Places Of Rebellion, July 1794
On August 11, 2007 Carl and I did a wedding at this old shelter
in South Park. It is just a block up the hill from the Oliver Miller
Homestead and I walked down afterward and took a few pictures
around the old home. That gave me the idea for this photo album
and the next day I drove just around the corner from where we live
to Old St. Luke's and then to Woodville Plantation, which is
only about 3 blocks further. Since I live right here where the
Whiskey Rebellion was centered, I thought I'd do an album
with pictures from the 3 main sites around here.
This is the Oliver Miller Homestead as it looks today. The
Miller family emigrated from County Antrim, Northern
Ireland in 1742, settling for a while in Maryland, where Oliver
married the first in a series of Marys that several generations of
Miller men took as wives. They moved further west to Bedford, PA
but when in 1770 land was opened for settlement in western Pennsylvania,
Oliver and Mary took their 10 children and a batch of her relatives
and came here.
On July 4, 1772 he purchased a tract of land and built
a rather unique log cabin in that it had a roof of split-
shingles. Such a thing was very rare and it came to be
called "the split-shingled house." This is a reproduction
from the rear that has been built adjacent to the stone
house. Several times the family was forced to flee to forts
on the Monongahela River because of Indian attacks.
Oliver opened his home as a church since there were none
in the area and folks came on foot or horseback for preaching
by traveling ministers and for baptisms.
In 1808, Oliver's son James added a stone section to the log
home. That is the part with the brown door on the right, the
log home remaining where the larger section now stands.
In 1830 James' son Oliver and his wife, Mary, came to live
with them and the log home was replaced with the larger stone section,
resulting in the home as it's seen today.
The original Oliver was appointed Justice of the Peace and had
to tender his oath of allegiance to Virginia at a time when both the
heirs of William Penn and the state of Virginia claimed this area.
Oliver died in 1782, when only the log home existed, and his property
was divided among his 6 sons, James at 19 getting the log home. James,
like his father before him and his son after him, married a Mary.
James owned the home from 1782 to 1844. James named his son
Oliver, just to make sure we all remained very confused.
Western Pennsylvanians were mostly Scotch-Irish, Irish, and
German at the time and since this area was rather cut off from the
Eastern Seaboard by mountains, they had a fierce independence.
Even as early as 1775 they'd petitioned the Continental Congress,
hoping to be acknowledged as the 14th colony. Claimed by both
Pennsylvania and Virginia, they wanted to be the new state of
Westsylvania. England was very interested in this, as was France,
and they sent representatives to encourage the west in separating from
the other 13 colonies. There were constant Indian raids, often led
by the British, and the United States sent two major military ex-
peditions, one in 1790 and another in 1791, both of which were defeated
by the Indians. Not until Mad Anthony Wayne won at Fallen
Timbers in 1794 did the British give up their hopes of claiming these
areas west of the mountains.
Enter Alexander Hamilton, not a popular guy in these parts.
He became the first Secretary of the Treasury and urged the
levy of the first nationwide internal revenue tax--an excise tax
on distilled spirits. It was 1791 and Congress was using its new
constitutional authority to "lay and collect taxes." The new
Federal government had assumed the debts of the 13 states after
the Revolutionary War...and they needed money to do it.
Alas, the farmers west of the mountains did not find this concept
to their liking. Eastern farmers didn't have much trouble getting
their grain to market, but the western ones, well, they had mountains
and rivers and Indians and...distance. So they distilled their surplus
grain into whiskey. Out here it was a cash-poor society and bartering
was the way of it. Whiskey was the main item of barter and was the
actual currency of the area. So this new tax was, effectively, a tax on
their main crop. The law required all stills to be registered and, at the
time, there was likely a still for every 15 folks in the population. If you
were cited for failure to pay the tax, you had to appear in federal court,
some 300 miles from here. To the settlers, what the new federal government
was up to didn't look all that different from what the British Crown had
been doing. The tax wasn't fair, either. The rich guys with the big stills
had to pay less, sometimes a lot less, than the small farmer. This tax applied
nation-wide and all the then-western settlements felt the same as here in
southwest Pennsylvania. The reason it all got centered here was because
in this area there was a group of wealthy officials and these guys were willing
to collect the taxes. In, say, Kentucky, they couldn't find guys to do the job.
Tensions over this mounted and mounted until the summer of 1794 the civil
protests changed into an armed rebellion.
Whiskey was a staple of life and diet on the frontier, used as a tonic, as
medicine, as an anesthetic, sold to pay bills, to compensate doctors and
teachers, even clergy, transported over the mountains more easily than grain
and sold in Philadelphia. The new federal constitution declared that no
"thing but gold and silver coin" could be used as legal tender. So when the
tax collector knocked on your door for the taxes on your whiskey and all
you HAD was whiskey as currency, he required gold or silver coin in
payment. And the tax collector got paid on commission for how much he
collected. They were not popular fellows in the neighborhood!
If you didn't pay, and few did...or could...federal marshals issued writs of
citation against the owners. You had to answer these in 30 days, requiring
a 10-day ride over the mountains. Most went unanswered. Then you got
a contempt citation and you could be jailed, evicted, your property (including
your still) seized and sold. The new government, well, it was making a lot
of frontier folk feel downright resentful.
