Western Pennsylvania (primarily incorporating what is now four counties: Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, and Fayette) was a sparsely settled frontier area throughout the Revolutionary years. Settlers had been living there, some "squatting" illegally, since about the 1760s, but true settlement had not occurred until after the Revolution in the 1780s when conflicts with the Indians were less frequent, having moved further west to Ohio. Settlement of the area peaked in the 1790s.
I became interested in the history of this region when I began researching my Marshall family line. In the midst of many of the key historical events for the region was a man named James Marshel. Although virtually every book regarding early western Pennsylvania politics and the Whiskey Rebellion mentions him, I have been unable to discover much about him personally or his family. His life, however, was very interesting, wrapped up as it is in many key historical events. I discovered James Marshel while looking for information about a James Marshall in my family line. There may be a connection between the two (possibly Marshel is a grandfather of Marshall), although I have yet to find it. I found Marshel's life interesting, however, and so decided to document it. (Also, if I ever discover a link between my Marshall and this Marshel, I'll kick myself for NOT recording what I found!) Below is some of what I have learned about James Marshel, spliced with a large portion of western Pennsylvania history.
As I currently don't have access to most of the primary sources, I have had to rely on secondary sources and transcriptions. These are less than ideal, so please use any information below as a guide only (especially if it is only referenced from one source). Unless I am quoting a book or a fact found in only one location, I do not specify my sources; however, a reference list is enclosed at the bottom of the page. If you have more information, please contact me!
The effective British settlement of western Pennsylvania was in large part delayed by its strategic location. Located at the junction of several major rivers (the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, and Youghiogheny), the region was contested at various points by the French, English, Indians, and Americans.
The Indian nations occupying the area in the mid to late 1700s included the Six Nations Iroquois (a loose confederation of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, Cayugas, and Tuscaroras) along the northern border up along the Great Lakes mostly in what is now New York. The Lenni Lenape (Delaware), Conestoga (Susquehannocks), Conoys, and Shawnee were originally settled in eastern and middle Pennsylvania, but with the increasing British settlement were pushed further and further west throughout the eighteenth century, mostly ending up along the Ohio River, straddling the border of what is now Pennsylvania and Ohio, then into the southern Ohio Valley and Missouri. The Mingo also occupied this area. The Wyandot (Huron), Ottawa, Potawatomis, and Miami were settled in what is now Ohio and Michigan, mostly in the Great Lakes region (Dowd, 116). Each of these Indian nations had their own distinct culture and their own claims to certain lands. Alliances with other Indian nations, the French, and English shifted constantly throughout the century, according to the best interests and needs of the tribes. It is impossible to convey the details of these interactions completely in a summary, so throughout this essay, I typically refer to "Indians" generally if more than one nation took part. I use the term "Indian" instead of "Native American", as this seems to be the preferred term among today's American Indians and historians. Please see the reference list for several texts that provide more detail on the Indian cultures, wars, and migrations.
1754 Map of "Western Virginia" by George Washington,
showing parts of what is now Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kentucky,
New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and North Carolina
Map from Early maps of the Ohio Valley : a selection of maps, plans, and views made
by Indians and colonials from 1673 to 1783 by Lloyd Arnold Brown
French traders had been sparsely settled over the region for many years prior to the first British movements, and forts had been set up along the Ohio River and Great Lakes. In fact, the region played a central role in the beginning of the French and Indian War. It is the location of George Washington's first military experience, the surrender of Fort Necessity to the French in 1754. The English lost another major battle in the area in 1755, under the command of General Edward Braddock, who was killed in the assault. The English were expelled and the French maintained control of the area until 1758, when General John Forbes successfully drove the French from Fort DuQuesne and built Fort Pitt on its former site (later to become Pittsburgh). This did not bring an end to the conflict, however, as the French and their Indian allies continued to attack settlements in the area until the end of the French and Indian War with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. With this treaty, the French agreed to cease hostilities in the area and ceded the land to the British. During this time frame, much of the frontier was abandoned by English settlers.
Conflicts with the Indians continued for many more years beyond the French & Indian War. In fact, Pontiac's War broke out in 1763 with the departure of the French, and was an extremely bloody conflict. Indians had benefited from the battles between the French and English over the area, as they were able to play one against the other, decreasing the ability of either to achieve dominance in the region and increasing the markets for trade. With the defeat of the French, however, British colonization of western Pennsylvania increased (despite a 1763 ban on British settlement, expressly designed to decrease regional tension with the Indians). Hostilities between the British settlers and Indians, especially the Lenni Lenape (Delaware), Shawnee and Wyandot (Huron), continued without abatement in the vicinity for the next twenty years, with full-scale wars breaking out at several points during this time . Atrocities and massacres were common on both sides, and the region was an extremely hazardous place to live.
Officially, Indian lands were purchased by Pennsylvania from the Six Nations Iroquois by treaties in 1768 and 1784. Several other treaties were also arranged in this time period, purchasing land from the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) and Wyandot (Huron) nations. However, there was not general agreement regarding who controlled the lands, and Shawnee tribes in particular were incensed by the treaty with the Six Nations. All of the Indian nations had been forced to repeatedly migrate from their homelands as both the French and English settlers encroached upon them. The 1768 treaty with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix (by the British) was designed to keep settlements east of the Appalachian mountains, and was primarily unsuccessful.
In 1777, several of the chiefs of the Six Nations wrote,
"To the Virginians and Pennsylvanians now at Venango. You have feloniously taken possession of a part of our country on the branches of the Ohio, as well as the Susquehanna. To the latter we have some time since sent you word to quit our lands, as we now do to you, as we don't know we ever gave you liberty nor can we be easy in our minds when there is an armed force at our very doors; nor do we think you or anybody else would. Therefore, to use you with more lenity than you have a right to expect, we now tell you in a peaceful manner, to quit our lands wherever you have possessed yourselves of them, immediately, or blame yourselves for whatever may happen."(Hildreth 117)
As the colonies were in the midst of the Revolutionary War with England at the time, national leaders tended to be as conciliatory as possible during this time frame, so as not to start war on the frontier as well. British forces, however, armed Indians in order to fight against the Americans. While some nations took the American side, others continued to fight for the British even beyond the end of the Revolutionary War. Settlers in Pennsylvania also committed murders and massacres that tended to spark renewed conflict, and which frustrated the colonial military powers.
