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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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

“In drinking of outlandish TEA”

On 22 July 1774, more than half a year after the Boston Tea Party, this item appeared in Daniel Fowle’s New-Hampshire Gazette:
If you think the following Lines upon the Use of Tea worthy a Place in your valuable Collection, by inserting them in your next, you will oblige a Customer.

ROUSE ev’ry generous thoughtful Mind,
The rising Danger flee;
If you would lasting Freedom find,
Now then abandon TEA.
Scorn to be bound with golden Chains,
Though they allure the Sight;
Bid them Defiance if they claim
Our Freedom and Birth-Right.
Shall we our Freedom give away,
And all our Comfort Place,
In drinking of outlandish TEA,
Only to please our Taste.
Forbid it Heaven, let us be wise,
And seek our Country’s Good;
Nor ever let a Thought arise,
That Tea should be our Food.
Since we so great a Plenty have,
Of all that’s for our Health;
Shall we that blasted Herb receive,
Impoverishing our Wealth,
When we survey the breathless Corpse,
With putrid Matter fill’d;
For crawling Worms a sweet Resort,
By us reputed ill.
Noxious Effluvia sending out,
From it’s pernicious Store,
Not only from the foaming Mouth,
But ev’ry lifeless Pore.
To view the same enrol’d in TEA,
Besmeared with such Perfumes,
And then the Herb sent o’er the Sea,
To us it tainted comes.
Some of it tinctur’d with a Filth
Of Carcases embalm’d;
Taste of this Herb then if thou wilt,
Sure me it cannot charm.
Adieu, away O TEA be gone,
Salute our Taste no more;
Though thou art coveted by some,
Who’re destin’d to be poor.
This newspaper contributor urged readers not to drink any tea, harnessing various rumors about how it was tainted with “Perfumes” and “a Filth of Carcases embalm’d,” not to mention politically and economically unhealthy. These particular verses seem designed to be sung to familiar New England hymn tunes, making the reminder of “the breathless Corpse” fit right in.

Ezekiel Russell reprinted these lines in his Salem Gazette a week later under the title “On the Use of Tea,” but I don’t see a lot of other newspapers picking up the item.

In 1855 Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck printed the lyrics, with updated spelling and punctuation, in their Cyclopædia of American Literature. The following year, George Moore included them in his Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, appending the titles “The Blasted Herb” and “India Tea.” That book said the song was also issued as a broadside (though I haven’t found a listing for one).

Moore also wrote of the song that “It has been attributed to Meshech Weare” (1713-1786), a leading New Hampshire Patriot. He shared no evidence for that attribution and didn’t appear fully convinced of it himself. I haven’t found other mentions of Weare writing verse. Nonetheless, later collections have confidently stated that Weare is the author.

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