His portrait hanging upside down in two nearby buildings, Alexander Hamilton stood upright for his young nation.
“When these words reach them, open rebellion will be inevitable,” Hamilton, treasury secretary of the United States, bellowed to U.S. Marshal David Lenox. “I need you to put a stop to it.”
“How far can I go with this, sir?” Lenox responded. “President Washington has been explicit in his desire for a peaceful resolution to these tensions.”
“You may use whatever force you deem necessary,” Hamilton responded. “As far as you’re concerned, my voice is the president’s.”
Two hundred and 25 years after the actual Alexander Hamilton introduced an excise tax on whiskey produced in the new nation, irking a number of farmers who distilled the spirit – especially those in Washington County – the scenario played out Saturday afternoon in the seat of that county.
Hamilton – portrayed by Pete Fernbaugh – distilled the events of the Whiskey Rebellion in those four sentences on the third day of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival. The sixth annual celebration, conducted largely in downtown Washington, drew enormous crowds from the morning parade through the fireworks 12 hours later.
There were historical demonstrations, re-enactments, music, kids festivities, food and real whiskey – made in Washington at Red Pump Distillery and Mingo Creek Craft Distillers. Red Pump opened April 1 on Main Street and Mingo Craft on Saturday on East Maiden Street.
Around 5 p.m., shortly before tax collector Robert Johnson was tarred (actually, chocolate-syruped) and feathered on Main Street, festival co-chairman Tripp Kline estimated Saturday’s crowd at about 6,000, with the potential for 3,000 showing up for concerts and the pryotechnics.
Hamilton is a hot commodity these days, largely because of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” He was just that in Washington Saturday afternoon, a character making his festival debut while donning sweltering period attire.
Fernbaugh, an actor/writer from Weirton, W.Va., was portraying Hamilton for the first time. He appeared in three scenes, speaking from the balcony of the second floor of the Observer-Reporter to re-enactors representing officials from Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, and farmers and family members from Bassettown – present-day Washington – and other local towns.
The mic wasn’t always working, but he enunciated loudly and clearly while playing a Founding Father he has come to respect, a man who initiated that excise tax to raise revenue for a country just gaining its footing. It sparked a rebellion in 1791 that collapsed in 1794, when President George Washington sent 13,000 militia to the region.
“I did a lot of general research about Alexander Hamilton,” Fernbaugh said. “Although he is not a favorite among folks around here, he had a major impact on our country.”
Because Hamilton was unpopular around here, his portrait – symbolically – hangs upside down in the David Bradford House on South Main Street and at Mingo Creek Craft Distillers. Bradford was an attorney and a rebellion leader. Mingo Creek owners Jim and Ellen Hough recreated the meeting place of local rebels who referred to their group as the Mingo Creek Society.
The festival will end today. Events are planned from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Frontier History Center in Washington Park and downtown Washington, where the highlight will be the 12th annual Classics on Main car show from 11 to 4.