Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 277

Price Realized: $ 2,375
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,000 - $ 3,000
"ARE YOU WHISKEY BOYS? ARE YOU MAKING YOUR ESCAPE?" (PENNSYLVANIA.) [Robert Patterson.] Letter from a Whiskey Rebellion sympathizer who encounters the army sent to crush it. Autograph Letter Signed as "P.R." to brother-in-law William Canon of Canonsburgh in southwestern Pennsylvania. 4 pages, 12 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches, on 2 sheets; including address panel and docketing but no postal markings; moderate wear with loss of a few letters. "Bonnet's near Bedford," PA, 24 October 1794

Additional Details

Robert Patterson (1773-1854) wrote this letter at Jean Bonnet's Tavern in Bedford, PA, noted as a hotbed of Whiskey Rebellion sentiment and still in operation as an historic tavern. He was travelling southeast through Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion, just as the militia called up by President Washington was headed west to suppress the rebels. He wrote: "Early in the morning we met about seven hundred of the army between the foot of the Alegany 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 waggons &c &c so frequently that we were rarely out of sight of one company till another was in view. Thus we traveled for about five miles and then we began to meet the thick marching corps of foot and light horse who marched in as close succession as they could, and were in general from five to seven men deep. . . . Among others we were a while with Alexr. Hamilton, Secretary."

Patterson was ordered to backtrack eight miles to be interviewed by a judge: "I found it a great benefit to me that I had not been actually engaged in any of the riotous marches. 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."

The massive military display made Patterson fearful for his nation's liberties: "My heart inwardly throbed 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." He noted that 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."

The author was the son-in-law of John Canon (1741-1798), the prominent founder of Canonsburg, near Pittsburgh--known as another seat of rebellion. He was writing to John's eldest son William (1774-1858). Why he chose to sign as "P.R." is unknown, but he was obviously nervous about running afoul of the army; the letter is docketed as from "R Paterson Jr." He attended the University of Pennsylvania, and later became a clergyman and publisher in Pittsburgh. Provenance: Sotheby's sale, 22 June 1981, lot 293, to Milton R. Slater; Swann sale, 17 September 2015, lot 286.