The second treaty with the Six Nations in 1784 (by the new American government) expanded the region that was claimed for American use and appears to have encompassed most of what is now western Pennsylvania, as well as parts of Ohio. Although the treaties did not cease hostilities, the combination of those and military action gradually pushed the conflicts further west into Ohio, so that by the 1790s, western Pennsylvania was a relatively safe location for American settlement. The new American government began selling off western lands at this point, as well, in part to pay down the government's post-war debt.
Map of current Pennsylvania boundaries, showing overlap with Virginia boundaries
Map from History of Washington County, Pennsylvania by Boyd Crumrine
Throughout the 1760s and '70s what is now western Pennsylvania was in fact claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania. The county of Yohogania, Virginia was entirely in what is now Pennsylvania (see map). Other Virginia counties also included lands now within Pennsylvania (to complicate matters further, most of these former Virginia counties are now in what is West Virginia). Settlers arrived from both states holding titles to land, under conflicting systems. Virginia land speculators (including George Washington) had heavily invested in parcels of land in the area from about the 1750s and '60s, while the region was still in conflict and such titles were of dubious legality. Virginia lands were cheaper and easier to obtain. However, lands purchased from Pennsylvania (the land office opened in 1769, closed during the Revolution, and reopened in 1781) tended to be more legally secure, since they were based on the treaties made with the Indians (Harper). Virginia and Pennsylvania came to an agreement on paper in 1781, but the official surveying and final agreements weren't completed until mid-decade, and disputes regarding the land continued even longer. In 1781, when the Pennsylvania land office reopened after the Revolutionary War, it handled only cases that had begun before the war. Pennsylvania owned the lands, but recognized at least 1200 landholders who held Virginia deeds (Harper). Nonetheless, conflicts about the subject remained for many more years within the territory with some settlers refusing to recognize Pennsylvania's jurisdiction.
James Marshel appears to have arrived in western Pennsylvania in the mid-1770s, making him among the earlier British settlers to arrive in the vicinity. (According to Harper, in 1784, the population of Washington County was just under 16,000.) Egle states that James Marshel "was born February 20, 1753 in Lancaster County. He moved to the western country some three years before the Revolution and settled in what is now Cross Creek township, Washington (then Westmoreland) county" (252). Butterfield contradicts this, saying that although Marshel came to Washington County from Lancaster County (specifically Dauphin), he was actually born in the north of Ireland. Both documents, however, concur on the date though neither gives a source. At this time, I can find no evidence that Marshel served in the Revolutionary War either for Pennsylvania or Virginia. If he did, he may not have claimed a pension.
Although little to nothing can currently be said about Marshel's early life, it is certain that he received some form of education, as he regularly wrote letters in the course of his political business, many of which are still in existence. Marshel may even have attended college, as he was certainly an attorney. James Marshel is described as "the wealthy lawyer David Bradford['s]... business partner" (Hogeland 138). Harper notes that Marshel "just misses" inclusion in the top decile of wealth for the town of Washington, a category dominated by professional and mercantile men. Marshel's taxable wealth, as measured in 1793, was £129 (103).
I know very little about James Marshel's family. Crumrine notes that, "Col. Marshel's wife was his cousin, a sister of Robert and John Marshall" and "Col. James Marshel and his son John always spelled their surname in this peculiar way - Marshel. The cousins of Col. Marshel, though of the same family, spelled their name in the usual way - Marshall" (728). The cousins mentioned in this note seem to have also settled in Cross Creek. Butterfield notes that Marshel left five surviving children at his death in 1829: "John, who settled in Washington, Pa.; Robert, who settled in Ohio; a daughter, who married Mr. McCluny; and two other daughters, who died unmarried at an advanced age" (277).
Crumrine also notes:
"Col. James Marshel was a resident of Cross Creek township as early as 1778. On December 26th of that year he purchased of Jacob Frederick 'a tract of land situated on the head-waters of Cross Creek, in the counties of Yohogania and Ohio, and State of Virginia,' said tract containing four hundred acres with allowance, and the consideration being £419 13s. 9d. 'Marshel Hall' was the name given to a tract of four hundred and thirty-two acres which was warranted and surveyed to Col. Marshel in 1785, adjoining the lands of Thomas McKibbin, Robert, John, and Thomas Marshall, and Samuel Johnston. The middle branch of Cross Creek runs through this place. 'Mecklenburg' must have been Col. Marshel's next land purchase. This tract he secured from Francis McKinne, to whom it was warranted Feb. 13, 1786, and afterwards surveyed as containing four hundred and one acres, located next to other lands of James Marshel and those of David Vance and John Campbell. 'The Point' was a tract of three hundred and fifty-eight acres which Col. Marshel warranted in March, 1786, and then deeded part of it to Mr. Johnston, who lived upon it" (728)
Marshel built a blockhouse on "Marshall's Delight" in Cross Creek, possibly also using the fortification as a residence. Albert says, "this was an important place of refuge, but was never attacked, so far as known. It was built near a spring still in use." (425) Sipe also mentions the fort and adds that it was built as early as 1774.
James Marshel was definitely in Washington County by 1779, when we begin to hear about his religious life. He is mentioned briefly in History of Washington County, PA, 1882 in reference to the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Cross Creek:
"In April 1779, the Rev. Joseph Smith, from York County, Pa., visited this region and preached several sermons. These sermons greatly stirred up the people to obtain the stated ministrations of the gospel among them. In the early summer of 1779... the two companies met at the house of James Marshel, midway between Buffalo and Cross Creek, and made out a call for the Rev. Joseph Smith, who had been their minister in York County. This call was dated June 21, 1779. The salary promised was seventy-five pounds. This call was carried down to the Presbytery of New Castle, then met at Carlisle, by Mr. Edgar, and was accepted on the 27th of October 1779" (736).
