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.
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.
My “lucky place” in my world of genealogy is Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Not only is it home to a majority of my dad’s family, but even a branch of my maternal side leads to Bedford County, too.
However, the term “lucky” can also be quite sarcastic as Bedford County is not always the easiest of counties to find the information you are seeking. But this week I am going to try to give a brief history lesson of the county, and give some statistics of Bedford County’s influence on my genealogical world.
A Little History about Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Bedford County started out as a trading post called Raystown after it’s first settler, Robert MacRay, a Scots-Irish immigrant. This began in 1750 and wasn’t the friendliest of places as they often dealt with raids from Indians, and then in 1754 by the French and British during the French & Indian War (or if you are from European descent you would know this as the Seven Years War).
The County ended up getting it’s name from Fort Bedford, built during the French & Indian War it was named in honor of John Russell, the Fourth Duke of Bedford. It was an essential base for the British as they expanded the war westward into the Ohio Country, primarily being used for supplies.
Tall tales with some supported facts claim that Fort Bedford was the first fort to be taken in the early stages of the American Revolution by James Smith. Some evidence states there is truth to this, others feel the fort was simply evacuated in 1766.
By the time George Washington came to Bedford County in 1794 during the Whiskey Rebellion, the fort had already been razed, as this was the general area where his troops stayed.
Mother Bedford and Her Baby Counties
Bedford became the 9th official county of Pennsylvania on 9 March 1771, formed from Cumberland County. It’s population had a boost due to the migration of people westward, and the large county it began as (known as Mother Bedford) slowly made way for new counties: Huntingdon on 20 March 1787, Somerset on 17 April 1795, Cambria on 26 March 1804, Blair on 26 February 1846, and lastly Fulton on 19 April 1850 (some of these new counties were also created with lands from adjacent counties, too).
The Whiskey Rebellion
The Whiskey Rebellion, also known as the Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest that began in 1791 when the newly formed United States decided to chose alcohol as it’s first domestic product to tax to assist in raising money to pay off the debt the country incurred during the Revolutionary War. The farmers of the western frontier (which at this time was Western Pennsylvania) resisted paying this tax, as many were veterans of the American Revolution.
In 1794 the protest came to a head when General John Neville, who was the tax inspector, home was attacked by over 500 armed men. President George Washington rode to the area with 13,000 militiamen to confront the protestors, but all had left by the time he arrived.
Despite there not being a formal confrontation, 20 men were arrested but were later pardoned. This instance showed that our new government was not a force to be reckoned with. And for the record, my fifth great-grandfather, Peter Morgart, was one of the men who resisted paying the tax, but did pay his fines.
The “whiskey tax” continued to be a difficult tax to collect and was later repealed during the Jefferson administration.
The Bedford Springs Hotel
One of the large and fancy hotels that still stands in Bedford County is the Bedford Springs Hotel. It was built in 1806 near a spring with a high mineral content and was said to have “healing powers” by Native Americans who would come from miles to drink and bathe in the waters.
It soon became a vacation destination for those from the east as their cities were beginning to become polluted due to increase in industrialization. Bedford still offered a country feel.
It became a meeting place of presidents including William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor. During James Buchanan’s presidency it became known as the “Summer White House”, with the first trans-Atlantic cable sent from England to the United States being received at the Bedford Springs Hotel as that is where President Buchanan was at when it came on 12 August 1858.
The Bedford Springs had different medicinal qualities. A “Bedford Cure” was given to guests over their 3-week stay which included the “Magnesium Spring” for tummy ailments, or the “Iron Spring” for healthy bones and iron deficiencies.
The Bedford Springs Hotel is still an operating hotel and is owned by the Omni Hotels & Resorts.
There were 2 coal fields that were in Bedford County. The Broad Top Field was located in the northeastern area of the county. With many of my relatives coming from and living in Broad Top I believe this is the area where many of them worked.
The second field was in the southwestern border, Georges Creek Field.
My Genealogical Statistics
I chose Bedford County because I’ve often told my children as I enter source citations into my Legacy Family Tree that I wish I had a dime for every time I entered Bedford County (well, Pennsylvania in general would have me sitting pretty about now). So I decided to run a report of my family that has the name “Bedford” in their birth or death location.
