St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tax The Whiskey?

The marshal shows up and wants to serve a warrant. Tempers flare.
Shots are fired. Someone is killed. Preachers say "Listen to your
government." Hard working farmers say, "Unfair taxation!" Wait, this
sounds familiar-- is this now or .........

213 years ago, in a little corner of southwestern Pennsylvania, tempers
flared. Why, that rascal Alexander Hamilton wanted to tax whiskey.
Not only did he want to tax whiskey, he also decided small distillers
had to pay more taxes per gallon than the larger distillers. It seems
his argument was the government needed to raise money to pay off its
debts. Hmmmmmppphhhhh- the locals say.

There were no good roads in the area so the farmers took their excess
grain and distilled it. Distilling it made it easier to transport down
the river to where it could be sold or bartered. The Rev. John McMillan
preached obedience to his congregations. These farmers, many of them
Scot-Irish who had just fought to rid the land of the tyranny of unfair
taxes, just couldn't believe Hamilton's audacity. They had just
assisted their neighbors in declaring and fighting for independence--
and now--- this! Unbelievable. These same men had little hard cold
cash. They used whiskey to barter for what they needed. The government
wanted hard cold cash.

The Federal Marshal arrived at the home of Oliver Miller in Allegheny
County, PA, in July 1794 to serve his warrant for the taxes. Several
stories say it was only accidental that a shot was fired, others say it
was on purpose. The government inspector, who lived in the
neighborhood, had his barn burned. Men were killed- on both sides.
President George Washington called out the troops, some 13,000 of them
to squelch the rebellion. Interesting fact is the troops could only
find 20 or so of the rebels. Plenty has been written on the Whiskey
Rebellion and I invite you to read some of the stories.

This story took on life for me as I was looking at wills one day in
Washington County, PA. Ta da! I found the evidence I needed. Yes, my
John HENRY had been married twice, as some histories proclaim. Yes, I
found the will of his father-in-law, John SMITH. And, I found the
names of the children of John SMITH. One was Mary MILLER, the wife of
James MILLER. So who was he? Further investigation revealed he was
the son of Oliver MILLER, the man on whose farm the first shot of the
Whiskey Rebellion was fired. Wow! So I launched my investigation into
the MILLER family to learn more of the rebellion. It's really quite
interesting. For me, it opened new doors.

Since that day, I have visited the museum homestead of Oliver MILLER,
which stands today in its original location in a beautiful park named
South Park in Allegheny Co. We also had the pleasure of having the
home opened to us for our own tour. To sit, stand and walk in the
rooms that my 3g and 4g grandparents did resulted in a powerful feeling
of family for me. What joy and sadness those rooms could tell, and my
bones could feel it all.

It's wonderful- digging into the past. I'll take them all: immigrants
of old, American Revolution Patriots, Whiskey Rebellion participants,
hard working men and women who shaped this country and me.

1 comment:

Donna S. said...

Am trying to find the ancestry of Oliver Miller to see if my Miller's of Fayette Co, PA, and Washington Co, PA (and previously of Cecil Co, MD) tie in. Do you know the names of Oliver's father and grandfather, and where they were from? Thanks.