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From Patriot to Whiskey Rebel

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Barnabas Blue was likely born about 1757 in New Castle County, Delaware and became an early settler in Berkley County, Virginia (now located in West Virginia).

His father, Michael, was listed on the militia roll for New Castle County, Delaware on 28 December 1757. His uncle, Uriah, also lived in New Castle, Delaware since he is listed on several baptism records at the "Old Swedes Church" (Holy Trinity) in Wilmington, Delaware.

By the time of the American Revolution, the Blue family had moved to Berkeley County, Virginia, appearing in the records there. Barnabas married Talithacuny "Charity" Marshall about 1773.

Barnabas and his older brother Uriah both appear on the muster roll for Berkeley County militia under Captain William Morgan in 1775. Late in the fall of 1776, Captain William Morgan marched with his company of volunteers to join the forces under General Washington, who was then at Morristown. They then fought in the engagement against the British in March 1777 at Piscataway.

After the Revolution, Barnabas returned to Berkeley County where his name appears on the 1782/3 county tax list.

In about 1786, Barnabas received a warrant for 400 acres in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. This land was surveyed in 1791 and patented to Michael Blue, Barnabas' younger brother, in 1799.

Barnabas was on a 1789 list of inhabitants of Providence Township, Bedford County. He was counted in the 1790 census in Bedford county with a household of nine people including four males under 16 and 4 females. Barnabas and Charity had sons Frederick, Uriah, Solomon and Barnabas that were born between 1774 and 1787 that would match this record. In addition, he had daughters Martha, Mary and Esther.

He was counted on the militia roll in Providence township, Bedford County along with his brother Michael.

By 1791 the United States suffered from significant debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist supporting increased federal authority, intended to an excise tax on domestically produced distilled spirits to lessen this financial burden. Despite resistance from Anti-Federalists like Thomas Jefferson, Congress passed the legislation. The transportation costs per gallon were higher for farmers removed from eastern urban centers, so the per-gallon profit was reduced disproportionately by the per-gallon tax on distillation of domestic alcohol such as whiskey.

When news of the tax spread to Western Pennsylvania, individuals immediately voiced their displeasure by refusing to pay the tax. Residents viewed this tax as yet another instance of unfair policies dictated by the eastern elite that negatively affected American citizens on the frontier. Some small-scale distillers believed that Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business. In addition, only cash would be accepted for tax payment which was a problem for those who lived on the cash-poor Western frontier.

The law was an immediate failure since refusals to pay the taxes were as common as intimidation against the officials hired to collect them. Excise officers sent to collect the tax were met with defiance and threats of violence. Some producers refused outright to pay the tax. Perhaps inevitably, violence broke out. On 11 September 1791, excise officer Robert Johnson was riding through his collection route in western Pennsylvania when he was surrounded by 11 men dressed as women. The mob stripped him naked and then tarred and feathered him before stealing his horse and abandoning him in the forest.

Incidents escalated over the next few years. President Washington sought to resolve this dispute peacefully. In 1792, he issued a national proclamation admonishing westerners for their resistance to the "operation of the laws of the United States for raising revenue upon spirits distilled within the same." However, by 1794 the protests became violent. In July, nearly 400 whiskey rebels near Pittsburgh set fire to the home of John Neville, the regional tax collection supervisor. Left with little recourse and at the urgings of Secretary Hamilton, Washington organized a militia force of 12,950 men and led them towards Western Pennsylvania, warning locals "not to abet, aid, or comfort the Insurgents aforesaid, as they will answer the contrary at their peril". Washington left Philadelphia (which at that time was the capital of the United States) on 30 September to review the progress of the military expedition.

Along the way he traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania on his way to meet up with the rest of the militia he ordered mobilized at Carlisle. On 2 October, Washington left Reading heading west to Womelsdorf in order to "view the (Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company) canal...".

Washington met with the western representatives in Bedford, Pennsylvania on 9 October before going to Fort Cumberland in Maryland to review the southern wing of the army. He was convinced that the federalized militia would meet little resistance, and he placed the army under the command of the Virginia Governor Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Washington returned to Philadelphia; Hamilton remained with the army as civilian adviser.

The large and well-armed militia marched into western Pennsylvania and was met with angry citizens but little violence. When a rebel army did not appear, the militia rounded up suspected rebels instead. However, the rebellion’s instigators had already fled, and the militia’s prisoners were not involved in the rebellion. They were marched to Philadelphia to stand trial regardless.

Barnabas and his brother Michael took part in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. As a result, they were bound "to answer bills of indictment for riot and treasonable acts, setting seditious poles in opposition to the whiskey tariff, to appear at Jan term of Court, 1795". They and many others appeared in court as directed, pled guilty and were assessed fines that ranged between 5 shillings and 15 pounds. Only two men were found guilty of treason, and both were pardoned by Washington.

Whiskey Rebellion Flag

While violent opposition to the whiskey tax ended, political opposition to the tax continued. Opponents of internal taxes rallied around Thomas Jefferson and helped him defeat President John Adams in the 1800 election. The tax, as well as all other internal Federal taxes, was repealed by Congress in 1802. Until the War of 1812, the Federal government would rely solely on import tariffs for revenue, which quickly grew with the Nation's expanding foreign trade.

In 1795, Barnabas was in Bourbon County, Kentucky, where he signed the marriage bond for his niece, Elizabeth Blue.

In 1799 Barnabas tranferred his land patent in Bedford County to his brother Michael and Michael appears to have stayed in Pennsylvania until later when he joined his brothers in Ohio.

Barnabas was counted on the 1800 tax list living in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He received two land patents in Miami County, Ohio. The first patent was in Staunton Township, near his brother Uriah, and the second was in Lost Creek Township. It is believed that they lived on the Lost Creek Township land.

Barnabas died in 1827 without a will. His sons, Solomon and Uriah, were administrators of his estate. The estate papers make it clear that Barnabas' father was Michael Blue of Virginia. This confirms that his father Michael remained in Virginia, probably Berkeley County, after his sons moved to Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio.


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