Day 41, Saturday, August 25, 2018
Point Marion, Pennsylvania
Who has heard of Albert Gallatin? Anyone? No? Don’t worry, I hadn’t either… Get ready for a history lesson!
Albert Gallatin was a Swiss man who immigrated to the United States in 1780; he started out in the U.S. as a surveyor. He made his way to western Pennsylvania, which at the time was way out west on the frontier. He purchased property and set about building his home in stages, with the first section being built in 1789. He established himself as one of the richest men in the area; which apparently wasn’t difficult. His neighbors were mostly poor farmers, who made whiskey with their surplus grain after the harvest; the whiskey became the local currency in what was essentially a cashless society. Stick with me here, the whiskey piece is important…
Gallatin played an important role in the Whiskey Rebellion. You see, after the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States was badly in debt as a result of the war. The country needed money, and the best way to raise money? A tax! Never mind that we just spent years trying to win our independence, largely because of the taxes levied by the British. Of course, the cashless western Pennsylvanians didn’t have cash to pay the tax, and whiskey was really their only marketable product, so they were a bit resentful of this new tax. Resentful enough to tar and feather a tax collector or two. They also resented that if they were accused of evading the tax, the nearest court that was approved to try them was in Philadelphia, over 300 miles away (I didn’t think Pennsylvania was that big of a state, but that’s a blog post for another time…).
Gallatin, being an educated and wealthy man, ended up getting unofficially appointed as the man who would negotiate on behalf of his neighbors; he always lobbied for the peaceful solution, but he wasn’t always successful. Eventually, he succeeded in getting the Federal government to allow people accused of violations of the whiskey tax to be tried locally, which helped. Gallatin continued to try to convince his neighbors to submit to the new tax, which became more of a pressing issue after President George Washington mustered up an army to go out to western Pennsylvania to quell the violence against the tax collectors.
Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, thought that Gallatin had been responsible for stirring up the locals and trying to evade the tax. He tried to dig up evidence to charge Gallatin with treason, but everyone that he interviewed said that Gallatin had been urging his countrymen to pay the tax, and to abandon their violent tactics against the collectors. Thankfully though, just as things might have erupted into a more widespread insurrection against the army, area men held a vote on whether to submit and pay the tax, and the measure was narrowly passed. Gallatin, for his trouble, got elected to Congress!
He had clearly caught the eye of George Washington and others in the new United States government, and he served in the House of Representatives between 1795 and 1800. On January 1, 1801, he was appointed by new President Thomas Jefferson to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. He served until 1814, under both Jefferson and President Madison, and had two notable accomplishments during his tenure. One was determining how to finance and pay for the Louisiana Purchase, the huge swath of land that Jefferson bought in 1803, for a cost of 15 million dollars. After the war, the nation’s debt was $80 million, but even with the additional $15 million, Gallatin was able to reduce the national debt to $45 million by the time he left the cabinet in 1814.
His other achievement was the National Road. Gallatin was a big believer in improving roads and infrastructure in the young United States, and he delivered a report to Congress recommending that roads and canals be built to increase commerce and travel. He was able to create a plan that allowed the road to be built without the nation going more deeply into debt. The National Road, originally known as the National Pike, stretched all the way west to Vandalia, Illinois. It is now U.S. Route 40, and traverses the entire country, east to west.
If you thought Albert Gallatin is making you feel like a slacker already, there’s more. He financed the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He served on the Commission that ended the War of 1812. He also served as a U.S. Ambassador to France, and after he left public life, he founded a wee little bank that is now well known… as JP Morgan Chase…
Visitors to Friendship Hill can tour the home where he lived with two wives; Gallatin and his first wife eloped against the wishes of her mother. Sadly, they were only married for 5 months before she died of illness in October 1789; she is buried at Friendship Hill, and you can walk out to see Sophie’s gravesite. Gallatin and his second wife had six children; three of whom died in infancy. The home was added onto over the years, with additions in 1798, 1823, and 1824. It is built in the Federal style, and it is quite impressive in its size. Sections of the home are exposed stone, stuccoed, and timber frame, which gives it a rather eclectic look. Gallatin sold the home in 1832. The furniture is not original to the home or the Gallatin family, but gives a representation of what it would have looked like in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
I enjoyed wandering around the home on the self-guided tour, and taking a walk of the grounds. There are nine miles of trails on the site, and I saw a few people taking advantage of the park setting. The home is high up on a hill overlooking the Monongahela River. It is so peaceful and quiet out there! I can’t even imagine how remote it would have been at the time… Friendship Hill is certainly a less visited National Park site, with estimated annual visitation of a little over 25,000 people. It was well worth the visit to learn about this now little known man in U.S. history!
The Monongahela River down below