Tarred and feathered

Picture by Iams

The following is taken from The Whiskey Rebellion by Thomas P. Slaughter, 1986, by Oxford University Press:

During the fall of 1791 an apparently well-bred and educated young man by the name of Robert Wilson appeared in western Pennsylvania. At first he claimed to be a schoolteacher in search of employment. Being 11 somewhat deranged in his understanding," Wilson also suffered the delusion that he was an excise man charged to travel the United States inquiring whether distillers conformed to the new law.

The fellow's vociferous claims to association with the tax soon resulted in an assault by a band of locals. The assailants pulled Wilson from his bed, marched him five miles to a blacksmith's shop, then stripped him naked and heated a bar of iron in the forge. They next demanded that Wilson renounce his office. When he refused, proclaiming that he would not resign even if they tortured or threatened to murder him, the attackers applied the burning rod to several parts of his body. Wilson begged only for his underwear, but refused to recant his oath of office-an oath he never took for an office he never held. The men knocked him down, burned his clothes to ashes, "beat and abused him severely, and burnt him with a hot iron, both behind and before, for he was an excise man." Then they tarred and feathered him, and left him naked in the forest. Wilson lived to recount his ordeal to a sympathetic sheriff and a judge. His injuries were described by one witness as more horrible than any he had ever seen, "sufficient to make human nature shudder at the idea of having such barbarians in a country that ought to be civilized." By the time that several of the perpetrators identified by Wilson came to trial, the deranged schoolmaster had wandered away from the area and they were released for lack of evidence.

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