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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Saturday, March 06, 2021

“Chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons”

At three o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, Bostonians were jolted by the arrival of the brig Fortune.

More specifically, people were jolted by the news that that ship was carrying chests of tea. This was about ten weeks after the Boston Tea Party and about five weeks after local shopkeepers had agreed not to sell any tea.

Thomas Newell wrote in his diary for that day:
Captain Benjamin Gorham, nine weeks from London, brought 28 1/2 chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons here.
Who were those “several persons”? Sixteen chests—more than half of the total—were consigned to Henry Lloyd (1709-1795), a wealthy Anglican merchant with relatives locally and on Long Island in New York. Those chests had been shipped to him by the London partnership of Monkhouse Davison and Abraham Newman, with insurance to the amount of £480 backed up five other London businessmen.

A letter to the Boston News-Letter identified “a principal Freighter in said Vessel” as “Mr. Bromfield”—the merchant Henry Bromfield (1727-1820). The Fortune carried a variety of cargo, so it’s possible Bromfield had no tea assigned to him, but it’s also possible he was supposed to receive up to 12 1/2 chests.

Three other businessmen also had a big financial interest in the situation: the owners of the Fortune, who were Thomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson.

Thompson is hard to trace, not least because his name was so common. Walley and Boyer, on the other hand, were stalwart members of Boston’s mercantile and civic community. Walley had held town offices since 1763 while Boyer had served on town committees. Both those men dined with Boston’s Sons of Liberty in August 1769. They had signed most of the petitions and non-importation agreements of the past ten years.

What’s more, Boyer was one of the fifteen men whose names Paul Revere had engraved on the so-called “Sons of Liberty Bowl.” In 1770 the Boston town meeting had chosen Boyer for a committee “to draw up an Agreement for the Shopkeepers that have or do deal in Tea, not to dispose of any more of that Article untill the Revenue Acts are repealed.”

So how did those men’s ship end up carrying tea? That’s what they’d like to know, they said. In a 9 March letter to Richard Draper, printer of the Boston News-Letter, Walley, Boyer, and Thompson declared that back in September they had sent the Fortune to London “to have her sold.” They had told Capt. Gorham that if he couldn’t obtain their low asking price, he should bring back “a Quantity of Hemp on the Owners Account.”

As for tea, those three merchants said, they had been explicit in their instructions:
P.S. We are informed the India Company intend to ship a Quantity of Tea to this Place in private Ships,—if our brig should come back on Freight, we absolutely refuse to take on board any Tea for that Company, let the Offer be never so advantageous, or our Loss in the Sale of the Vessel never so great.
Yet the Fortune had returned with tea. Not shipped directly by the East India Company to its North American agents, but tea nonetheless. What‘s more, “a certain William Bowes, Brazier on Dock-Square,” was telling people that the ship’s owners had “imported a Quantity of Tea in that Vessel upon their own Account.” That they firmly denied.

But still, what could be done with the 28 1/2 chests of tea aboard the Fortune? For ten weeks people all over eastern Massachusetts had worked to keep all British tea out of the colony, even chests washed overboard in a shipwreck.

The situation was a powder keg—almost literally, since the Fortune was also carrying gunpowder.

TOMORROW: Attempts at official action.


J. L. Bell said...

John Rowe noted the arrival of the Fortune, but as a warden of Trinity Church he was more worried that the church bell cracked that day.

Charles Bahne said...

I note that the tea consigned to Henry Lloyd "had been shipped to him by the London partnership of Monkhouse Davison and Abraham Newman."

About 25 years ago I purchased a small tin of "Boston Harbour Tea" at a local souvenir shop. The label indicated that it was "Blended and Packed by Davison Newman & Co. Ltd." of London, "The firm which supplied Tea 1773-1774 for the historic Boston Tea Parties".

This tea was a popular product at many souvenir shops for many years. Alas, an online search today reveals that the company was dissolved in February 2018.

The same search shows that tea was just a small part of Davison, Newman's business as a grocer. In 1789 they acquired an interest in a plantation in Jamaica, and therefore they are also considered to be slaveowners.

J. L. Bell said...

I’ve got a tin of the “Boston Harbour Tea” from “Davison Newman & Co. Ltd.” (imported by Mark T. Wendell Co. of West Concord) in my kitchen now. The box includes an image of the petition from the firm and its insurers seeking compensation from the British government for the sixteen chests destroyed in March 1774.

Fortunately, that petition is also on the web in both image and transcription. I’d never be able to read it from this little tin.

Most likely that product has done more to keep alive the history of the second Boston Tea Party than any book.