And here's where ol' Oliver Miller comes in. The four counties of south-
western Pennsylvania had up to 1/4 of the stills in the USA, and Oliver
was no different than his neighbors. Former General John Neville, also a
past commandant of Fort Pitt itself and a friend of George Washington's,
was the federal revenue officer for the area the Millers lived in. Oliver's son,
William, had refused to pay the tax and Neville was escorting US Marshal
David Lennox to Miller's house to serve the guy a writ which required him to
pay $250 and appear in court in Philadelphia. Farmers in their fields
heard some shouting and after leaving the writ, Neville and Lennox were
met by an armed group of the Miller's neighbors. Neville and Lennox rode
off as shots were fired, but weren't hurt. These shots were the first in the
The next day a larger group of angry men gathered in the spot above,
which is the yard of Old St. Luke's church. The group included
some of the big Miller family. From here they marched to General
Neville's house, Bower Hill, just beyond that tree-covered hill you
see in the background of the picture above. Bower Hill was probably
the biggest, fanciest house in the area. The men believed Lennox was
likely holed up in Bower Hill with Neville. There was a shoot out,
a Miller was killed, and Neville's slaves opened fire on the protestors
from their quarters. The men returned the following day with a force
of about 500 local militiamen. Neville had slipped away, though, and
a second shoot out left James McFarlane, the protestors leader, dead.
The men then burnt Bower Hill and its barn to the ground. It was
so thoroughly demolished that it has only been in the last year or so that
they've decided at last where to put a marker.
These two pictures of the Bower Hill marker I didn't get taken until
June of 2008. But this is where the big house once was.
A stockade was built on this promontory in 1765 and became the site
of the original church. It was later replaced with the Country Gothic
church that stands there now. We've done quite a few weddings here.
(Small dogwood on the side of the churchyard.) Because it wasn't lookin'
too good for the new government to be so challenged and all, George
Washington mustered 12,950 militia to march into western Pennsylvania.
In spite of being a sitting President, he got his old uniform outta mothballs
and spent almost a month in the field, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 20, reviewing
his troops at their assembly points and became the only sitting President ever
personally to lead troops in the field. When he got as far as Bedford, he
returned to Philadelphia and Lighthorse Henry Lee took command.
This was the first use of the Militia Law of 1792 "to execute the laws of the
Union and suppress insurrections." Much of the Miller family had already
moved to Kentucky before the militia arrived. James Miller, who stayed, was
required to sign an oath of allegiance to regain his rights of citizenship.
(Full view of the side.) Most of the whiskey rebels who ended up arrested were
released because there was no evidence against them. Only two were convicted
of treason but in the summer of 1795 Washington pardoned them.
This is the front step. I've always liked the simple carving on it.
Angle view of front step. I like the boot scraper!
Plaque just to the right of the main entrance, dedicated to General
John Neville. Old St. Luke's was the first Episcopal church in
The markers in the cemetery have degenerated terribly and, like the
one above, many cannot be read at all. I like the way the rose cups
around this one.
Something that's happened to a number of them is a complete
cracking in half, with the broken off portion leaning against the
back of the still standing.
The whole front was breaking off this one and they've encased it now in
Lucite, but the grass grows up inside it. This one is for Ellen
Darnbrough who died in 1839 at the age of 28.
Here's a view of the inside I took just before a wedding. The
old organ on the left, which is still played for ceremonies, was brought
by mules over the mountains.
This is that little dogwood in the autumn.
This is the outside of that central window you see in the inside
photograph up above. I like the way the maple reflects in it.
Bower Hill was up at the top of the green hill in the background.
This is the back yard of Woodville Plantation, the original home
of General John Neville. In 1774, two years after Oliver Miller
bought his homestead, the General purchased 14,000 acres. He was in
command of Fort Pitt in 1775 and this house was begun 1775-80.
Later, when he built Bower Hill and his son lived in Woodville,
they could signal each other at night with a system of lights. The house
has a "Virginia" look to it that comes from the state of the Neville's
Side view of Woodville showing the vegetable garden area.
In the beginning, the steep-roofed house was four rooms with a central
passage and a detached log kitchen. He entertained there so much it
was known as "a temple of hospitality" and the front window panes bear
many names that guests scratched into them with diamond rings.
The latticed veranda was not added until the 1800's, but for me is
what I think of when I think of this house. The house was white,
then briefly brown, then a very pale yellow. It looks white in these
pictures, but is actually that palest yellow.
Looking down the front veranda. The row of lilacs shelters the house
from Route 50, which runs in front of it now.
The yellow actually shows in this shot. This is the end of the front
veranda and part of the side one, looking toward the fence above
Looking back the other way down the front veranda.
The side veranda, looking toward the back yard.
The whole side end of the house. When I was touring it once, a docent
told me how the house had been built over the main Indian trail of the
area and that they refused to go around the house. They'd open a window
on the end of the house, walk through the house, and exit by another window
at the opposite end. I've always kinda liked that story.
Closer view of the front corner.
The Victorian gothic window treatments were added later.
Back side of Woodville. The house was enlarged so the detached kitchen
became part of the main house.
Looking across back yard toward rear of Woodville.
There is a steep drop-off just beyond the fence down to Chartiers
Creek. This is the side yard.
Closer view of the back of the house.
The thick row of lilacs that grow all along the front now.
A windowpane showing some of the names scratched there.
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