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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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Pledge from the Women of Edenton

On 25 Oct 1774, fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina, signed their names to a statement pledging to support the resolves of the colony’s provincial congress “not to drink any more tea, nor wear any more British cloth, &c.”

The women’s statement was:
As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province, it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do every thing as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.
According to local tradition, the women met at the house of Elizabeth King, though her name doesn’t appear among the signatories; perhaps her house was a tavern.

The principal organizer of the event, again according to local tradition, was Penelope Barker (1728-1796), the wealthy wife of North Carolina’s agent in London. Her signature appears on the statement, not first but perhaps at or near the top of a column on the original sheet.

That document has been lost. We know about it only because two days later someone sent a copy to London with a preface that said:
many ladies of this Province have determined to give a memorable proof of their patriotism, and have accordingly entered into the following honourable and spirited association. I send it to you, to shew your fair countrywomen, how zealously and faithfully American ladies follow the laudable example of their husbands, and what opposition your Ministers may expect to receive from a people thus firmly united against them
That letter, the women’s pledge, and the fifty-one signatures were printed in the 16 Jan 1775 Morning Chronicle newspaper of London.

So far as I can tell, the Edenton women’s statement wasn’t printed in any American newspapers in late 1774 or early 1775. Runs of the North-Carolina Gazette of Newbern and the Cape-Fear Mercury of Wilmington may be spotty, but no one has found the text in the surviving issues. Nor in a newspaper from any other colony, reprinting either from North Caroline or from London.

The text survives only because of that London newspaper and a reprint of the text (without source citation) in Peter Force’s American Archives. That statement and a couple of other documents from 1775 provide the evidence for an event that’s come to be called the “Edenton Tea Party.”

TOMORROW: A London teenager responds.

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