey Insurreciton, commencing in 1791 in south-western Pennsylvania in murmurs of discontent, and swelling into an open rebellion in 1794. It was caused by Congress passing an excise law on March 3, 1791, which imposed a tax of four pence per gallon on all distilled spirits. At this time whiskey was about the only cash article west of the mountains, and about every eighth or ninth farmer had a still. Grain was no price. A horse could carry only three or four bushels of grain across the mountain, there to be exchanged for salt at five dollars a bushel and iron at eighteen cents a pound. In the form of spirits, the same horse could carry the product of twenty bushels of rye. Hence the people of southwestern Pennsylvania regarded this excise law as unjust and oppressive, a view that was also shared to some extent by some of the inhabitants of Ohio and Monongalia counties.

A great field-meeting or muster of the insurgents was held at Braddock’s Field (Allegheny County, Penn.), August 2, 1794, and a circular was issued inviting the neighboring counties of Virginia to send delegates to a meeting to be held on the 14th of that month at Parkinson’s Ferry (now Monongahela City, Penn.). Ohio County was represented at this meeting, and William Sutherland was her member of a committee of conference to meet the United States Commissioners sent out to adjust the trouble. In this meeting Monongalia had no representative. On the 9th of August a body of Pennsylvanians, not content with attacking their own excise collectors, invaded Monongalia County; and again on the fourteenth, when they were joined by a few others, but were driven out of Morgantown by the citizens of the town and the people in attendance at court. Subjoined is a clipping from the Philadelphia Gazette of September 2, 1794:

“We hear that the inhabitants of Morgantown, Virginia, have assembled in a body, and determined to defend themselves against the encroachments and depredations of the insurgents in the west parts of Pennsylvania. In two or three instances they have opposed the insurgents and driven them back.

“(Extract of a Letter from Morgantown, Va., August 14, 1794.)

“‘The insurgents have been quite outrageous, and done much mischief. Here we have been quiet until a few days ago, when about 30 men, blacked, came in the night of the 9th instant, and surrounded the house of the Collector of this county, but the man escaping, and advertising that he had resigned his office, they went off peaceably. Three days after, at our court, a number of men, mostly from Pennsylvania, came to Morgantown, and in the evening, began to beat up for proselytes, but they were in a few minutes driven out of town. Yesterday they were to have returned with a stronger party, but did not.’

“N. B. Morgantown is mostly composed of Virginians and native Americans.”

James Veech says: “Albert Gallatin (of Fayette Co., Pa.) In his historical-defensive speech on the Insurrection, in the House of Representatives of the Pennsylvania Legislature, in January, 1795, on a Resolution (which was adopted) to set aside the election of Senators and members from the four western counties, says of this event: ‘A short time afterwards’ [having referred to previous like outrages in Pennsylvania] ‘the officer of a neighboring county in Virginia, fled for fear of insult, and a riot was committed at the place of his residence, by some of the inhabitants of that county, who have since been arrested, although the outrage seems at first to have been ascribed by the Governor of Virginia to Pennsylvanians. In another county of the same State, some of the papers of the officer were forcibly taken from him.’”

Who the excise officer at Morgantown was is not known.

When news of these disturbances reached Richmond, Henry Lee, Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation on the 20th of August, 1794, concerning the Morgantown trouble, calling on the civil and military officers to arrest every offender and watch all parties coming from Pennsylvania, and to apprehend them if found exciting a spirit of disobedience to the government. President Washington issued two proclamations against the insurgents, or “Whiskey Boys,” as they styled themselves, and called out 15,000 men in four divisions, from Pennsylvania, New Jerseys, Virginia and Maryland, one division from each State. The Virginia division was commanded by Gen. Daniel Morgan, rendevoused at Cumberland, Md., and marched into southwestern Pennsylvania by the way of Braddock’s Road. Gov. Henry Lee (grandfather of Gen. Robert E. Lee) was appointed commander-in-chief. By the time the army arrived in the rebellious district, the last vestige of armed resistance had died out. A part of the leaders were arrested but none were put to death. No troops were sent into Ohio or Monongalia counties.

The records of the old District Court held at Morgantown, show that on May 5th, William McKenley, John Moore, William Sutherland, Robert Stephenson and John McCormick, of Ohio County, were notified to appear there for trial, for stirring up the inhabitants of Ohio County against the government; but at the next session, in September, no prosecution was made by the Deputy Attorney-General.

Gov. Lee at Pittsburgh, on November 17, 1794, ordered the return of nearly all the army home. Brig. Gen. Matthews was to move the next Wednesday to Morgantown, and “from thence to Winchester by way of Frankfort.” As soon as the service would permit, Gen. Darke with the Elite Corps of the left column was to follow on the same route. No account was preserved of the arrival of the troops at Morgantown and their winter march through Monongalia.


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