Posted by: unclesamshistory | October 10, 2011

Bully’s or Patriots

Western Pennsylvania was a hot-bed of unrest in the 1780s. The new federal government was searching for ways to pay for the devastating war against Great Brittan and little thought was given to those frontier territories in the West.

Separation talk in the western territories became so vocal that the Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act in 1782 declaring any attempt to set up a new state would be considered treason. The counties west of the Allegheny Mountains had better access to trade down the Ohio River than over the mountains, but that was forbidden. And what was the product they exported? Whiskey! Almost every farm had a still producing this liquid cash crop and it was accepted for trade throughout the territory. Although a whiskey tax was on the books for years western Pennsylvania farmers simply refused to pay it. In 1791 the new Federal government passed a tax based on the liquid gallon produced; now theoretically every still in the new nation would pay the tax.

Pennsylvania was the most vocal in refusing to pay so federal tax collectors were sent out to collect. The independent frontiersmen took matters in their own hands and met the tax collectors with tar and feathers, hair cut off and other degrading actions. An elusive phantom called Tom the Tinker kept the pot boiling with hand bills denouncing the tax and those that collected it.  As far as I can determine Tom the Tinker’s identity has never been discovered. To intimidate the farmers that did sign up to pay the tax gangs would descend on their still and farm, burn their barn and shoot up the still. It became known as mending the still when destroyed by musket fire.

Was this destruction of property and terror justified? It was a different time and culture, one we would have a hard time understanding. Or would we?

Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties were the hot spots of the protests and in the end received the harshest treatment by federal troops.


For more and a more detailed description of the whiskey war I invite you to read Frontier Preacher.


My new books, Frontier Preacher and Frontier at Three Rivers, are available from my web site, , or , Amazon or your favorite book seller


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