I shared a link to an old silent docudrama short about the Whiskey Rebellion.
Americans typically get no more than a paragraph or two about this early American tax revolt in history class, and these usually cite the rebellion from the point of view of the fledgling federal government. When the Whiskey Rebellion was met by President Washington’s army, in this orthodox telling, “the prompt suppression of this insurrection served to demonstrate that the National Government had become powerful enough to enforce its laws.”
Today, I’ll share some documents about the tax rebellion.
First up is a social boycott resolution by the rebels:
…[W]hereas some men may be found amongst us, so far lost to every sense of virtue and feeling for the distresses of this country, as to accept offices for the collection of the duty:
Resolved, therefore, That in future we will consider such persons as unworthy of our friendship; have no intercourse or dealings with them; withdraw from them every assistance, and withhold all the comforts of life which depend upon those duties that as men and fellow citizens we owe to each other; and upon all occasions treat them with that contempt they deserve; and that it be, and it is hereby most earnestly recommended to the people at large to follow the same line of conduct towards them.
“Tom the Tinker” was an alias used by the tax strikers in their propaganda and other communiques. In this case, the alias was used to send a threatening letter to a distiller who continued to pay the excise tax in defiance of the tax boycott:
In taking a survey of the troops under my direction in the late expedition against that insolent exciseman, John Neville, I find there were a great many delinquents, even among those who carry on distilling. It will, therefore, be observed that I, Tom the Tinker, will not suffer any certain class or set of men to be excluded the service of this my district, when notified to attend on any expedition carried on in order to obstruct the execution of the excise law, and obtain a repeal thereof.
And I do declare on my solemn word, that if such delinquents do not come forth on the next alarm, with equipments, and give their assistance as much as in them lies, in opposing the execution and obtaining a repeal of the excise law, he or they will be deemed as enemies and stand opposed to virtuous principles of republican liberty, and shall receive punishment according to the nature of the offense.
And whereas, a certain John Reed, now resident in Washington, and being at his place near Pittsburgh, called Reedsburgh, and having a set of stills employed at said Reedsburgh, entered on the excise docket, contrary to the will and good pleasure of his fellow citizens, and came not forth to assist in the suppression of the execution of said law, by aiding and assisting in the late expedition, have, by delinquency, manifested his approbation to the execution of the aforesaid law, is hereby charged forthwith to cause the contents of this paper, without adding or diminishing, to be published in the Pittsburgh Gazette, the ensuing week, under the no less penalty than the consumption of his distillery.
Given under my hand, .
Finally, here are some excerpts from a report that Alexander Hamilton (the guy on the $10) made to George Washington (the guy on the $1) concerning the rebels and their tactics, and the government’s own strategy in attempting to defeat the rebellion:
Sir:— The disagreeable crisis at which matters have lately arrived in some of the western counties of Pennsylvania, with regard to the law laying duties on spirits distilled within the United States, and on stills, seems to render proper a review of the circumstances which have attended those laws in that scene from their commencement to the present time, and of the conduct which has hitherto been observed on the part of the government, its motives and effect, in order to a better judgment of the measures necessary to be pursued in the existing emergency.
The opposition to those laws in the four most western counties of Pennsylvania… commenced as early as they were known to have been passed. It has continued with different degrees of violence in different counties, and at different periods.… The opposition first manifested itself in the milder shape of the circulation of opinions unfavorable to the law, and calculated by the influence of public disesteem to discourage the accepting or holding of offices under it, or the complying with it by those who might be so disposed, to which was added the show of a discontinuance of the business of distilling.
These expedients were shortly after succeeded by private associations to forbear compliance with the law. But it was not long before these more negative modes of opposition were perceived to be likely to prove ineffectual. And in proportion as this was the case, and as the means of introducing the laws into operation were put into execution, the disposition to resistance became more turbulent and more inclined to adopt and practise violent expedients. The officers now began to experience marks of contempt and insult. Threats against them became more frequent and loud; and after some time these threats were ripened into acts of ill treatment and outrage.
These acts of violence were preceded by certain meetings of malcontent persons, who entered into resolutions calculated at once to confirm, inflame, and systematize the spirit of opposition.
