George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Bradford, 17 August 1794

From William Bradford

Pittsburgh, Augt 17. 1794. Sunday Night


Altho’ a pretty full narrative of the situation of this County is prepared to be transmitted to the Secretary of State1 I take the liberty of adding a few observations on this interesting subject, which may not be so proper in an official communication.

It will appear to you, Sir, from that letter to be our joint opinion that the people cannot be induced by conciliatory offers to relinquish their opposition to the excise laws. We venture this opinion, early, that those preparatory measures which are not inconsistent with the mission, may be contemplated & prosecuted by government, if any are deemed necessary. The more artful men among the insurgents will endeavor to gain time to prepare themselves—& the moderate party will join them in hopes of putting off the evil day. Mr Brackenridge has already declared that nothing will save this Country from the horrors of a civil war but our waiting till Congress shall be addressed: & yet it is not pretended that things will be better, if the Legislature refuse to give them all they ask.2 In the meantime the season for employing the national force will be past—the insurgents will have time to strengthen themselves—to circulate the manifesto they are preparing—to tamper with the people of Kentuckey—to procure Ammunition & to overawe or seduce the well-affected. On the other hand some advantages might arise to the government from a short delay, especially if it could be employed in procuring some regular military force to aid the Militia. This the Legislature of Pennsylvania, if they were so disposed—(& there has seldom been a better disposed assembly) could do. I am apprehensive that the Militia of this state west of the Susquehanna is not to be depended on: they have many relations & friends here—& much industry has been used, it is said, in writing to them. The rest of our militia, the woodsmen here affect to dispise. They have morever strong hopes that many will advocate their cause—that few will join the government—& that even the Assembly itself may favour their endeavors to get rid of the Excise. These false hopes which buoy up their insolence & are deluding them into calamities the extent of which it is impossible to calculate—will be dissipated if the Legislature of Pennsa moves with energy & embodies a regular force.

Another thing which deserves attention is the state of the Country as to military stores. I do not find that there is any Considerable quantity of Ammunition in the four counties: & were it possible to prevent any large quantities from coming into it, the measure would be an advantageous one. Most of the powder in Pittsburg was bought up by individuals (not in large quantities) a few weeks ago. There are 71 barrels of powder at Washington & 500 stand of Arms, under the care of the brigade inspector of the state.3 These were lately demanded of him: but the demand was parried by his telling them that it was time enough to take them when things came to extremity. There are no cannon but what are in the fort. Genl Butler has given orders about that piece at Wheeling. There is danger that the party stationed at Lebeuf with field pieces, being principally from this quarter of the Country might join the insurgents.4 In that case the garrison here must surrender as the fort is intirely commanded from a neighbouring hill.

There are few bayonets here—but almost every man is well armed with a good rifle: and if a conflict should unhappily take place, the nature of their hostilities may be conjectured from the kind of arms they will use. Permit me to suggest that if the Executive is reduced to the necessity of employing coercion that great advantages will result from employing men accustomed to a similar mode of life with these people. Tho’ they affect to dispise the atlantic militia they are said to have been uneasy at an idea which was circulated at Braddock’s field that Genl Morgan would be sent against them with the woodsmen of Virginia. His being the father in Law of Col. Neville favored the conjecture.5

I venture these thoughts which are the melancholy ofspring of the opinion we have taken up—I wish I could say, too hastily. I have some hopes that things would yet take a favorable turn if we could prevail on the moderate party to declare themselves openly and exert themselves with spirit in support of the Laws. In that case there is little doubt but Allegany & Westmoreland would leave Washington to its fate. We have therefore endeavoured to impress it on some influential men that the period for decision is at hand—that it will not do to temporise any longer—and that their own safety as well as the happiness of their country depends upon their open and manly support of the national authority. But the terror excited by the late violence has been extreme. It has converted many into gross hypocrites. The people of Pittsburg even affected a zeal for the cause of the insurgents, (as criminal as it was mean) in order to preserve the town: Mr Brackenridge of this place has played this double part: Genl Wilkins is in the same predicament & altho’ they are both on the conferring committe,6 they will not dare (I am afraid) to speak their opinion. Mr Ross declares to me that he thinks that any man who would openly recommend obedience to the excise laws would be in danger of assassination—But if a few determined men would risk a little more their safety would be greater.

