Scarves for Troops Program

January 18, 2014


If you knit or crochet, or know someone who does, here is an opportunity to send a heartfelt “Thank You” to a serviceman of woman.

Originally posted on Operation Gratitude Blog:

Our Scarves for Troops Program is more popular than ever thanks to the dedicated and generous support from talented people like YOU all across the country! These made-with-love gifts are treasured by all who receive them!ScarvesforTroopsCollageIf you have knitting or crocheting skills, we invite you to join us — starting now — so we can include one of these precious gifts in each of the winter-time care packages we send!Want to get started? Here are a few Frequently Asked Questions…and Answers!

  • Is there a pattern for the scarves and hats? There is no specific pattern to follow so feel free to use your own — or you can find some here: PATTERNSWe do recommend that you keep them simple and perhaps use slightly larger needles so more can be made! Please keep your scarves within our size restrictions (5-6″ across and about 48″ long) 

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The Sheffield Declaration of individual rights

January 12, 2014

The Sheffield Declaration, also known as the Sheffield Resolves, was a Colonial American petition against British tyranny and manifesto for individual rights, drawn up as a series of resolves approved by the Town of Sheffield, Massachusetts, on January 12, 1773 and printed in The Massachusetts Spy, or, Thomas’s Boston Journal on February 18, 1773. The meeting took place in the Colonel John Ashley House, a registered National Historic Landmark in Ashley Falls, a neighborhood of Sheffield, Massachusetts.


Sheffield Declaration, as printed in The Massachusetts Spy

The resolves were debated and approved by a committee of eleven local citizens: Deacon Silas Kellog, Col. John Ashley (committee moderator), Dr. Lemuel Bernard, Aaron Root, Major John Fellows, Philip Callender, Capt. William Day, Deacon Ebenezer Smith, Capt. Daniel Austin, Capt. Stephen Dewey and Theodore Sedgwick, who wrote the text.[1]

The Declaration’s first resolution was that “Mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property,” These words are echoed in the most famous line of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence three years later: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


  1. James M. Banner, Jr. “Sedgwick, Theodore”; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  • Brown, Richard D. “Massachusetts Towns Reply to the Boston Committee of Correspondence, 1773″. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Jan., 1968), pp. 22-39.
  • Brown, Richard D. Revolutionary politics in Massachusetts: the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the towns, 1772–1774. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.

The American Prohibitory Act of 1775

December 22, 2013

The Prohibitory Act 1775 was passed as a measure of retaliation by Great Britain against the general rebellion then going on in her American colonies, which became known as the American Revolutionary War (or, to the British, the American War of Independence). It declared and provided for a naval blockade against American ports.

On December 22, 1775, the Parliament of Great Britain, under Lord North, First Lord of the Treasury, decided that sterner measures would be taken to subdue the rebellion now underway in the 13 American colonies. To this end, they decreed a blockade against the trade of the American colonists by passing the Prohibitory Act. “All manner of trade and commerce”[1] would be prohibited, and any ship that was found trading “shall be forfeited to his Majesty, as if the same were the ships and effects of open enemies.”[1] The goal of the Act was to destroy the American economy by making it incapable of operating by means of prohibiting trade with any country

“It throws thirteen colonies out of the royal protection, levels all distinctions, and makes us independent in spite of our supplications and entreaties… It may be fortunate that the act of independency should come from the British Parliament rather than the American Congress.” — John Adams in a letter to Horatio Gates, March 23, 1776.[2]

The general reaction of the colonists, or at least among Patriots, was an affirmed desire to fight back against the oppression of the British. Like Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”[3] The American people were only more united in their struggle.

The Prohibitory Act served as an effective declaration of war by Great Britain; a blockade (as opposed to a quarantine) being an act of war under the law of nations. The colonies and Congress immediately reacted by issuing letters of marque that authorized individual American ship owners to seize British ships in a practice known as privateering; further, the act moved the American colonists more towards the option of complete independence, as the King was now declaring his “subjects” out of his protection, and levying war against them without regards to distinction as to their ultimate loyalty or their petitions for the redress of grievances.

With the contemporaneous importation by the British of bands of foreign auxiliaries into the American colonies to suppress the rebellion by sack, pillage, fire, and the sword (the infamous Hessians), and the stirring up of hostile bands of Native Americans on the frontier by the King’s men to raid the colonists, it became clear, even “self-evident” to the colonists that they would neither find liberty nor security under the King’s protection, and thus, they exercised certain inalienable rights, and a rebellion turned into a war of national independence.


  1. “The United States Declaration of Independence (Revisited),” J. Jackson Owensby, p. 470
  2. “The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 1, p. 207
  3. “Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry,” Wirt, William (Philadelphia) 1836, p. 95

James Rumsey, designer of the first steam powered boat

December 21, 2013

James Rumsey was an American mechanical engineer chiefly known for exhibiting a boat propelled by machinery in 1787 on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, now West Virginia, before a crowd of local notables, including Horatio Gates. A pump driven by steam power ejected a stream of water from the stern of the boat and thereby propelled the boat forward.


