Posts Tagged ‘tea’
Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum are hosting their annual reenactment of the first Boston Tea Party on Wednesday, 16 December, starting at 6:30 P.M. (Doors open at 5:45.) Tickets are still available through this website.
I attended last year’s reenactment on a media pass, trying not to block paying customers’ views by standing behind a video camera (see photo). So it’s about time I reviewed that presentation.
The first act of the event takes place at Old South, the exact site of mass meetings about the tea in November and December 1773. Its main floor and first gallery are filled with people, Revolutionary reenactors mostly at the center and the public everywhere else. As people enter, they receive cards with remarks on the controversy over the East India Company’s tea monopoly and how Boston should respond.
At the start, some of the reenactors use first-person interpretation (i.e., portraying individual figures from 1773 Boston) lay out the basics of the debate. Then the gentleman presiding over the meeting opens the floor to other voices—folks in the audience. Everyone who wants to participate can line up at one of the microphones and read an argument from his or her card. As those lines wind down, sea captain Francis Rotch returns to report that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson has refused to permit him to sail away with the tea. Some of the reenactors whoop and head outside.
The audience is then led through the streets (rain, shine, or chill) to a viewing area across the channel from the well-lit Boston Tea Party Ships. From there they watch Sons of Liberty arrive on the ship, demand the keys to its hold, and start breaking open tea chests and throwing the cargo overboard. Finally, there’s a short spoken presentation by performers from the Tea Party Ships about what the tea destruction will lead to.
The tea crisis is a tough political confrontation to explain. The action in Old South lays out the issue on the highest level—Parliament has enacted a tax and granted a monopoly without North American subjects having any say in the matter. It also explains the lowest level—if the tea stays in those ships one more night, the royal authorities win. But the combination of laws, regulations, and circumstances that links those levels is still murky.
But these sorts of public presentations aren’t meant to lay out every detail of a historical event. They’re designed to give the public a vivid experience—in this case, hearing the arguments about the tea in Boston in late 1773 and then watching men destroy that tea on the night of 16 December. If everything works, the visuals the reenactment provides and the emotions it evokes are strong enough to entice people to learn more.
TOMORROW: Historical facts to keep in mind.
Friday, 9 October, 12:15-1:00 P.M.
Lady in the Blue Dress…and You!
Painted in an exquisite blue silk dress by her husband John Singleton Copley, the most famous artist in the American colonies, Susanna Copley was from Boston’s elite, a member of one of the town’s leading merchant families. But in 1773 she found herself surrounded by turmoil when her Loyalist family were named as tea consignees to sell British East India Company tea—the very tea that the Patriots were determined to refuse. Listen as she confides in a friend about her husband’s struggles and her fears for her family’s safety in a world where the established social and political order is coming under siege. Join in the conversation as historic reenactors Elizabeth Sulock and Elizabeth Mees share two well-clad women’s perspectives on a turbulent time.
Admission is free for Old South members, $6 for others. Ticket information here.
Friday, 23 October, 12:15-1:00 P.M.
Sheep to Shawl: Carding and Spinning at the Meeting House with Historic New England
Discover how New Englanders made clothes before the process became mechanized. Learn about the history and technology of spinning and dying wool and weaving cloth from Historic New England educator Carolin Collins. Then try your hand at picking, carding, and spinning wool from Historic New England’s flock of sheep in order to get a hands-on understanding of this vital historical craft!
Admission is free for Old South members, $6 for others. Ticket information here.
Friday, 12 November, 12:30-1:30 P.M.
Thread, Wool, and Silk: Weaving It All Together
Erica Lindamood, Education Director at Old South, will lead an informal discussion weaving together the programs on fashion, social class, and clothing production. Tea and cookies will be served, and participants can bring their own lunch if they wish. Admission is $5 for members, plus one guest.
Among the artifacts in the “We Are One” exhibit at the Boston Public Library is a teapot linked to Crispus Attucks, now owned by Historic New England. (And shown here thanks to a Harvard course on material culture.)
I read about this teapot years ago, but I’d never seen it before. It’s smaller than I expected, about the size of one of those little individual pots a restaurant with airs brings out when one orders tea. It‘s pewter, plain, and poorly made. In short, it was a cheap teapot.
But is it Attucks’s?
The evidence from 1770 suggests that Attucks was working as a sailor under an assumed name, at least while he was in Massachusetts. Documents from the coroner’s inquiry immediately after he died in the Boston Massacre called him “Michael Johnson.” The Thursday newspapers identified him as:
A Mollatto Man, named Johnson, who was born in Framingham, but lately belonging to New-Providence [Bahamas], and was here in order to go for North-Carolina, killed on the Spot, two Balls entering his Breast.
That day was both market day and the day of the funeral for Attucks and three other shooting victims. It’s conceivable those events brought people into Boston with new information. Alas, the Boston Gazette on Monday offered no explanation for identifying that same man as “Crispus Attucks,” and the legal system followed suit. Every source from 1770 agrees that Attucks was a sailor.
In the 1850s, after Attucks had become a touchstone for American abolitionists, a Framingham family named Brown came forward to claim part of his memory. In 1857 that family published a small anniversary book titled The Golden Wedding of Col. James Brown and His Wife. It included a “Speech of Mr. Wm. D. Brown” about his ancestors’ Revolutionary history, including this:
In the month of March 1770, a collision occured between the people of Boston and a portion of the King’s troops, then quartered in the town. The soldiers were very obnoxious to the citizens and a slight provocation was sufficient to raise a mob against them. The old school books tell us, that at this time the mob was led on by a stout negro whose name was Attucks. The mob pressed close up to the troops who received them with leveled muskets! Attucks beat down the guns with a heavy club and cried “they dare not fire!” They did fire, and Crispus Attucks, our great grandfather[ William Brown]’s slave, was shot dead!
Attucks was a well informed and faithful negro. He was a good judge of cattle and was allowed to sell and buy upon his own judgment. Crispus was sensible of the oppressions of Great Britain, and as indignant as the most patriotic, at the presence of hireling soldiers in the country, to enforce unjust laws.
It’s a curious passage, setting down family lore yet apparently relying on “old school books” for information about Attucks’s actions on 5 Mar 1770. In this description of a “faithful negro,…sensible of the oppressions of Great Britain,” there’s no hint that Attucks had become a sailor or used the name Michael Johnson.
TOMORROW: The Brown family and William C. Nell.
In October 1772, Mary Munroe married Samuel Sanderson, a cabinetmaker who had moved into town from Waltham four years before. A man who knew her later wrote that Sanderson was “reputed an excellent workman, and a man of strong, native, good sense, but of a rather phlegmatic and desponding temperament, with whom the world never wagged so cheerily as with many.”
The Sandersons had a boy named Amos in July 1774. Samuel’s brother Elijah also lived and worked with him in his house (shown here, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection).
