The Newtown Pentacle

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Oliver Miller Homestead

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I swear that I had no idea about this, when I parked the car. An errand had found me in the neighborhood of South Park, in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, nearby the neighborhood of Bethel Park. The spot I had chosen to park nearby is a water and fountain feature called “The Cascades,” which as it turns out hasn’t opened for the warm seasons yet. After meeting a family of Deer, I took a short walk and found myself at the Oliver Miller Homestead public museum, where American Citizens first took up arms against George Washington and the newly created United States in 1794.

This is, I’m told, where the first shots fired of the Whiskey Rebellion were let loose. For those of you who didn’t pay attention in high school history class, or fell asleep during the endlessly boring lessons about the Articles of Confederation in 10th Grade, allow me to summarize our country’s very first tax revolt in a somewhat modern vernacular.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in the day, the fledgling United States was drowning in debts which the Rebellion had incurred in pursuit of chasing the British Crown away. President Washington signed into law a tax on distillates like Rum and Whiskey. Agriculture enthusiasts had long been in the habit of distilling excess or surplus grains like rye, barley, wheat, and even corn into liquors. This is an old European trick, preserving summertime calories in a manner which could also coax the party spirit out of people. Also, in the days prior to the Germ Theory of Disease, your best bet to sterilize the water you were about to drink was to add a bit of the good stuff to it. They didn’t know that’s what they were doing, of course, but it was. Clean drinking water is one of the technologies seldom pointed to as creating the modern era, but there you are. This practice of adding a shot’s worth of an alcohol drink into your water is why rum or whiskey were a part of soldier’s rations right up to the 20th century.

To pay down the National Debt of $54 million, (current worth of that number would be $1,476,850,909.09 today) Washington and the list of famous names he worked with in Congress enacted the Whiskey Tax. To say that this went down like a lead balloon with the Frontier types (Lewis and Clark left for their journey to the west from Pittsburgh, literally the last outpost of European Civilization in those days, until you got to the Spanish holdings) in Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley is a bit of an understatement. Many of these “Frontiersmen” had actually served under Washington during the rebellion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a great account of the conflict which led to the Whiskey Rebellion becoming a shooting war in this post at Mt. Lebanon Magazine. Suffice to say that a tax collector came here to the Miller Homestead on July 15 in 1794. That drew a crowd, which soon became an incensed mob, and the Tax collector and Sheriff had to run for their lives. By the time that the Tax collector – one John Neville – was able to summon army troops to help him enforce the law, that angry mob had transformed into a Rebel Militia. Things went pretty much as you’d expect at that point, with trained soldiers on each side shooting at each other and farm buildings burning down.

Things soon progressed to the point that George Washington, President of the United States, assembled an army of 12,000 soldiers and was personally leading them – as a General – towards Pennsylvania. You can read all about it here, but you should have paid more attention to it back in 10th grade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thomas Jefferson repealed the Whiskey tax in 1802 when he became President, and he blamed all the bloodshed and trouble in the region on his rival Alexander Hamilton, who had pushed Washington and Congress into accepting fiscal reality regarding the debts.

The Miller property was colonized in 1772, and the original deal here was a log cabin on a farm with several “out” buildings – a barn for the animals, a house for the slaves, etc. The log cabin was replaced in 1830, and the modern homestead building is called a “Stone Manse.” This is a protected historic place, and when the surrounding South Park was opened in 1931, the Miller Homestead was turned into a public museum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I observed several other small structures, including the cabin above and a “spring house” which hosted a large basin and fresh water bubbling up into it from below. The site was closed when I visited, but a humble narrator crossed the boundary while trying to save a butterfly from a predatory bird. That’s my story, sticking with it.

This was all just lucky serendipity for me, incidentally. As mentioned, I had no idea this was here, and somehow I made a beeline for it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

South Park is pretty amazing, actually. There’s an animal preserve section nearby this spot which has Bisons living on it. Pictured above is a barn, which struck my fancy enough to take a picture.

Back tomorrow.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 28, 2023 at 11:15 am

One Response

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  1. Great history lesson with beautiful pics, thanks!


    May 12, 2023 at 6:49 pm

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