History of the Whiskey Rebellion
If you want to know American whiskey, you’ve got to know the Mid-Atlantic region. It was here – in Pennsylvania and Maryland – that whiskey makers laid the groundwork for American whiskey and sparked a national rebellion.
In the 1790s, the intractable spirit of the Mid-Atlantic region was perfectly captured as distiller-farmers fought legislation that threatened their way of life. The Whiskey Rebellion’s legacy lives on today in distilleries and attractions stretching from Pennsylvania to Maryland and Greater Washington, D.C., in what has come to be known as one of the most prolific craft spirit-producing regions in the country.
The Whiskey Rebellion Trail invites you to explore this region’s important role in American spirits through specially curated itineraries and experiences. Explore the history below, choose a pass and hit the road!
We would like to thank W. Thomas Mainwaring, Ph.D of Washington and Jefferson College, and Leslie Przybylek of the Senator John Heinz History Center for their assistance in editing the timeline.
- From Philadelphia, Congress issues a whiskey tax, proposed by Alexander Hamilton as a means to pay off interest on federal debt accumulated during the American Revolution. Philip Wigle punches federal tax collector, inciting protests along the western frontier in and around Pittsburgh.
- Protests intensify, led by groups like the Mingo Creek Society in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
- Officials travel from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to ask for help reducing resistance along the frontier.
- Confrontations intensify on the frontier, resulting in Washington’s order to march 13,000 troops into Pittsburgh and arrest the rebels. Two rebels are sentenced to hang for treason for their leadership in the Whiskey Rebellion.
- George Washington pardons Wigle and Mitchell; he retires to Mount Vernon in 1796.
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon distillery produces 11,000 gallons of whiskey.
- Government moves from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Distillers get a short-lived reprieve on taxes under Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1802
- At West Overton Village, Abraham Overholt expands the family distillery in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, as Old Farm Pure Rye becomes one of the most successful rye whiskey brands of all time.
- Hundreds of distilleries throughout the Mid-Atlantic are producing the highly sought after rye whiskey and other spirits. By the mid-1800s Western Pennsylvania is producing half a barrel or Rye for every man, woman and child living in America.
- Maryland distillers produce 5.6 million gallons of whiskey, much of which is referred to as Maryland Rye.
- Prohibition is enforced.
- Prohibition ends, but leaves behind a consolidated spirits industry focused on bourbon.
- Maryland, being the only state that refused to ratify the Prohibition Amendment (and the reason their motto is The Free State), holds one third of the nation’s rye whiskey supply. Not enough to hold off the rise of bourbon.
- Philadelphia Distilling opens its doors to the public as the first distillery to open in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania since Prohibition.
- Mount Vernon completes restoration of George Washington’s distillery.
- Vintage cocktail culture celebrates the comeback of rye whiskey.
- First Whiskey Rebellion Festival is held in Washington County, Pennsylvania.
- Dad’s Hat in Philadelphia and Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh launch the first rye whiskey distilleries in Pennsylvania since Prohibition.
- Legislation passes, allowing limited Distilleries in Pennsylvania. Wigle Whiskey opens its doors with the first Distillery set up for direct sales to consumers in Pennsylvania since Prohibition and the first Distillery in the City of Pittsburgh since Prohibition.
- Green Hat Gin opens in Washington, D.C., as the first distillery to open in the District since Prohibition.
- One Eight Distilling releases the first rye whiskey made in DC since at least Prohibition.
- One Eight Distilling releases the first bourbon ever distilled in the nation’s capital.
- In less than a decade, Pennsylvania grows from 0 craft distilleries to 106!
- Baltimore Spirits Company releases the first straight rye whiskey in Baltimore since 1972
- Launch of Whiskey Rebellion Trail. Whiskey continues to be taxed! Distilling operations revived at West Overton Village.