Yesterday I posted the first list ever published of men reportedly involved in the Boston Tea Party on 16 Dec 1773. It didn’t appear in print until 1835, when it was an appendix in Traits of the Tea-Party, written by Benjamin Bussey Thatcher.
Here are a few remarks on that list. Several of those men were teenagers in 1773:
- Purkitt, Hooton, Sprague, and Dolbeare, mentioned in Thatcher’s book; Purkitt was probably also responsible for his master Peck being listed.
- The Hunnewell boys, Jonathan and Richard, Jr.
- Joshua Wyeth, apprenticed to blacksmiths Gridley & Whiston.
The name "McIntosh" on that list is often linked to Ebenezer Mackintosh, a street leader during the anti-Stamp protests of the mid-1760s. However, he seems to have been far less active by this time, perhaps not even in town. His one recorded comment on the Tea Party implies that he knew the men who had carried it out, not that he did it himself. I wonder if "McIntosh" could have been Peter Mackintosh, an apprentice in the same firm as Wyeth.
Of the 50 or so grown men left on that list, ten (20%) had volunteered to patrol the docks in November, according to meeting notes by town clerk William Cooper. (That number was eleven if Cooper's "Benjamin Stevens" was a mistake for Ebenezer Stevens.) Most likely the same set of politically committed men were eager for both types of duty. It's also conceivable that men who patrolled the docks (or their descendants) came to think of that activity as part of the actual tea destruction.
The 1835 list has at least one error. It names Dr. Thomas Young, but a report to the British government from an informant in Old South Meeting-House makes clear that he was addressing the crowd about the medicinal risks of drinking tea while men boarded the ships. Some historians have suggested that Dr. Young made this speech in order to keep the meeting-house crowd out of the streets so those men at the docks could get to work quickly. Most of the rest of Boston's top Whigs were also at Old South, giving themselves air-tight alibis for the night. The major exception was the merchant William Molineux, so the 1835 list is probably correct that he was at Griffin's Wharf.
Who was responsible for the list itself? Thatcher described it as “furnished to us by an aged Bostonian.” That person did not claim to have been involved in the Tea Party itself, but must have gathered information about it from many sources, given how the men he listed had scattered during and after the Revolution.
No one seems to have talked for attribution in print about the Tea Party until 1826, when the U.S. of A. was all excited about the fiftieth anniversary of independence. That was also the time that the phrase “Boston Tea Party” seems to have become popular. Early in that year Joshua Wyeth, then living in Cincinnati, began to speak publicly of his experience. In July, Nicholas Campbell of Warren, Rhode Island, let himself be named in the newspapers. The next year, a minister/journalist named Timothy Flint published a longer article about Wyeth, which seems to have been the first widely publicized first-person account of the tea destruction.
The Boston Gazette took issue with Wyeth's accuracy on several points, and on 6 Sept 1827 stated:
Wyeth is not the only one [of the Tea Party] who survives. There are two or three in Boston, and two, it is said, not of this city, who yet live.The Gazette then went into more detail about some recently deceased men involved who had helped to destroy the tea without naming any names. It seems significant to me that the first men who broke the tradition of anonymity were living outside Boston. Men back in Boston might not have felt the need for public acclaim if some of their neighbors already knew privately what they had done. Living in Boston would also have made it harder to exaggerate one's role.
In November 1831, the Columbian Centinel, a pillar of Boston Federalism, published an obituary of a man named Samuel Gore that said:
He was also one of the number (and, so far as we know, has left but three survivors) who on the 16th Dec. 1773, proceeded to the tea ships, (which were at the wharf now called Liverpool wharf, then Griffin’s) and destroyed their cargoes.Thus, journalists at the Gazette and the Centinel were keeping track of the Tea Party veterans—and the Centinel was no longer adhering to anonymity even after death.
The 1834 publication of A Retrospect of the Tea-Party by James Hawkes, based on conversations with George R. T. Hewes (who had moved to upstate New York), turned the Tea Party into a public event in Boston at last. Hewes was brought to the city and honored. He has his portrait painted; as shown above, it is now displayed at the Old State House Museum. Thatcher sat down with Hewes to write a second book—the book that contained the first attempt at a complete list of tea destroyers.
The man who presided over the Hewes celebration was Benjamin Russell (1761-1845), publisher of the Columbian Centinel. He was also a politician and president of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, which in January 1836 invited Thatcher to speak on the Tea Party to them. That organization's first two presidents, Paul Revere and Jonathan Hunewell, appear on the 1835 list, as does its first treasurer, Samuel Gore, and some other members. Francis S. Drake's Tea Leaves (1884) cites Russell as describing how his father John Russell and Thomas Moore disguised themselves for the evening, and as speaking to John Prince about what he saw of the tea destruction. All three of those men appear on the list.
So I think the signs point to septuagenarian Benjamin Russell as the "aged Bostonian." He had a lasting interest in the Tea Party, and political reasons for maintaining its importance. He had connections to many of its veterans who had remained in Boston, and through his newspaper a means of gathering information on others. And he had links to Thatcher and his book.