According to Butterfield, Marshel offered 200 acres of his land in order to hire someone to bring the new minister from over the mountains. From these mentions, we can infer that Marshel was a staunch Presbyterian, probably one of the Presbyterians of Scotch-Irish descent, who were numerous in the region.
Dunaway remarks that the "Scotch-Irish population of the county [Washington] became more noticeable about 1773 and thereafter increased steadily; it came mainly from the Cumberland Valley and from other Scotch-Irish centers in Chester, Lancaster, York, and Dauphin Counties, but was augmented by a goodly number of immigrants coming directly from Ulster" (82). Other histories also back this up. In his History of Washington County, Forrest relates of Cross Creek: "this section was settled by Presbyterians, of that God-fearing, hard-fighting type of men and women who, with a Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other, carried civilization into the Western wilderness. Of such stock were... Col. James Marshel in 1778" (488). However, he notes of Marshel, "it is said that he was not very pious in his later years" (150). Dunaway cites freedom from religious persecution and economic opportunities as the primary causes of Scotch-Irish immigration to Pennsylvania during the colonial period.
Marshel is listed in the 1790 U.S. Census in Washington County (Ancestry.com). It is possible that he was in Cross Creek at this time, although he is also sometimes listed in Washington, Buffalo, and Hopewell townships, all close to one another. His name is spelled Marshall, instead of Marshel on this document. The return is loosely alphabetized, so it is unclear who his neighbors were. In the household were two males over the age of 16, three under the age of 16, and three females. No slaves or free blacks lived in the house. This is the only census in which I am relatively certain of James Marshel's identity. In other census reports, it is unclear which of several James Marshels he might be. It is also possible that he was not the head of household after 1800, and so is not enumerated. In 1800, he had likely moved to Virginia, where the census has been lost.
1755 Map of Pennsylvania, west of the Susquehannah River
showing forts (stars), rivers, and mountains.
James Marshel settled near the Great Meadows to the far left of the map.
Map from The frontier forts of western Pennsylvania by George Dallas Albert
James Marshel was involved in the civic life of Washington as well. In the records of the first school, Crumrine notes that Col. James Marshel was one of the first trustees. This school, Washington Academy, would later become Washington College, and finally merge with Jefferson College to become Washington & Jefferson College, still in existence today.
James Marshel also apparently loaned a fire engine to the town of Washington : "The first fire which occurred in the town of Washington of which any account is obtained was the burning of the log court-house in the winter of 1790-91. The accounts of the commissioners of 1791 contain the following: "To pay James Marshel for the use of his engine, $25." What kind of an engine was owned by Col. Marshel, or for what purpose he obtained it, is not known, as no further reference to it is found." (Crumrine)
Like other men of the era, James Marshel served in a variety of political offices. In Westmoreland County, he was the captain of the militia and was appointed a justice of the peace on June 11, 1777 (Egle). On April 2, 1781, days after the establishment of Washington County, Pennsylvania, Marshel was commissioned as its county lieutenant and one of the presiding justices (Ferguson). Under the constitution of the United States, Marshel held the office of register and recorder from April 4, 1781 to November 19, 1784 (Egle). Governor Mifflin reappointed him register and recorder August 17, 1791 continuing in office to March 6, 1795 (through the Whiskey Rebellion) (Egle.). In the mean time, he filled the position of sheriff, from November 3, 1784 to November 21, 1787 (Egle).
According to Harper and Crumrine, although Marshel owned 1200 acres of land in Cross Creek, he spent most of his time residing in Washington, carrying out his political offices. He is mentioned in Crumrine several times in the borough of Washington. He was the purchaser of the second lot sold in the town:
"Col. James Marshel, a settler in Cross Creek township, purchased lot No. 90 of David Hoge on a certificate, receiving his deed from Mr. Hoge in February, 1785. This lot was where Morgan & Hargreave’s store now stands. He sold it the next year to Hugh Wilson. He lived in the town during the terms of the various offices he held of county lieutenant, register, recorder, and sheriff. In 1794 the military headquarters were upon the lot he then lived on, and the United States forces were encamped on the college grounds" (Crumrine 485).
As mentioned above, James Marshel served as county lieutenant and colonel of the Washington County militia, beginning in 1781. In this office, he held the highest local position of the militia. Raymond Bell notes that in 1781, "Five battalions were formed, each with 8 companies -- a total of nearly 3000 men were enrolled. All able-bodied men between 18 and 53 were in this draft. The battalions were headed by Lieutenant Colonels: Thomas Crooke, Henry Enoch, John Marshall, George Vallandigham, David Williamson. Captains were elected."
However, Washington County, Pennsylvania overlapped in boundaries with Yohogania County, Virginia. This caused some difficulties when the militia was to be called out to serve in the war against the Indians, as some men would not report to a Virginia draft. James Marshel held allegiance to Pennsylvania in this dispute, and may have actually exploited the boundary dispute to avoid sending men on a military mission away from home, when they were needed for defense more locally: "There is a greater necessity for the service of the Militia of this frontier County against the Immediate Enemies of the Country, and it would have a greater tendency to promote our own safety, than their best services with General Clark at Kaintucky possibly Could do." (Downes 267-8)
In fact, Crumrine quotes Col. Pentecost of Yohogania County, Virginia as saying of Col. Marshel:
"And he accordingly did all he could to perplex the People, and advised them to pay no obedience to Draughts that I had ordered for Gen’l Clark’s assistance, & has actually offered Protection to some of ‘em, though he before, on a Request of Gen’l Clark’s, declared he could do nothing as an officer, wish’d well the Expedition, & as a Private Person would give every assistance to promote it” (97)
In response, Col. Marshel wrote to the Council president (the executive branch of the Pennsylvania government was a Council at the time):
“Washington County, 8th August, 1781.”