I have 424 ancestors out of 1,871 that I know had a birth/death location of Bedford County. That is almost 25 percent of my people. Mind you, I have lots of people with “, , Pennsylvania, United States” because I do not fully have proof what county they were born in (but there is a good chance Bedford could be it). And I am sure I have more people still to add (I have collateral people that descend from Peter Morgart that I know will add more people, and others that are in the 4th-great to 5th-great area).
Included in these 424 people, 36 of my direct line ancestors either were born or died in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. One of these includes my 4th-great-grandfather on my maternal side (because having just my dad’s side wasn’t enough, my mom had to get it on Bedford too).
Seeing as I’m on statistics, I opted to run a report of how many of my ancestors were born in Pennsylvania (my mother’s side comes from northern Pennsylvania in Potter County so I knew this would be interesting). The total of my 1,871 people in my program that are born in PA: 1,297.
And this is why I may never get out of Pennsylvania.
That’s okay, it’s a great place to be (even if I wish it had records like Massachusetts – that is where some of the Potter County people came from, others came down from New York).
I did get an abundance of my information from the following locations:
History of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania. Chicago, Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1884
Other stuff is just in my head now from all my research over the years (like the tidbit about Peter Morgart – I found it in a book at the Bedford County Historical Society).
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
If you are into genealogy and want to begin writing about your family, you should check out Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. Each week she gives you a prompt to help encourage you to think out of the box when writing about your people. You can sign up here.
So if you read my previous post, you know that I had quite a day going from one cemetery to the next finding my direct line ancestors on my dad’s side of the family.
But day two was fun as I spent most of the day at the Bedford County Historical Society. I went with a plan but the ladies there knew so much more than I did and truly made me feel not so knowledgeable about my family (but in a good way). Gillian, the director, knew so much about my Morgart side, showing me maps with their names on it from the Bedford area. Next thing she was giving me the information about Peter Morgart and his part in the Whiskey Rebellion, and it just went on and on. Huge binders full of family tree information others had done before me of my ancestors and their descendants. I was in awe and when we left I told my husband I was so unprepared for how much they knew. All I kept thinking about was all my webinars and how I needed to stay focused and how I did anything but stay focused. I will definitely go there again and be better prepared when I return.
Next, we headed to Jean Bonnet’s Tavern for dinner. The food was delicious, I had crab and shrimp topped salmon with a baked potato and steamed broccoli. I believe my husband had the beef tenderloin. We left stuffed but so happy we had the experience. Jean Bonnet’s Tavern was built in the 1760’s so it was just fun to eat where maybe my ancestors did (not all as I’m sure they were in competition with the Morgart Tavern).
After dinner, we drove by the Espy House which is where George Washington had his headquarters when he came to Bedford County in 1794 during the Whiskey Rebellion. Yes, chills once again as George may have walked where I was now riding (it really doesn’t take much to get me excited about George).
After this, we went out and found the Bedford Springs Hotel as it was one of the places to stay back in the day. Supposedly the water had (has?) medicinal purposes. It’s still quite majestic today in its appearance.
The next day we did a little bit of sightseeing as this area is the home of the Flight 93 Memorial from the happenings of September 11, 2001. The quiet and the breeze that seemed to be non-stop there was just eerie. You couldn’t help but feel the specialness of all those aboard who decided to defend freedom.
Next up was the Bedford County Courthouse where I went armed with my checklist of names I wanted to run by with property listings as well as wills/probate records. I was so impressed as I was able to find something on most of my ancestors that were on my list. If you have relatives, don’t feel shy about going in, the girls that work in the records department are very nice and were so helpful.
On our last night there we met with my second cousin Hope and had dinner. She was also kind enough to show me some spots in St. Michael where my great-grandmother lived as well as the bank where my Grandmother worked (I often remember her telling me she got paid like a nickel to clean the place – I may be off on how much she was paid but I know it wasn’t much). I guess the bank is now where the residents of St. Michael, Pennsylvania pay their utility bills. I meant to take a photo of Hope too, but as soon as we got to her house she wished us well and sent us on our way and I was a block or two away when I turned to my husband and said, “I wanted a photo with Hope”.
I thought my first research trip went really well. I was able to find a lot of information that I was seeking but still had so many more questions when I returned. I only had three days so I did my best to keep my focus but on future trips I know I’ll do my best to seek information on more than just my direct descendants, and hopefully, I’ll have more time to even visit other relatives that actually live in the area too.