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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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Capt. James Chambers on the London

As promised, I’m going to explore the story of the “New York Tea Party.” And I’ll start with the sea captain James Chambers.

The Roster of Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, compiled by William M. McBean in 1911, says Chambers was active in New York from 1757, sailing to various ports. In 1762, for example, his ship Manchester was equipped with “eight carriage guns” and an unusually large crew of twenty to protect its cargo of furs and skins in wartime.

The 4 June 1770 New-York Gazette reported that on a voyage ”from the Musqueto Shore for Jamaica” Chamber’s brig had been cast away on Trinidad. The ship was “entirely lost,” but the crew and cargo survived—as did the captain, though reportedly the Spanish authorities kept him in jail for a while.

Late that November, Chambers was back in New York, commanding the ship London. He appears to have made regular trips on that vessel between New York and London after that.

Around that time a young sailor named Thomas Truxton (1755-1822, shown above as an older man), who had grown up on Long Island, asked to serve under Chambers. When they were in London in 1771, the Royal Navy impressed the teenager aboard H.M.S. Prudent. After several months, some Americans in London got Thomas released back to Chambers.

The year 1773 of course brought the Tea Act. According to the 25 Apr 1774 New-York Gazette, “Capt. Chambers was one of the First who refused to take the India Company’s Tea on Freight the last Summer, for which he received the Thanks of the Citizens.” When the London sailed back into New York harbor from Britain on 8 October, it carried no tea, but it did bring a celebrity to America: Lt. Col. Charles Lee.

Capt. Chambers was thus in North America as the tea crisis was reaching its zenith. He saw the crowds in New York demand a united front against not only the East India Company’s tea but all tea, to ensure that none of the dutied weed slipped through. He may even have heard about the Boston Tea Party in December before he sailed for Britain again.

COMING UP: When New York heard that tea was on its way.

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