McCreary, Dougherty, and other kin in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, surely were much affected by events of the Whiskey Rebellion, 1791-1794. There was some John Dougherty, who was listed as a distiller in a 1785 tax list for Franklin Township, Fayette County. He was likely the same John Dougherty which appeared in the 1790 census of Franklin Township, and his household was consistent with the presence of my ancestor Mary Dougherty (who married James McCreary in 1794). There were other Doughertys on the scene who may have been her parents. Hugh McCreary’s farm lay between Brownsville (scene of discussions against the whiskey tax) and Uniontown (where a tax man’s office was vandalized in 1793, a “Liberty Pole” was later set up, and Alexander Hamilton had a headquarters while crushing the rebellion). The Whiskey Rebellion also involved Westmoreland County, home of my Muffley & Yockey kin. My Johannes & Maria Barbara Yockey Muffly family was then living in Washington Township, Westmoreland County, perhaps 30 miles from The Forks of the Ohio (Pittsburgh).

At the end of the American Revolution, western Pennsylvania was in an economic depression, from which recovery was slower than in the east. Men who had fought in the Revolution were unpaid, and their livelihoods had suffered while they were away. Indian attacks continued, and the federal government gave insufficient help. There were foreclosures, and people became impoverished. It is all the more remarkable that our Hugh McCreary had actually been able in these hard times to buy land in 1789.

Farmers in Fayette, Westmoreland, Allegheny, and Washington counties found that markets over the mountains to the east were so remote that it was not economically feasible to transport grains that far. However, if grains were turned into whiskey, it was just possible to eke out a living. In some cases, local people such as John Dougherty took a percentage for distilling grains brought to them, and then returned to the farmers their yield in the form of whiskey. Whiskey was a widely accepted form of alternate currency.

By this time, Americans’ national drink had turned from rum to whiskey. The Scots and Scots-Irish had brought skills in making whiskey (= “uisce beatha”, or “water of life” in Gaelic) to America, and some of the best whiskeys in America were produced in the area centered on the Forks of the Ohio (Pittsburgh). For example, there was Monongahela Rye, probably first produced accidentally when rye whiskey spent a long time being sloshed about in oak barrels while being shipped long distances (see “Rye is Popular Again”). The fame of these whiskeys had spread as far as New Orleans and Philadelphia. Over a quarter of America’s stills were located in counties around the Forks of the Ohio.

George Washington had considerable land holdings in the west, including land at New Boston (now Perryopolis), in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Washington leased this land to his Quaker friend Col. Israel Shreve, who built a distillery there in 1790, and this distillery (it still stands today) was active during The Whiskey Rebellion. The Shreve distillery was likely not far from the home of distiller John Dougherty (possibly my ancestor), and the Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church (possibly attended by our Doughertys). Israel Shreve was the father of Henry Shreve of Brownsville. In 1814, Henry constructed the Enterprise, the first steamboat to go downriver to New Orleans and back to Pittsburgh; Shreveport, Louisiana, was named after him.

In March, 1791, Alexander Hamilton’s whiskey tax came into effect. Initially, different rules applied to large distillers and small distillers, putting the latter in southwest Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage. Small distillers might pay more than double the rate of large distillers. Economic hard times just got worse, as American wealth was redistributed from the many to the few. The whiskey tax was the first federal tax on a domestic product, at a time when there was no income tax to inconvenience the wealthy. “With independence won, a U.S. Congress’s imposing hated excise would seem, to some, the ultimate in ideological betrayal.” Hamilton was “…dropping a very smart bomb on a target he’d been softening for years” (William Hogeland’s “The Whiskey Rebellion”). Hamilton was a fan of David Hume, who proposed concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Hamilton believed that only the rich were fit to govern, but his tax plan put the main burden upon small farmers. Robert Morris, the “Financier of the Revolution”, saw the whiskey tax as a way to pay interest to the bondholding class. Those in southwest Pennsylvania who resisted the tax treated the whiskey tax as “the last intolerable stroke in a long flogging”.

Washington County, next west of Fayette County, was a focus of resistance activities. On July, 27, 1791, there was a discussion of the tax at a meeting in the Black Horse Tavern in Brownsville, Fayette County, close to the home of Hugh McCreary, whose land was in Menallen Township (later Redstone Twp.). Brownsville was then a town of some importance, and it was said that Pittsburgh might amount to something if it weren’t so close to Brownsville. Brownsville lies on east bank of the Monongahela River, with Washington Co. on the west bank.

Federal tax collectors became the enemies of the people, and a tax man was tarred and feathered in early September, 1791. Following this, representatives from Allegheny, Washington, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties met in Pittsburgh, and sent petitions to Pennsylvania and U.S. legislatures. To no avail.

