a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tom the Tinker was a stinker

By Scott Beveridge

This Tom was the most-elusive whiskey rebel ...

Angry workers with shrinking wages these days have nothing on Tom the Tinker, who was the toughest of all rebels to rise up against paying income taxes to the United States.

A grain farmer in the Finleyville area of Pennsylvania in the late 1700s, Mr. Tinker was a sneak who rendered useless, in the dead of night, the whiskey stills of his neighbors who agreed to pay a federal tax on their Monongahela rye to erase the national debt of the American Revolution.

“Beware! Tar, feather and burning for any who vote for submission,” he stated in letters shown at town meetings to garner support for annexing what is now known as Southwestern Pennsylvania from the new union. His hammer was ready to poke holes in whiskey stills. He further threatened to burn down the barns of any taxpayers and even steal all mail containing tax payments before they reached government.

Those rebels prayed for salvation at the Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church, even though they were among the most violent of the opposition groups of the era. While some historians believed the tough-talking Tom was a farmer named John Hollcroft, whose tombstone can be found at a modest, well-preserved grave in Mingo Cemetery, his true identity has never been revealed. Others have insisted that the name stood for a group of men.

In their day, the rebels hoisted a flag bearing seven stars rather than the official 13 representing the number of new states. Its seven stars represented the number of counties that supported the formation of a new state independent of the nation led then by President George Washington.

Their forces numbered 70 armed insurgents, according to “Sim Greene and Tom the Tinker’s Men: a Narrative of the Whiskey Rebellion,” written by Richard T. Wiley and published in 1943.

The ragtag militia was no match, though, to the thousands of troops Washington sent to the area in 1794 to quash the uprising. The rebels were wise to succumb to paying the tax before any weapons were drawn. Statesman Albert Gallatin was credited with settling them down in an eloquent speech in Monongahela, one that assured the angry farmers they would appear more like heroes than cowards for helping to balance the nation’s budget.

But many of them, as well as their ancestors, continued to hide their whiskey stills to avoid taxation. And to this day, there aren't any legitimate distilleries to be found in the region.


(Captions: The tombstone of John Hollcroft, who was possibly Tom the Tinker, above, can be found beside that of his wife at Mingo Cemetery along Route 88 just south of Finleyville, PA. A rendering, shown above, at right, of Tom the Tinker)


Alison said...

Cool history. I grew up in McMurray, so this hits close to home!

Brant said...

There aren't any "legitimate" distilleries in the area, but there are still people who make their own, um, adult beverages. It seems wrong to me that people can buy kits and make their own beer and wine, but you can't build your own still and make corn liquor. It would make a nice science experiment for the young'ns.

Monique Ringling said...

Cool history lesson!
I agree with Newman.;-)

Amanda Gillooly said...

Hey, thanks for helping me get my learn on. History isn't as much of a strong point for me, as, say, celebrity sleaze.

Jeffrey Hunt said...

I have a copy of 'Sim Greene' from 1906, which I have read. It's a prized posession. Richard T. Wiley also wrote "Elizabeth and Her Neighbors".

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just found out that John Hollcraft was my gggggg grandfather. At least there's one interesting person in my family tree!

matt metzgar said...

6 greats on the grandad?
so you are a Hollcroft, are ye?
Were you at our family reunion in Santa Barbara in 2006?


Longshot Island said...

Who is the Chirping Cobler?