December 5, 2023 at 6:29 a.m.

Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

What does the Boston Tea Party Have to do with North Carolina?

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

I was asked this question earlier this week and my immediate response, “…quite a bit actually.” The Boston Tea Party was the first significant act of defiance by American colonists and is a defining event in American history. The implication and impact of the Boston Tea Party were enormous, ultimately leading to the start of the American Revolution.

While this particular event did occur almost 900 miles away, it was a build-up of hostilities that had been occurring throughout all of the colonies since the Boston Massacre and the Golden Hill incident in New York (both occurred in 1770), and passage of several pieces of legislation including the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts in 1767 (also called the Intolerable Acts). The British government continued to tax the American colonies without providing representation in Parliament. American resentment, corrupt British officials, and abusive enforcement spurred colonial attacks on British ships, including the burning of the Gaspee in the Providence, Rhode Island harbor in 1772.

While the Tea Party itself didn’t incite revolution, it was a catalyst for additional actions throughout the colonies. In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British government decided that it had to tame the rebellious colonists in Massachusetts. In the spring of 1774, Parliament passed a series of laws, the Coercive Acts, which closed Boston Harbor until restitution was paid for the destroyed tea, replaced the colony’s elected council with one appointed by the British, gave sweeping powers to the British military governor General Thomas Gage, and forbade town meetings without approval. Virginia reacted quickly to call upon the other colonies to elect delegates to attend a provincial congress in which unified delegates replied to Parliament’s action.

Within a day, the North Carolina Committee of Correspondence agreed not only to follow Virginia’s lead and hold delegate elections but also to call for a boycott against British commerce and to avoid trading with Britain until the Port Act was repealed. North Carolina’s response created and enforced non-importation agreements that forced merchants to drop trade with Britain. In the following year, when Massachusetts was punished by Parliament for the destruction of the shipload of tea in Boston Harbor, sympathetic North Carolinians sent food and other supplies to its beleaguered northern neighbor.

After Boston, there were other ‘tea parties’ up and down the eastern seaboard – Philadelphia PA (December 1773), New York (April 1774), Chestertown MD (May 1774), York ME (September 1774), Charleston SC (November 1774), Annapolis MD (October 1774), Edenton NC (October 1774), Greenwich NJ (December 1774), and Wilmington NC (March 1775). Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the tea ships back to Britain. In Charles Town the cargo was left to rot on the docks. While many of these protests were led by men – both NC protests were led by women.

Penelope Barker was an Edenton NC socialite and activist. While this may lead you to think that she had it easy, she did not. At age 17, she married her sister’s husband after her sister died in childbirth. She raised her sister’s three children starting married life. Within two years, her new husband had died and she was left with a toddler of her own and expecting another child. When she was 21, the Court doubted that she was old enough to raise and educate five children. They threatened to remove her children. In October 1751, she was returned to the guardianship of her three stepchildren. She remarried a few months later only to become a widow again before her 25th birthday. She married a third time, a few years later, to a man 16 years her senior, who was a representative of North Carolina's assembly to the board of trade and traveled extensively. While her husband was away, Barker managed their estates and home, which included two more children. By that time, she had lost four of her own children and three children from her husbands' previous marriages. Understandably, she was known to be a feisty woman.

Barker was known as a patriot of the Revolution and ten months after the famous Boston Tea Party, she organized a Tea Party of her own. Barker wrote a statement proposing a boycott of British goods, like cloth and tea. With a following of 50 other women, the Edenton Tea Party was created. On October 25, 1774, Barker and her supporters, Edenton Ladies Patriotic Guild, met at the house of Elizabeth King to sign the Edenton Tea Party resolution that protested the British Tea Act of 1773. It was the "first recorded women's political demonstration in [Colonial] Americ.a" Barker continued to protest throughout the Revolutionary War.

The petition was published in colonial newspapers and in London. Barker also sent a "fiery letter" to London. The women were mocked in the London papers. A political cartoon entitled "Edenton Tea Party" was published and released in London on January 16, 1775. The cartoon portrayed the women as bad mothers with loose morals and received misogynistic ridicule.

The women were praised as patriots by the Colonial American press. Other women followed suit by swearing off tea. Southern women danced in ballgowns made from homespun fabric (that started with the homespun movement). Northern women had spinning bees for the production of homemade material. A shipload of imported East India Company tea was locked away in a port in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina for months because it could not be sold with the tax. At the start of the Revolution, a group of patriots gathered the tea and sold it to other patriots to fund the rebellion against the British. They had also ousted royal officials and agents at the time. The Daughters of Liberty, like the Sons of Liberty, boycotted British goods.

During the Revolution, Barker was informed by a servant that some British soldiers were taking her carriage horses from her stables. She snatched her husband's sword from the wall, went out, and with a single blow severed the reins in the officer's hands, then drove her horses back into the stables. The British officer declared, that for such an exhibition of bravery, she should be allowed to keep her horses, and she was never bothered again by British soldiers.

Wilmington townspeople started expressing their displeasure over the sudden increase and tightening of British trade regulations. Like other colonial sea towns, Wilmington decided to close its ports to British trade, thereby turning down the opportunity to acquire a monopoly of the North American tea trade. Meanwhile, Wilmington women took to the streets to express dissatisfaction with what they considered corrupt British rule. Hard evidence for the Wilmington Tea Party is scarce. However, a Scottish visitor to the Cape Fear region during the late winter of 1774-1775, Janet Schaw, describes agitated Wilmingtonians’ swelling discontent. In doing so, Schaw briefly mentions a women’s political demonstration: “The Ladies have burnt tea in a solemn procession, but they delayed however till the sacrifice was not very considerable, as I do not think anyone offered above a quarter of a pound.”

Although Schaw discounts the women’s economic sacrifice, their action was notable and striking. The women openly expressed political opinions and a love of family and country. Such patriotic boldness contributed to the eventual formation of the United States.

According to historian William S. Powell, NC Royal Governor Josiah Martin was honest, but he was also “stubborn, tactless, and intolerant” making him a difficult fit for an already tense situation in North Carolina. The royal governor’s personality, the failures of the Regulation movement, and the poor colonial sentiment regarding British taxes led to immediate complications between the colonists and Governor Martin.

As colonists in Virginia created a democratic assembly in 1773, North Carolinian colonists learned from their northern neighbors, and they also hoped to develop a self-governing system. Governor Martin, however, believed that the British Crown held the power to govern and tax the colonists. Despite the royal governor’s monarchal style of government, North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress assembled in Wilmington on July 21, 1774, and North Carolina delegates attended the First Continental Congress in the fall of 1774.

Governor Martin, angered by North Carolina’s representation at the Continental Congress, called the colonial assembly to New Bern in April 1775. Speaker John Harvey, Samuel Johnston, and other members of the Second Provincial Congress clashed with Governor Martin in New Bern, and after the North Carolina assembly pledged their support to the Continental Congress, Martin ordered the cancelation of the Second Provincial Congress. In just a few short days, the first battles of the American Revolution occurred at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

The Catawba Valley Sons of the American Revolution and the Jacob Forney Daughters of the American Revolution will be hosting a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party at Betty Ross Park in Lincolnton on December 9th from 10 am  - 2 pm. The event will also include educational sessions about the Boston Tea Party.  The Vesuvius Furnace Chapter of the DAR will hold its annual Tea Party, celebrating the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, at Vesuvius Vineyards on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 10th) from 2 - 4 pm.  


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