History of the House and David Bradford
Bradford was a successful lawyer, businessman, and Deputy
Attorney General of Washington County. Construction of his
house on South Main Street began in 1786 and was completed in 1788.
His home reflected his high social standing, not only by its size, but
by its fittings. The magnificent mahogany staircase and the
interior wood finishes show remarkable craftsmanship. The
stone for the exterior was quarried near Washington, while the interior
decorations came from the east and had to be transported across the
mountains at great expense. It was, and is again today, an 18th Century
architectural showpiece. This was all the more striking at
the time, because Washington consisted largely of small, rustic, log
buildings. During restoration of the house, a tunnel was discovered
that appears to have led to what was then a steep ravine nearby. It is
thought that this tunnel was constructed to provide a means
of escape if this obviously wealthy house came under attack.
David Bradford and his family lived in this house from 1788 to
1794. However, his residence was cut short because of his involvement
in the Whiskey Rebellion. Local residents and landowners had
longstanding grievances, caused in substantial measure by their
isolation on the frontier. There were many land title
issues, caused by competing title registries in both Virginia and
Pennsylvania, and a host of absentee landlords (including George Washington). There were
no local federal courts, which necessitated prolonged and
burdensome trips to Philadelphia for trials. The area was still in
danger of Indian attacks. And to make matters worse, the
federal government imposed a high excise tax on whiskey. This
tax was particularly onerous because the cost of shipping local grain
the East for sale was very high. Local farmers could sell their grain crops for more (and lessen their shipping expenses) by converting their grain into
whiskey. So high taxes on this product were seen as a blow
directed principally at frontier communities like Washington.
When federal tax collectors appeared in the area to collect
these taxes, local mobs drove them off and worse (including tar and
feathering one poor official). In 1794, President George
Washington decided that the new federal government could not tolerate
such lawlessness and ordered 13,000 troops to the Washington
area. Upon learning that he would be arrested, David Bradford
fled south to Spanish West Florida (which is present-day
Louisiana). He took up a new life there and, in 1797,
completed a home in St. Francisville. His wife, Elizabeth, and children
joined him shortly thereafter. Eventually, David Bradford received a pardon for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion.
The house had its hard times. It suffered its greatest damage when converted into a furniture and coffin store in the early 1900's.
In 1959, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
control of the house and supervised a restoration back to its original 18th-century
design. The house is again furnished as it would have been at the time it was built. The furnishings also reflect Bradford's place in
society. Landscape work in the rear of the
house led to the discovery
of an old
well. It was repaired, and a well house characteristic of
Bradford's time was constructed. This fine example of
gracious frontier living is complemented by a garden of plants, herbs
flowers, typical of the 18th-century.
The Bradford House was originally built without
an indoor kitchen, probably to avoid the dangers of fire. All cooking was done
in a small log cabin located in the back garden. This precaution now seems wise,
because the outdoor kitchen burned down in the late 1790's. Recently the
David Bradford House Historical Association has completed a
project that has reclaimed that lost piece of Bradford history. The new
log kitchen was constructed in the location of the original log structure.
The kitchen will be used for open hearth cooking demonstrations and other living
Also new to the Bradford House is the "The Sign
of the Seven Stars" tavern. On the 18th Century western frontier, taverns
were the social centers. News, gossip and mail all came through taverns.
People gathered to socialize and exchange news and ideas on a daily basis.
The Whiskey Rebellion is sometimes referred to as an event born out of taverns.
People would have learned of the Excise Tax, discussed the tax and planned
rebellious activities in taverns. The Sign of the Seven Stars will give
people an opportunity to experience the same atmosphere the Western Pennsylvania
Farmers would have when organizing the rebellion.