Copyrighted 1935 by R. T. Wiley


A Unique figure in the Whisky

Tom the Tinker is a name that stands closely conected with the Whiskey Insurrection in this region in the last decade of the Eighteenth Century. Culminating in the summer of 1794. The men who were engaged actively in resisting the operation of the excise law were proud of being known as "Tom the Tinkerís men," and one of their favorite rallying cries was "Hurrah for Tom the Tinker!" When it was desired to intimidate an excise officer, or a distiller who was disposed to comply with the law, the offender would be the recipient of a mysterious written notice, over the signature of Tom the Tinker, warning him to desist from such actions inimical to the interests of the insurgents, under penalty of personal injury or the destruction of his property. And woe to the contumacious individual who failed to heed such a warning! The penalty was surely and swiftly visited upon him.

A number of such notices have been preserved in the histories of those exciting events. Their language is some what uncouth; but vigorous and to the point. In some cases it follows legal forms somewhat. The favorite method of disseminating Tom the Tinkerís message was by publication in the Pittsburg Gazette, then a struggling weekly paper. If for general information, they were sent direct to the paper, with pointed instructions to the editor to insert in the next issue, or expect a visit from Tom and his friends. Such was the terror of the times that the notices were always prompty inserted, through Editor Scull personally was loyal to the government. In the case of a notice to an individual, the notice was usually posted on his house in the night, with instructions to him to send it to the newsraper for publication, that Tom might be assured of its receipt.

It is doubtless true that the name of the insurgents, and Tom the Tinker was the name the[y] swore by thereafter.

Holcroft was a farmer and distiller of some means, and was a prominent man in his region, filling a number of local offices. At the close of the Insurrection he was under the ban, and was in hiding for a time, but was finally granted amnesty, along with most of the other leaders, and lived until 18[10 or 16] a law abiding and respected citizen. It was generally understood at the time of the Insurrection that he was the writer of the first Tom the Tinker articles, but in the years immediately following denial of this was made. Denials of that kind were then very much in order. His widow lived until past the middle of the last century and two of her grandsons, who talked with her frequently in her, old age have assured me that there is no doubt but that John Holcroft was the original Tom the Tinker. One of these was the late Dr. Thomas Storer, a widely known minister of the Metbodist Episcopal church, and the other John Huston, still living in Union township, Washington county.

It is well known that John Holcroft led the first party against the home of General John Neville, Chief Inspector of Revenue in the western counties, on Chartiers creek, when a demand was made for the surrender of that officialís commission. This resulted in a battle between Holcroft and his followers on the one side and Neville and his servants on the other, in which one of the attacking force was killed and five others wounded. The next day a large force of infuriated men, under command of Major James McFarlane, whose home was at the present Walton station, opposite Lock No. 8, went against the Neville mansion, which was burned to the ground, with the outbuildings around it, and during the fight McFarlane was killed.

In hunting up the facts concerning John Holcroft, the writer was fortunate in finding a portraint of the man, the only one known to be in existence. It is a quaint old painting on a panel of popular wood, and is highly cherished by its present owner, John Huston, grandson of Holcroft. Further investigations revealed the identity of the painter in the person of Charles Reader, who was a neighbor of Holoroft in the early years of the last century, he and later lived at West Elizabeth. The picture has been copyrighted by the writer of this, and may not be used in any publication without permission. R. T. W.

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