The Whiskey Rebellion At The Black Horse Tavern

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The Black Horse Tavern
The Black Horse Tavern
Photo credit: Public domain

The Black Horse Tavern was an historic tavern in Canonsburg, PA that may have been involved in the start of the Whiskey Rebellion. Stolen mail related to the rebellion was read there.

The tavern opened in 1794 in Canonsburg on a toll road, the Pittsburgh-Washington Pike. The pike was also known as the Black Horse Road, leading to the tavern’s name.

When Henry Westbay opened the Black Horse Tavern, resistance to a new federal tax on distilled spirits, including whiskey, had been simmering for several years. The revenue from the tax was intended to pay war debts but the tax was seen as being a burden on small, local distillers. Farmers in western PA, who distilled their grain into whiskey, rebelled against the young government. They closed the courts and attacked tax collectors. President Washington send troops into western PA to end the rebellion.

Rebels were believed to have met in the town’s Black Horse Tavern

Jerry Grefenstette in Canonsburg

Attacks on federal forces may have been planned during those tavern meetings.

Leaders of the rebellion seized federal mail sent from Philadelphia and Harrisburg to federal troops in western PA. “They waylaid the mail carrier about 22 miles east of Pittsburgh near the present Route 51,” according to Mon Valley History, quoted in Our Famous Cousin. The stolen mail was opened at the Black Horse Tavern. Letters from Major General Daniel Morgan, tax inspector General John Neville and PA Governor Thomas Mifflin laid out strategies and military implications.

Among the people who read the mail at the tavern was David Bradford, who reportedly was so angry at what he saw that he led a militia of 7,000 people to Braddock, near Pittsburgh. There was talk of burning wealthy people’s homes, calls for bringing the guillotine to America to use against the rich and discussion of declaring independence from the United States. Pittsburghers defused the threat, which was reduced to a march through the city.

Federal troops restored order in western Pennsylvania and enforced the tax on whiskey. People who were arrested for their role in the rebellion were acquitted or pardoned.

The Whiskey Rebellion Education And Visitor Center in downtown Washington, PA teaches people about the Whiskey Rebellion and how it helped to shape American history. The center displays exhibits that can be touched, artifacts of the day, an historical timeline, paintings and an educational exhibit on distilling whiskey.

The Black Horse Tavern was Canonsburg’s most notable tavern for years. Westbay operated it until the mid 1810s, when he sold it to his son. The tavern building became old and decrepit. The building and its land were sold to the Canonsburg School Board. What was left of the building was torn down for the Canonsburg High School.

Pictures of the Black Horse Tavern have appeared on postcards. From the late 1800s well into the 1900s, sending postcards was an easy, popular way for people to keep in touch. Postcards often had an image on it. Old postcards featuring the Black Horse Tavern can be purchased for $10 or less at several sites online.

Long after it was torn down, the Black Horse Tavern played a role in Canonsburg. Today, it is remembered for what happened there in the Whiskey Rebellion.