Friday, September 16, 2016


This column first appeared in the September 2016 issue of GreeneSPEAK!
"Reverend John Corbley Cabin," pastel on paper

Artist-historian J. Howard Iams grew up in the North Ten Mile region of Washington County, near the border with Greene County. In the 1930s, with his brother Lash, he traveled throughout the region, researching and illustrating remnants of the area’s colonial past. 

He worked five years on his most ambitious project, 40 illustrations that document the sites, events and people of the Whiskey Rebellion. The collection includes three images from Greene County: “Reverend John Corbley Log Cabin,” “Colonel John Minor House” and “Old Tavern” at Jefferson.  

The Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794) was the first serious test of authority for the newly formed United States government. It took place in Southwestern Pennsylvania when farmers objected to a new federal tax on one of their principal products, whiskey. They attacked federal agents and tax collectors, prompting President Washington to lead 13,000 troops over the mountains to quell the disturbance.  

"Tarring and Feathering," linocut on paper.  On September 6,1791, an armed and disguised party waylaid Robert Johnson, Tax Collector for Allegheny and Washington Counties, near Pigeon Creek, Washington County, leaving him in mortifying condition.
By the time the army arrived, tempers had cooled.  However, some soldiers were frustrated to find the countryside at peace. On “The Terrible Night” of November 13, 1794, they arrested the men most wanted by the government, dragging them out of bed half-clothed and marching them through mud to a cold, make-shift prison. After several days of detention, nearly all were set free for lack of evidence. However, 20 were marched over the mountains to stand trial in Philadelphia. 

Among them was Reverend John Corbly of Garards Fort who had not been a major actor in the rebellion. However, he was a well-known minister and an ardent patriot who preached political freedom. Corbly’s arrest was to be used as an example to deter other citizens from plotting rebellion. At trial, he was exonerated, as were all but two of the Whiskey Rebels.  

"The Terrible Night," linocut on paper

Howard Iams’s depiction of “The Terrible Night” has been used in many articles and books about the Whiskey Rebellion. In stark black-and-white, it shows the terror and brutality of the unfair arrests.  

"Reverend John Corbley Cabin," linocut on paper.

Iams drew the Corbly log cabin in both pastel and block print. He had found it on the family farm, but had no proof that it was the actual house in which Corbly lived at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, nor earlier when his wife and children had been massacred by Indians in 1782. Today, the cabin is gone but Corbly’s brick house of 1796 remains. 

"Colonel John Minor House," pastel on paper
Iams also illustrated the home of Col. John Minor in pastel. Located at the bend in Mapletown, it had been erected in two sections with the original log structure on the right and a later brick wing on the left. Minor was a large landholder and a Representative in the State Legislature. He had attended the Parkinson’s Ferry gathering of Whiskey Rebels in July 1794 but was not among those arrested on the “The Terrible Night”. However, according to legend, he traveled to Philadelphia to offer assistance in the defense of those who had been. Like the Corbly cabin, the Minor House is now gone.

"Old Tavern" at Jefferson near the home of Insurrectionist Thomas Hughes, linocut on paper

 Howard Iams wrote that he illustrated the “Old Tavern” at Jefferson “not for any particular historic value, but as a picturesque type of early tavern,” noting that it was located near the home of Insurrectionist Thomas Hughes. The identity of “Old Tavern” is an intriguing mystery.
Twenty years after Howard Iams died in 1964, his widow donated the full collection to The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, where it is carefully stored and occasionally exhibited. I am grateful to Douglas Evans, Collection Manager, for showing me the images and granting permission to reproduce.  Here are more examples from the collection:

"Thomas Marshall Tavern" in Fredericktown, pastel on paper. Marshall was known as a leader against the "excise" tax in that vicinity.  The tavern was torn down in the early 20th century but the original stones were used in the new structure.  Years after the Rebellion, it was known as the Burson property, according to the artist.

"Bower Mill," linocut on paper.   Built a few years after the Whiskey Rebellion.  Razed in the early 20th century.  During the Insurrection, David Blair operated a blacksmith shop on or near the site where he made rifles for the community.

 All images by J. Howard Iams, collection of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, gift of Mrs. J. Howard Iams.