Historical Markers
Bonnet Tavern Historical Marker
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Bonnet Tavern

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
Junction of S. 30 and PA 31, 4 miles W of Bedford

Dedication Date:
May 8, 1992

Behind the Marker

This map shows both Braddock's Road (red) and Forbes' Road (blue), with the positions of various forts and battles along the way.
Map of Braddock's Road (red) and Forbes' Road (blue), with the positions of...
During the first week of August, 1794, after tax rebels had burned excise collector John Neville's mansion at markerBower Hill, some 500 western Pennsylvanians under the leadership of markerDavid Bradford met at the Bonnet Tavern. There, the protestors voted to resist the "watermelon" army, as the supportive Pittsburgh Gazette termed the force President George Washington was organizing to suppress what was now being called "The Whiskey Rebellion." Stating that the "Whiskey Boys" would not be "frightened by finely arranged lists of infantry, cavalry and artillery," the writer in the Gazette insisted that the principal task of government "should be the protection of the liberties of the people."
Cartoon depicting the fate of the Exciseman. An Exciseman carrying off two kegs of whiskey is being pursued by two farmers intending to tar and feather him. He is later hung.
An Exciseman, anonymous, 1792.

Build in 1760 on the site of a French fort taken by the British during the French and Indian War, the Bonnet Tavern was located at the intersection of Forbes and Burd Roads, a rest stop on the only road that connected eastern and western Pennsylvania beyond the Susquehanna River, and thus a most logical meeting place.

In early America, taverns were popular sites for political gatherings. There were few towns in Pennsylvania beyond the Susquehanna, and in rural regions taverns located conveniently at regional crossroads served as the center of civic life. The drinking of toasts to cheer favorite people and causes - and to condemn those held in low regard - was a common ritual. The tavern-keeper was frequently a prominent local figure, and subscribed to newspapers and publications patrons could read, frequently aloud, and debate over food and drink. Even in cities, indoor public spaces other than churches and government buildings that would accommodate more than a handful of people were scarce. In the 1790s, the City Tavern in Philadelphia was a common watering hole for members of Congress, and the Sun Tavern in Bethlehem the crucial focus of markerFries' Rebellion.
Oil on canvas of Albert Gallatin, head and shoulders.
Albert Gallatin, by Rembrandt Peale, from life, 1805.

The Whiskey rebels may have chosen to meet at the Bonnet Tavern simply for the convenience, but their choice also had symbolic meaning that the federal government took very seriously. Jean Bonnet, the tavern owner since 1779, was French, and state representative markerAlbert Gallatin, who had publicly supported the westerners' position - was a French-Swiss immigrant. These connections convinced the Federalists who dominated the Washington administration that the French Revolutionary government and its recent minister to the United States, Edmond Genet, were scheming with the deluded westerners to pressure the government into adopting a policy more favorable to the Revolution, and probably planning to foment rebellion on the frontier. (They also had evidence, however weak and suspect, that Rebel leader David Bradford was involved in a scheme for secession.) In short, the Federalists believed - incorrectly - that outside agitators were behind the growing crisis in western Pennsylvania.

The Federalists found their suspicions confirmed by the activities of Democratic Societies, which publicly supported the French Revolutionaries, in Pennsylvania and much of the nation. (The first had been founded in Philadelphia on July 4, 1793.) Their members, many of whom were Revolutionary War veterans, raised money and provided goods for the relief of the French, drank toasts to their French comrades at political and military gatherings, and raised high poles topped with tri-colored liberty bonnets at their rallies.
Satire of an Anti-Federalist Club reflecting the Federalists characterizations of the clubs as atheistic, secret societies with a debased membership that promoted revolutionary action and mob rule. Thomas Jefferson, a founder and leader of the Democratic-Republicans, stands on the table as he orates to club members including: a Citizen Genet, a supporter of Edmond Genet, the minister of the French Republic who promoted the principles of the French Revolution for America; naval hero and New York radical Commodore Livingston; Philadelphia astronomer David Rittenhouse peering through his telescope at a satire of the "Creed of the Democratic Party;" the devil; an obese drunkard damning the Federal Government; New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, and an African American referred to by another member as "Citizen Mungo."
A Peep into the Antifederal Club, 1793.

At the Bonnet Tavern, angry farmers raised a liberty pole in August, 1794. This was a method of public protest widely practiced by patriots during the American Revolution, so in raising their pole the angry westerners were implying that the present United States government deserved the same fate as the one ruled by George III two decades earlier.

Unfortunately for the Whiskey Rebels, Washington took their protests very seriously. And he would use their protests to demonstrate to the nation the authority of the president to enforce the power of the federal government to secure domestic tranquility. In October, when he marched his "Watermelon army" of more than 12,000 troops west to quell the insurrection, he camped on the very same site of their rally.

The Bonnet Tavern was a convenient place to rest. Symbolically, however, the Commander-in-Chief was reclaiming the space for the Federal government in which insurrection had been proclaimed, as Federalist leaders back in Philadelphia maintained that true liberty required obedience to law.
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