[O]ne of these committees… passed some intemperate resolutions, which were afterward printed in the Pittsburgh Gazette, containing a strong censure on the law, declaring that any person who had accepted or might accept an office under Congress, in order to carry it into effect, should be considered as inimical to the interests of the country; and recommending to the citizens of Washington County to treat every person who had accepted or might thereafter accept any such office, with contempt, and absolutely to refuse all kind of communication or intercourse with the officers, and to withhold from them all aid, support, or comfort.
Not content with this vindictive proscription of those who might esteem it their duty, in the capacity of officers, to aid in the execution of the constitutional laws of the land, the meeting proceeded to accumulate topics of crimination of the government, though foreign to each other; authorizing, by this zeal for censure, a suspicion that they were actuated, not merely by the dislike of a particular law, but by a disposition to render the government itself unpopular and odious.
On , the opposition broke out in an act of violence upon the person and property of Robert Johnson, collector of the revenues for the counties of Alleghany and Washington.
A party of men, armed and disguised, waylaid him at a place on Pidgeon Creek, in Washington County, seized, tarred and feathered him, cut off his hair, and deprived him of his horse, obliging him to travel on foot a considerable distance in that mortifying and painful situation.
The case was brought before the District Court of Pennsylvania, out of which processes issued against John Robertson, John Hamilton, and Thomas McComb, three of the persons concerned in the outrage.
The deputy’s report to the marshal states a number of particulars evincing a considerable fermentation in the part of the country to which he was sent, and inducing a belief on his part, that he could not with safety have executed the processes. The marshal, transmitting this report to the district attorney, makes the following observations upon it: “I am sorry to add, that he (the deputy) found the people in general in the western part of the State, and particularly beyond the Alleghany Mountains, in such a ferment on account of the act of Congress for laying a duty on distilled spirits, and so much opposed to the execution of the said act, and from a variety of threats to himself personally, although he took the utmost precaution to conceal his errand, that he was not only convinced of the impossibility of serving the process, but that any attempt to effect it would have occasioned the most violent opposition from the greater part of the inhabitants; and he declares that if he had attempted it, he believes he should not have returned alive. I spared no expense nor pains to have the process of the court executed, and have not the least doubt that my deputy would have accomplished it, if it could have been done.”
The reality of the danger to the deputy was countenanced by the opinion of General Neville, the inspector of the revenue, a man who before had given, and since has given, numerous proofs of a steady and firm temper. And what followed is a further confirmation of it. The person who had been sent with the processes was seized, whipped, tarred and feathered, and after having his money and horse taken from him, was blindfolded and tied in the woods, in which condition he remained five hours.
Very serious reflections naturally occurred upon this occasion. It seemed highly probable, from the issue of the experiment which had been made, that the ordinary course of civil process would be ineffectual for enforcing the execution of the law in the scene in question, and that a perseverance in this course might lead to a serious concussion. The law itself was still in the infancy of its operation, and far from established in other important portions of the Union. Prejudices against it had been industriously disseminated, misrepresentations diffused, misconceptions fostered. The Legislature of the United States had not yet organized the means by which the Executive could come in aid of the Judiciary, when found incompetent to the execution of the laws. If neither of these impediments to a decisive exertion had existed, it was desirable, especially in a republican government, to avoid what is in such cases the ultimate resort, till all the milder means had been tried without success.
Under the united influence of these considerations, it appeared advisable to forbear urging coercive measures, until the laws had gone into more extensive operation, till further time for reflection and experience of its operation had served to correct false impressions and inspire greater moderation, and till the Legislature had had an opportunity, by a revision of the law, to remove, as far as possible, objections, and to reinforce the provisions for securing its execution.
Other incidents occurred from time to time, which are further proofs of the very improper temper that prevailed among the inhabitants of the refractory counties.
Mr. Johnson was not the only officer who about the same period experienced outrage. Mr. Wells, collector of the revenue for Westmoreland and Fayette, was also ill-treated at Greensburgh and Union Town; nor were the outrages perpetrated confined to the officers; they extended to private citizens who only dared to show their respect for the laws of their country.
