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 30, 2018

“Through the Multitude, to the End of Murray’s Wharf”

On the night of 22 Apr 1774, New Yorkers emptied eighteen chests of tea belonging to Capt. James Chambers into the harbor while hundreds of people watched. This eventually became known as the New York Tea Party.

According to diarist William Smith, the crowd then carried the empty wooden chests to the Merchants Coffee House (shown here) and built a bonfire in the street. This blaze both celebrated the merchants’ unity and warned those gentlemen not to break the boycott as Chambers had.

The city’s activists had already summoned the public to the waterfront on Saturday morning to see off Benjamin Lockyer, captain of a ship carrying 698 chests of tea waiting outside the harbor near Sandy Hook. Again, that demonstration was supposed to both thank Lockyer for agreeing to sail that tea back to London and to make sure he understood how unwelcome it was.

On Saturday morning, the 25 April New-York Gazette reported, all the ships in the harbor flew the British flag, and “a large flag was hoisted on the Liberty Pole.” At 8:00 all the church bells rang. Then:
About 9, the greatest Number of People were collected at and near the Coffee-House, that was ever known in this City. At a Quarter past Nine the Committee came out of the Coffee-House with Captain Lockyer, upon which the Band of Musick attending, played, God save the King.

Immediately there was a Call for Captain Chambers,—where is he? where is he? Capt. Lockyer must not go till we find Capt. Chambers to send him with the Tea Ship.

This produced Marks of Fear in Capt. Lockyer, who imagining some Mischief was intended him; but upon Assurances being given him to the contrary, he appeared composed.

The Committee, with the Musick, conducted him through the Multitude, to the End of Murray’s Wharf, where he was put on board the Pilot Boat, and wished a safe Passage; upon which the Multitude gave loud Huzza’s, and many Guns were fired, expressive of their Joy at his Departure.
Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden added in a letter that Chambers “thought it was best to go off himself next Day with Captain Lockyer.”

For a while, some of Lockyer’s crew didn’t want to make that voyage. The Whigs’ committee of observation reported:
that the sailors of the Tea Ship, being unwilling to proceed with her to London, made a raft of spars and boards, in order to quit the ship with the tide of flood, but were observed by the Captain, and being aided by the Committee, who offered their assistance to him, they desisted from their project.
The merchants’ committee didn’t want ordinary sailors to get too independent, after all.

At 10:00 A.M. on Sunday the Nancy finally weighed anchor and headed back out to sea, still carrying the 698 chests of East India Company tea loaded the preceding fall. The committee’s sloop followed the ship for three leagues to be sure it was leaving and then turned back to New York.

TOMORROW: Fallout from the New York Tea Party.

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