Who Wants to Tar-and-Feather a Tax Collector?

In Washington, Pa., the Whiskey Rebellion Festival revives history while celebrating its impact on the present.




Photo by Archie Carpenter
 

 


This month, you’ll find a parade of musket-wielding men in Revolutionary garb on Main Street in Washington, Pa. As part of the annual Whiskey Rebellion Festival, they’ll alternate with typical small-town participants: scout troops, a marching band . . . and maybe a few folks portraying 18th-century farmers. Eventually, shouts will flood the street: “No whiskey tax!” “Join the Rebellion!” And then the finale: the tar-and-feathering of a tax collector.

If you think whiskey is near and dear to our hearts today, you should consider events from local history to understand why that’s so: In the early 1790s, frontier Pennsylvania farmers traded largely in whiskey made from excess rye. Whiskey almost was as precious as money itself. (Yes, some of us still feel that way.) In 1791, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton decided to levy an excise tax on whiskey, and the western Pennsylvanian frontiersmen were not happy. In 1794, they organized, armed and resisted. They broke into the tax inspector’s home and tarred and feathered him. Most importantly, they represented a very real test to the authority of our young government.

The Whiskey Rebellion begins as an almost-charming tale of resistance, but — as is the case with many such stories — it did not end with glory. Rather, it concluded with what many would call total government overreaction.

After the failure of negotiations, President George Washington not only ordered in the militia but also led the charge himself. By the time the troops got to western Pennsylvania, the rebels had disbanded and the militia turned around. In the end, everyone paid their taxes.

The Whiskey Rebellion is remembered as American history’s first example of the government turning the military against its citizens. Its significance to the nation is huge, and crucial moments of that rebellion happened within the same block as the Whiskey Rebellion Festival grounds. So if you’re not into parades or historical re-enactments, take a quick walk to check out the historic houses and sites that are open in conjunction with the festival. You also can catch complimentary bus service to the Frontier History Center in Washington Park, a work-in-progress recreation of a fort site.

At the central festival, the grounds are full of another kind of history: people whose vocations are rooted in historical skills.

At the arts and crafts tent, look for the goods of blacksmiths, knife makers, woodworkers or basket weavers. Saturday is filled with folk, Americana and bluegrass music. In the evening, the festival turns into a party and concert, with New York folk/country act the Felice Brothers headlining. At festival’s end, everyone gathers for a friendly fireworks display.

According to J.R. Shaw, one of three festival organizers, “It’s a celebration of the heritage of the area . . . It’s Main Street, it’s Americana, it’s heritage and it’s a summer festival. It has a little bit of everything for everyone.”

It’s as much about celebrating the region as it is about the rebellion, and that calls for a glass of rye. 

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.
15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

According to the region's behind-the-scene players, these individuals are some of the city's rising stars.
Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Entering into the final weeks of the 2015 regular season, pitcher Gerrit Cole has emerged as the Pirates’ ace.
At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik strike again with täkō, their taco-centric downtown eatery with an extensive tequila selection.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Where Your House Sells the Quickest in the Pittsburgh Area

Where Your House Sells the Quickest in the Pittsburgh Area

The real-estate website Zillow has ranked the region's 50 hottest housing markets. Do you live in one of them?
Verses Koufax and the Babe - Clemente Wins in a Rout

Verses Koufax and the Babe - Clemente Wins in a Rout

It was no contest among voters asked to choose which portrait among the three baseball greats should hang in the Smithsonian.
See Now: Trailer for Will Smith's "Concussion" Drama

See Now: Trailer for Will Smith's "Concussion" Drama

Shot and set in Pittsburgh, the film stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first discovered CTE in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster in 2002.
Watch: New Trailer for Christmas Comedy Shot in Pittsburgh

Watch: New Trailer for Christmas Comedy Shot in Pittsburgh

Winter weather presented a number of challenges for the big-name cast led by Diane Keaton, John Goodman and Olivia Wilde.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

50 Most Powerful People in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine consulted dozens of power brokers and behind-the-scene players to determine and rank the 50 individuals who, in Pittsburgh, make things happen.
15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

15 of Pittsburgh's Future Power Brokers

According to the region's behind-the-scene players, these individuals are some of the city's rising stars.
Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Aggressive and Adaptable: Pirates' All-Star Gerrit Cole

Entering into the final weeks of the 2015 regular season, pitcher Gerrit Cole has emerged as the Pirates’ ace.
At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

At täkō - Terrific Tacos and Tequila Are Just The Beginning

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik strike again with täkō, their taco-centric downtown eatery with an extensive tequila selection.
 A Sign That This Time, It's Good to Part with the Past

A Sign That This Time, It's Good to Part with the Past

Pitt Girl explains her change of heart on what should be done with the large, decaying billboard on Mount Washington.
Oh, the Humanities - Can They be Saved?

Oh, the Humanities - Can They be Saved?

Locally and nationally, college and university students are flocking to programs they perceive to be pathways to jobs while they forego studies of languages, history, art and philosophy. But at what cost?
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module