“Sr, – When I began to organize the Militia of this County, I expected the line between the States would have been run (at least by the Commissioners of this State) in May last; but Finding they did not arrive at neither of the periods given us to expect them, I thought it my duty to take the most favourable Opportunity that would Offer to form the Militia. About the fifteenth of June last, I apprehended Appearances favourable and accordingly advertised two Battalion Elections, but soon found that General Clark’s preparations for his Expedition and the Extraordinary Freedom with which he and his party of the old Virginia Officers used with the people of this County stood greatly in the way; they were Indefatigable in propagating reports of the General being a Continental Officer, having extraordinary Countenance and Authority from the State of Pennsylvania, in pulling down my Advertisements, dissuading the people from attending the Elections, crying out that I was everything that was bad, and was doing all this to hurt the Expedition, &c.; all which, however false, produced a Visible Indisposition in the people towards attending the Elections; and altho’ I was not attempting anything with design to Injure his Expedition, I could not do anything to fill up the General’s troops out of the Militia of this frontier County, not having Council’s orders for that purpose. . . . I can only say at present I have acted such a part as I thought a faithful Officer ought to do in similar cases; and that I Ever Conceived I had no right so much as to say any of the people of this County had a right to go with general Clark without your Excellency’s Orders for that purpose; much less that I should ly still on purpose that the Virginia Officers should draft the Militia of this County for that service. If any complaint of what kind soever should be lodged against me, I hope your Excellency will favour me with a Coppy thereof, that I may have an Opportunity of doing myself Justice; and as the Manner in which the Genl and his Underlings have treated the people of this and Westmoreland Counties has been so arbitrary and unprecedented, I think it my duty to inform your Excellency the particulars of a few facts. The first instance was with one John Harden, in Westmoreland, who, with a number of others, refused to be drafted under the government of Virginia, alleging they were undoubtedly in Pennsylvania, and declared if that government ordered a draft they would obey cheerfully, and accordingly elected their officers and made returns thereof to Col. Cook. After this the general, with a party of forty or fifty horsemen, came to Harden’s in quest of him to hang him, as the general himself declared; but not finding the old gentleman took and tied his son, broke open his mill, fed away and destroyed upwards of one hundred and fifty bushels of wheat, rye, and corn, killed his sheep and hogs, and lived away at Mr. Harden’s expense in that manner for two or three days; declared his estate forfeited, but graciously gave it to his wife; formed an article in which he bound all the inhabitants he could lay hands on or by any means prevail upon to come in to him; under the penalty of ten months in the regular army, not to oppose the draft. Another man in Westmoreland, being in Company with Clark’s troops, happened to say the draft was Illegal, upon which he was Immediately Confined, and Ordered to be hanged by the General. Col. Penticost, being willing to assist the General, issued Orders to the Commanding officers of the old Militia Companys, to Raise an armed force and Collect the Delinqts; and altho these orders were Chiefly disobeyed, yet there has been several armed Banditties in the County under command of a certain Col. Cox and others, who have acted nearly in the same manner as the general himself has done.”
“They being in Quest of John Douglas (a Gent. Elected one of our Justices for this County) and not finding him the first attempt, broke open his house in the night time, Fed away and destroyed such a part of Rye and Corn (his property) as they thought proper; Drew their swords upon his wife and Children in order to make them Discover where he was; the sd Cox and his party have taken and confined a Considerable number of the Inhabitants of this County, amongst which were Hugh Scott (one of the acting trustees of the County), altho’ he was not drafted; in a word the Instances of high treason against the State are too many to be Enumerated, therefore shall not trouble your Excellency any more on the subject at present” (Crumrine 97)
President Reed replied that he was well aware of the draft, that it was ordered by Washington, and that it was intended to include Westmoreland and Washington Counties. He added that although he disapproved of the methods used by General Clark, yet he hoped that the draft would be successful. He felt that perhaps some of the settlers were "avail[ing] themselves of a pretense" in order to avoid the draft.
In March 1782, a collection of men from western Pennsylvania entered a peaceful Indian village at Gnadhutten on the Muskigum, took prisoners, and killed approximately 90-96 Indians, including women and children, all of whom had surrendered. It is unclear whether the men believed that the Moravian Indians were in league with others who had recently attacked and killed western Pennsylvania settlers. Certainly, in accounts given later, the settlers claimed that they found evidence of collaboration in the hostilities. Marshel, as a ranking officer, almost certainly knew in advance about the planned massacre and that this was an official militia expedition. Crumrine attributes the calling out of the militia to Col. Marshel, authority he had in an emergency. Crumrine also notes that there would have been enough volunteers to go without a draft, but that Marshel wrote to General Irvine that he was "heartily tired out with volunteer plans" (Crumrine 102). There is not evidence of his further participation in the massacre, which was led by David Williamson, another colonel.
Later that same month and into April, Marshel apparently tried to raise the militia to go with General Crawford and fight Indians who were raiding and attacking the western counties (probably partially in retaliation for the Gnadhutten massacre). Crawford was defeated in a particularly brutal battle at Sandusky, and he was tortured to death. Dr. Knight, a witness and prisoner, wrote of Marshel's participation: "In consequence of these predatory invasions, the principal officers of the above mentioned counties, namely Colonels Williamson and Marshall, tried everything in their power to set on foot an expedition against the Wyandot which they could effect no other way than by giving all possible encouragement to volunteers." (Montgomery 363) Marshel was apparently having difficulty raising enough men to fight in the ongoing battles, as he had to offer considerable inducement to potential soldiers, including the opportunity to keep plunder found in the Indian villages.
Marshel, however, also did not go on this expedition. Forrest notes,
"although [Marshel was] not a member of Crawford's expedition, took a prominent part in its organization, and in the Indian wars. His reason for not participating in the campaign was that he would not accept a position lower than third in command. He was a candidate for first major at the election of field officers at Mingo Bottom, but was defeated by Thomas Gaddis of Westmoreland County. Marshel then refused to go and returned home." (212).
In November 1787, Marshel wrote to President Benjamin Franklin (then president of the Supreme Executive Council for Pennsylvania) of various families who had recently been killed by the Indians. He stated:
"we are at present in a very bad situation for Defence, and our Circumstances in general, more Especially that of the frontier Inhabitants, is such that very few are able purchase even a Small Quantity of Ammunition..." (Hazard 210).