In April 1775, Samuel Sanderson was a corporal in the Lexington militia, standing on the common as the British column arrived. Local historian Michael J. Canavan recorded this story about how Mary Sanderson experienced the outbreak of war:
When he heard that the British were coming he piloted his wife over to her father’s carrying his babe, and accompanied by a little girl who was at their house. Over at Scotland they found the mother getting breakfast and the brothers at first did not believe the report.
After the British retreated Mary returned home and found a good many things had been stolen. Her cow (which was a good part of her marriage portion) had been killed; and a wounded British soldier was stowed away in her bed. She cried out “I wont hae him there. Why didn’t you knock him on the head?”
But the town authorities insisted he be taken care of. . . . The soldier begged for Tea but she refused. “what for should I gae him tae for? He shall hae none.”
The wounded man refused to eat or drink unless the food was tasted by some of the family.
Despite crippling arthritis, Mary Sanderson lived to be a centenarian. On 23 Sept 1852 the women of Lexington organized a “levee” in her honor at the town hall, with refreshments and music. It raised $300. She died less than a month later at the age of 104.
The story to date: Three weeks after the dumping of the tea in Boston harbor, Cyrus Baldwin, merchant of Boston, and his brother Loammi, gentleman farmer of Woburn, tried to
smuggle safely transport tea through Charlestown. A shady “Committee of Suspicion” confiscated and destroyed the tea. In a letter now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Cyrus sought redress from the Charlestown Committee of Correspondence.
His letter wasn’t the only one. Four of the five members of Woburn’s Committee of Correspondence also wrote to their counterpart committee in Charlestown, all on behalf of their fifth member—Loammi Baldwin (shown here). After a bit of circumlocution framed in patriotic rhetoric, their letter starts to get specific:
Som* violent measures we know have been rendered necessary, in order to make a proper Stand against those incroachments that have been made upon our Liberties—But the measures that we would now draw your attention to, we look upon as violent, unjust, & cruel.
The Woburn writers then relate the attack on Loammi Baldwin’s ox-cart and teamster, and the confiscation of Cyrus Baldwin’s tea, but pointedly omit Cyrus Baldwin’s name and sibling relationship to Loammi. In fact, they attempt to distance Loammi, themselves, and Woburn as a whole from the tea itself.
[Loammi Baldwin’s] Team was stopped on the King’s highway, in sd Town; his Teamster abused—his Cart robed of several articles, belonging to him, And at the same time about 26 lbs of Tea, not belonging to him, nor any man in this Town—but only to be conveyed for a Gentleman, by his favour, to some distant place.
Ah, so the tea may not have been bound for Woburn after all. It could have been going anywhere. The letter tries to play off the privileged status of the gentility as exempt from interference by commoners. The Woburn letter ends framing their desire for compensation to the Baldwin’s as being one with the cause of liberty, declaring:
We Trust you will by no means encourage or connive at such Conduct as this, which is so dishonorary and predudicial to the Cause in which we are engaged—but will use your influence to detect & punish the aggressors—and will indeavour that proper compensation be made to the Sufferers.
Charlestown replied—first to the Woburn committee, then to Cyrus—with polite “get lost” letters. Here are excerpts from the Charlestown committee’s copies of those two letters:
We conceive, when the Town appointed us to this honorable Trust, they expected that we should attend to such Grievances of a publick Nature only as there was no legal Remedy for. . . . We can no Means suppose ourselves authorized to interfere in private Matters, where the legal Remedy is plainly pointed out. As to the Fact refer’d to in your letter, this is the first authentick Intelligence we have had of it, a Rumour has prevailed, that something of that kind had taken Place.
They then cast doubt on the honesty of Loammi’s teamster and chided Loammi:
It is generaly doubted whether the Teamster was ever assaulted or not. Nay if he was assaulted there is no reason to suppose any of the Inhabitants of this Town were concerned in it.
But this we dare affirm, that either the Teamster Who relates the Matter, or the Persons who are said to have attacked him, were guilty of an infamous Falsehood, in declaring that they were employed in this Business by Charlestown. . . . We are extremly sorry, that Mr. Baldwin at this trying Time after the Body of the People at Boston had resolved “that the Use of Tea was improper & pernicious” should become a Carrier of that detested Article.
We can take no Notice of this Matter. Whenever the Committee of Correspondence for the Town of Woburn have any thing to communicate to us, which falls within our Province, we will chearfully attend to it. ———— And with sincere Attachement to the Cause of Liberty, your humble Servants
And be sure not to let the door hit you on the way out, Woburn.
What about that asterisk in Woburn’s letter, shown in the first quoted passage above? It led to a footnote which read simply, “Ed. Andrus.” Edmund Andros had been deposed as governor of the Dominion of New England in a popular rebellion in 1689. Interesting that Woburn went back as far as that as an illustration of necessary “violent measures.” I take that as a signal that in early 1774 the town was ready to support another insurrection, if called for. But obviously the Charlestown committee thought that destroying a barrel of tea was acceptable as well.
TOMORROW: More woes for Cyrus Baldwin.
From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Affirmed had Alydar. Chris Everet and Martina Navratilova. Army vs. Navy. Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. Capt. James T. Kirk vs. Khan. History will forever remember these matchups for the status of top dog.
Another pair of names that belong on that list are Monitor and Merrimack. Monitor was the first ironclad to launch 153 years ago today on Jan. 30, 1862, just 18 days ahead of the repaired and up-armored Merrimack, rechristened by the Confederacy as CSS Virginia.
The race to launch Monitor began in the summer of 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, in which epic and tragic battles saw brothers fighting brothers and where even eventual victory was tainted by grief and loss.
Federal authorities learned the Confederates had raised the Merrimack, once a powerful frigate with steam power that had been burned by the U.S. Navy some months earlier as it retreated from Norfolk, Va.
When news of the Merrimack‘s resurrection reached the Union’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, he knew the U.S. Navy had to commission its own armored vessel to challenge Merrimack.
Secretary Welles asked railroad executive and shipbuilder Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, of binocular fame and one of the most prominent and influential men in Connecticut, to use his position and influence to provide a bill to Congress to fund the project.
It wasn’t long before President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill creating the Naval Ironclad Board. Bushnell and his partners quickly developed plans for their own ironclad, a vessel known as the Galena.
Bushnell traveled to New York to meet with John Ericcson, a renowned inventor and naval architect, to get his analysis and opinion on the design and feasibility of the Galena and how it could be improved.
Ericcson wasn’t too keen on working with the Navy after being wrongly blamed for the accidental explosion of an experimental gun, the Peacemaker, on a ship he designed, USS Princeton. The explosion killed six people in 1844 and political pandering bounced the blame from the ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert Stockton, to Ericcson, even though he had nothing to do with the weapon.
Luckily for the Union, Ericcson was excited to share his designs for an ironclad with kindred spirit Bushnell. Ericcson’s design featured a ship with “a floating battery absolutely impregnable to the heaviest shot or shell.” The model Ericcson presented featured a nearly submerged hull and a single revolving turret fixed to its deck.