Some time in , an unhappy man of the name of Wilson, a stranger in the county, and manifestly disordered in his intellects, imagining himself to be a collector of the revenue, or invested with some trust in relation to it, was so unlucky as to make inquiries concerning distillers who had entered their stills, giving out that he was to travel through the United States, to ascertain and report to Congress the number of stills, etc. This man was pursued by a party in disguise, taken out of his bed, carried about five miles back to a smith’s shop, stripped of his clothes, which were afterwards burnt, and, after having been himself inhumanly burnt in several places with a heated iron, was tarred and feathered, and about daylight dismissed — naked, wounded, and otherwise in a very suffering condition. These particulars are communicated in a letter from the inspector of the revenue, of , who declares that he had then himself seen the unfortunate maniac, the abuse of whom, as he expresses it, exceeded description, and was sufficient to make human nature shudder. The affair is the more extraordinary, as persons of weight and consideration in that county are understood to have been actors in it, and as the symptoms of insanity were, during the whole time of inflicting the punishment, apparent — the unhappy sufferer displaying the heroic fortitude of a man who conceived himself to be a martyr to the discharge of some important duty.
Not long after, a person of the name of Roseberry underwent the humiliating punishment of tarring and feathering, with some aggravations, for having in conversation hazarded the very natural and just but unpalatable remark, that the inhabitants of that county could not reasonably expect protection from a government whose laws they so strenuously opposed.
The audacity of the perpetrators of those excesses was so great, that an armed banditti ventured to seize and carry off two persons who were witnesses against the rioters in the case of Wilson, in order to prevent their giving testimony of the riot to a court then sitting, or about to sit.
Designs of personal violence against the Inspector of the Revenue himself, to force him to a resignation, were repeatedly attempted to be put in execution by armed parties, but by different circumstances were frustrated.
In the session of Congress which commenced in , the law laying a duty on distilled spirits and stills came under the revision of Congress, as had been anticipated. By an act passed , during that session, material alterations were made in it. Among these the duty was reduced to a rate so moderate as to have silenced complaint on that head; and a new and very favorable alternative was given to the distiller, that of paying a monthly instead of a yearly rate, according to the capacity of his still, with liberty to take a license for the precise term which he should intend to work it, and to renew that license for a further term or terms. This amending act, in its progress through the Legislature, engaged the particular attention of members who themselves were interested in distilleries, and of others who represented parts of the country in which the business of distilling was extensively carried on.
Objections were well considered, and great pains taken to obviate all such as had the semblance of reasonableness.
The effect has in a great measure corresponded with the views of the Legislature. Opposition has subsided in several districts where it before prevailed; and it was natural to entertain, and not easy to abandon, a hope that the same thing would by degrees have taken place in the four western counties of this State. But, notwithstanding some nattering appearances at particular junctures, and infinite pains by various expedients to produce the desirable issue, the hope entertained has never been realized, and is now at an end, as far as the ordinary means of executing laws are concerned.
The idea was immediately embraced, that it was a very important point in the scheme of opposition to the law, to prevent the establishment of offices [of inspection] in the respective counties. For this purpose the intimidation of well-disposed inhabitants was added to the plan of molesting and obstructing the officers by force or otherwise, as might be necessary. So effectually was the first point carried (the certain destruction of property and the peril of life being involved), that it became almost impracticable to obtain suitable places for offices in some of the counties, and when obtained, it was found a matter of necessity, in almost every instance, to abandon them.
After much effort, the Inspector of the Revenue succeeded in procuring the house of William Faulkner, a captain in the army, for an office of inspection in the county of Washington. This took place in . The office was attended by the inspector of the revenue in person, till prevented by the following incidents.
Captain Faulkner, being in pursuit of some deserters from the troops, was encountered by a number of people in the same neighborhood where Mr. Johnson had been ill-treated the preceding year, who reproached him with letting his house for an office of inspection, drew a knife upon him, threatened to scalp him, tar and feather him, and reduce his house and property to ashes, if he did not solemnly promise to prevent the further use of his house for an office. Capt. Faulkner was induced to make the promise exacted, and, in consequence of the circumstance, wrote a letter to the inspector, dated the , countermanding the permission for using his house, and the day following gave a public notice in the Pittsburgh Gazette that the office of inspection should be no longer kept there.
At the same time another engine of opposition was in operation. Agreeable to a previous notification, there met at Pittsburgh, on , a number of persons styling themselves “A Meeting of Sundry Inhabitants of the Western Counties of Pennsylvania.”
