Trace the History of Woodville

Woodville  (Neville House) was built in 1785 and has long been an important historic landmark. After 200 years of residential occupancy by just three families, the house opened to the public in the 1970s, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1983, and has been lovingly restored to its original condition. Initially the house of John Neville, a Fort Pitt commander and tax collector during the Whiskey Rebellion, our heritage is deeply rooted in Western Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh. As one of the oldest residences in the city, and an excellent example of the developments in local architecture, and daily life in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Woodville has something for every enthusiast.

Who Were The Nevilles?

John Neville is arguably the most famous occupant of the site. He was born in Occuquan, VA which is about 8 miles from Mount Vernon and 15 miles from Fredericksburg, VA, where Neville’s parents owned an Ordinary (a tavern for people traveling to market).

Neville bought land in Winchester, VA from 1750 – 1770. He sold these properties in 1772 and bought his property in the Pittsburgh area. He was sent to Pittsburgh as the commander of VA troops stationing at Ft. Dunmore in 1774 (later renamed Fort Pitt).

Dating of the roof logs of the main house sets their cutting in 1774 suggesting that the construction of Woodville began while Neville was at Fort Pitt.

In 1782 Presley Neville, John’s son, moved to Woodville. John Neville was decommissioned from the army on January 1, 1783. Although he built Woodville, it is most likely that John Neville did not live there. Bower Hill was likely built at the same time as Woodville. John would have lived at Bower Hill while Presley would have lived at Woodville. The sites, though separate houses, should be viewed as one very large farm.

John Neville was one of the largest land owners in Western Pennsylvania, at one point owning 10,000 contiguous acres in the Chartiers Valley. Holdings included Bower Hill, Woodville, Farm Hill, Parnassus, Steeles Discovery, the Avenue, Siege Field, and Heidelberg. (boundaries from Mt. Lebanon to Carnegie, to Rennerdale, to Bridgeville).

Woodville’s Role in the Whiskey Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion was the first test of power for the newly formed federal government. In 1791 the Excise Tax was passed in an effort to generate revenue to help recuperate the debt incurred from the Revolutionary War. The tax was placed on distilled spirits, but quickly caught backlash from farmers in Western Pennsylvania who felt they were underrepresented.

Farmers in Western Pennsylvania frequently used whiskey to trade and essentially as a form of currency. The number of stills in the area made it difficult for the appointed tax collectors to get to all of them. Instead of making it to collect the tax monthly, the collectors were only coming every couple of months and charging farmers for the stills distilling capacity whether or not the farmer had distilled any whiskey that time. This put an unbearable financial burden on the farmers and the dissent began to grow.

The farmers began to organize by holding local meetings, intercepting mail, and interfering with the tax collectors duties. Eventually tensions came to a head when writs were issued to send violators of the tax to trial in Philadelphia. On July 16, 1794, 150 angry farmers led by Oliver Miller, Jr. and James McFarlane marched to Bower Hill to demand John Neville’s resignation from his position as Federal Inspector of Revenue.

The ensuing two day battle resulted in three deaths and sparked action by President George Washington. Washington organized 20,000 militia men to march across the Alleghenies to Western Pennsylvania to quash the rebellion. Though the farmers had organized to fight back when word of the number of Washington’s troops reached them they decided to surrender. A couple men were charged with treason, but all except David Bradford were pardoned. (Bradford would eventually be pardoned by President Adams) And the rebellion was essentially over.