Aggressive actions moved from assaults upon tax collectors, to attacks upon those who rented to tax collectors, to attacks upon those who merely complied with the law to register stills. The Mingo Creek Association militia, opposed to the tax, met at the Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church, a few miles north of our McCreary and Dougherty homes. Another meeting in Pittsburgh proposed replacement of the whiskey excise with a progressive tax on wealth (that would never fly with the political elite). Alexander Hamilton continued his push for punitive military action against southwest Pennsylvania, to set an example to others on the frontier (esp. Kentucky and the Carolinas), who also resisted the tax but were far away from federal troops. President Washington initially opposed military force against citizens. The beheading of the King of France in 1792 led to some popular American enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and George Washington became “…fair game in the press for the first time.” Hamilton feared that America might go the way of France (

On March 11, 1794, my ancestors James McCreary and Mary Dougherty were wed in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, probably at Dunlap’s Creek Presbyterian Church, and they probably then lived upon the land of Hugh McCreary, father of James. By May, Liberty Poles were being raised, often with signs displaying the snake and “Don’t Tread on Me”, or “Liberty and No Excise”. The market house in Uniontown, seat of Fayette County, had such a Liberty Pole.

Citizens of southwest Pennsylvania had taken over the militia, and set up extralegal courts. On July 16 and 17, 1794, local militia and U.S. Army regulars from Fort Fayette clashed at the estate of wealthy tax inspector General John Neville. His Bower Hill mansion (one of the finest houses west of the Alleghenies) was burned to the ground. During that battle, James McFarlane, war hero and a leader of the militia forces, was killed. Moderates became concerned about federal reprisals, and tried to calm people and to appeal to the government for amnesty. Too late.

There was considerable animosity towards members of the Neville Connection, a local military-industrial power. Rebels expelled some people from “New Sodom” (Pittsburgh) and talked of burning the town. Men living in Pittsburgh were coerced into joining a militia muster at Braddock’s Field, near Pittsburgh. At the end of July, 1794, nearly 7000 armed men assembled there, and talked of attacking the fort. Even moderates who didn’t like each other were working hard together to head off disaster. State legislator Albert Gallatin, of Fayette County, was one such moderate; later he was Thomas Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary. In the end, the fort and town were spared. I wonder if any of my kin were among the 7000 militiamen. My ancestor James McCreary was nearly 26, and he had two younger brothers, John and Archibald. There were several Dougherty households in Fayette County then, probably including John Dougherty the distiller.

In early August, 1794, President Washington issued a proclamation to the rebels, and he also invoked the Militia Act of 1792. Several states were called upon to provide an army of nearly 13,000 to put down the rebellion. While troops were prepared, federal negotiators would have a go at talking to the insurgents.

The arrival at the Forks of the Ohio of President Washington’s commission surprised the August 14, 1794, Congress meeting at Parkinson’s Ferry: 226 delegates from all townships in the Pennsylvania counties of Westmoreland (my Muffleys and Yockeys were in Washington Township), Bedford, Fayette (my McCrearys were in Menallen Twp. and Doughertys in Franklin Twp.), Washington, and Allegheny, plus Ohio County, Virginia. The congress was in part meeting to propose a restructuring of society, and their flag had 6 stripes of alternating red and white.

The presidential commission sent to talk to the insurgents was meant to instill fear, divide moderates from rebels, collect military intelligence, and to stall while militias from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland assembled and marched. The Washington administration sought to keep the military action secret from the public and from Congress (which was in recess, so had no say). Alexander Hamilton, writing in eastern newspapers under a pseudonym, successfully inflamed eastern opinion against the uprising in the west.

The presidential commissioners had met with a western negotiating committee, who reported back to the standing committee on August 28, 1794, at Brownsville, near the Hugh McCreary family home. To avoid legal charges, all males aged 18 and over would have to sign an oath of submission, by September 11. That would have to have included Hugh, James, John and Archibald McCreary; several unknown Dougherty kin in Fayette County; Johannes Muffly (husband of Maria Barbara Yockey; their sons were too young); Christian Jr., Christian III, Abraham, Henry, Jacob, and Peter Yockey; John Peter Sr. & Jr. Wannamaker (Peter Senior was a brother of Catherine Regina Wannamaker Muffly, sister-in-law of my ancestor Johannes Muffly). Either they signed, or they were potentially marked as treasonous.