James Rumsey, ca. 1790, attributed to George William West: 1795 oil on wood, Smithsonian American Art Museum 3rd Floor, Luce Foundation Center

Little is known about Rumsey until he was living in Bath, Virginia, (now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia) in 1782. It is believed he was born in 1743. He likely had moved to the area with his family some years before the American Revolution, from Cecil County, Maryland, where he had helped to run the family water mill at Bohemia Manor.[1] His cousin was Benjamin Rumsey, a notable Maryland jurist and statesman, who also grew up at Bohemia Manor. In Bath, he built houses, became a partner in a mercantile business, and helped to run a boarding house and tavern called the “Sign of the Liberty Pole and Flag.”

In September 1784, when George Washington was staying at Rumsey’s inn, he contracted with Rumsey to build a house and stable on property he owned at Bath. During this visit, Rumsey showed Washington a working model of a mechanical boat which he had designed. It had a bow-mounted paddlewheel that worked poles to pull the boat upstream. Washington had been making plans for making the Potomac river navigable since before the Revolution, and a company was soon to be formed for the purpose. Rumsey’s pole-boat, which promised to be able to ascend the river’s chutes and swift currents, must have seemed a godsend to Washington, who wrote a certificate of commendation for Rumsey and likely let him know of the river project. Armed with the certificate, Rumsey obtained a patent from the Virginia legislature for “the use of mechanical boats of his model” and also gained an investor.

In July 1785, he was recommended by Washington and appointed to oversee the clearing of rocks at what is now Harper’s Ferry Patowmack Company. Rumsey would thus not only be able to build a boat to ascend the river, but alter the river to enable his boat. For a year, Rumsey oversaw work on the Potomac River site, while his assistant and brother-in-law Joseph Barnes did much of the building of the boat around Shepherdstown.

Rumsey had quickly concluded that the pole-boat design was too limited[2] and decided to incorporate steam propulsion into his design. While making his boat much more useful, it made it far more complex and expensive to build. It soon became was obvious that the Patowmack Company had a much greater task than any of its members had foreseen. It was hindered by the lack of an overall supervising engineer; overseers were having to improvise as best they could. The work required much manual labor and difficult blasting, and Rumsey found himself directing a large and restive gang of about a hundred workmen, including leased slaves and bondsmen, encamped in a remote area, without adequate supplies.


Portrait of James Rumsey by Ella May Turner published in “James Rumsey: Pioneer in Steam Navigation,” Scottdale, Pa.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1930

After a year Rumsey said he would resign if not given an increase in pay. His resignation was accepted and his assistant, Richardson Stewart, was given his job. Other aspects of the matter are open to debate; Stewart may or may not have worked against Rumsey to gain his job; Rumsey thought he had, the Company (and Washington) thought Rumsey’s allegations unfounded. Still, according to Company minutes, Stewart was fired soon afterward, for “sundry charges of a serious nature”.[3]

Work on a hull had begun in 1785 in Bath by Joseph Barnes. The boat was brought that fall to Shepherdstown. Valve castings, cylinders, and other pieces which had been made in Baltimore and Frederick were installed that December, and the boat was taken downriver to Shenandoah Falls for a test. However, bad weather postponed testing until the following spring. When Rumsey finally tested the boat, it proved very unsatisfactory. The pole-boat mechanism caused the boat to yaw in the current, which disabled the paddlewheel and stopped the boat. In the steam pump, the engine consumed too much steam; the boiler was inadequate.

At some point in 1786, work on the pole-boat mechanism was abandoned. For a better boiler, he tried a coil of forged iron pipe, which proved to be both much more efficient and much smaller and lighter. With a functioning steam engine, another problem arose. The single-cylinder pump would draw several gallons of water from beneath the boat and send it down a copper pipe to the stern. Because gallons of water were being drawn into the pump at the same time as water was still flowing from it to the stern, the pump was working against itself; several strong strokes and it bound up. This was resolved by replacing the copper pipe with a square wooden trunk with flapper valves in the bottom to allow water in from the river, to relieve the negative pressure at the pump.

On December 3, 1787, the boat finally made a very successful public demonstration on the Potomac at Shepherdstown.


The demonstration took place twenty years before Robert Fulton constructed and demonstrated the Clermont. The idea of jet propulsion was not Rumsey’s alone. Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782) originated the idea of propelling watercraft in that way. In the summer of 1785, while Rumsey and his assistant Joseph Barnes were in the process of assembling his boat, Benjamin Franklin, on board a ship from France, wrote of propelling a boat by water jet.[4] This coincidence has sometimes led people to believe Rumsey got the idea from Franklin. Indeed, if Franklin had wanted to make such a claim it likely would have been accepted, but he did not, and became one of Rumsey’s supporters.[5]

George Washington was also a witness to the historic demonstration and wrote this testimonial:

“I have seen the model of Rumsey’s boats, constructed to work against the stream; examined the powers upon which it acts; been eye witness to an actual experiment in running water of some rapidity, and give it as my opinion (although I had little faith before) that he has discovered the act of working boats by mechanism and small manual assistance against rapid currents.

