The stars of a new series on the National Geographic Channel helped Washington County historians unearth a collection of interesting artifacts from the Whiskey Rebellion in the late 1770s.
On the show “Diggers,” metal detector experts and treasure hunters George “KG” Wyant and Tim “Ringy” Saylor teamed with Clay Kilgore, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, and local archaeologist Bryan Cunning to search for historical artifacts at various sites linked to the Whiskey Rebellion in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The episode, which was filmed in September, aired this week.
Kilgore originally agreed to help the diggers, not expecting to find anything too significant.
“It’s hard to find evidence from the Whiskey Rebellion,” Kilgore said. “It’s an important event in history, but it’s obscure, and nothing was written down. For example, at the Bradford House, which is a Whiskey Rebellion historical landmark, we only have two artifacts.”
Regardless, Kilgore took the stars of the show to various historical sites, including the Lobinger House in Laurelville and the Cook-Holcroft House in Finleyville.
At the Lobinger House, originally owned by Judge Lobinger near Mt. Pleasant, the treasure hunters found a Liberty Cap Large Cent. The federal government pressed this type of coin between 1793 and 1796.
Kilgore said Judge Lobinger, who supported taxes on whiskey, allowed federal soldiers to camp on his land, and the finding of the Liberty Cap confirmed the campsite.
“This type of coin wasn’t typically used in Western Pennsylvania, so that means it was probably dropped by a federal soldier at the camp,” Kilgore said.
Additionally, the crew found several .50-caliber round bullets, used in guns not typically found in Southwestern Pennsylvania, confirming the camp for federal soldiers.
After uncovering these items, the Washington County Historical Society hopes to turn the Lobinger House in to a recognized national landmark.
“We’re trying,” Kilgore said. “Nothing’s certain as far as those things go. It would be the first Whiskey Rebellion site in maybe 25 years.”
At the Cook-Holcroft House, built on land originally owned by farmer John Holcroft, the diggers found the oldest coin on the show yet, a 1766 King George Hibernia Copper.
The diggers found many artifacts related to mining, as a mining union representative lived at the Cook-Holcroft House. The crew found equipment tags, a pin from an 1898 national convention at which workers pushed for an eight-hour workday, and Kilgore’s favorite, a worker’s pin.
“I know who these belonged to, and why they dropped them there,” Kilgore said. “Some of the coins, I can speculate, I can come up with an idea of how they got there, but with (the mining pins), I know who they belonged to.”
Instead of profiting from the findings, Wyant and Saylor simply started the show to uncover history, and return all items to the rightful owners.
“(Wyant and Saylor) gave them to the owners of the houses, and they said, ‘We don’t want them. We’d rather they be in a museum for people to see,’” Kilgore said. “And now we’re lucky enough to have all these pieces.”
Kilgore hopes for a more detailed search of the historical sites in the future. Time restraints limited the search by Wyant and Saylor.
Additionally, the Washington County Historical Society wants to hold a public viewing of the episode of “Diggers” at the Life Church at 100 N. Main St. in Washington in the spring. Kilgore hopes to include behind-the-scenes footage from the episode, audience interaction and a chance to see the actual artifacts found on the episode.
Kilgore also is working with the production company of “Diggers” to bring back Wyant and Saylor or a producer from the show for the viewing.