The federal army marched west in two wings, the northern through Carlisle, Pennsylvania; and the southern via Fort Cumberland, Maryland. On September 30, 1794, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton left Philadelphia to join the northern wing (Pennsylvania and New Jersey militias). On October 9, an emissary from the Forks of the Ohio spoke with President Washington at Carlisle, urging him to not march on western Pennsylvania, as the Parkinson’s Ferry Congress had already resolved for submission. Incidentally, Carlisle is now a repository for military historical documents.

George Washington himself only marched as far as Bedford, before heading back for Philadelphia on October 21. Virginia Governor Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee was nominally in command of the army, although Alexander Hamilton issued orders in Washington’s name. Hamilton took “…charge of a massive military operation to enforce his own policies on the citizenry”. Hamilton was suspected of “…inciting this rebellion solely for the purpose of quelling it with brutal force”.

Meanwhile, many people around the Forks of the Ohio left the area, some heading down the Ohio River. Those who remained were fearful. The rebel militias had been frightening enough, but “These soldiers were even more frightening: they WERE the legitimate government.” Federal troops were deployed throughout the Forks area by the end of the first week in November, 1794. Hamilton’s headquarters included Uniontown and the town of Washington; the most direct route between these probably passed within a mile of Hugh McCreary’s land. Mass arrests began, particularly on “The Dreadful Night”, although most of those who were actually guilty of anything had already fled by the thousands. No matter. “Almost every adult male was fair game for capture.” People were yanked from bed at bayonet point, run through the snow in chains, imprisoned in appalling conditions, and brutally interrogated. Hamilton and Lee made it clear that, “…regardless of evidence, a reasonable number of insurgents must be taken to Philadelphia”. Hamilton’s goal was to “…remove the heart of the people’s movement…”

A few prisoners from southwest Pennsylvania were in fact walked to Philadelphia, and paraded in the town on Christmas Day, 1794. Despite pressure that these men were to be found guilty, juries refused to convict, on such poor evidence, most cases that went to trial. Two who were found guilty of minor crimes were thought to be insane and retarded, respectively, and were pardoned by Washington. It was 1796 before all of the accused were released. Some troops remained in southwest Pennsylvania to enforce peace and tax collection. Residents no longer openly defied the tax law, but the whiskey taxes remained hard to collect. A French minister portrayed George Washington as a puppet of Hamilton and other Federalists, who “…had incited the rebellion in order to exercise absolute power over the American people and punish political enemies in government.”

In the end, the Whiskey Rebellion helped to turn the American people against Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party, and towards the Democratic-Republican Party, founded in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Albert Gallatin, whom Hamilton had wished to arrest, became Secretary of the Treasury under the Jefferson presidency (1801-1809).

During the Whiskey Rebellion, one member of the militia sent west was Captain John Fries of the Pennsylvania militia. After Hamilton’s time as Treasury Secretary, the nation was not quite done with Federalist policies. Under Federalist President John Adams (1797-1801), unpopular and unfair taxes were again instituted. Capt. John Fries became the leader of a tax revolt, the Fries Rebellion (1798-1799); while in hiding, Fries’ presence was revealed to searchers by his dog “Whiskey”, and Fries was convicted of treason. This rebellion centered upon Milford Township in Bucks County, which is only a few miles east of Pennsburg, in current Montgomery County. Several years earlier, the Pennsburg area was home to the Sechler family (ancestors of my wife Kathryn). Thomas Fredrick Sechler (b. 1743, in that area) had a daughter Catherine Sechler, who married Jacob Fries after the 1785 move to North Carolina. It is not known if Kathryn’s Fries ancestors were kin to Capt. John Fries who led to tax revolt. This uprising also included Northampton County, home then to some Muffley families, including those of Peter Muffly & Christian Muffly, brothers of my ancestor Johannes Muffly.

Back in Fayette County, Hugh McCreary’s neighbor Peter Colley built his tavern (still standing) in 1796. I wonder if he served Monongahela Rye. In 1798 my 4th great-grandparents James and Mary Dougherty McCreary migrated to Warren County, Ohio. The whiskey tax was repealed in 1803, and Hamilton was killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804.

1 comment:

Tom Fusia said...

I found your excellent well written post while doing research on my own western Pennsylvania ancestors who were involved in the Whiskey Rebellion. I had a number who were distillers, one of whom, Capt. Robert Ross was a militia leader who led his men in erecting Liberty Poles in Fayette County. Other ancestors also in Fayette County and also distillers were Hugh Gilmore Sr and his son Hugh Gilmore Jr. The Ross's and Gilmore's had several children marry into each others families. Rev David Philips of Washington County is also a direct grgr+ grandfather. He was a rebellion participant too.
Just wanted to connect with you and share and let you know I enjoyed your post.
Tom Fusia