Bushnell, amazed at the model and its potential, asked Ericcson to meet with Secretary Welles and pitch his design to the ironclad board because it showed promise in dealing with the imminent Confederate threat. Ericcson’s design was one of three approved for construction. The foundries in New York and in Baltimore, Md. had easier access to iron than the Confederates, so the race was on.
Over the next four months, the parts of a new ship based on Ericcson’s design were forged in eight separate foundries, most in New York. Boilers, port stoppers, radiators, anchor wells, bulkheads, and the turret from all over New York were gathered and assembled at the Continental Iron Works in Brooklyn where the hull of Monitor was waiting.
On Jan. 30, 1862, in front of crowds of spectators, Monitor was launched into New York City’s East River. Eighteen days later, the former Merrimack, CSS Virginia, was launched.
USS Monitor was a technological marvel for its time. She was powered by steam alone and was the first American warship with no masts or sails. Barely one foot of her deck was visible, with all storage, machinery, berthing and working areas below the water line.
The ship’s most novel feature was its revolving turret in the middle of the ship. The turret boasted two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons. Constructed almost exclusively of iron, the ship was heavy and thereby required it to avoid shallow water because it could become stuck and quickly become a target.
The two ironclads met for their date with fate March 9, 1862 at the Battle of Hampton Roads. CSS Virginia had already decimated the Union Blockading Squadron the day before. Once within range of each other, the two ships opened up on one another. After two days of pounding, battle was declared a tactical stalemate and the ships withdrew without either suffering much damage. It was the first time iron ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the beginning of the end of the era of wooden warships.
Alas, Monitor’s end would come all too soon. Shortly after midnight on Dec. 31, 1862, while being towed by USS Rhode Island to Beaufort, N.C., Monitor sank in a gale off Cape Hatteras. Its final resting place was designated as the nation’s first national marine sanctuary in 1975.
In 2002, the remains of two Sailors were recovered from the gun turret when it was raised off the coast of North Carolina. After 10 years of attempting to determine their identities through DNA and even facial reconstruction, the remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 2013. Fourteen other crewmembers remain missing. The turret and other artifacts from USS Monitor are showcased at the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Va.
Yesterday guest blogger Chris Hurley promised untold details about the dumping of a barrel of tea in Charlestown in January 1774. That incident was reported in Massachusetts newspapers with no names attached. This posting picks up the story.
Boston Jany 25 1774
On the 4th Instant I was sending a quantity of Goods to my brother Mr Loammi Baldwin at Woburn & pack’d a bag containing 26 lb. Bohea Tea into a Barrel not for secrecy but for safety of conveyance. In the evening the Team was stoped just on this side Winter hill and the driver interogated by three or four men who called themselves a Commitee of Suspiscion for Charlestown: what goods he had & whether any Tea? To which he answered generally that he knew nothing what goods were in the Cart. Upon which they insisted upon probing, & abused and drove off the Teamster, broke open the cask that contained the Tea, carry’d off the bag with the Tea—& some other articles are missing.
Cyrus Baldwin’s property had been stolen. But because his property was tea, who would be sympathetic to his complaint?
I cannot harbour the least suspicion that any Gentlemen of Charlestown, much less any of the respectable Committe of Correspondance were knowing to or any way incouraging such high handed Villany, yet as they assumed the character of a Committee from the Town of Charlestown I think it my incumbant duty to the Inhabitants of Charlestown to inform you of the above particulars, not doubting but you will properly resent such Wickedness perpetuated in the name of the Town, & if it is in your power, promise me satisfaction for my loss.
Why ask the Charlestown Committee for redress? Why not go to the Law?
I think it not proper or advisable to make a public stir about it just at present, least the Enemies to the good cause which we have imbarked in should triumph in our Divisions. But unless a speedy & intire stop be put to such attacks upon private property we shall fall into a greater Evil than we are endeavouring to avoid.
All which is submitted to your wisdom and confidence.
Your most respectfull and obediant Humble Serv’t,
I shall inteem it a favour you’d return an answer as soon as convenience will permitt.
The Charlestown Committee did answer quickly.
TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin can’t get no satisfaction.
This “guest blogger” posting continues Chris Hurley’s story of Cyrus Baldwin and his surplus tea.
Early that month, one tea dealer realized there was no future in selling Bohea tea in Boston and tried to move his supply out of town. As reported on page one of the 13 January issue of the Massachusetts Spy:
Last week a barrel of Bohea tea which was attempted to be smuggled into some of the country towns, was detected and stopped at Charlestown, soon after it crossed the ferry, and the whole contents emptied into the river.
And the Spy was late to the story; the Essex Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post had it before them. In fact, the same day as the Spy item, the Boston News-Letter published an update:
We hear that the Barrel of Tea which was emptied into the River at Charlestown last Week, was not intended to be smuggled, as reported; it being Part of some that had been imported here before the East India Company’s Tea arrived, and publickly advertised for Sale: The Tea it is said belonged to Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty, and was sent, with other Goods, to a Trader in the Country: But the Inhabitants of Charlestown having resolved against the Use of that Article. and burnt their own, some of them tho’t it an Insult to be sent through their Town, and destroyed it as reported.
Clearly some people knew the names of the “Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty” who owned that tea, but that secret did not appear in the newspapers.
There were dozens of tea dealers in Boston, and any of them might have wanted to move their supply out of town. The route across the ferry to Charlestown suggested that the intended destination was north of the Charles River; otherwise, that barrel would probably have been shipped out by the Neck. But otherwise those reports offer no information about who owned this tea.
It’s rare to read a news item like this and have a chance to flesh out the story. In this case, though, more details are available.
TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin tells his story.
Longtime Boston 1775 readers might recognize the name “Chris the Woburnite” in the comments, usually attached to choice observations and stories from that old Middlesex County town.
In real life that’s Chris Hurley, Revolutionary reenactor and researcher. And he generously offered a series of “guest blogger” articles sharing a story of Woburn’s Baldwin family. So let’s get started.
There were three kinds of tea in Boston near the end of 1773, here listed in decreasing level of unacceptability to the Boston Whigs:
- Detested, new-duty British East India Company tea. Not available, due to premature steeping in the harbor.
- Old-duty British East India Company tea. Tolerated for years, despite (unenforced) non-use agreements.
- Smuggled (often Dutch) tea. Free of the taint of duty, but still tainted somewhat, by it being, well, tea.
At the very end of 1773, popular Whig sentiment simplified things by characterizing all tea as odious, which was bad news for Cyrus Baldwin, a Boston merchant of, among other things, tea. His advertisement in the 1 November Boston Gazette had proudly proclaimed in bold type: “Choice Souchong and Hyson Tea.”
Even though he was from a Whig-leaning family, Baldwin continued to advertise tea as the tea crisis deepened that fall. After all, he was not one of the hated new-duty consignees, and selling tea was his livelihood. Some Boston merchants had openly opposed the landing of the new-duty tea.
Some citizens in Boston accused those merchants of plotting to create scarcity, corner the tea market, and raise prices. They could have been talking about Cyrus Baldwin. He appears to have increased his stock of tea that season: when he advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on 20 December, he now included additional tea, some “Choice Bohea.”
In an attempt to render this offering acceptable, this new ad included a disclaimer: “The above Teas were imported before any of the East India Company’s tea arrived.” That continued to run into early January 1774.
Baldwin priced his tea at 18 shillings per pound. That was more than triple the price set on 29 December by the “principal dealers of teas in Boston”—those dealers being anxious to refute any charge of price gouging (as reported the 30 December Massachusetts Spy). But Baldwin’s 18s. price may have applied only to the high-class Hyson tea, and perhaps he priced his Bohea more reasonably.
In any event, those dealers also agreed not to sell any tea at all after 20 Jan 1774. Whether Cyrus Baldwin was then willingly in step with the association of tea dealers or not, his 20 January ad in the Massachusetts Spy no longer boasted tea.
But Cyrus Baldwin still had tea—too much tea. Even in early January 1774 he knew he couldn’t sell all the Bohea he had. What then to do with it? It did him little good in Boston. This valuable property could even have been in danger from the radical tea-burning element of the Patriot faction [Are you listening, Lexington and Charlestown?]. Where then to safely store it?
Luckily for Cyrus, he had a younger brother, Loammi, who lived on a farm in the nearby countryside town of Woburn. Loammi was a gentlemen of position there and on the town’s committee of correspondence, thus putting him beyond reproach. What better person to store the tea until it was marketable again? The brothers might also have been able to transport the tea to somewhere it could be readily sold. Loammi’s farm had at least one team of oxen and probably a number of wagons or carts. But first, could Cyrus get the tea out to Woburn?
TOMORROW: “Not intended to be smuggled”.
After so much reading about the approach of the Revolution in New England, I’m always pleased to find books that give me a new perspective on the major events of those years. Sometimes that perspective comes from a tight focus on an individual or a lesser-known aspect of the conflict.
Nick Bunker’s An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America manages that even while examining the well-known Gaspée incident, Boston Tea Party, and response to the Coercive Acts.
Bunker, an Englishman, describes those events as seen from London, where the American mainland colonies were a source of mystery and bother if the government’s overworked ministers had any time for them at all. His book has chapters on major events in New England from 1772 to 1774, but Bunker emphasizes sources that tell the British side of each story.
A great deal of archival work went into An Empire on the Edge, and its notes brim with unfamiliar sources that can set a researcher’s mouth to salivating: the War Office’s accounting of British army dead from 1774 to 1780; private verses that the Earl of Suffolk, junior secretary of state, wrote about the nascent rebellion; a painting of Boston in 1764 by Byron’s great-uncle; Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie’s bitter letter from Castle William ten days before the Tea Party; a 1774 intelligence report about gunpowder shipments from Holland.
Bunker was a financial journalist before he turned to writing history, and that seems to surface in his analyses of economic pressures: abundant credit led to overproduction of tea in China, harvests failed in India and later in Europe at just the wrong times, a London banker tried to short East India Company stock a little too early and set off a cascade of banking failures. The book profiles John Hancock as a businessman more prominently than Samuel Adams as a politician, and devotes relatively little space to political philosophy, religion, and other forces.
Bunker’s background is especially valuable as he lays out how the East India Company finally ran aground in 1773 and the British government—despite George III and Lord North being no fans of the company—deemed it too big to fail. Competing business and political interests ultimately produced two redundant rescue schemes: one that allowed the Crown to take over the company’s territory in India, the other that rewrote the rules for sending surplus tea to North American ports. The first gave Britain the basis of its nineteenth-century empire while the second ultimately cost it much of the empire it had built in the previous two hundred years.
One player in shaping the latter policy, An Empire on the Edge argues, was Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson, through his letters to British tea magnate William Palmer. Hutchinson’s interests were all mixed up: his sons were in the tea business, and his salary as governor (and those of his in-laws, the Oliver brothers) came from the tea tax. Thus, while Hutchinson sincerely sought the best for the British Empire and for Massachusetts, he looked corrupt—and just when the leak of some private letters made him look devious.
While many American authors emphasize the strength of the British Empire after the Seven Years’ War, especially its military, Bunker paints it as fragile and overextended. Stretched tight between North America and India, much of it was “only a make-believe empire.” The book starts symbolically with a description of that dominion’s western edge at Fort Charters in modern Illinois, a structure won from the French in 1763 and then allowed to slip gradually into the Mississippi. The figure of Edward Gibbon, Member of Parliament, floats through the book, not because of any astute observations on the political situation from him but perhaps because he wrote about another empire’s decline and fall.
An Empire on the Edge is thus a “sympathetic study of failure,” Bunker writes. He offers portraits of the top government ministers in London—especially Lord North and the Earl of Dartmouth—that bring out their good qualities instead of making them distant antagonists. (I recall how Bernard Donoughue’s British Politics and the American Revolution from 1964 struck me with a story of Lord North being robbed by a highwayman even as he won a government majority; this book does the same with the picture of the prime minister laying out a playing field for his sons.)
But none of those men’s personal strengths, Bunker says, were right for avoiding the “tragedy” of “a war the British should never have allowed themselves to fight.” Neither North nor Dartmouth had the broader vision that the situation demanded. At no point in the book, however, do I see a turning-point that would have allowed the British government to satisfy all the needs of its 1770s empire. I have a sense of what would have satisfied the Massachusetts Whigs, but I doubt that approach would have satisfied Bunker.
TOMORROW: An Empire on the Edge on Massachusetts.
Friday, 5 December, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Holiday Open House at Old South
Meet colonial characters, enjoy a cup of tea, and discover if you would have been a Patriot or Loyalist in 1773. Programs for young children will include puppet making, scavenger hunts, and tiny tea sets! Free.
Friday, 5 December, 12:15 P.M.
“That Pesky Tax on Tea!”
Listen to an exchange between a Son of Liberty and a Tory as they spar on matters of tea and taxes, law and liberty in 1770s Boston. Then join the conversation! Presented by actors from the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Free to all, but pre-registration requested.
Saturday, 6 December, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Holiday Open House at Old South
See above. Free.
Friday, 12 December, 12:15 P.M.
Ebenezer Mackintosh, the Gangs of Boston, and Riot in the New World
Historian Matthew Wilding will focus on the life of radical Ebenezer Mackintosh as he explores the theme of riot as political expression in colonial Boston, from the Stamp Act Riots to the Boston Tea Party. Free for Old South members, $6 for others. Pre-registration requested.
Tuesday, 16 December, 6:30 to 8:30 P.M.
Tea Party Reenactment
Gather at Old South Meeting House, where the colonists met in 1773, with colonial agitators and Loyalists to debate the tea tax and liberty from the British crown! Afterwards, join the procession to Griffin’s Wharf accompanied by fife and drum. You will line the shores of Boston Harbor to witness the destruction of the tea as the Sons of Liberty storm the brig Beaver, tossing the tea into the frigid water below.
Tickets to the big event cost $25, and there’s a deal if you buy a membership in Old South at the same time.
The Arlington Historical Society will host a lecture on Tuesday, 28 October, on “The 18th-Century Woman” by Gail White Usher. This is part of a yearlong series with the theme of “Women’s Work.”
The event description is basic:
Gain greater understanding of what it meant to be a middling or working-class woman in New England prior to the Revolutionary War, through diaries, letters, paintings, and objects.
Usher comes to Arlington from Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut. She has also worked at the Bowen House in that town and at the Daniel Benton Homestead in Tolland, and she’s an avid reenactor.
This event starts at 7:30 P.M. in the Masonic Temple at 19 Academy Street.
As another look at eighteenth-century American women, here’s a poem that appeared in the 25 Dec 1769 issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, headlined “The Female Patriots: Addressed to the Daughters of Liberty in America.”
Since the Men, from a Party or Fear of a Frown,
Are kept by a Sugar-plumb quietly down.
Supinely asleep—and depriv’d of their Sight,
Are stripp’d of their Freedom, and robb’d of their Right;
If the Sons, so degenerate! the Blessings despise,
Let the Daughters of Liberty nobly arise;
And tho’ we’ve no Voice but a Negative here,
The Use of the Taxables†, let us forbear:—
(Then Merchants import till your Stores are all full,
May the Buyers be few, and your Traffick be dull!)
Stand firmly resolv’d, and bid Grenville to see,
That rather than Freedom we part with our Tea,
And week as we love the dear Draught when a-dry
As American Patriots our Taste we deny—
This exhortation to women to boycott goods from Britain continued for twenty more lines. A footnote identified the “Taxables” as “Tea, Paper, Glass, and Paints.” George Grenville had not actually been in office as Chancellor of the Exchequer or First Minister for years.
Those lines were credited only to “A FEMALE.” For a while Milcah Martha Moore got credit because the poem appeared in her commonplace book. But now scholars attribute the lines to Hannah Griffitts (1727-1817).
Larry Krieger, the educator most voluble in his criticism of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course guidelines, has a quick answer to the fact I documented yesterday: that most of the topics he and his allies say are missing from the new guidelines weren’t in the older, shorter guidelines either.
Krieger has argued those topics indeed didn’t appear in the older guidelines, but they did appear in other documents from the College Board—namely, the A.P. tests themselves. In that online essay he wrote:
In fact, all of the omitted people and events listed above and in my analysis have generated numerous questions on released AP U.S. History exams. For the record, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is one of the most frequently tested APUSH items.
Why would Krieger know that? Because he built a business called Insider Test Prep by analyzing past tests to find out what topics are most likely to appear on future exams.
In 2012, Krieger used CreateSpace to publish The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP US History: The Essential Content. Its approach promises that “students do not need to memorize long lists of names, dates, places, events, and terms.” Instead, they can memorize shorter lists: “65 key terms that are regularly tested on the APUSH exam”; “Over 100 sidebar tips that tell students what to ignore and what to study”; “20 Top Ten list of key people, events, Supreme Court cases, reformers and books.”
Krieger based his book on the College Board’s existing guidelines and samples, with “40 chronological chapters that follow the College Board’s AP US History Course Description outline” and “Over 25 references to specific essays and DBQ’s found at the College Board’s authoritative AP Central website.” He promises customers that his guide “ignores topics that rarely generate questions while focusing on topics that generate the overwhelming majority of test questions.” He has argued that “This predictable clustering of questions on key figures and events enabled teachers to efficiently prepare their students for the APUSH exam.” If the course changes significantly, his book becomes less valuable.
The same change might make the next edition more valuable. Tax lawyers know that any significant change in the tax laws generates more income for them because their clients need new advice. Publishers know that a new software release is an opportunity to issue new primers on that software. And a guide to the radically new A.P. U.S. History course would probably do better than an old one.
If, that is, the same approach can work. But what if it can’t? Back in April, Trevor Packer of the College Board responded to Krieger’s complaints by saying:
Krieger is a prolific author of “Crash Course” guides to a number of AP courses, the SAT, and the SAT-II. As someone deeply invested in the test preparation industry, Krieger cannot be expected to welcome the way that AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization. His perspective only makes sense once one recalls that Krieger’s publications emphasize a test-prep, memorization mentality that will no longer be privileged in revised AP exams.
The new course’s emphasis on “Historical Thinking Skills” and “Thematic Learning Objectives” is evidently the company’s attempt to “to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.”
Whether that’s possible within the confines of a standardized national annual exam is another question. As I wrote before, I don’t have the relevant experience teaching or taking A.P. U.S. History courses to answer that. The exam will still have multiple-choice questions and essays to be evaluated in bulk, like a lot of other tests American students take these days. People may well discover ways to take advantage of that system—identifying what to memorize and what to ignore, as Krieger says he did.
But to get back there, Krieger would need to build up a new database of exam questions. Which might explain why one of his repeated complaints is that the College Board isn’t letting people like him know exactly what will be on the test. And the R.N.C. has echoed him with an official complaint: “the College Board is not making its sample examination available for public review, thus maintaining secrecy about what U. S. students are actually being tested on”.
Again, I’m not a classroom teacher, but my strong impression is that good educators don’t like students to ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” with an obvious plan to tune out if it isn’t. And if, say, a big city school department demanded to be told in detail what parts of American history would be on an upcoming national test to ensure that its curriculum “ignores topics that rarely generate questions,” I’d expect Republicans to deplore that as a sign of falling educational standards. But that’s exactly what Krieger and the R.N.C. seem to demand.
Krieger’s economic interest in seeing the A.P. U.S. History test stay the same for another few years is apparent, but that’s not necessarily what motivates his animus toward the new guidelines. Similarly, all evidence suggests that Thomas Hutchinson would have supported enforcing the Tea Act of 1773 even if he didn’t have thousands of pounds invested in his sons’ tea-importing business, and that George Washington would have supported U.S. expansion to the west even if he didn’t own vast tracts of land in those territories. Still, the conflation of public good and personal economic interests never looks good.
On Wednesday, 14 May, the Old North Church will host an illustrated lecture by Jill Lepore, professor at Harvard, on “Jane Franklin’s Spectacles.” This talk is based on Lepore’s Book of Ages, a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jane Franklin was Benjamin’s little sister. The lecture description notes she “never went to school, but she thirsted for knowledge. . . . Although married at the age of fifteen and the mother of twelve children, Jane became an astute political observer and even a philosopher of history.“ She lived her last years in a house just behind the Old North.
In early 1727 Benjamin, having run away to and reestablished himself in Philadelphia, wrote home to Jane:
I am highly pleased with the account captain Freeman gives me of you. I always judged by your behaviour when a child that you would make a good, agreeable woman, and you know you were ever my peculiar favourite. I have been thinking what would be a suitable present for me to make, and for you to receive, as I hear you are grown a celebrated beauty. I had almost determined on a tea table, but when I considered that the character of a good housewife was far preferable to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman, I concluded to send you a spinning wheel, which I hope you will accept as a small token of my sincere love and affection.
That year, Jane turned fifteen and married a neighbor named Edward Mecom. Benjamin’s spinning wheel is sometimes said to be a wedding present, but Jane didn’t get married until July. This same letter goes on to lecture her about how “modesty…makes the most homely virgin amiable and charming,” so Benjamin was probably just thinking of Jane as becoming marriageable.
This lecture is free, but the Old North Church Foundation asks for attendees to register for a seat.
Yesterday I described the travels of Pompey Fleet, a printer born into slavery in Boston around 1746 who ended up in west Africa by the end of the century. He was part of three mass migrations of Loyalists: from Boston in 1776, from New York in 1783, and from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in 1792.
What about Pompey’s younger brother, Caesar Fleet? His life took a different course. He stayed in Boston. The town’s 1780 tax assessments, published several decades ago by the Bostonian Society, list Caesar Fleet as a “Negro” living in Ward 10. The fact that he was tallied as a taxpayer indicates that he was no longer considered a slave, even before Massachusetts’s high court made slavery unenforceable in 1783.
Caesar Fleet’s name appears in another interesting source from the Revolutionary years. One of the earliest documents from Boston’s African Lodge of Freemasons, founded by Prince Hall, shows that “Sesar Fleet” joined in 23 June 1779. That was one of several civic organizations Hall and his circle founded during and after the Revolution in their bid as black men for an equal place in Boston society.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found Caesar Fleet in any other local records or newspapers. I don’t know if he lived long enough to be involved in the printing of Prince Hall’s 1797 oration, shown above. But there might be more sources out there.
Last year Caitlin G-D Hopkins wrote an article for Common-place that mentioned Pompey and Caesar’s father, Peter Fleet. She added thanks to “Gloria McCahon Whiting, whose pioneering work on the life and work of Peter Fleet, woodcut illustrator, has informed and enriched my own research.”
As it happens, Gloria Whiting is sharing a paper this Tuesday on “‘How Can the Wife Submit?’: African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England” as part of the women’s history seminar series co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. That conversation will take place at 5:30 P.M. on 15 April at the Schlesinger Library, 10 Garden Street in Cambridge. It’s free to the public, but to reserve a seat contact the M.H.S.
TOMORROW: Should I show Peter Fleet’s cartoon about Freemasonry from 1751? It’s “not safe for work,” as the kids say.
The Newport Historical Society received this teapot in a large gift of artifacts, historic clothing, and documents from Frances Raymond in 1998. In fact, her gift was so large that it took a long time before a staff member was able to examine the teapot closely and see that it’s marked “Revere.” The maker’s mark and rococo style indicate that it came from the workshop of Boston silversmith Paul Revere in the 1760s. (Compare it to the one that John Singleton Copley painted in Revere’s hand.)
On Thursday, 6 March, the Newport Historical Society will host a lecture by Gerald W. R. Ward on “A Revere Revelation: A ‘New’ Teapot by Paul Revere the Patriot.” Ward is Senior Consulting Curator and the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He is a co-editor of Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000.
In his talk Ward plans to “place the teapot in the context of Revere’s work as Boston’s leading silversmith of the day and of the turbulent times of Boston in the 1760s.” A few years back he helped to plan the Museum of Fine Arts’ American Wing, which does a fine job at the same task; one of the highlights is the Copley portrait of Revere displayed next to the man’s silver.
This talk will start at 5:30 P.M. at the Colony House on Washington Square in Newport. Admission costs $5 per person, $1 for Newport Historical Society members with membership card. To reserve spaces, call 401-841-8770.
By Jonathan Den Hartog
With apologies to the Dos Equis Man, “I don’t always find articles in the AHR interesting, but when I do I try to blog about them.”
That definitely fits my experience with the most recent American Historical Review (December 2013, Vol. 118, no. 5, for those keeping track) which I finally got around to reading this past month. The lead article is by Owen Stanwood of Boston College and is entitled “Between Eden and Empire: Huguenot Refugees and the Promise of New Worlds.”
Stanwood has written an important book about British North America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution. He also contributed an impressive essay periodizing how Anti-Catholicism functioned in colonial America in Chris Beneke and Chistopher Grenda’s collection The First Prejudice. So, I was glad to see his developing a new project on the international spread of Huguenots in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
After the Wars of Religion in France, French Protestants had received limited toleration from Henri IV Bourbon in the Edict of Nantes. With Louis XIV’s ascent to the throne, however, he aimed to reestablish Catholic uniformity under his absolutist rule. This strategy culminated in 1685 with Louis’ Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Huguenots were ordered to convert to Catholicism or lose their property. The result was a mass exodus of refugees from France. They scattered, not only to England, the Netherlands, and the German states, but throughout the Atlantic World and beyond.
Stanwood’s piece turns on the irony of expectations and results. Most of Huguenot refugees hoped to establish small pockets of Eden–peaceful settlements where they could enjoy peace and the productions of their own labor, under the guidance of a properly-Reformed Huguenot church. There, they could regroup and live well until the moment when they could return to France. By contrast, these refugees found themselves dependent on the support and power of other Protestant states, especially England and the Netherlands. These empires–limited as they were–came to value and deploy these refugees, not for their religious witness but for their ability to support imperial designs.
In the North American context, this meant seeing them as economic and strategic actors. The French background of the Huguenots made them appear just the right skilled artisans to launch American production of wine and silk–indeed many of the Huguenots had come from the Bordeaux region. Further, colonial governors assigned Huguenot settlements in both Massachusetts and Virginia to border regions where they would likely confront Indian attacks. They hoped these settlements would also provide ideological defense, as French Protestants could counter French Jesuit preaching among the Indians. Although these hopes were not realized, they did produce an increase of Huguenots in British North America.
It should be noted that Stanwood interacts with the major previous writers on North American Huguenots–scholars such as Jon Butler, Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, and Neil Kamil. Stanwood’s theoretical contribution here is to demonstrate first the global spread of the Huguenot refugees. He gives good attention to those who ended up in the Dutch Cape Colony, for instance. Other (unrealized) plans attempted to carry them into the Indian Ocean and to the East Indies. Second, Stanwood suggests that religious practice–even in this period of weak, “negotiated,” and “elusive” empires–was still affected by state power. Thus, empire in 1700 could still move people across oceans, enact assimilation policies, and empower or disempower subjects.
To my mind, Stanwood’s other main contribution–and we can look forward to further attention–is to keep the subject of Huguenots as a religious minority in early America before our attention. Although Stanwood points out that Huguenots persisted by “blending in,” it’s worth thinking more about Huguenot distinctives that they contributed to American Protestantism. Although Huguenot refugees were often forced to worship in another Protestant setting, how did they choose to worship when they were free to do so? Was Huguenot piety distinct? I would love to see further investigation here, perhaps extending some of the work done by Barbara Diefendorf on the Huguenot Church in Paris. Further, I wonder how this experience of exile shaped outlooks to international Protestantism, to the British empire, and to self-defense. A little digging can find Huguenot connections all over the American Revolution–Paul Revere, John Jay, and Elias Boudinot all possessed Huguenot ancestry. I wonder how this may have influenced their readiness to break with a tyrannical king. Is there a Huguenot religious history of the American Revolution?
I leave these questions, as well as the opportunity to offer any reflections on Huguenots and American Religion, for commentators down below.
As I’ve mentioned before, Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum will host their annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party on Monday, 16 December. That’s the 240th anniversary of the event. Tickets are still available.
Two days before then, on Saturday the 14th, the Lexington Historical Society will host its second annnual “Burning of the Tea” reenactment. That event actually occurred on 13 Dec 1773, and three days later the radical Massachusetts Spy reported:
We are positively informed that the patriotic inhabitants of Lexington, at a late meeting, unanimously resolved against the use of Bohea Tea of all sorts, Dutch or English importation; and to manifest the sincerity of their resolution, they bro’t together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.
That item went on to say that the people of Charlestown were considering the same action.
The next Monday newspapers, including the Boston Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, reprinted the first paragraph but not the second. I don’t know whether that means Charlestown didn’t proceed to destroying tea or whether its inhabitants’ action was lost in the excitement over the Tea Party. Because by then, of course, a much larger amount of tea had been sunk in Boston harbor.
Though the tea-burning in Lexington was thus overshadowed, it’s still significant as an early sign of rural support for Boston. The interests of farmers didn’t necessarily align with those of merchants, mariners, and craftsmen, but the voters of Lexington chose to support the people of the port. The Boston Gazette for 20 December printed the Lexington town meeting’s detailed resolves against the tea, adopted just before the burning, as the first item on its front page. (The Boston Post-Boy, which leaned toward the Crown, declined to run those resolves on account of space.)
Lexington’s reenactment of the tea burning will take place at 3:00 P.M. at Munroe Tavern (shown above), 1332 Massachusetts Avenue. The Rev. Peter Meek will portray the Rev. Jonas Clarke. The Boy Scouts will build a bonfire, and the William Diamond Fife and Drum Corps will play music. All other children must be supervised.
Starting in late 1769, there was a famine in Bengal which lasted deep into the next year. Those poor harvests, followed by shortfalls in the next two years, are blamed for ten million deaths. They also caused many people to migrate from the most affected areas, some of which turned back into tropical jungle.
The government of Bengal—which at that time was the British East India Company—had no control over the environment, of course. But many historians say the famine was exacerbated by its policies. As a profit-seeking corporation, it had pressed farmers to switch to non-food cash crops (opium, indigo), discouraged food “hoarding” for lean times, and kept raising and collecting the tax on land while harvests failed.
Even so, the East India Company remained in terrible financial straits in the early 1770s. For years gentlemen in London had been debating how to reform the company, and reports of the famine suggested that there would be no quick recovery to solve the problem. With many Members of Parliament owning stock, the East India Company was obviously too big to fail.
Lord North and his ministers came up with what they thought was a clever solution: the company could increase revenue by exporting its overstock of Chinese tea directly to North America. By cutting out middlemen, the company could increase its revenue even as it lowered the cost of tea to consumers. The tea tax, in place since 1767 and to be collected as soon as the tea was legally landed, would continue to finance the Customs service and salaries for royal governors and other appointees.
The connection between the Bengal Famine and the Boston Tea Party of 1773, along with other anti-tea protests in America, is a fairly obvious example of how the environment helps to drive what we usually consider economic and political history. Environmental historians are drawing out much more subtle effects with more sophisticated methods.
On Tuesday, 10 December, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a panel discussion on “Telling Environmental History.” It will explore “different ways of presenting environmental history, including the use of G.I.S., the intersection of environmental history and planning history, incorporating visual materials, and environmental history as narrative.”
The participants will be:
- Brian Donahue, Brandeis University
- Karl Haglund, Department of Conservation and Recreation, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
- Megan Kate Nelson, Brown University
- Aaron Sachs, Cornell University
- Anthony N. Penna, Northeastern University (moderator)
This discussion is scheduled to start at 5:15 P.M. and run until 7:30, including discussion over a light buffet afterwards. It’s part of a series on Environmental History that the society hosts. Sessions are free and open to the public; email the M.H.S. if you want a seat.
Here’s more of my exchange with Bruce Richardson, Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. He’s coming to Boston to speak about “Five Teas that Launched a Revolution” at the Old South Meeting House on Thursday, 5 December. That event will also be the debut of the new expanded edition of Jane Pettigrew and Bruce’s book A Social History of Tea, originally published by the National Trust of Britain.
The visitor’s center at Monticello says the tea was in brick form. That’s not true. The English, and hence the Americans, had no taste for brick tea. See this blog post for more about tea bricks.
Chocolate meant something very different in eighteenth-century cuisine from how we think of it today—it was a hot drink, not particularly sweet, and often for breakfast. Are there significant differences in the way people consumed tea between the 1770s and today? Did tea have a different symbolic or cultural connotation?
In the stylish homes of Boston and throughout provincial America, the ritual of taking tea reenacted and reinforced the growth of an Anglo-American culture. But it was a culture based on a global circulation of goods. Tea drinking, often dispensed from specially designed tables, gathered together goods from around the globe–tea and porcelain from China, sugar from the Caribbean, sweetmeats flavored with spices from Indonesia, all arrayed on a Turkish carpet and served by an African slave to gentlemen and ladies dressed in fabrics from India and China.
These Boston tea settings were similar to those found in the fine homes of London or Bath. The ensemble of objects might also have included Asian-modeled cane chairs and have been set off by Chinese-style wallpaper. Bostonians understood tea not as an exotic curiosity, but as one of the many global products that signaled their participation in a polite and worldly culture modeled after the lifestyles of their English cousins.
Some museums in Boston contain small bottles of tea said to have come from the Tea Party, gathered either from participants’ clothing or from the water. If you had access to those tea samples, would there be any way to tell if that tea was actually from 1773?
I would love to see those. I could probably tell whether it was machine- or hand-rolled which might negate its authenticity, but not confirm it.
And a bonus that’s a little out of period: What do you think of the theory that the Earl Grey mixture of tea and bergamot was an adulteration later gussied up with a noble name?
I don’t drink Earl Grey, but we tea-blenders all say it pays the mortgage. The most famous of all flavored teas was named after Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845) who was British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. The original recipe for this blend simply calls for black tea with the addition of oil of bergamot, squeezed from tiny lemons grown in the Mediterranean region. China black tea was first used as the base until English blenders began using India or Sri Lankan black teas as those gardens developed through the second half of the 1800s.
The stories about the origin of the blend are many and varied. Some say the recipe was given in thanks to a British diplomat when he saved the life of mandarin—or perhaps the mandarin’s son—while in China on a mission for the Prime Minister. Some say it was Earl Grey himself who was travelling in China and saved the mandarin. Neither story has ever been substantiated. You can read more in this blog posting.
Thanks to Bruce Richardson for sharing his knowledge of tea here, and at Old South and the Tea Party Ships!
Readers might be able to tell that the Boston 1775 staff doesn’t care much for Earl Grey tea. Here’s an article from World Wide Words discussing the mysterious origin of that term.
On Thursday, 5 December, Bruce Richardson will speak at the Old South Meeting House on “Five Teas that Launched a Revolution”, the first of several events leading up to this year’s reenactment of the Boston Tea Party.
Bruce Richardson is Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the other institution hosting the reenactment on 16 December. He’s also Contributing Editor for TeaTime magazine and author of several books, including A Social History of Tea. Bruce graciously answered a couple of questions for Boston 1775.
What do we know about the tea that was thrown into Boston harbor in December 1773 and March 1774?
All the East India Company tea aboard the ships docked in Boston Harbor on the evening of December 16, 1773, was produced in China, not India. Tea would not be cultivated in India or Sri Lanka until the nineteenth century. Benjamin Woods Labaree’s The Boston Tea Party says the three tea ships contained 240 chests of Bohea, 15 of Congou, 10 of Souchong (all black teas), 60 of Singlo, and 15 of Hyson (both green teas).
It may surprise you to know that green tea accounted for about 22% of the shipments’ total volume and 30% of the value. One-third of the tea exported from China in the eighteenth century was green tea, with spring-picked Hyson being one the favorites. The first tea plucked in the spring is always the finest, which the Chinese designated yu-tsien or “before the rains” tea.
Hyson [shown here, as sold through Bruce’s store, Elmwood Inn Fine Teas] was a favorite tea of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson ordered it from his tea purveyor in Philadelphia and his apothecary in Williamsburg.
Singlo green tea was picked later in the season and the leaves were a bit larger. It tended to spoil sooner than other teas and was not widely known in the colonies. It was only included in the ill-fated shipment because the East India Company had quite a bit of stock that needed to be liquidated before it became undrinkable. They wanted to introduce the tea to the colonies in hope that American’s would develop a taste for it. A few chests were aboard all seven ships which left London bound for Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston in late summer 1773.
But the bulk of the tea that westerners consumed was common black tea known as Bohea (boo-hee), a corruption of the name for the Wuyi mountains, one of the oldest tea growing regions of China. The tea was so popular that the word “Bohea” became the slang term for tea.
One London publication described Bohea as infusing a dark and dull brownish red color which, on standing, deposits a black sediment. The liquor is sometimes faint, frequently smoky, but always unpleasant. The superior form of Bohea is known as Congou. Seventy percent of the tea imported by the East India Company was Congou (kung-foo). It brewed a deep transparent red liquor with a strong and pleasant bitter flavor. The addition of milk surely added to the enjoyment of this beverage.
Souchong is a classic style black tea from the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province. The original term souchong (xiaozhong) means “small leaf variety,” and refers to a family of tea cultivars that existed in this famous tea-growing region of Fujian since 1717. The souchong teas drunk by early colonists would have had a very slight smoky aroma which the tea leaves picked up during the drying process. Most of today’s souchong exports are intentionally smoked with smoldering pinewood and are called lapsang souchong. Twelve chests of Souchong weighing a total of 684 pounds were aboard the ships in Boston Harbor.
Certainly, all the teas tossed overboard would disappoint a modern tea drinker because they were way past their prime. The Boston teas were plucked in 1770 and 1771, transported by ship to London warehouses where they sat for a couple of years, and finally placed aboard ships bound for the colonies in October 1773.
Forget taxation! The colonists should have been more offended by the slight regard King George showed toward their good tastes.
You can check out Bruce Richardson’s tea blog for a little more information.
TOMORROW: A second cup.
Travel back in time and relive one of the most iconic public protests in American history—the Boston Tea Party! Gather at Old South Meeting House, the actual historic landmark where the colonists met in 1773, with Boston’s infamous rabblerousers like Samuel Adams, Paul Revere—and even some crown-loving Loyalists—to debate the tea tax and demand liberty from the British crown! Join the procession to Griffin’s Wharf accompanied by fife and drum and scores of colonists! Then, line the shores of Boston Harbor to witness the daring destruction of the tea firsthand as the Sons of Liberty storm the Brig Beaver, tossing the troublesome tea into the sea!
Just don’t think too hard about what the word “rabblerousers” means to you as a member of the crowd.
The event depends on accurate eighteenth-century reenactors portraying the citizens of Boston, but the organizers ask interested people to register in advance through email@example.com. “Preference will be given to those who have previously volunteered, are local, or have experience with similar events.”
The museum has also put out a call for dependable people to help with crowd control as the attendees move from Old South to the ships. If that interests you, contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday I quoted an anecdote from The Life of James Otis, published by William Tudor, Jr., in 1823. It described a young woman in Boston offering succor to British soldiers wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, causing them to assume wrongly that she supported the cause they were fighting for.
That story stuck with me, but I didn’t expect to find out who the unnamed young woman was. Last week I learned from books published by later generations of the same family that the woman was William Tudor, Jr.’s own mother, then Delia Jarvis.
And there turned out to be another detail Tudor had kept out of his 1823 book: Delia Jarvis was from a Loyalist family. Her later descendants were open, even celebratory, about that detail at the end of the 1800s. They said that Jarvis had insisted on hosting a tea party even after the beverage had become political anathema. They reported that her future husband addressed her in letters as “my fair loyalist.”
The senior William Tudor was joking a bit, signing himself “your faithful rebel” while working as the Continental Army’s first judge advocate general. He eventually won his bride over to his political side, the family said. But the couple’s son hadn’t suggested any split loyalties for her in 1823, when public feelings about Loyalists might still have been raw.
On Tuesday, 22 October, the American Antiquarian Society will host a talk on those love letters between William Tudor and Delia Jarvis. Mary C. Kelley will speak on “‘While Pen, Ink & Paper Can Be Had’: Reading and Writing in a Time of Revolution”:
Instead of the typical focus on the famed trio of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, this lecture looks at the American Revolution through the eyes of two relatively unknown individuals. A son and a daughter of families who counted themselves members of Boston’s elite, William Tudor, who served in the Continental Army, and Delia Jarvis, a Loyalist whom he was courting, forged their relationship in a world of divisive turmoil and radical change. A remarkably rich transatlantic literary culture that remained intact in an increasingly embattled world served as their vehicle. This program will explore not only the letters and the lives of Tudor and Jarvis, but also the fiction and poetry on which these individuals relied as they navigated their way through the momentous events of the struggle for independence.
Tudor was one of John Adams’s law clerks during the Boston Massacre trial. After his military service he took on Massachusetts state offices and hosted the meeting that founded the Massachusetts Historical Society, which now holds those letters.
Kelley is the Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She’s written and edited books on the Beecher sisters, Margaret Fuller, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and other nineteenth-century American women. Her paper on the Tudor-Jarvis correspondence appeared in Early American Studies.
Kelley’s talk is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. It’s free and open to the public.
(The image above shows a portrait of Delia Tudor auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2005. It was painted by John Wesley Jarvis, a British-born portraitist who doesn’t seem to have been a close relation to the sitter.)