On December 16th, 1773 in Boston, history was made with tea as a form of protest in the American colonies. What follows is a brief excerpt of that day from the New Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt.
Having appointed agents in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, the Company sent its first tea cnsignments on their way in the autumn of 1773, despite a warning from the New York consignee that “there will be no such thing as selling it, as the people would rather buy so much poison.” In fact, at mass meetings, first in Philadelphia, then in New York and Boston, the people resolved not even to let it land. The first of three ships bringing the tea to Boston made port on 28 November. The citizenry allowed the captain to unload everything except the tea and kept watch around the clock to make sure he did not. According to law, the cargo would be suject to seizure and sale by the customs for unpaid duty at the end of twenty days after entering port. This was what the consignees confidently waited for, since the customs men would be backed by British troops. On 16 December, the day before the scheduled seizure and landing, all business was suspended in Boston and people by the hundreds flocked in from surrounding towns. It was the greatest gathering the city had ever seen. Speeches were given and negotiations were carried on with the ship’s captain, the customs men, and the governor but by nightfall no progress had been made. “Who knows,” a prominent merchant named John Rowe asked just before the meeting adjourned, “how tea will mix with salt water?”
Whether this was a prearranged signal or not, it was answered by war whoops from a party of men, variously estimated from twenty to ninety, disguised as Mohawk Indians. Followed by throngs of patirots, they proceeded with businesslike directness to the ship, warned the customs officers and crew to keep out of their way, brought the chests of tea on deck, and emptied them over the side. They repeated this process on two other ships that had arrived carrying tea.
Unfortunately, as important as this event was in American history, it was also a sad one in that it was the sole reason why America fell behind the rest of the world in their consumption of tea as a primary beverage. This can be clearly seen in the following anecdote: While on his way to sign the Declaration of Independence, John Adams stopped at a local tavern to refresh himself and asked the owner’s daughter if it was “lawful for a weary traveler to refresh himself with a dish of tea, provided it has been honestly smuggled and has paid no duty.” She emphatically stated “No sir! We have renounced tea under this roof. But, if you desire it, I will make you some coffee.” Thus ended our healthy relationship with tea and our obsession with coffee. Given our current state of declining health, we certainly could have used the health benefits that consuming tea all these years would have afforded us.
Let’s learn from history, as all the pundits are so fond of urging us, and bring tea back as a healthy beverage enjoyed over all others.