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

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh-Area Fireworks 2016: When & Where to Watch Them

Pittsburgh-Area Fireworks 2016: When & Where to Watch Them

You can get your fill of fireworks all weekend long, if you know where and when to look.
This Dog Can Talk, and He'll Make You Think

This Dog Can Talk, and He'll Make You Think

Watch the web series, shot and edited in Pittsburgh, that inspired ABC's “Downward Dog.” The TV show also will be shot and edited in the Steel City.
Downtown Restaurant Owners Win Big

Downtown Restaurant Owners Win Big

Richard DeShantz and Tolga Sevdik of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group are among the regional winners of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Feeling Hot! Meteorologists Predict Sweaty Summer For Pittsburgh

Feeling Hot! Meteorologists Predict Sweaty Summer For Pittsburgh

Ready for 90-degree temperature weather? What you need to know about summer 2016.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


This Dog Can Talk, and He'll Make You Think

This Dog Can Talk, and He'll Make You Think

Watch the web series, shot and edited in Pittsburgh, that inspired ABC's “Downward Dog.” The TV show also will be shot and edited in the Steel City.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Bucs' Biggest Problem Easier to Identify than Solve

Bucs' Biggest Problem Easier to Identify than Solve

As the Pirates try to climb out of a demoralizing slump, one factor has emerged as the team's biggest shortcoming.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Noah’s Ark Nuptials: One Couple’s Kennywood Wedding

Noah’s Ark Nuptials: One Couple’s Kennywood Wedding

The restoration of the iconic Noah’s Ark whale entrance came just in time to be the backdrop for this Pittsburgh couple’s wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Purple Reign: PPG Paints Unveils 2017 Color of the Year

Purple Reign: PPG Paints Unveils 2017 Color of the Year

Violet Verbena’s grey-purple tones are playful, elegant and calming. Plus, get the history behind some of Pittsburgh's architectural wonders.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments