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 12, 2006

Peter Edes's Tea Party Memories

On 16 Feb 1836, an elderly printer in Bangor, Maine, named Peter Edes wrote to his grandson, Benjamin C. Edes, about events in Boston over sixty years before. Two recent books based on the memories of George R. T. Hewes had produced a great deal of excitement in America over the "Tea Party," as writers had just started to call the destruction of the East India Company tea on 16 Dec 1773.

Peter Edes described his memories of that evening, one day before he turned seventeen. He had an inside look at the event, though limited, because his father was Benjamin Edes, Boston's leading radical printer:

You request of me a particular account of the "tea-party," so called. I know but little about it, as I was not admitted into their presence, for fear, I suppose, of their being known; but what little I know I give you, so far as I can remember.

I recollect perfectly well that on the afternoon preceding the evening of the destruction of the tea, a number of gentlemen met in the parlor of my father's house—how many I cannot say. As I said before, I was not admitted into their presence, my station was in another room to make punch for them in the bowl which is now in your possession, and which I filled several times.

They remained in the house till dark, I suppose to disguise themselves like Indians, when they left the house and proceeded to the wharves where the vessels lay. Before they reached there, they were joined by hundreds. After they left the room, I went into it; but my father was not there. I therefore thought I would take a walk to the wharves, as a spectator, where was collected, I must say, as many as 2,000 persons.

The Indians worked smartly. Some were in the hold immediately after the hatches were broken open, fixing the ropes to the tea-chests; others were hauling up the chests; and others stood ready with their hatchets to cut off the bindings of the chest and cast them overboard. I remained on the wharf till I was tired, leaving the Indians working like good industrious fellows. This is all I know about it.

The bowl I left in your mother's possession I present to you most cheerfully, hoping it will never go out of the family. . . .

It is a little surprising that the names of the tea-party were never made public: my father, I believe, was the only person who had a list of them, and he always kept it locked up in his desk while living. After his death [in 1803] Benj. Austin called upon my mother, and told her there was in his possession when living some very important papers belonging to the Whig party, which he wished not to be publicly known, and asked her to let him have the keys of the desk to examine it, which she delivered to him; he then examined it, and took out several papers, among which it was supposed he took away the list of the names of the tea-party, and they have not been known since.
Some historians doubt such a list actually existed. In any event, it has never surfaced.

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