07 March 2013

The Dreadful Night [17 Nov 1794]

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

The whole population had been defined as insurgent. The very presence of federal troops made the Forks a kind of battlefield. Rules for capturing and interrogating prisoners of war weren’t governed by the Bill of Rights. By the time the army began making mass arrests at the Forks, it seemed to Forks moderates that more than two thousand men had fled the area; almost anybody who had committed an act of terror, and wasn’t within amnesty, had gone down the Ohio or into the countryside.

Hundreds of Forks residents, within and without amnesty, were yanked from bed at bayonet point in the cold. Foot soldiers prodded the startled prisoners, close to naked and some barefoot, out of cabins into new-fallen snow while mounted officers barked commands and told furious wives and crying children that the men were being taken to be hanged. All were run through the snow in chains, toward various lockups in town jails, stables, and cattle pens, to await interrogation.

General Anthony “Blackbeard” White, of the New Jersey militia, was well known for mental instability. For more than two days, White starved and dehydrated his shivering, exhausted captives, steadily cursing and castigating them, glorying in their helplessness and describing their imminent hanging. He quick-marched them twelve miles through bad weather to the town of Washington, where in physical and emotional collapse, they were held in jail, without charge, ready for questioning by the military.

In the days after the Dreadful Night, mass arrests went on anyway: the brutality of the arrests and the torment of detention served the purpose of discouraging citizens of the Forks – and everywhere else – not only from engaging in resistance but also from forming societies and organizations. 

No comments: