The York, Pennsylvania, Tax Riot of 1786

From the Carlisle Gazette:

At a court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Yorktown, for the county of York, on , Godfrey King, Andrew Hoak and Conrad Hoak, together with 20 others, were indicted for a riot in having tumultuously and riotously assembeled and having marched under arms into the town of York in , in order to oppose the sale of property distrained by the collectors for taxes. They all pleaded guilty. (That they surrounded the crier and forbid any person purchasing when the property which had been seized was offered for sale. A cow which had been in the hands of the collector was driven away by the rioters): Godfred King who had headed the rioters was fined 50 pounds 1 shilling; Andrew Hoak and Conrad Hoak 25 pounds 1 shilling each.

The book History of York County [Pennsylvania] () gives more detail:

Riot in .

There was an affray in the borough of York in , which may not be unworthy of brief notice, it being a matter still fresh in the recollections of many of the inhabitants of the town. This was a riot occasioned by the excise-law then existing.

A certain man in Manchester, viz., Jacob Bixler, was unwilling to pay his tax or rather excise: whereupon his cow was distrained or taken by the collector, for the payment. It was to rescue (i.e. forcibly take from the hands of the officer) this cow, that the affray happened. The beast had been driven by the officer from Manchester to York town, and, by advertisement, was on a certain day to be exposed to sale. On the day of the sale a company of about 100 men set out from the neighborhood of the animal’s former residence, armed some with clubs, others with pistols or guns; and directing their march toward York, they crossed chicken bridge (at the end of north George street), and in single or Indian file marched into town. Their captain, who was Godfrey King, led them on, with dread determination, to the place where her vaccine excellence was exposed to vendition. This was the square where Main and Beaver Streets cross each other. The appearance of such a body of men so armed for outrage, was the subject of an instant alarm. They had hardly proceeded to commit violence when the whole town, as on the alarm of fire, was assembled together. The inhabitants met the rioters with the like weapons, clubs, pistols, guns and swords. One justice half deprived of his senses hastened to the spot and supporting himself with both hands against a corner said “I command thee in my name to keep peace.” But something more forcible was found in the weapons of Henry Miller, John Hay, John Edie, William Baily &c. all well prepared for the battle. Miller during the affray, struck with his sword at one Hoake, who leaping over a wagon-tongue, just excaped the blow; the sword falling upon the wagon tongue, sunk into it about an inch.

After some boxing and striking, the party dispersed, and the whole tumult ended. The men became ashamed of their folly and said that “they had just come in to see what became of the money.”

Frederick Hoake was afterwards severly fined for cutting the rope around the cow’s neck, and letting her loose, though the fact was, Peter Schneider, jun., did the very thing for which Hoake, innocent as to this, was punished.

The several rioters were shortly afterwards brought before the justices of the peace, and bound for appearance at next court, and on the , Godfrey King, Andrew Hoake, Philip King, (son of Godfrey) Philip Wintemeyer, George Miller and Adam Hoake were each bound before the court of Quarter Sessions in a considerable sum to appear at the next Supreme court to answer such bills of indictment as should be presented against them, and not to depart the court without leave and in the mean time to keep the peace to all the liege subjects of the commonwealth.”[sic] They accordingly appeared, and with others of their brethren, were fined, “judgment being tempered with mercy.” Thus ended an affray of which many speak, and of which, from the much speaking we have been induced to write. It was in fact a cow-insurrection; it brought Manchester and York into a fond and loving union.

This would have been around the same time as Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts.

In , the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin presiding, considered a petition for clemency from Andrew Hoak and Godfrey King, which they granted, remitting all of Hoak’s fine, and 90% of King’s.

I haven’t been able to determine the motive for Bixler’s original resistance or for why the others rushed to his defense.