This meeting entered into resolutions not less exceptionable than those of its predecessors. The preamble suggested that a tax on spirituous liquors is unjust in itself, and oppressive upon the poor; that internal taxes upon consumption must, in the end, destroy the liberties of every country in which they are introduced; that the law in question, from certain local circumstances which are specified, would bring immediate distress and ruin upon the western country; and concludes with the sentiment, that they think it their duty to persist in remonstrances to Congress, and in every other legal measure that may obstruct the operation of the law.
The resolutions then proceed, first, to appoint a committee to prepare and cause to be presented to Congress an address, stating objections to the law, and praying for its repeal; secondly, to appoint committees of correspondence… and also, if found necessary, to call together either general meetings of the people…; and lastly, to declare that they will, in future, consider those who hold offices for the collection of the duty, as unworthy of their friendship, that they will have no intercourse nor dealings with them, will withdraw from them every assistance, withhold all the comforts of life which depend upon those duties that as men and fellow-citizens we owe to each other, and will upon all occasions treat them with contempt, earnestly recommending it to the people at large to follow the same line of conduct towards them.
The idea of pursuing legal measures to obstruct the operation of a law, needs little comment. Legal measures may be pursued to procure the repeal of a law, but to obstruct its operation presents a contradiction in terms. The operation, or, what is the same thing, the execution of a law, cannot be obstructed after it has been constitutionally enacted, without illegality and crime. The expression quoted is one of those phrases which can only be used to conceal a disorderly and culpable intention under forms that may escape the hold of the law.
Neither was it difficult to perceive that the anathema pronounced against the officers of the revenue placed them in a state of virtual outlawry, and operated as a signal to all those who were bold enough to encounter the guilt and the danger to violate both their lives and their properties.
The following plan… was afterwards put in execution… for carrying, if possible, the laws into effect without the necessity of recurring to force.
1. To prosecute delinquents in the cases in which it could be clearly done for non-compliance with the laws. 2. To intercept the markets for the surplus produce of the distilleries of the non-complying counties, by seizing the spirits on their way to those markets in places where it could be effected without opposition. 3. By purchases through agents, for the use of the army (instead of deriving the supply through contracts as formerly), confining them to spirits, in respect to which there had been a compliance with the laws.
The motives to this plan speak for themselves. It aimed, besides the influence of penalties on delinquents, at making it the general interest of the distillers to comply with the laws, by interrupting the market for a very considerable surplus, and by at the same time confining the benefit of the large demand for public service to those who did their duty to the public, and furnishing, through the means of payment in cash, that medium for paying the duties, the want of which was alleged to be a great difficulty in the way of compliance. But two circumstances conspired to counteract the success of the plan: one, the necessity, towards incurring the penalties of non-compliance, of there being an office of inspection in each county, which was prevented in some of the counties by means of the intimidation practised for that purpose; another, the non-extension of the law to the territory northwest of the Ohio, into which a large proportion of the surplus before mentioned was sent.…
The continuance of the embarrassment incident to this state of things, naturally tended to diminish much of the efficacy of the plan which had been devised. Yet it was resolved, as far as legal provisions would bear out the officers, to pursue it with perseverance. There was ground to entertain hopes of its good effects; and it was certainly the most likely course which could have been adopted towards attaining the objects of the laws, by means short of force; evincing unequivocally the sincere disposition to avoid this painful resort, and the steady moderation which has characterized the measures of the government.
In pursuance of this plan, prosecutions were occasionally instituted in the mildest forms, seizures were made as opportunities occurred, and purchases on public account were carried on.
It may be incidentally remarked that these purchases were extended to other places; where, though the same disorders did not exist, it appeared advisable to facilitate the payment of the duties by this species of accommodation.
Nor was this plan, notwithstanding the deficiency of legal provision, which impeded its full execution, without corresponding effects. Symptoms from time to time appeared which authorized expectations, that with the aid, at another session, of the desired supplementary provisions, it was capable of accomplishing its end, if no extraordinary events occurred.
The opponents of the laws, not insensible of the tendency of that plan, nor of the defects in the laws which interfered with it, did not fail from time to time to pursue analogous modes of counteraction. The effort to frustrate the establishment of offices of inspection, in particular, was persisted in, and even increased. Means of intimidating officers and others, continued to be exerted.