Marshel recommended that at least one hundred troops be sent to defend the frontier, as it would take at least that many simply to stand guard at one per mile. He continues,
"I well know the circumstances of the people on the frontier and that however well disposed they may be to support the Government as well as preserve their property, yet I am assured that without the special aid of Government, a very Considerable part of Washington County will be Evacuated, should the Indians make incursions on our, or the neighboring frontiers next spring" (Hazard 210).
As late as February 1791, Col. Marshel wrote to Governor Mifflin for assistance in defending the western Pennsylvania frontier from the Shawnee:
"From the fullest evidence of the hostile intentions of the Indians, I have no doubt but that the service of our Militia will be necessary the ensuing Summer; our situation on the frontier at this time is truly alarming; the late Expedition under the command of Gen'l Harmar has had a very different effect from what was expected; the Indians appear elated with their success on that occasion, and are roused by a Spirit of Resentment. It is evident that nothing prevents their crossing the Ohio River, but the inclemency of the Season, and the danger attending their Retreat by the Running of the Ice. They have, subsequent to the Excursion in the depth of Winter, committed frequent murders on the west side of the River, and had the Insolence, after killing a family a few days ago on the bank of the River, to call to the people to, 'come over and bury their dead, that it would be their turn next, and that they would not leave a Smoking Chimney on this side the Alliganey Mountains..." (Linn 538).
James Marshel served as representative from Washington County in the state convention that ratified the Constitution. Hugh Henry Brackenridge, one of the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion, later wrote a history of the rebellion in which he describes his relationship with James Marshel, including Marshel's early history in Washington County and his opinions of the Constitution at the time of its ratification:
"James Marshall was a man for whom I had all along entertained respect. When I came to this country in the year 1781, a strong party existed in favor of the establishment of a new state comprehending the [western] Pennsylvania and Virginia counties. Marshall was county lieutenant in Washington and had exerted himself greatly in opposition to this measure. I was with him in all endeavors to compose the country and establish the Pennsylvania jurisdiction. This produced an intimacy. After his lieutenancy he was sheriff of the county and discharged this office with general approbation from the court, the bar and the country. During my political debates with Findley and others, he leaned in my favor to a certain extent, I had believed from personal engagements. When a member of the convention for the purpose of adopting the Federal Constitution, he was the most moderate of all the Antifederalists and refused to sign the Protest, as reasons were alledged in it which did not weigh with him. I had flattered myself with thinking that my opinion and representations in favor of the Constitution had contributed to make him moderate; for he is naturally a democrat, perhaps in the extreme" (Brackenridge 68).
Like most of the delegates from the western counties of Pennsylvania, Marshel voted against the ratification of the Constitution. The votes for the western counties were seven to two against ratification; nonetheless, the vote passed forty-six to twenty-three (Ferguson 90). Ferguson contends that this vote ratio was probably an accurate sentiment of the backcountry feelings toward the Constitution. Most of the western population was anti-federalist at the time, although Washington and Pittsburgh (the two seats of larger manufacturing) were exceptions.
Despite James Marshel's vote against the Constitution, however, he did not sign the Protest letter that Brackenridge mentions, and which was signed by many of the other western delegates. In this letter, the delegates criticized the Constitution for giving the federal government too many powers at the expense of the state and claimed that only a "despotic power" could govern a country as large as the United States (Ferguson 91). These feelings would come to a head several years later in the Whiskey Rebellion. Marshel also opposed a petition initiated by John Nicholson, state comptroller general, in which Nicholson tried to reverse Pennsylvania's ratification. Marshel wrote to Nicholson that he doubted "that a petition would be very generally signed," and that "I feel inclined to wait... for it may be that I shall be obliged to live under it [the Constitution]" (Boyd 75).
Marshel did, however, participate in a follow-up meeting in Harrisburg in 1788 with other anti-federalists after the ratification of the Constitution. The organizers were "inviting to a conference such of the citizens of this state who conceive that a revision of the federal system, lately proposed for the government of these United States, is necessary" (Elliot). In this meeting, a number of concerns were raised, although the participants agreed that "it be recommended to the people of this state to acquiesce in the organization of the said government; but, although we thus accord in its organization, we by no means lose sight of the grand object of obtaining very considerable amendments and alterations, which we consider essential to preserve the peace and harmony of the Union, and those invaluable privileges for which so much blood and treasure have been recently expended" (Elliot). Accordingly, a petition with amendments to the document was proposed. Some of these amendments were similar to those later adopted in the Bill of Rights, although no direct line of origin can be drawn (Ferguson 99). The recommended amendments were as follows:
" I. That Congress shall not exercise any powers whatever, but such as are expressly given to that body by the Constitution of the United States; nor shall any authority, power, or jurisdiction, be assumed or exercised by the executive or judiciary departments of the Union, under color or pretence of construction or fiction; but all the rights of sovereignty, which are not by the said Constitution expressly and plainly vested in the Congress, shall be deemed to remain with, and shall be exercised by, the several states in the Union, according to their respective Constitutions; and that every reserve of the rights of individuals, made by the several constitutions of the states in the Union, to the citizens and inhabitants of each state respectively, shall remain inviolate, except so far as they are expressly and manifestly yielded or narrowed by the national Constitution.
Article 1, section 2, paragraph 3.
II. That the number of representatives be, for the present one for every twenty thousand inhabitants, according to the present estimated numbers in the several states, and continue in that proportion until the whole number of representatives shall amount to two hundred; and then to be so proportioned and modified as not to exceed that number, until the proportion of one representative for every thirty thousand inhabitants shall amount to the said number of two hundred.
Section 3. III. That senators, though chosen for six years, shall be liable to be recalled, or superseded by other appointments, by the respective legislatures of the states, at any time.
Section 4. IV. That Congress shall not have power to make or alter regulations concerning the time, place, and manner of electing senators and representatives, except in case of neglect or refusal by the state to make regulations for the purpose; and then only for such time as such neglect or refusal shall continue.
Section 8. V. That when Congress shall require supplies, which are to be raised by direct taxes, they shall demand from the several states their respective quotas thereof, giving a reasonable time to each state to procure and pay the same; and if any state shall refuse, neglect, or omit to raise and pay the same within such limited time, then Congress shall have power to assess, levy, and collect the quota of such state, together with interest for the same, from the time of such delinquency, upon the inhabitants and estates therein, in such manner as they shall by law direct; provided that no poll tax be imposed.
