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, March 15, 2021

“Whereas Tea is an Indian Plant…”

Yesterday I quoted a couple of press reports and a diary entry showing how Bostonians used the trope of “Indians” to discuss the men who dumped tea in the harbor, both in December 1773 and March 1774.

Another document of that sort was printed in facsimile in Francis S. Drake’s Tea Leaves (1884). In 1901 it came to the Bostonian Society as part of the collection of the late Jeremiah Colborn.

According to Drake, the document was in the handwriting of Edward Procter or Proctor (1733-1811). Procter was a middling merchant, a militia officer, and a member of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons.

He was also a confrontational Whig, quarreling with Ebenezer Richardson during the protest that led to the death of Christopher Seider and being the first volunteer to patrol the docks when the tea ships arrived.

The document reads:
Abrant Kanakaratöphqua
Chief Sachem of the Mohawks,
King of the Six Nations and
Lord of all their Castles, &c. &c. &c.
To all our liege Subjects—HEALTH.

Whereas Tea is an Indian Plant, and of right belongs to the Indians of every Land and Tribe: and WHEREAS, our good Allies the English, have in lieu of it, given us that pernicious Liquour RUM, which they have pour’d down our Throats, to steal away our Brains, and WHEREAS the English have learn’d the most expeditious Way, or Method, of drawing an Infusion of said TEA without the Expense of Wood, or Trouble of Fire, to the Benefit and Emolument of the East India Trade as vastly greater Quantities may be expended by this Method, than by that heretofore practiced in this Country, and therefore help to Support the East India Company under these present Milancholly Circumstances—

We of our certain Knowledge, Special Grace, and Meer Motion, permit and allow any of our liege Subjects to barter for, buy, or procure of any of our Said English Allies, TEAS of any kind: PROVIDED always each Man purchase not less than Ten, nor more than One hundred and fourteen Boxes, at a Time, and those the property of the East India Company, and PROVIDED also that they pour all the Said Tea into the Lakes, Rivers and ponds, that while our Subjects in their Thirsting instead of Slakeing their Thirst with Cold Water, as usual, may do it with Tea.

Of all which our Subjects will take Notice, and govern themselves accordingly— By command
1st. Moon
The phrase “One hundred and fourteen Boxes” refers to the tea chests carried by each of the ships Dartmouth and the Eleanor in December. As Charles Bahne noted here, the official accounting submitted to the House of Lords said the Beaver held only 112 chests, though the Boston press had said there were 342 in all.

A bigger question is when this document was created. If “1st. Moon,” meant January, then it was dated a month after the famous Boston Tea Party. This might thus be the earliest example of putting words about the tea into a supposed Indian chief’s mouth, elaborating impromptu disguises into a parodic royal decree.

This document addresses only tea that was “the property of the East India Company.” The second Boston Tea Party in March 1774 dumped tea sent by an independent mercantile firm. Procter evidently didn’t anticipate that the tea boycott would expand to cover all imported tea. Then again, neither did that mercantile firm.

Another notable detail is that this ersatz proclamation came from the fictional “Chief Sachem of the Mohawks” and “King of the Six Nations” far to the west of Massachusetts, not the Narragansetts from Rhode Island that other people wrote about. But of course it wasn’t really about Indians.

COMING UP: Fallout in London.

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