August 7, 1794: George Washington quenches the Whiskey Rebellion

In 1790, the Federal government of the United States assumed the debts incurred by the colonies during the Revolution, and the new government was deep ($54 million) in debt. Alexander Hamilton, the enterprising Secretary of the Treasury, proposed a bill which Congress approved in 1791 that established an excise tax on all distilled spirits.

The large distillers on the east coast, who produced alcohol as a full time business venture could make a flat annual tax payment which whiskeyworked out to about six cents per gallon. The smaller producers inland however, who only made whiskey occasionally, had to make payments of almost twice that amount each time they distilled a barrel. The government insisted that payment be made in cash – but for many farmers, whiskey WAS cash, as they operated in a barter economy and it was much easier to trade distilled spirits to the eastern markets than raw grain.

Pretty soon, when excise officers arrived in towns west of the Alleghenies to set up shop, they learned to not stay long unless they were looking to be tarred and feathered. Things came to an ugly head in 1794 when a large mob in western Pennsylvania marched on collector John Neville’s house in Washington County, had a shoot-out with him and his slaves, and burned his home to the ground. Neville escaped, but then the locals started talking about breaking away from the Union.

On August 7, George Washington invoked the Militia Acts and called out the troops. He personally led a militia force of 12,950 men towards Western Pennsylvania, warning locals “not to abet, aid, or comfort the Insurgents aforesaid, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.” By the time the militia reached Pittsburgh, the rebels had dispersed and could not be found.

The Whiskey Rebellion was over.

Three years later George Washington hired a Scottish plantation manager, James Anderson, and with his advice and assistance the Father of Our Country built his own whiskey distillery at Mt. Vernon, next to the gristmill. Five copper pot stills were erected, which soon produced a fine mash whiskey using Washington’s own recipe of rye (60%), corn (35%) and malted barley (5%).

By 1799, the distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey. It had become the largest operation of its kind in America and the most successful business enterprise Washington undertook at Mount Vernon.


July 31, 1777: 19-year-old Lafayette is commissioned Major General

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, was born into one of the wealthiest families in France. When he was only two years old his father was killed by a cannon ball while fighting the English during the Seven Years War. Lafayette inherited an intense dislike for the English and an immense fortune and when he came of age he started training to join the elite Musketeers of the Guard.

France was full of “enlightenment” in those days, and the young marquis, who had joined a “société de pensée,” was much taken by the notion lafayetteof Liberté and the American struggle for freedom from British rule. With encouragement from Silas Deane, the American agent in Paris, Lafayette sailed to South Carolina in 1777 to join the fight for American independence. He made his way to Philadelphia and graciously offered his services (unpaid) to the Continental Congress.

On July 31st he was commissioned Major General in the Continental Army. Many in Congress regarded this commission as merely honorary, but Benjamin Franklin wrote to George Washington recommending Lafayette to become his aide-de-camp, hoping it would influence France to commit more aid. Lafayette expected he would be appointed a full-fledged commander who would control of a division, but Washington reluctantly informed him that command of a division would not be possible as he was of foreign birth. However Washington said that he would be happy to hold him in confidence as “friend and father” and the two men formed a bond that would last a lifetime.

In September 1777, at the Battle of the Brandywine, Washington did not wish to see the young Frenchman exposed to harm, but Lafayette pushed hard to be involved in the fight. When things were not going well on the right flank, Washington sent him into the battle. Lafayette took a bullet in the leg but kept on fighting. He went on to spend the following dismal winter drilling the troops at Valley Forge and fought valiantly at the Battle of Monmouth the following June and forever gained Washington’s trust and affection.

gw lafayette sharplesLafayette returned to France in 1779 and secured additional French support for the American cause. When the French forces he procured arrived off Yorktown 1781, the ultimate victory of the Revolution was finally ensured.

After Yorktown, Lafayette returned to France to rejoin his family, where in 1779 his wife Adrienne bore him a son. He named the boy George Washington de La Fayette after the only father figure he ever knew.

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