Section 8. VI. That no standing army of regular troops shall be raised or kept up in time of peace, without the consent of two thirds of both houses in Congress.
Section 8. VII. That the clause respecting the exclusive legislation over a district not exceeding ten miles square be qualified by a proviso that such right of legislation extend only to such regulations as respect the police and good order thereof.
Section 8. VIII. That each state, respectively, shall have power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia thereof, whensoever Congress shall omit or neglect to provide for the same. That the militia shall not be subject to material law, but when in actual service, in the time of war, invasion, or rebellion; and when not in the actual service of the United states, shall be subject to such fines, penalties, and punishments, only, as shall be directed or inflicted by the laws of its own state: nor shall the militia of any state be continued in actual service longer than two months, under any call of Congress, without the consent of the legislature of such state, or, in their recess, the executive authority thereof.
Section 9. IX. That the clause respecting vessels bound to or from any one of the states be explained.
Article 3, section 1. X. That Congress establish no other court than the Supreme Court, except such as shall be necessary for determining causes of admiralty jurisdiction.
Section 2, paragraph 2. XI. That a proviso be added at the end of the second clause of the second section of the third article, to the following effect, viz.: Provided, that such appellate jurisdiction, in all cases of common-law cognizance, be by a writ of error, and confined to matters of law only; and that no such writ of error shall be admitted, except in revenue cases, unless the matter in controversy exceed the value of three thousand dollars.
Article 6, paragraph 2. XII. That to article 6, clause 2, be added the following proviso, viz.: Provided always that no treaty, which shall hereafter be made, shall be deemed or construed to alter or affect any law of the United States, or of any particular state, until such treaty shall have been laid before and assented to by the House of Representatives in Congress." (Elliot)
Marshel likewise opposed the revision of the state constitution of Pennsylvania. Originally, this document had been very democratically written, but conservatives wanted revisions. A convention was called in 1789, through some rather dubious political methods, which westerners were quick to denounce. To a letter from Albert Gallatin urging Washington county to boycott the convention, Marshel replied: "am happy to find that the good people of your County are not disposed to Elect members for the proposed Convention. I heartily agree with you that the Measure is Unconstitutional, Unnecessary, and highly Improper and that the most prudent step for us at present is the measure proposed by the people of your County" (Ferguson 102).
The Whiskey Rebellion took place in western Pennsylvania, beginning in the fall of 1791 and coming to a climax and end in 1794. (Although other frontier regions participated in protesting the tax, I consider only Pennsylvania in this discussion. Certainly, Pennsylvania was a center for the rebellion, and was the focus of the military effort to quell the insurgency.)
Map of Washington County, Pennsylvania in early 1780s
"Marshals" (presumably Marshel's 1200 acres) is labeled just northwest of Washington
"Smith's" - the Presbyterian Church of Cross Creek is likewise shown
Map from History of Washington County, Pennsylvania by Boyd Crumrine
Western Pennsylvania settlers were rebelling against the whiskey excise tax that had been passed by the new American government. The rebellion was then, and remains, extremely controversial. It incorporates elements of many of the debates of the age, including how much and what kinds of powers were held by the new federal government and how that authority could be used and enforced. The Whiskey Rebellion was one of the first instances in which the federal government had to exert itself to enforce a law, in this case calling out the militias to put down the rebellion.
The whiskey excise tax was passed by Congress in March 1791. The tax was levied primarily to help the federal government recover from the debts incurred by the American Revolution and the recession that occurred in its wake. As inflation went up and the government's currency was devalued, people everywhere were struggling to make ends meet. This was particularly true for former soldiers who had been paid primarily in the form of government paper. Many of these soldiers sold their devalued bonds to speculators, who began to petition for an absorption of debts by Congress. The first Congress, led by Alexander Hamilton's proposals, agreed to try to absorb some of the debts. However, once absorbed, a form of income had to be created to pay off the debt. Thus came the whiskey tax.
Whiskey was a popular beverage at a time when much of what was drunk by children and adults alike was alcoholic. It is made by fermenting grains such as corn or rye, and gradually distilling the alcohol into purer and purer forms. This was done in a pot still over a fire, running the finished product into barrels. When the process is complete, whiskey is practically clear and very strong, similar to vodka. At that point, it may be drunk immediately or aged in casks, a process which darkens it.
Western Pennsylvania farmers, especially those living in the forks of the Ohio River (near present-day Pittsburgh), were among the most prodigious producers of whiskey in the country. In part, this is because of simple economics and geography. Farmers were blocked from using the Mississippi River to ship crops to market, as it was still controlled by the Spanish. This meant that they had to get their crops over the Allegheny Mountains in order to find a market for them in the east. The cost and the time involved in getting crops to market was considerable. In order to make a profit, it was in the best interests of western farmers to grow grains, then distill them into whiskey. The leftover fermented grains could be fed to animals that would help to feed a family, and the distilled whiskey could be taken to market in eastern Pennsylvania. Since whiskey does not spoil as the grains would, and since a large quantity of grains could be made into a relatively small amount of whiskey, the distillation process was key to the economy of western markets.
While much whiskey was exported from the region, certainly it served a social purpose as well. In 1786, a surveyor from Massachusetts visited western Pennsylvania and wrote:
"I found a number of the neighbors seated in social glee around a heap of corn. The inspiring juice of rye had enlivened their imaginations, and given their tongue such an exact balance, that they moved with the greatest alacrity, while relating scenes of boxing, wrestling, hunting, &c. At dusk of evening the corn was finished, and the company retired to the house, where many of them took such hearty draughts of the generous liquor as quite deprived them of the use of their limbs. Some quarreled, some sang, and others laughed; while the whole displayed a scene more diverting than edifying. At ten o'clock all who could walk went home, but left three or four round the fire, hugging the whisky bottle, and arguing very obstinately on religion; at which I left them and went to bed."
Apparently, the neighbors returned the next day to continue drinking.
