Ever since I wrote about the Greenwich (NJ) Tea Burning in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America, I have been fascinated by the various copycat tea burnings and tea parties that followed in the wake of the Boston Tea Party. (I wrote a few short pieces on the Greenwich Tea Burning over the years and have even completed about 75% of a book manuscript on the Greenwich Tea Burning in history and memory that I hope I will get a chance to finish and publish one day).
Here is a lecture I gave on some of the material from the book manuscript:
Today I learned about another such event that occurred in Marshfield, Massachusetts on December 19, 1773, less than a week after the Boston Tea Party.
Here is J.L. Bell at Boston 1775:
I found no contemporaneous or first-person account. The earliest description appeared in an 1854, and more details dribbled out over the next century and beyond, based on either family lore or no stated authority at all.
Hazy as that local tradition is, I nonetheless believe that people in Marshfield did burn tea in the wake of the Boston Tea Party.
First, the community agreed unofficially not to drink or sell tea to show their opposition to the Tea Act (not because the retail price of tea was too high). Local Whig leaders confiscated that form of property from shops and locked it up. Then something spurred younger, more radical Whigs to take the tea and make a show of burning it.
The 1854 report said Nehemiah Thomas confiscated the tea, and contemporaneous documents show he was indeed the town’s senior Whig, clerk, treasurer, and deacon. But that report also said he wasn’t in town for the burning.
Instead, late in the nineteenth century authors attached two brothers-in-law to the story: Jeremiah Low, who would have descendants in Marshfield, and Benjamin White, also documented as a Whig activist in this period. Plus other, unnamed citizens.
In the twentieth century local historians pointed to a very old building as one of the places the tea was stored. That’s plausible; in the 1770s the building was an ordinary, or tavern, and towns did use public houses for public business. That said, there might have been appeal in linking this rare surviving building to a historic event, providing a focus for commemoration. So I’m a little less convinced about that claim.
I’m still left puzzling about some details of this event, however. Here are my unanswered questions.…
Read the rest here.