- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) - More than 200 years ago, when people were thirsty, they drank ale - a low-alcohol content brew - as well as wine and whiskey.

“Privies poisoned the wells, so people didn’t drink a lot of water,” said Clay Kilgore, executive director of Washington County Historical Society and former director of the David Bradford House museum. “Even kids drank water mixed with wine.”

At that time, local businessman, lawyer and eventual face of the Whiskey Rebellion, David Bradford, and his family occupied the grand house at 175 S. Main St., Washington.

Small, rudimentary log structures dominated the landscape and the Bradford home stood apart for its scale and finish. Local stone adorned the exterior while ornately carved wood decorated its many rooms.

But the showpiece wasn’t exclusive to society’s elite. The one-time deputy attorney general of Washington County and his wife, Elizabeth, hosted everyone from poor farmers to area’s most celebrated families.

“Bradford was well-liked by most - farmers and wealthy alike. He welcomed them into his home,” Kilgore said. “And remember, he’s upper class, probably the most prominent person in the region at the time.”

While the family maintained a residence in Eighty Four, the Washington house was used for entertainment.

Within its walls, servants distributed costly spirits, like brandy and rum, to Bradford’s guests.

In the many surrounding taverns, more affordable ale and whiskey flowed.

“Whiskey was a poor man’s drink,” Kilgore said. “Everyone drank it.”

Women met in coffee and tea houses, but men talked over alcohol.

“Taverns (were) frequented by everybody. It was probably the only place you could go and class didn’t matter,” said Kilgore. “This is where information was spread and news came through,”

In Bradford’s time, Washington residents were discontented with many aspects of living in the frontier. Absentee landowners and threats of Indian attacks added to the strain. Then, in 1791, the federal government proposed a high excise tax on whiskey. In those taverns, the people decided it was time to take action.

A small militia of men formed to oppose the tax. Bradford, who, at first, was hesitant to be a part of the rebellion, changed his mind. Although he was opposed to violence, like setting fire to the home of the regional tax collector, and he wasn’t a distiller, therefore the tax wouldn’t affect him, Bradford became the face of the rebellion.

“He took up for the farmers when he could have stayed out of it,” Kilgore said. “The militia was a propaganda campaign. It was, ‘If we tell them in the capital that we have 5,000 men gathered, they’ll back off.’”

But they didn’t. To stop the militia, President George Washington led almost 13,000 men to the area. But by the time they arrived, most of the militia gave up.

Anticipating imminent arrest for his involvement, Bradford was convinced by family and friends to flee. He traveled to Ohio, then to Spanish West Florida - present-day Louisiana - and set up a home. Returning to Washington in 1797 to close his accounts and gather his family, David Bradford left the area for good. The home was sold in 1801.

He was eventually pardoned for his role and, as Louisiana became a territory of the United States in 1803, Bradford died in 1808 on American soil.

To honor this significant period of America’s early days, The Whiskey Rebellion Festival will be held Thursday through July 10 in downtown Washington.

In addition to historic reenactments, period exhibitions and demonstrations, activities for children, frontier art, music and food, spirits will flow. Open-hearth food preparation will take place in the Bradford House’s outdoor kitchen. With appetites whetted, patrons can wander out to the nearby food area, where the Blue Eagle Tavern will serve libations.

Down the road at the frontier fort in Washington Park, an 18th-century tavern will be set up where guests can taste period-correct concoctions and the younger set can sample non-alcoholic versions.

“Whiskey tasted a lot different than it tastes today. It was taken out of the still, bottled and sent. It was great for mixing because there was no contamination from barrels,” Kilgore said. “People get to sample the type of drink people actually fought over.”

For information on the Whiskey Rebellion Festival and a schedule of events, visit www.whiskeyrebellionfestival.com .





Information from: Observer-Reporter, https://www.observer-reporter.com

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