Have you ever found a shocking discovery while working on your family history? I have found a few with it literally being a shock when I discovered a distant cousin was electrocuted by the State of Ohio (see my tale of Ralph Reed here). I found out via DNA that the man listed on my grandmother’s birth certificate was not her dad (see that discovery here).
But I will never forget standing in the Bedford County Historical Society trying to obtain more information on my fifth-great-grandfather, Peter Morgart, who I discovered previously was at the Battle of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, only to learn he was an antagonist of the Whiskey Rebellion and a reason President George Washington went to Bedford County, Pennsylvania to settle things within our very young country.
The Whiskey Rebellion
The Whiskey Rebellion was an “uprising of farmers and distillers in western Pennsylvania in protest of a whiskey tax that was enacted by the federal government“. In 1790 Alexander Hamilton pushed for the American government to take over all the debt each state sustained during the American Revolution. Though President Washington was against the tax in the beginning, after talking to local Virginians and Pennsylvanians, who seemed “enthusiastic”, he (Washington) took these positive declarations to Congress and the bill was passed in 1791.
Protests began immediately as the new tax was unfair to small producers. Where the larger distilleries paid a yearly tax at 6 cents per gallon, with even more tax breaks the more whiskey was produced, the smaller distillers paid 9 cents per gallon and had to pay with cash.
Initial protests were refusals to pay the tax, but then they began intimidating officials and violence broke out. For example, 11 September 1791 Robert Johnson from the excise office, went to collect the tax, he was surrounded by 11 men dressed as women where they stripped him naked, tar and feathered him, and stole his horse, leaving him alone in the forest. Mr. Johnson recognized 2 of the men and warrants were issued for their arrest. When John Connor went to take the arrest warrants to them, the same thing happened to him. They resigned after that.
In 1792 Washington tried to resolve things peacefully, but by 1794 actions began to get out of hand when a fire was set to the home of the regional tax collector, John Neville. President George Washington organized a militia and headed to western Pennsylvania. By the time he arrived the rebels had “dispursed” with 2 being found guilty of treason (they were both later pardoned by Washington).
My fifth-great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother’s side witnessed Cornwallis surrender his sword to George Washington at Yorktown. So that he was one of the many men refusing to pay the tax blew my mind. He paid his fine (to my relief) but it had me rather unsettled that my relative was one of the reasons my hero had to go to Bedford County.
I am not sure if Peter Morgart was a distiller himself but he did build the Morgart Tavern in the late 1700s. I’m sure being the owner of a tavern brought about it’s own sort of related payments to the whiskey tax.
The Tavern went on to be owned by my fourth-great-grandfather, Baltzer Morgart.