One of America’s crowning moments was the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Over a period of three years, colonists had endured taxes on sugar, coffee, wine, all printed material – from newspapers to playing cards – glass, paints, paper, and tea. The tax on this last commodity was facing yet another steep hike when Mother Britain authorized the East India Company – facing bankruptcy due to corruption and poor management – to not only force colonists to pay a stiff fee for unloading the cargo, but to undersell existing tea merchants in Boston and elsewhere. According to the Boston Tea Party museum archives, some 5000 patriots marched to Boston Harbor on December 16; and over 100 brave souls dressed in disguise boarded three East India Company cargo ships, “unloading” almost 350 chests of tea into the cold, cold, sea.
Leaders of the rebellion were anxious that there was no taint of corruption in their own actions, and, when they found one of their band stuffing whole leaf into his doublet, they either threw him into the surf, or ran him out of town, depending on which account you read. Each participant carefully emptied his shoes over the side of the ship, so that not a teaspoon of that tea was ever brewed by the traditional fresh water method.
Inspired by the daring and patriotic acts of Boston’s Whigs, several seaports on the New England coast followed suit with tea parties of their own. But, the patriots in tiny Greenwich, New Jersey, added their own twist to the tea rebellion.
Just over a year after the Boston Tea Party, the inhabitants of Greenwich did not fail to notice the Greyhound, an East India cargo vessel, silently slipping up Cohansey Creek. It was also difficult to hide the fact that the entire cargo of tea was stored in the cellar of a local British sympathizer, Daniel Bowen. Following the modus operandi of the Bostonians, some forty young Whigs of Greenwich dressed in disguise, headed over to Mr. Bowen’s place late on the night of December 22, and relieved him of the contents of his cellar.
A large bonfire was built in a field nearby, and the tea was tossed on, chest by chest, until all went up in smoke. To this day, the citizens of Greenwich are proud of their role in the tea rebellion. A monument to the memory of the brave Tea Burners has been erected.
Of course, the destruction of all that tea, whether by water or fire, did not amuse King George and his minions. In the colonies, tea became the symbol for the hated Taxation Without Representation policies of Great Britain. The Revolutionary War followed just a few years later. Americans, who once drank more tea per capita than all of England, became coffee drinkers.
Image 2, as well as the background for this post is courtesy of Cumberland County, New Jersey.