In , a party of armed men in disguise made an attack in the night upon the house of a collector of revenue who resided in Fayette County, but he happening to be from home, they contented themselves with breaking open his house, threatening, terrifying, and abusing his family.
Warrants were issued for apprehending some of the rioters upon this occasion, by Isaac Mason and James Findlay, assistant judges of Fayette County, which were delivered to the sheriff of that county, who, it seems, refused to execute them, for which he has since been indicted.
This is at once an example of the disposition to support the laws of the Union, and of an opposite one, in the local officers of Pennsylvania, within the non-complying scene. But it is a truth too important not to be noticed, and too injurious not to be lamented, that the prevailing spirit of those officers has been either hostile or lukewarm to the execution of those laws; and that the weight of an unfriendly official influence has been one of the most serious obstacles with which they have had to struggle.
In , the Inspector of the Revenue was burnt in effigy in Alleghany County, at a place and on a day of some public election, with much display, in the presence of and without interruption from magistrates and other public officers.
On the night of , another party of men, some of them armed, and all in disguise, went to the house of the same collector of Fayette which had been visited in , broke and entered it, and demanded a surrender of the officer’s commission and official books. Upon his refusing to deliver them up, they presented pistols at him, and swore that if he did not comply they would instantly put him to death. At length a surrender of the commission and books was enforced. But not content with this, the rioters, before they departed, required of the officer that he should, within two weeks, publish his resignation, on pain of another such visit and a destruction of his house.
Notwithstanding these excesses, the laws appeared during the latter periods of this year to be rather gaining ground. Several principal distillers, who had formerly held out, complied, and others discovered a disposition to comply, which was only restrained by the fear of violence.
But these favorable circumstances served to beget alarm among those who were determined, at all events, to prevent the quiet establishment of the laws. It soon appeared that they meditated, by fresh and greater excesses, to aim a still more effectual blow at them, to subdue the growing spirit of compliance, and to destroy entirely the organs of the laws, within that part of the country, by compelling all the officers to renounce their offices.
The last proceeding in the case of the collector of Fayette, was in this spirit.
In , further violences appear to have been perpetrated. William Richmond, who had given information against some of the rioters in the affair of Wilson, had his barn burnt, with all the grain and hay which it contained; and the same thing happened to Robert Shawhan, a distiller, who had been among the first to comply with the law, and who had always spoken favorably of it.…
The Inspector of the Revenue, in a letter of the , writes, that he had received information that persons living near the dividing line of Alleghany and Washington had thrown out threats of tarring and feathering one William Cochran, a complying distiller, and of burning his distillery; and that it had also been given out that, in three weeks, there would not be a house standing in Alleghany County, of any person who had complied with the laws. In consequence of which, he had been induced to pay a visit to several leading individuals in that quarter, as well to ascertain the truth of the information, as to endeavor to avert the attempt to execute such threats.
It appeared afterwards, that on his return home he had been pursued by a collection of disorderly persons, threatening, as they went along, vengeance against him. On their way these men called at the house of James Kiddoe, who had recently complied with the laws, broke into his still-house, fired several balls under his still, and scattered fire over and about the house.
Letters from the Inspector, in , announce an increased activity in promoting opposition to the laws; frequent meetings to cement and extend the combinations against it; and among other means for this purpose, a plan of collecting a force to seize him, compel him to resign his commission, and detain him prisoner probably as a hostage.
In new violences were committed. James Kiddoe, the person above mentioned, and William Cochran, another complying distiller, met with repeated injury to their property. Kiddoe had parts of his grist-mill at different times carried away, and Cochran suffered more material injuries; his still was destroyed, his saw-mill was rendered useless by the taking away of the saw, and his grist-mill so injured as to require to be repaired at considerable expense.