In western Pennsylvania, there were some larger distillers who would distill whiskey for smaller farmers in exchange for a portion of the product. However, many small farmers were able to operate their own stills, some only seasonally and some primarily for their own use. Given the devaluation of paper currency and the relative rarity of coin in the western frontier, whiskey could often be used as a form of currency, since it always had value somewhere. It was a cornerstone of the economy.
Therefore, when Congress passed the whiskey excise tax, western farmers were particularly incensed. Many of the western farmers were veterans of the Revolutionary War, some of the French and Indian War. They felt betrayed by their new government. Protests and meetings began almost before the excise tax was passed. When the tax was passed and as the federal government tried harder and harder to enforce the law, the tax officers (many of them local citizens) were physically attacked, tarred and feathered, and/or had their houses and other property burned.
Attacks continued and became more violent climaxing in the summer of 1794 as the federal government continued to try to enforce the law and make farmers register their stills. The turning point came when a federal marshal began delivering processes to those who had failed to register their stills. Farmers would be expected to attend a court hearing in eastern Pennsylvania -- at a cost that none could afford. In western Pennsylvania, some began to discuss secession. Those who registered their stills or who tried to remain neutral on the subject were harassed and intimidated. The western Pennsylvania militias were organized to attack the federal officials enforcing the tax collection. Several of these men holed up in Pittsburgh, and were forced out when the country militias threatened to burn the town. The Pittsburgh militia joined the others, possibly under duress.
In 1794, the federal government finally sent negotiators to discuss a possible reconciliation. Even as the negotiations were underway, militias were being called out in several states to put down the rebellion. The federal government had a lot to lose in the face of western rebellion. It was so new that this threat to its power had to be taken extremely seriously.
Although the negotiations were somewhat successful (mostly because rebel leaders quickly saw that they had no hope of defending themselves against a federal army), the federal militias were marched through the area in 1794. No shots were fired at the militias. Negotiations had required that all men sign a loyalty oath to the new government and promise to obey the laws. In return, they could expect amnesty for their actions. Most men appear to have signed the pledge. In the end, only a few men were taken to Philadelphia for trial; only two were found guilty
In the beginning of the Whiskey Rebellion, Marshel appears to have actively supported the rebellion, through writing and action. In the summer of 1791, shortly after the excise law was passed, James Marshel was appointed a representative of Washington County to a larger meeting of delegates from western Pennsylvania. This committee passed several resolutions against the whiskey tax which were published in the Pittsburgh Gazette that fall. Marshel was also a member and officer of the Democratic Society of the County of Washington in Pennsylvania, a political and social group which gathered and wrote a protest letter to President George Washington in spring 1794.
Brackenridge concludes that James Marshel's opposition to the whiskey excise tax was a political move to beat out Thomas Ryerson in a House race. In an earlier election, Ryerson had been opposed to a state tax and had soundly beat Marshel. Brackenridge thus concludes that Marshel's opposition to the whiskey excise was an electioneering move. Certainly, Marshall does appear to have used the opposition to network with others. Here is Brackenridge again:
"James Marshall... who doubtless had the same general impressions with the others, had been at Pittsburgh occasionally, having at that time a contract with the public for the purchase of horses for the wagons of the army; had conversed with me on the subject of the excise law; and finding my sentiments in unison with his, not only with regard to the excise law, but the funding system in general, expressed a wish that I would come forward and get myself elected a member from Allegheny County. I declined it... Marshall excused me, but thought I could have no objections to assist in drawing up the addresses proposed to the public or to the representatives in Congress. I had no objections to that." (Brackenridge 69)
Despite Marshel's opposition to the excise law, he seems to have had misgivings about the use of violence, at least initially. Hogeland mentions, "James Marshall... declined to join in the attack" on General Neville's home at Bower Hill (151). General John Neville was a local citizen who was registering stills and collecting taxes. The attacks occurred on the evening after General Neville had ridden out with the federal marshal to deliver processes against those who had not registered their stills. In the notes, Hogeland suggests that rather than a public declaration against the violence at Bower Hill, Marshel may have simply not shown up. Given the escalating attacks and intimidation of those who were seen to be in league with the tax collectors, trying to register their stills, or remain neutral, Marshel's decision not to participate would probably have been safest if made privately.
In Slaughter's review of the Whiskey Rebellion, he likewise concludes that "'leaders' were recruited against their will, although some quickly developed a passion for the role of demagogue. James Marshall and David Bradford, later two of the most incendiary favorites of the crowd, were bluntly told that 'if you do not come forward now and support us, you shall be treated in the same or a worse way with the excise officer'" (183). Certainly other prominent men (notably Brackenridge) who later wrote about the rebellion indicated that they sometimes felt coerced or intimidated into taking actions. It is difficult, however, to determine how much of this later writing was an attempt by the men to exculpate themselves from a situation in which they seemed to be guilty of treason.
David Bradford, Marshel's business partner, made a speech at Mingo Creek Church in support of the attack on Neville's house at Bower Hill within a few days. It appears that James Marshel may have tacitly agreed with Bradford, for at any rate, he went on with the next step Bradford took, intercepting and reading the mail from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Ostensibly, the goal of this was to see who was writing to the federal government and what was being said. At any rate, what was found was disagreeable (at best) to those who read it.
Bradford, Marshel, and several other men next signed a letter to militia commanders which commanded them to muster in Braddock's Field, near Pittsburgh:
"the post now being in our possession by which certain secrets are discovered hostile to our interests, it is therefore come to that crisis that every citizen must express his sentiments, not by his words, but by his actions. You are then called upon as a citizen of the western country, to render your personal service, with as many volunteers as you can raise to rendezvous at your usual place of meeting..." (Linn 67).
This was clearly an act of rebellion. It is unclear why Marshel (and Bradford) might have had this change of heart related to violent protest. Perhaps calling out the militia was not seen as the radical act that it clearly became. Perhaps the contents of the read letters was so incendiary as to change their minds. Perhaps, too, Bradford and Marshel were feeling external pressures to act. Both Marshel and Bradford suggested later that week that mustering the militias might not be the right decision, although Bradford changed his mind yet again, urging the militias on. James Marshel (says Hogeland, page 169) found his door tarred and feathered that night, indicating that he would have to participate in the muster as well. There would be no backing down.
