J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Earliest “Tea Party”?

This posting continues Boston 1775’s look at the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, which is a clever way to excuse how I got caught up in constitutional questions as the anniversary of that event approached.

Last month Charles Bahne and I were both intrigued to read in Jan Freeman’s “The Word” column in the Boston Globe that the first time anyone used the term “Tea Party” to describe the destruction of the tea in Boston harbor was in 1805. That was nearly three decades before two books about George R. T. Hewes (A Retrospect of the Tea-Party and Traits of the Tea Party) popularized the term.

Charlie looked up Freeman’s reference, which is the 3 Aug 1805 issue of the Boston Weekly Magazine. That in turn quotes an issue of the Connecticut Gazette, which I haven’t located. But I found slightly different references to the same event in the 27 July New Hampshire Sentinel and the 31 Aug Merrimack Magazine. (In addition, some of the material was reprinted in Howe’s Genuine Almanac; for the Year 1814, calculated for the town of Greenwich, Massachusetts.)

Here’s the whole quote from the Boston Weekly Magazine:

A NUMBER of young gentlemen and ladies assembled in Harmony Grove, in the town of Lyme, (Con.) for the purpose of celebrating the anniversary of American Independence: a collation was prepared by the ladies for the occasion, of which the party partook—sprightly conversation, and chaste conviviality, such as gladden the heart, and chase dull care, were the order of day:—among others, the following toasts were drank:

Sowers of Discord. — May they walk barefoot upon the thistles of anxiety, and reap the thorns of contempt with the sickle of despair.

The Tea Party.* — Thirty-one years since, our fathers’ patriotism deprived our mothers of the use of tea—may our mothers’ tea never deprive us of our fathers’ patriotism. . . .
The asterisk leads to this footnote:
* Alluding to the circumstances of a general search being made, when all the tea, found, was taken and burnt.
“Burnt”? That description doesn’t match the Boston Tea Party at all. And the Bostonians of 16 Dec 1773 didn’t make “a general search” for tea; they knew exactly where it was, on those three ships in the harbor. Plus, if those folks in 1805 Connecticut were toasting an event “Thirty-one years” before, that would mean something that had happened in 1774.

TOMORROW: The “Tea Party” in Lyme.

[The image above is a postcard that the Florence Griswold Museum identifies as “Colonial home with picket fence in Old Lyme, Connecticut.” I think it’s the Samuel Mather House (1790—thus post-colonial, but up at the time of this Independence Day gathering), as shown at Historic Buildings of Connecticut.]


Mr Punch said...

Greenwich, Mass. is now underwater.

J. L. Bell said...

All the more reason to have an almanac with tide tables, I guess.