At the last visit, a note in writing was left, requiring him to publish what he had suffered in the Pittsburgh Gazette, on pain of another visit, in which he is threatened, in figurative but intelligible terms, with the destruction of his property by fire; thus adding to the profligacy of doing wanton injuries to a fellow-citizen, the tyranny of compelling him to be the publisher of his wrongs.
being the month for receiving annual entries of stills, endeavors were used to open offices in Westmoreland and Washington, where it had been hitherto found impracticable. With much pains and difficulty places were secured for the purpose. That in Westmoreland was repeatedly attacked in the night by armed men, who frequently fired upon it, but according to a report which has been made to this department, it was defended with so much courage and perseverance by John Wells, an auxiliary officer, and Philip Regan, the owner of the house, as to have been maintained during the remainder of the month.
That in Washington, after repeated attempts, was suppressed; the first attempt was confined to pulling down the sign of the office, and threats of future destruction; the second effected the object in the following mode: About twelve persons, armed and painted black, in the night of , broke into the house of John Lynn, where the office was kept, and after having treacherously seduced him to come down stairs and put himself in their power, by a promise of safety to himself and his house, they seized and tied him, threatened to hang him, took him to a retired spot in a neighboring wood, and there, after cutting off his hair, tarring and feathering him, swore him never again to allow the use of his house for an office, never to disclose their names, and never again to have any sort of agency in aid of the excise; having done which, they bound him naked to a tree, and left him in that situation till morning, when he succeeded in extricating himself. Not content with this, the malcontents some days after made him another visit, pulled down part of his house, and put him in a situation to be obliged to become an exile from his home, and to find an asylum elsewhere.
During this time several of the distillers, who had made entries and benefited by them, refused the payment of the duties, actuated, no doubt, by various motives.
Indications of a plan to proceed against the Inspector of the Revenue, in the manner which has been before mentioned, continued. In a letter from him of , he observed that the threatened visit had not been made, though he had still reason to expect it.
Processes issued against a number of non-complying distillers in the counties of Fayette and Alleghany, and indictments having been found at a circuit court, holden at Philadelphia in , against Robert Smilie and John McCulloch, two of the rioters in the attack which had been made upon the house of a collector of the revenue in Fayette County, processes issued against them also, to bring them to trial, and, if guilty, to punishment.
The marshal of the district went in person to serve these processes. He executed the trust without interruption, though under many discouraging circumstances, in Fayette County; but while he was in the execution of it in Alleghany County — being then accompanied by the Inspector of the Revenue, to wit — on , he was beset on the road by a party of from thirty to forty armed men, who, after much previous irregularity of conduct, finally fired upon him, but, as it happened, without injury either to him or to the Inspector.
This attempt on the marshal was but the prelude of greater excesses.
About break of day, , in conformity with a plan which seems to have been for some time entertained, and which probably was only accelerated by the coming of the marshal into the survey, an attack by about one hundred persons, armed with guns and other weapons, was made upon the house of the Inspector, in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. The Inspector, though alone, vigorously defended himself against the assailants, and obliged them to retreat without accomplishing their purpose.
Apprehending that the business would not terminate here, he made application, by letter, to the judges, generals of militia, and sheriff of the country for protection. A reply to his application from John Wilkins, junior, and John Gibson, magistrates and militia officers, informed him that the laws could not be executed so as to afford him the protection to which he was entitled, owing to the too general combination of the people in that part of Pennsylvania to oppose the revenue law; adding, that they would take every step in their power to bring the rioters to justice, and would be glad to receive information of the individuals concerned in the attack upon his house, that prosecutions might be commenced against them; and expressing their sorrow that, should the posse comitatus of the county be ordered out in support of the civil authority, very few could be gotten that were not of the party of the rioters.
, the insurgents reassembled with a considerable augmentation of numbers, amounting, as has been computed, to at least five hundred, and on renewed their attack upon the house of the Inspector, who, in the interval, had taken the precaution of calling to his aid a small detachment from the garrison of Fort Pitt, which, at the time of the attack, consisted of eleven men, who had been joined by Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, a friend and connection of the Inspector.
There being scarcely a prospect of effectual defence against so large a body as then appeared, and as the Inspector had every thing to apprehend for his person, if taken, it was judged advisable that he should withdraw from the house to a place of concealment — Major Kirkpatrick generously agreeing to remain with the eleven men, in the intention, if practicable, to make a capitulation in favor of the property; if not, to defend it as long as possible.
