[Autograph letter, signed, from Robert Patterson to William Canon, discussing the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the federal troops sent to crush it, his detention and interrogation, and an encounter with Alexander Hamilton.]. Robert Patterson.
[Autograph letter, signed, from Robert Patterson to William Canon, discussing the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the federal troops sent to crush it, his detention and interrogation, and an encounter with Alexander Hamilton.]

[Autograph letter, signed, from Robert Patterson to William Canon, discussing the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the federal troops sent to crush it, his detention and interrogation, and an encounter with Alexander Hamilton.]

Bedford, Pa. October 24, 1794. 3.25 pp. autograph letter, signed, on two folio sheets, docketed on verso of second sheet.

An intimately familiar and very anxious letter from Robert Patterson to his brother-in-law William Canon, as federal troops marched in to suppress the three-year Whiskey Rebellion.

Patterson composed this letter at Jean Bonnet's Tavern in Bedford, Pennsylvania, a hotbed of rebel sentiment (and still in operation today). Patterson was traveling with a companion southeast through Pennsylvania, just as the militia called up by President Washington was headed west to suppress the rebels. He writes: "Early in the morning we met about seven hundred of the army between the foot of the Alegany [sic] and the Dry-Ridge, near their front was Govnr. Mifflin. These we passed without any inconvenience except here and there a question from the soldiers: Are you Whiskey boys? Are you making your escape &c. Then along the Dry-Ridge we met detached parties of light horse, droves, forage and baggage wagons &c. &c. so frequently that we were rarely out of sight of one company till another was in view."

As they continued, Patterson writes that officers continued to stop and ask them if they knew of any insurgents, or had any knowledge of pending attacks or ambushes. Eventually, "we were a while with Alexr. Hamilton, Secretary [who accompanied the troops as an adviser], and at length we fell in company with General White from the Jerseys. He interrogated us strictly and a good while and then amicably told us to turn back and ride along with them to the next stage where we would see Judge Peters and Marshal Lennox before whom he said we must appear and answer such questions as they would put...."

After their second interrogation: "I told nothing but the truth and very little of that and I believe all in such a manner as it would not in the least injure any of my friends. It was not discovered that I had lived in a certain town... we got a certificate that we had been examined and found innocent, which serves us as a pass, and then we were dismissed after being detained three or four hours...."

The massive military display, questionable detention, and invasive interrogations made Patterson fearful for his young nation's prospects: "My heart inwardly throbbed when I viewed the sad condition our poor country must shortly be in because of a few rash illegal measures that had been taken by some of our countrymen." The troops, "breath out dreadful threats and vengeance against all who have had an active part in the riots, but especially against the liberty poles and their votaries." He signs the letter "P.R." and adds a postscript, urging Canon to write soon "yet compose your letter so that if it be intercepted, it may stand inspection." Why he chose to sign as "P.R." is unclear, but the letter is docketed "R Paterson."

Patterson (1773–1854) grew up in Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh, another region sympathetic to the rebellion, and attended Canonsburg Academy. He was close to the family of Col. John Canon (1741–98), the founder of Canonsburg; his best friend was the eldest son, William (1774–1858), and he later married Jane (Jean) in 1808. In 1794, the same year as this letter, he entered the University of Pennsylvania to study theology, and was later ordained a Presbyterian minister. Among serving churches in western Pennsylvania, he became principal of the Pittsburgh Academy, the first institution of learning west of the Allegheny Mountains (and now the University of Pittsburgh). He also ran a publishing house in Pittsburgh.

Although Patterson bewails the plight of his fellow Pennsylvanians, the Washington administration's suppression of the Rebellion received widespread approval. It demonstrated that the new government was both willing and able to suppress violent resistance to its laws. Even so, the administration did not mention that the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, and that many continued to refuse to pay the tax. The whiskey tax was eventually repealed once Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party came to power in 1801, undoing many of the policies promoted by the outgoing Federalist Party.

An engaging letter, and an immediate and firsthand report on Whiskey Rebellion tensions in Pennsylvania.

CONDITION: Old folds, minor toning and staining, chipped at the edges of both sheets, affecting not more than ten letters of text. About very good.

Item #6706

Price: $5,000.00

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