Andrew Wiley’s Practical Joke

It seems that the 18th century American pioneers appreciated a good joke as well as anyone. In this account of early Fayette County, Pennsylvania, Andrew Wiley of Franklin Township pulls a good one on his neighbor and old friend Sammy Rankin. Although no date is given, the author states that the first Franklin Township settlers arrived in 1777 and describes Samuel “Sammy” Rankin as being “among the first settlers.”

Andrew Wiley’s Practical Joke

Among them all, the Rankins, and especially “Sammy” Rankin, were considered the most inveterate jokers of the period. Many a good story is still told of Sammy and the manner in which he used to sacrifice his neighbors, who as often sought to get even with him by returning the compliment, although Sammy was termed “smart enough to hold his own and more too.” For that reason it was exceedingly gratifying to his many friends if they could get the laugh on him.

As a case in point it is told that Sammy, while proceeding to town one cold morning, met Andrew Wiley trudging along on foot, carrying in his hand a jug that looked very much as if it held whiskey. Whisky in jugs was then as common in the land as the most devoted tippler could desire, and it was most natural and reasonable on Sammy’s part to suppose that Wiley’s jug contained whiskey. It was equally natural and reasonable for him to conclude that a drink of whisky on a cold morning as the one in question would be proper and consoling. So after greeting Wiley cheerily, and receiving the same in return, Sammy exclaimed, “Well, Wiley, this is a pretty sharp morning, and as you’ve got a jug of whiskey I will be glad to take a drink with you.”

Wiley owed Sammy one on the last time he had been made a victim, and to that moment had pined for an opportunity to repay the joker. As will be seen, his chance had come. Lifting the jug to Sammy’s hand, remarking that it was a cold morning, that a drink was a good thing at such a time, and that the jug held as good whisky as was ever made, he bade Sam drink heartily.

Thus invited and encouraged by Wiley’s hospitality, his own desire was well, Sammy applied his mouth to that of the jug and drank. The drink was, however, a short one, and was followed by the violent dashing of the jug upon the ground, and the excited exclamation from Sammy of “Great heavens, Wiley, it’s soft soap!” Spluttering and coughing to free his mouth of the nauseous mess, he was inclined to be angry with the author of the mishap, but better judgment prevailed, until, like a philosopher, he laughingly declared to Wiley, “Well, old fellow, you got me that time, but it’s a long lane that has no turn: I’ll pay you off yet.”

Wiley laughed and bade good-by to Sammy by inviting him to meet him again some day for another drink, and advising him to look sharp if he desired to pay off the score.

Whether Sammy did or did not pay off the score does not appear among the chronicles of the time, but the popular conclusion is that if he attempted it he succeeded.

Source: Ellis, Franklin, 1828-1885.History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men, edited by Franklin Ellis.
L.H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, 1882,
p. 551