Supreme Court Judge of Pennsylvania

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Hugh Henry Brackenridge, one of the first American novelists and founder of the University of Pittsburgh

He was a poet, lawyer, and judge. Throughout his life, Brackenridge caused controversy with his political views. His great desire was to be successful as a writer.

At thirty-three years old, Hugh Henry Brackenridge arrived at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Breckenridge hoped that he would have greater success in Pittsburgh than he did in Philadelphia.

Early Life of Hugh Henry Brackenridge

In 1763, Hugh Henry Brackenridge is brought to Pennsylvania from Scotland. He is raised in York County not far from the Maryland border.

After being educated in the Normal School and at the age of sixteen he went on to attend the University of New Jersery, which later became Princeton University. At Princeton, Brackenridge befriended Philip Freneau who he co-wrote “The Raising Glory of America” with for their college graduation. He also attended college with yet to be president, James Madison.

Following graduation in 1771, Brackenridge remained in New Jersey to earn a degree in theology. He then went on to work in a leadership role at an academy in Maryland. After the start of the Revolutionary War, Brackenridge became Chaplain under General George Washington.

He wrote two dramas as a result of the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The first play Battle of Bunkers-Hill. This drama reflects the bravery of Patriots in the veil of defeat. The second drama, The Death of General Montgomery at the Siege of Quebec, reflected the same story as the first.

To Brackenridge writing was his amusement.

Philadelphia Man of Letters

Wanting to make something more of himself Brackenridge leaves his post as Chaplain and settles in Philadelphia. There he began the United States Magazine hoping it would give him the notoriety.

While in Philadelphia, Brackenridge wrote many articles and letters about the state of the country and in one event, he addressed the President of the United States, members of Congress, and the Minister of France.

However, after putting a thousand or so pounds in the venture the magazine failed. Brackenridge contributed the failure to the turmoil the city was still in after the evacuation of the British.

Brackenridge’s son, Henry Marie, writes the investment “depreciated so rapidly that in a short time he [Hugh Henry Brackenridge] was stripped of the labor of years”.

He traveled to Annapolis, Maryland to study law with Samuel Chase.

Pittsburgh Gives Brackenridge Notoriety

After arriving in Pittsburgh, H. H. Brackenridge sets up his law practice and begins writing again.

Brackenridge didn’t like the Indians, although he was curious about them. He writes a narrative on the Indian, Mamachtaga, who was accused of killing a white carpenter. The settlers of the western frontier distrusted Brackenridge because of his defending the Indian.

Knowing the opposition he was up against, Brackenridge decided he needed a forum in order to help the frontiersman to understand what he was doing and what better way to do that than to start a newspaper, which he called the Pittsburgh Gazette.

Through the newspaper, the people were able to read about the Indian’s trial and to possibly understand the Indian’s actions. Brackenridge did not touch on the psychology of the Indian only his demeanor.

The Whiskey Rebellion Begins

The population of western Pennsylvania after the Revolutionary War was mainly made up of Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots. The main form of income for them was Whiskey. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, submitted a financial plan to Congress which included an excise tax on whiskey. Congress passed the bill on March 3, 1791. After a cry of outraged came from western Pennsylvania a revised tax bill was sent to Congress and passed.

General John Neville from Virginia was hired to supervise the tax collection in what is now the Pittsburgh area. He built a home and called it Bower Hill.

Meanwhile, a group calling themselves the Mingo Creek Association began to call on Virginians and Kentuckians to unite against the federal government.

Brackenridge, because of his Scotch-Irish background and the fact he lived amongst the settlers was asked to mediate between the settlers and the Pennsylvania government. He attempted to do so only to find himself accused of being part of the Insurrection.

Brackenridge Faces Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton believed his adversary, Hugh Henry Brackenridge ignited the rebellion amongst the settlers and the federal government. Hamilton believed that Brackenridge played both sides for financial gain.

Brackenridge associated himself with the Mingo Creek Association in order to subdue the rage of the settlers, but government officials saw it differently.

Hamilton had him arrested and brought to Philadelphia for a hearing. After hours of questions, Brackenridge was released.

Carlisle Becomes Brackenridge’s Final Resting Place

Brackenridge finally finds a home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He is eventually appointed Supreme Court Judge for the state of Pennsylvania and remains in the position until his death on June 25, 1816.

Sources:

  1. Marder, Daniel. Hugh Henry Brackenridge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967.
  2. Newlin, Claude M.. The Life and Writings of Hugh Henry Brackenridge. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1932.