The 'Murder' of Oliver Miller


The Home of Oliver Miller

United States Marshall David Lennox traveled through Cumberland, Bedford and Fayette counties serving processes forcing western distillers to appear before the Philadelphia court before August. It was mid July before he was able to get to Allegheny and Washington Counties.

In spite of the warning by Hugh H. Breckenridge that local people had no quibble with officers of the law like they did with tax collectors, Marshall Lennox accepted John Neville's offer to guide him through Allegheny County. They left Neville's house early on the fifteenth of July and served four processes to very contemptuous farmers in the matter of a few hours. At about noon they arrived at the home of William Miller and read the summons ordering him to set "aside all manner of business and excuses" and appear before the judge of the District Court in Philadelphia on August 12. Miller refused to accept a copy of the summons. While Lennox was trying to convince Miller to accept the already legally served writ, Neville noticed thirty to forty angry, armed men approaching. The men separated and permitted the two horsemen to pass but after Lennox and Neville had gone about fifty yards a shot rang out. Whether the shot was actually fired at someone or whether it was just a warning shot, no one knows. Alexander Hamilton claimed the someone had tried to shoot either Lennox or Neville. Either way, Lennox rode back to the group and gave them a tongue-lashing for their action.

By chance, that same day, the Mingo Creek militia was gathered at the Mingo Creek Meeting House to answer George Washington's call for more men to fight the Indians. When they heard the rumor that William Miller was to be taken to Philadelphia (he was actually told to go there, he was not going to be taken), they were enraged. The militiamen felt that this was another example of the central government run amok and determined to capture and talk to Marshall Lennox about the situation. John Holcroft, possibly also known as "Tom the Tinker", led a group of 37 men to Bower Hill, the home of John Neville, on the incorrect assumption the Marshall Lennox had returned with Neville for the night.

On he morning of July 16th the militia surround the Neville home and Holcroft and a few other knocked on the front door. When Neville answered the door he realized the his place was surrounded and ordered the men to stand back.. Neville turned and shot and killed Oliver Miller, the son of William Miller, and then blew a horn upon which his slaves opened fire from their quarters at the back of the crowd. The militia suffered a number of wounded and retreated to Couche's Fort for another meeting and to recruit more men.

The 'murder' of Oliver Miller and the summoning of over thirty farmers to Philadelphia caused the farmers to step up their resistance. After narrowly defeating a motion to raise money to pay anyone who would kill General Neville to avenge Miller's death, the group decided to again march to Bower Hill.

On July 17 1794 with James McFarlane in command, around 500 met at Couche's fort and advanced on Bower Hill (Neville's home). Neville had anticipated the coming assault and had request help from numerous persons and groups in Allegheny County. Only Major James Kirkpatrick and ten soldiers from Fort Pitt responded and came to Bower Hill to help protect Neville and his home. Major Kirkpatrick was able to get General John Neville out of the area before the militia arrived. The attack began after women and children were permitted to leave and the talks had failed. After over an hour of fighting, according to legend, a call for parleying was thought to be heard from Neville's home. McFarlane ordered firing stopped, in the process exposing himself. A shot from the house killed James McFarlane. The attacking troops were outraged and burned the barn, home and most of the outbuildings after releasing the people in the house unharmed. The only building left standing were those which the slave asked to be saved.

Kirkpatrick and his men were taken prisoner and later released unharmed. It is thought that four soldiers were seriously injured and one may have died from his wounds. One or two militiamen beside McFarlane are assumed to have died in the battle but there are really no accurate estimates of the number of attackers that were wounded.

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