I have been credibly informed that the representation from Ohio county was sent by a feeble party there; If so, might it not be advisable to apprize the Governor of Virginia of it, that early measures may be taken in that quarter to prevent the spreading of the disaffection.7 There being four counties over the mountain in Virginia filled with a great number of hardy woodsmen, their cooperation with the insurgents would be extremely dangerous to the government.

As to the people of Kentuckey it is said that measures have been used to prejudice them in favor of the insurgents: but I have reason to believe that they would readily acquiesce in the excise had they hopes of the western navigation being speedily opened. May I take the Liberty, Sir here to repeat, the opinion, that it would probably have the happiest effects were it possible to bring the negociation on that subject to a close. An intimation that a definitive answer was demanded, would render them quiet in that quarter.8

I ought to apologise for writing so largely—but I have not had time to condense my thoughts—& the subject is infinitely near my heart. I am distressed at the prospect before us and I feel it my duty to communicate my sentiments with the freedom which so interesting a period demands, and which I know you will approve.

I forgot to mention, that I have not been able to discover any inclination in the insurgents to avail themselves of british protection: but Mr Ross informs me that he has direct intelligence that about the last of July two men from Detroit appeared in Washington County to get an association to go and settle lands at the mouth of the Cayahoga, and that at the time his informant saw the paper there were about 400 names subscribed. He believes they are at present in the County on the waters of Buffaloe Creek.

The Chief Justice of the State and General Irvine have just arrived.9 I have the honor to be with the highest respect & Attachment, sir Your most Obedt servt

Wm Bradford.

ALS, DLC: Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion Collection.

1See U.S. Commissioners (Bradford, James Ross, and Jasper Yeates) to Edmund Randolph, this date (DLC: Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion Collection; see also Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 4:138-41).

2Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816) was a prominent lawyer who would be appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1799. For his views about suppression of the insurrection, as stated in a letter to Tench Coxe of 8 Aug., see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 15 Aug., n.1. Brackenridge’s 1795 publication Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, In the Year 1794, written "with a view to explain my own conduct, which has not been understood" (p. 5), is an important source for historians of the Whiskey Rebellion.

3The brigade inspector for Washington County was Absalom Baird.

4The detachment stationed at a new blockhouse erected near the site of the old French Fort Le Boeuf consisted of levies from Allegheny County ordered out in March to protect the now-suspended Pennsylvania effort to establish a town at Presque Isle (Thomas Mifflin to Ebenezer Denny, 1 March, Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 6:678-80).

5Gen. Daniel Morgan’s daughter Nancy married Presley Nevill in 1782. Braddock’s Field, on the east bank of the Monongahela River about eight miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in the vicinity of present Braddock, Allegheny County, Pa., took its name from the defeat of British Gen. Edward Braddock’s army at that location in 1755.

6A meeting of the insurgents at Parkinson’s Ferry on 14 Aug. created "a committee, to consist of three members from each county . . . to meet any commissioners that have been, or may be appointed by the government, and report the result of this conference to the standing committee." Hugh Henry Brackenridge was on the committee; John Wilkins, Jr., was not (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 4:135-36).

7Alexander Hamilton wrote in a postscript to his second letter of 25 Aug. to Virginia governor Henry Lee: "It seems there was a person appeared as a delegate from Ohio County in Virginia. It is said he was sent by a very feeble & partial suffrage. But it is very important that the disease should not be suffered to spread in that scene" (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 17:145).

8For Bradford’s earlier statement on this, see his letter to GW of c.14 July.

9Thomas McKean and William Irvine had been appointed as Pennsylvania’s commissioners to address the insurgents.

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