Deposition of Francis Mentges1
[Philadelphia, August 1, 1794]
Philadelphia (to wit) Francis Mentges at present of the City of Philadelphia maketh oath That he arrived at Pittsburgh in the County of Alleghanny on the 22 of July last past and continued there until the 25 of the same month. That it was there matter of public notoriety and general conversation that several collections of armed men had on the seventeenth of the same month successively made repeated attacks upon the house of General John Neville2 Inspector of the Revenue for and on account of his holding and exercising the said Office and to oblige him to relinquish the same in the course of which attacks one of the Assailants was killed3 and several of them wounded and some persons who assisted in defending the house were also wounded and the said house with the adjoining barn & stables were burnt down by the said Assailants—moreover that David Lenox Marshall of the District had been taken into custody by some of the said armed collections in consequence of his having been there for the service of certain processes in relation to laws of the United States laying duties on distilled spirits and on stills but was afterwards released and that the said Marshall together with the said Inspector of the Revenue had descended the Ohio in a Boat to avoid personal violence or the being compelled by force to enter into engagements or do acts contrary to the duties of their respective Offices and also by reason of the difficulty and danger which would probably have attended an attempt on their part to pass by any of the usual routes to the seat of Government. And the said Deponent further saith that on the twenty fourth of the same month of July he saw & conversed at Pittsburgh aforesaid with Hugh Brackenridge4 who informed him that he had been the day preceding at a Meeting of sundry persons about One hundred and forty in number at Mingo Creek Meeting House5 in the County of Washington consisting generally of the most respectable people of that County including sundry Magistrates & principal Officers of Militia and the Recorder who were assembled to consider the propriety of ratifying and supporting the measures which had been taken towards obstructing the execution of the Excise law by the proceedings on the seventeenth as above mentioned—that it was there proposed that the Meeting should approve the said proceedings and pledge themselves to stand by each other until the Excise law was repealed and an Act of Oblivion passed—which proposition was not agreed to but instead of it it was proposed and agreed to that the four Western Counties of Pensylvania and the neighbouring counties of Virginia should be invited to assemble by delegates in a Convention to be holden on the fourteenth of this present Month of August in Mingo Creek aforesaid at Parkinson’s6 in the county of Washington to take into consideration the situation of the Western Counties and adopt such measures as should appear suited to the exigency. And this Deponent further saith that from the general state of affairs in the said Western Counties of Pensylvania as they came under his observation he doth verily believe that it is intirely impracticable to execute the laws aforesaid by the means of civil process and Judiciary proceeding. And further this Deponent saith noth.
Sworn this first Day of August 1794 at the City of Philadelphia before me. [The Subscriber One of The Alderman of the said City.]7
DS, in the handwriting of H and signed by Francis Mentges, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.
1. Mentges was a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia.
Many inhabitants of the four western counties of Pennsylvania (Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland) actively opposed the laws imposing duties on spirits distilled within the United States (“An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” [1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 199–214 (March 3, 1791)]; “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States” [1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 267–71 (May 8, 1792)]). By September, 1792, opposition to the excise duties had become so pronounced that the President was forced to issue a proclamation denouncing “certain violent and unwarrantable proceedings [which] have lately taken place tending to obstruct the operation of the laws of the United States for raising a revenue upon spirits distilled within the same” and enjoining all citizens to obey the laws. For George Washington’s proclamation, see “Draft of a Proclamation Concerning Opposition to the Excise Law,” September 7, 1792, note 1. For information on the 1792 disturbances, see H to Tench Coxe, September 1, 1792; H to Washington, September 1, 8, first letter of September 9, September 11, 22, 26, 1792; H to John Jay, September 3, 1792; Washington to H, September 7, two letters of September 17, September 21, October 1, 1792; Jay to H, September 8, 1792; Edmund Randolph to H, September 8, 1792; Rufus King to H, September 27, 1792; George Clymer to H, September 28, October 4, 10, 1792; Washington to Thomas Mifflin, September 29, 1792; Coxe to H, October 19, 1792.
During the succeeding months fewer inflammatory addresses against the excise were made and acts of violence against collectors of the tax decreased. But inhabitants of western Pennsylvania continued to oppose the excise. Attempts by the Government to conciliate opponents of the excise through legislation (“An Act making further provision for securing and collecting the Duties on foreign and domestic distilled Spirits, Stills, Wines and Teas” [1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 378–81 (June 5, 1794]) proved unavailing. Early in July, 1794, spasmodic and scattered violence broke out culminating in what came to be known as the Whiskey Insurrection.