A parley took place, under cover of a flag which was sent by the insurgents to the house, to demand that the inspector should come forth, renounce his office, and stipulate never again to accept office under the same laws. To this it was replied, that the inspector had left the house upon their first approach, and that the place to which he had retired was unknown. They then declared that they must have whatever related to his office. They were answered, that they might send persons, not exceeding six, to search the house and take away whatever papers they could find appertaining to the office. But, not satisfied with this, they insisted, unconditionally, that the armed men who were in the house for its defence should march out and ground their arms, which Major Kirkpatrick peremptorily refused, considering it, and representing it to them, as a proof of their design to destroy the property. This refusal put an end to the parley.
A brisk firing then ensued between the insurgents and those in the house, which, it is said, lasted for nearly an hour, till the assailants, having set fire to the neighboring and adjacent buildings, eight in number, the intenseness of the heat, and the danger of an immediate communication of the fire to the house, obliged Major Kirkpatrick and his small party to come out and surrender themselves. In the course of the firing, one of the insurgents was killed and several wounded, and three of the persons in the house were also wounded. The person killed is understood to have been the leader of the party, of the name of James McFarlane, then a major in the militia, formerly a lieutenant in the Pennsylvania line. The dwelling-house, after the surrender, shared the fate of the other buildings, the whole of which were consumed to the ground. The loss of property to the inspector, upon this occasion, is estimated (and, as it is believed, with great moderation) at not less than three thousand pounds.
The marshal, Colonel Presley Neville, and several others, were taken by the insurgents going to the inspector’s house. All, except the marshal and Colonel Neville, soon made their escape; but these were carried off some distance from the place where the affray had happened, and detained till . In the course of their detention, the marshal in particular suffered very severe and humiliating treatment, and was frequently in imminent danger of his life. Several of the party repeatedly presented their pieces at him, with every appearance of a design to assassinate him, from which they were with difficulty restrained by the efforts of a few, more humane and more prudent.
Nor could he obtain safety or liberty, but upon the condition of a promise, guaranteed by Colonel Neville, that he would serve no other process on the west side of the Alleghany Mountains. The alternative being immediate death, extorted from the marshal a compliance with this condition, notwithstanding the just sense of official dignity and the firmness of character which were witnessed by his conduct throughout the trying scenes he had experienced.
The insurgents, on , sent a deputation of two of their number (one a justice of the peace) to Pittsburgh, to require of the marshal a surrender of the processes in his possession, intimating that his compliance would satisfy the people and add to his safety; and also to demand of General Neville, in peremptory terms, the resignation of his office; threatening, in case of refusal, to attack the place, and take him by force — demands which both these officers did not hesitate to reject, as alike incompatible with their honor and their duty.
As it was well ascertained that no protection was to be expected from the magistrates or inhabitants of Pittsburgh, it became necessary to the safety both of the inspector and the marshal, to quit that place; and, as it was known that all the usual routes to Philadelphia were beset by the insurgents, they concluded to descend the Ohio, and proceed by a circuitous route to the seat of government, which they began to put in execution on the night of .
Information has also been received of a meeting of a considerable number of persons at a place called Mingo Creek Meeting-house, in the county of Washington, to consult about the further measures which it might be advisable to pursue; that at this meeting a motion was made to approve and agree to support the proceedings which had taken place, until the excise law was repealed, and an act of oblivion passed; but that, instead of this, it had been agreed that the four western counties of Pennsylvania and the neighboring counties of Virginia should be invited to meet in a convention of delegates, on , at Parkinson’s, on Mingo Creek, in the county of Washington, to take into consideration the situation of the western country, and concert such measures as should appear suited to the occasion.
It appears, moreover, that, on , the mail of the United States, on the road from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, was stopped by two armed men, who cut it open, and took out all the letters except those contained in one packet. These armed men, from all the circumstances which occurred, were manifestly acting on the part of the insurgents.
The declared object of the foregoing proceedings is to obstruct the execution and compel a repeal of the laws laying duties on spirits distilled within the United States, and upon stills. There is just cause to believe that this is connected with an indisposition, too general in that quarter, to share in the common burdens of the community, and with a wish, among some persons of influence, to embarrass the government. It is affirmed, by well-informed persons, to be a fact of notoriety, that the revenue laws of the State itself have always been either resisted or very defectively complied with in the same quarter.
With the most perfect respect, I have the honor to be, etc.