Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 17 November 1794

To George Washington

Pittsburgh November 17. 1794


I wrote to you two days since by express from Washington. The judiciary corps with myself arrived here last Evening. The list of prisoners has been very considerably increased, probably to the amount of 150 but it is not yet so digested as to be forwarded. Governor Lee just informs me that he has received a letter from Marietta advising him of the apprehending of John Holcroff the reputed Tom the Tinker1 & one Wright2 a notorious offender.

Subsequent intelligence shews that there is no regular assemblage of the fugitives where it is supposed—there are only small vagrant parties in that quarter affording no point of Attack.3

Every thing is urging on for the return of the troops. The engagement of a corps to remain here goes on, it is said, well.

With perfect respect & true attachment I have the honor to be   Sir   Yr. Obed ser

A Hamilton

The President of the UStates

ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1“Tom the Tinker” was the signature on broadsides and letters to the press in western Pennsylvania in 1794 that gave advice to those who were opposed to the excise laws. The name “Tom the Tinker” was first used by John Holcroft during the attack on William Cochran (see H to Washington, August 5, 1794, note 67). According to H. H. Brackenridge, “His [Cochran’s] still was cut to pieces; and this was humorously called, mending his still; and the members, of course, must be tinkers, and the name, collectively, became Tom the Tinker” (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, 79). Holcroft later denied that he knew the identity of “Tom the Tinker” (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 , III, 148). Both the technique and the style of “Tom the Tinker” are illustrated by the following item in The Pittsburgh Gazette:

“Mr. [John] Scull [editor of The Pittsburgh Gazette],

“I am under the necessity of requesting you to put the following in your next paper—It was found posted on a tree near my distillery.

John Reed,

“July 23, 1794.


“In taking a survey of the troops under my direction in the late expedition against the insolent exciseman John Nevill, I find there were a great number of delinquents; even among those who carry on distilling; it will therefore be observed that, I Tom the Tinker, will not suffer any certain class or set of men to be excluded the service of this my district, when notified to attend on any expedition carried on in order to obstruct the execution of the excise law, and obtain a repeal thereof.

“And I do declare on my solemn word, that if such delinquents do not come forth on the next alarm, with equipments, and give their assistance as much as in them lies, in opposing the execution and obtaining a repeal of the excise law, he or they will be deemed as enemies, and stand opposed to virtuous principles of republican liberty, and shall receive punishment according to the nature of the offence.

“And whereas a certain John Reed, now resident in Washington, and being at his place near Pittsburgh, called Reedsburgh, and having a set of stills employed at said Reedsburgh, entered on the excise docket, contrary to the will and good pleasure of his fellow citizens, and came not forth to assist in the suppression of the execution of said law by aiding and assisting in the late expedition, have, by delinquency manifested his approbation to the execution of the aforesaid law, is hereby charged forthwith to cause the contents of this paper, without adding or diminishing, to be published in the Pittsburgh Gazette, the ensuing week, under no less penalty than the consumption of his distillery.

“Given under my hand the 19th day of July,
one thousand seven hundred and ninety four.
Tom the Tinker

“P.S. To prevent a great deal of trouble, it will be necessary to repeal the excise law and lay a direct tax on all located and patented land in the United States.” (The Pittsburgh Gazette, July 26, 1794.)

See also another letter from “Tom the Tinker” in The Pittsburgh Gazette, September 13, 1794. This letter begins: “You will please have this printed in the Pittsburgh paper this week, or you may abide by the consequence,” and concludes: “traitors take care for my hammer is up and my ladel is hot. I cannot travel the country for nothing.” See also H to Washington, November 15, 1794, note 15.

2Edward Wright had participated in the attack on John Neville’s house. See H to Washington, August 5, 1794. See also Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 501.

3See H to Washington, November 11, 1794, note 5, and November 15, 1794.

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