2. John Neville, Revolutionary War veteran and a former member of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, was inspector of the revenue for Survey No 4. in Pennsylvania. As such, he was both a symbol and a target for those who opposed the excise laws in western Pennsylvania. In addition, he was a man of considerable wealth and the head of the so-called “Neville connection” (Brackenridge, Insurrection description begins Henry M. Brackenridge, History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, Commonly Called the Whiskey Insurrection, 1794 (Pittsburgh, 1859). description ends , 31). His son Presley, also a Revolutionary War veteran, was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, surveyor in Allegheny County, and brigadier inspector of the militia for Allegheny County. John Neville’s daughter Amelia was married to Major Isaac Craig, the deputy quartermaster general of the United States Army, and his sister-in-law was married to Abraham Kirkpatrick, another Revolutionary War veteran, who had settled in Pittsburgh and had become wealthy through speculation.
On July 17, 1794, the insurgents attacked Neville’s house for the second consecutive day. Neville described this attack in a letter to Tench Coxe, dated July 18, 1794: “… I applied to Major [Thomas] Butler commandant in Pittsburg for some assistance he sent me twelve men, I also made application to the Judges of our Court, the Generals of Militia [John Wilkens, Jr., and John Gibson] and to the Sheriff of the County [Samuel Ewalt], but had no hopes of Assistance from these quarters. Thus circumstanced I had certain information about ten OClock yesterday that a large party were again advancing. I immediately wrote to my friends to come to my assistance, a very few of them attempted it, but were too late, about 5 OClock 500 men in regular order properly appointed, made their appearance;… I quitted the House … leaving a friend aided by the 12 Soldiers to capitulate for the property—my Servants rendered timid by their Numbers had disappeared—several Flags and Messages pass’d between the parties—but the Assailants not offering Terms sufficiently implicative of Safety, an Engagement once more commenced the numbers in the house were reduced to Twelve, who kept up a small fire about one house, which was returned many hundred fold from without, when they were obliged to surrender, during the Skirmish they had fired the Barn, Stables and different out-Houses, and immediately on the Surrender a large and well furnished dwelling house with all its appurtenances shared the same fate, the fences all destroyed, and two whole crops of Grain consumed what was yesterday an elegant and highly cultivated farm with every convenience is now a melancholy waste. The party in the House had three badly wounded, all Soldiers in the U.S. Service, the Loss without is not ascertained, one of their Leaders fell, an old officer and a Man of respectability & we know of some wounded” (LS, Neville Papers, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). For the first attack on Neville’s house, see H to Washington, August 5, 1794, note 77.
In a letter to Henry Knox on July 18, 1794, Isaac Craig described these same events as follows: “… And yesterday a large number of Armed Men Amounting it is said to seven hundred Assembled & Attacked his [John Neville’s] house, defended only by himself Major Kirkpatrick and ten Soldiers, during the attack General Nevill seeing it impossible, to defend the House, against such numbers, took an Opportunity of escaping and Concealing himself in a Thicket, Major Kirkpatrick Continued to defend the House, till One of his men was Killed and four wounded having killed two and Wounded several of the Insurgents, as soon as the Major surrendered the Enemy set fire to the House, which is Consumed to ashes with all the Property it Contained, not a single Article saved.… Major [David] Lenox Coll Nevill, Myself & two others in Attempting to get into the House, with a supply of Ammunition, were made Prisoners, disarmed & Confined, till the Action was Over, and then Carried several Miles to their Rendezvous, treated Major Lenox with the Utmost Indignity, and all of Us with Insult in the night, I was happy enough to make my escape, and to find General Nevill & to Escort him to my House, where he now is…” (LS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford).
For additional accounts of this attack, see Abraham Kirkpatrick to Washington, July 25, 28, 1794 (ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford); “Statement of Thomas Williams as published in the Beaver Argus in 1855” (copy, Neville Papers, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania); Thomas Butler to Knox, July 18, 1794 (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 74–75).
3. James McFarlane. During the American Revolution McFarlane had served as a lieutenant in the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment. In 1794 he was a major in the Pennsylvania militia.
The Pennsylvania Archives states that the assailant was Major Abram MacFarlane (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 793).
4. Brackenridge was a playwright, lawyer, and a leading citizen of Pittsburgh. He helped to establish Pittsburgh’s first newspaper, academy, and bookstore, and he was a member of the state assembly in 1786–1787. He described and defended his role—which was somewhat ambiguous—in the Whiskey Insurrection in detail in Brackenridge, Incidents description begins Hugh H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1795). description ends . His son, Henry M. Brackenridge, performed the same task in Brackenridge, Insurrection description begins Henry M. Brackenridge, History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, Commonly Called the Whiskey Insurrection, 1794 (Pittsburgh, 1859). description ends .
5. At the Mingo Creek meeting described in Mentges’s deposition, Brackenridge had urged the opponents of the excise to avoid illegal acts. An account of the Mingo Creek meeting is printed in Brackenridge, Insurrection description begins Henry M. Brackenridge, History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, Commonly Called the Whiskey Insurrection, 1794 (Pittsburgh, 1859). description ends , 57–65, and Brackenridge, Incidents description begins Hugh H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1795). description ends , I, 29–36.
6. Parkinson’s Ferry on Mingo Creek. For the minutes of this meeting, see Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 159–61.
7. The material within brackets is not in H’s handwriting.