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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Sunday, August 26, 2018

“The determined Resolution of the Citizens” of New York

Now I’ll get back to the New York Tea Party of 1774. New Yorkers had mobilized against the East India Company specially taxed tea in the fall of 1773 like the people of the other major American ports. But they had no tea to mobilize against. Nothing arrived from London. Meanwhile, New Yorkers read about what people had done to the tea in Philadelphia, Charleston, and, most dramatically, Boston.

One sign of the communication between ports appeared in the New-York Gazette on 25 Apr 1774:
On Monday last [i.e., 18 April], Advice was received from Philadelphia, that Capt. [James] Chambers of the ship London, of this Port, had taken on Board at the Port of London, 18 Boxes of fine Tea, which were regularly cleared, and the Mark and Numbers were taken from the Cocket by Capt. All, of Philadelphia.
Isaac All (d. 1789) had started his career in Newport, married a niece of Benjamin Franklin, and moved his base to Philadelphia, where he boarded while on shore with Deborah Franklin. Those connections might explain why All was peering at another captain’s paperwork in London. Or perhaps it was common for sea captains to share information on their cargos, just in case one of them was lost at sea.

As I wrote back here, in the summer of 1773 Capt. Chambers had publicly declared that he would never carry East India Company tea as long as the Tea Act was in force. The New York committee therefore didn’t know what to make of this warning from Philadelphia. They decided Chambers must not know about the tea aboard his London and “supposed it to have been shipt by some ministerial Tool, under another Denomination, in order to injure the Owners, or the Reputation of the Master, or to make an Experiment of this Mode of introducing the Teas to America.”

In other words, the New York Whigs accused their political enemies of smuggling tea—an activity some of them had probably practiced back when it was illegal and not simply politically unpopular. The willingness to entertain such a conspiracy theory with no evidence showed how wide the political divide had become. The committee determined to keep a careful watch for Capt. Chambers’s ship.

But instead, another vessel arrived, stuffed to the rails with tea:
In the night the long expected Tea Ship, Nancy, Capt. [Benjamin] Lockyer, arrived at Sandy Hook, without her Mizen Mast and one of her anchors, which were lost in a Gale of Wind the 2d Instant [i.e., of this month]; when her Main-Top-Mast was sprung and thrown on her Beam Ends.
That was actually the second damaging storm the Nancy had run into. On its voyage across the Atlantic the previous fall, it was tossed around so badly that Lockyer had spent the winter in Antigua making repairs.

According to documents quoted on the Oliver Pluff company website, the Nancy was carrying more tea than any other ship sent to the colonies in 1773: 698 chests. That was more than twice as many chests as had arrived in Boston (and been destroyed) the previous fall.

Now there was a legal significance in the tea ship floating out near Sandy Hook, waiting for a harbor pilot to steer it in to a dock. That spot wasn’t legally inside New York harbor. Therefore, as far as Customs laws were concerned, the Nancy hadn’t yet arrived, which means it wasn’t yet subject to the rule requiring all cargo to be unloaded within a certain number of days or be confiscated by the royal authorities. That law had determined the timing of the Boston Tea Party.

The New York committee sprang into action to ensure the Nancy stay out of the harbor. They sent Lockyer a letter “informing him of the determined Resolution of the Citizens not to suffer the Tea on board of his Ship to be landed.” In reply, Lockyer asked the pilot to bring him into the city “to procure Necessaries and make a Protest.” But the pilot wouldn’t even do that without prior approval from the citizens.

On the morning of 19 April the committee discussed the situation. They decided “the Sense of the City” was that Capt. Lockyer could come in as long as he left the Nancy at the Hook. The committee then had a handbill printed to alert the public that that’s what it was thinking. Even so, when the pilot boat arrived with Lockyer, “the Wharf was crouded with the Citizens.” In the language of the Gazette, New Yorkers had “long and impatiently wished [for] an Opportunity to Co-operate with the other Colonies.” Why should Boston have all the fun?

TOMORROW: One crisis averted as another loomed.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

I got some insight into why Capt. All (and others) knew what Capt. Chambers was carrying in a discussion at a Massachusetts Historical Society seminar.