James Marshel did muster at Braddock's Field. When the militia leaders debated burning all of Pittsburgh to ferret out the remaining 'traitors to the cause', he apparently opposed the idea, along with others, and they prevailed. A group of soldiers did burn a house and barn, however, for which Marshel and others drafted an apology. The tax collectors and their supporters were peacefully exiled from the town.
Following the muster at Braddock's Field and the end of the crisis near Pittsburgh, a meeting was called to be held August 14th at Parkinson's Ferry. Delegates were sent from western Pennsylvania, as well as neighboring counties of Virginia. James Marshel was among the 226 other men chosen to represent the area (Baldwin). At the meeting, Marshel spoke out in favor of the principles of the whiskey rebellion, proposing a series of resolutions, which were adopted pending revisions.
Marshel's resolutions are summarized in Baldwin:
"The first resolution, adopting the western view that the county was the vicinage, characterized the taking of citizens from their vicinages for trial as a violation of their rights... his [second] resolution called for a committee of public safety to guard against any invasions of the rights of the people... The third resolution, which called for yet one more remonstrance to Congress, was carried. The fourth called for the formulation of a statement and explanation of the motives that had actuated the people of the western country in the late unhappy disturbances... The fifth pledged the West to the support of the laws save for the excise and the removal of citizens for trial outside their vicinage" (176-7).
From the list, it appears that Marshel may still have been walking a relatively moderate line, trying to avoid armed conflict and violence, while supporting the cause of the insurrection.
Even as the meeting at Parkinson's Ferry was occurring, negotiators from the federal government were traveling west to meet with the rebels. When negotiations commenced with federal representatives, James Marshel was among the committee of men who participated, as was David Bradford. Although the western committee and the federal representatives did reach an agreement among themselves, it was rejected by the larger group of delegates. This suggests that although Bradford and Marshel may have been radical in appearance to the federal government, they were actually less radical than other neighbors may have been.
Among the men who took the oath of allegiance in Cross Creek on September 11, 1794, appears the name James Marshel. Thomas, John, John, and Robert Marshall also are listed as having taken the oath in Cross Creek in the presence of Commissioners William Rea, Aaron Lyle, and Thomas Patterson.
In March 1794, at the commencement of the Whiskey Rebellion, James Marshel was the president of the Democratic Society of Washington County, which had apparently been newly established that month. Democratic-Republican Societies, popular political-social clubs of the time, were intended to defend the Constitution and promote democracy. Specifically, they tended to be anti-federalist in nature and to defend the rights of the people above all. The first action taken by the Democratic Society of Washington County, one signed by Marshel as president, was to send a remonstrance to President Washington and to Congress regarding the Mississippi, demanding that navigation be opened through negotiations with Spain. As noted above, this would have provided additional markets for the western farmers, and was addressed in response to a request from a Kentucky Democratic-Republican Society. It was, however, narrowly approved by the Washington Society, passing by a margin of only two votes. (Foner)
Probably Marshel was no longer president of the Democratic Society of Washington County by mid-April of that year (1794), when the constitution of the group was published in the Pittsburgh Gazette and specifically banned those holding "any office of trust or profit" in the state or federal governments. In June, an anonymous letter from "Democratus" was published in the Pittsburgh Gazette decrying this article of the constitution: "They think thereby militia officers are excluded, and if so they will not encourage the business at all, but will strive to hinder its progress." (Foner 139) Democratus also regrets the clause that demands that every court case be brought to the society prior to being filed in the county courts. He does, however, generally support the group's political agenda. It would be interesting to know if Marshel (a militia officer and an attorney) was the one who penned this letter or if it was in fact related to his involvement with the society.
It would likewise be interesting to know who an anonymous letter referred to in its scathing commentary regarding the society. In a letter to the Pittsburgh Gazette, the letter comments: "that the members of those different societies, wherever they have appeared, have had in view their private interest and popularity and not the public's welfare, that in times of real danger few of them were seen in the field ready to encounter it; that they are national bullies breathing war and confusion, at the same time they have neither bravery nor patience to support themselves under its trials and hardships." While this commentary could refer to any number of people, it fits Marshel well; his motives for supporting the Whiskey Rebellion were questioned by Brackenridge as a political ploy for winning the election, and he does seem to have avoided violent confrontations remarkably, given his position as a colonel of the militia and leader in the rebellion.
At the conclusion of the Whiskey Rebellion, the Democratic Society found itself publicly attacked as one of the primary sources of rebellion. In a letter of defense penned by A. Baird, Vice President, the society stated: "It has been asserted, on the floor of Congress, in order to prove that we have been instrumental in fomenting the late insurrection, that some of our members were leaders in it; we admit that a few of them (not more than seven) in their individual capacity, were too deeply involved, but, suppose there had been twenty, is that any reason that the society should be stigmatized with being fomenters of the rebellion..." (Foner 139)
According to Ferguson, at the end of the Whiskey Rebellion, "James Marshall was put in an unpleasant situation that curtailed his political career" (130). Still, he fared better than his law partner, David Bradford, who was forced to flee down the Mississippi, and who lived out the rest of his life in Louisiana. Crumrine adds the following: "Soon after the close of the insurrection (in September, 1795) he [Marshel] advertised thirteen hundred acres of patented and improved lands on Cross Creek for sale. This must have been preparatory to his removing from Cross Creek township to Brooke County, Va., which he did at about that time... Col. James Marshel died at his home in Brooke County, Va., in 1829. "Marshel Hall." his home in this township, is now owned by Thomas and Thomas B. McCorkle" (728).
Egle writes the following epilogue: "Captain Marshel died March 17, 1829, at Wellsburg, West Virginia, whither he removed toward the close of the century. He left descendants in Western Pennsylvania" (252). One of these descendants was his son, John: "Their son, John Marshel, was elected sheriff of Washington County in 1835, served one year, and then resigned to accept the position of cashier of the Franklin Bank, in Washington, Pa., where he remained several years." (Crumrine 728).