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, June 25, 2012

Running the Numbers on the Tea Party Meetings

The latest issue of the Old South Meeting House newsletter contains a new article by Alfred F. Young, author of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, Masquerade, and Liberty Tree, about the public meetings that led up to the destruction of the East India Company tea on 16 Dec 1773.

The article discusses the quantity of people in those meetings: did the building contain 5,000 or more, as activists like Samuel Adams claimed? Was that the figure for all people who participated in the meetings at any time? How does it compare to other crowds in colonial Boston?

Young also discusses the quality of the interaction at that public gathering. Because it wasn’t an official town meeting, there was no property or residency qualification for attending, and there was also a new etiquette:
At these extraordinary meetings, ordinary people were being asked, in effect, to participate in judgment of their betters, very much aware that their very presence made them indispensable. When the political straddler John Rowe, after apologizing for being part owner of a tea ship, asked “whether Salt Water would make as good Tea as fresh,” the crowd roared its approval, and a conservative overheard a few men brag that “now they had brought a good Tory over to their side.”

For those men among the lowest ranks who had never set foot in a town meeting—much less voted—these gatherings where “all had an equal voice” were empowering. [Gov. Thomas] Hutchinson said the protest meeting at Old South the morning after the Massacre “has given the lower sort of people a sense of their importance that a Gentleman does not meet what used to be called civility.” He was right. Civility was another word for deference.
Read the rest of the article by downloading the P.D.F. version of the newsletter.

I’m highlighting this article even through the Tea Party anniversary is half a year away. That’s because today the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum opens to the public! Its website offers to take reservations, including a dual offer of admission to the new museum (normally $27.50 for an adult) and the real Old South (normally $6 for non-members) for $32.50.

(The image above shows the interior of Old South Meeting House according to a 1909 postcard.)


Veritas said...

I like the tactful use of the qualifying word, "real"

US History Scene said...

Thanks for the great comments! We'll have to send some of our Boston-based folks over to see the museum too.