“That the discovery is of vast importance, maybe of the greatest usefulness in our inland navigation, and if it succeeds (of which I have no doubt) the value of it is greatly enhanced by the simplicity of the works which, when seen and examined, may be executed by the most common mechanic.

“Given under my hand at the town of Bath, County of Berkeley, in the State of Virginia, this 7th day of September, 1784.”

“George Washington.”[6]

John Fitch had demonstrated his steamboat in Philadelphia the previous August. Although there was yet no overall patent system in the confederated states, he had patents from some states that gave him exclusive rights to his and any other steamboat. Rumsey was very protective of his designs and, though he was even more plagued by money problems, he sent the boat machinery to Philadelphia in March 1788. He quickly followed, armed with affidavits from those who had seen his steamboat or been involved with its creation. There was a pamphlet war with John Fitch. Some Philadelphia businessmen attempted to make the men set up a joint effort; but after years of travails and poverty, Fitch was not in a mood to compromise. When he said he would apply for a patent in England for Rumsey’s water-tube boiler, Rumsey and others formed the Rumseian Society.[6] They decided he should go to England to secure patents for his inventions and seek further financial backing.

After moving to England in 1788, Rumsey was able to take out four patents before his death there in 1792. While some of these relate to steamboats (like his water-tube boiler design, which made the steam engine much smaller and more efficient) most are concerned with hydrostatics and water power. His 1791 patent has all the pumps, motors, and hydraulic cylinders of fluid power engineering. By September 1792 he had a true water turbine, almost 40 years before it next appeared in France.

He spent four years in England. On December 20, 1792, on the eve of the demonstration of his new steamboat the Columbia Maid, he had just finished delivering a lecture to the Society of Mechanic Arts, when he was suddenly stricken with a severe pain in his head, and died the next morning. At the time his death was attributed to overstraining his brain. He was buried in London at Saint Margaret’s Church.

In 1906 a second Rumseyan Society was formed in Shepherdstown. Through its efforts a monument to Rumsey was constructed in a park overlooking the Potomac.

Another Rumseian Society was formed in Shepherdstown in the 1980s to construct a replica of the successful Rumsey steamboat and celebrate the boat’s bicentennial in 1987. The boat was constructed in the machine and blacksmith shop in the back of O’Hurley’s General Store. The replica is housed in a small building behind the Entler Hotel. For a time, there was an annual regatta in Shepherdstown in early October in honor of Rumsey.


James Rumsey Monument, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, marks the site of a demonstration of Rumsey’s steamboat on the Potomac River on December 3, 1787

The bridge across the Potomac to Maryland is named after Rumsey, as is the James Rumsey Technical Institute[7] in Hedgesville, West Virginia.


  1. Ella Mae Turner, James Rumsey, Steamboat Pioneer, 1930
  2. Rumsey to George Washington, April, 1785
  3. Quoted in Andrea Sutcliffe, Steam, Palgrave MacMillan, 2004
  4. Maritime Observations, 1785
  5. Franklin would be one his investors “Proposals for forming a Company” Philadelphia, 1788, Rumseian Society papers, American Philosophical Society archive
  6. Beltzhoover p. 11
  7. Proposals for forming a Company, op. cit.
  8. [1]


  • Source for Rumsey’s role in the Potowmack Company: Robert J Kapsch, The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Way West, Morgantown: WVY Press, 2007
  • Source for date of Rumsey’s successful trial: A Plan Wherein the Power of Steam is Fully Shewn by James Rumsey, Jan 2, 1788, Rare Book Room, Library of Congress.
  • Source for name of group formed by Franklin to support Rumsey: letter from James Rumsey to his brother-in-law Charles Morrow on May 14, 1788, as he was preparing to leave for England sent by the Society.
  • Source for Franklin’s ideas on jet propulsion can be found in his Maritime Observations, 1785.
  • Source for Rumsey’s English inventions: British Patent numbers (dates): #1673 (1788); #1738 (1790); #1825 (1791); #1903 (1792), The British Library.
  • For his turbine: Joseph Barnes to John Vaughn, Sept. 21, 1792; Joseph Barnes: Essay on Watermills, 1793 Rumseian Society papers, American Philosophical Society archives, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Source for George Washington testimonial: “James Rumsey, the Inventor of the Steamboat: A Paper”, George M Beltzhoover, Jr., The West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society’s Publications, 1900

States give thanks in first national Day of Thanksgiving

December 18, 2013

The new United States celebrated its first national day of thanksgiving on Thursday, December 18, 1777, commemorating the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga after the surrender of General John Burgoyne and 5,000 British troops in October 1777.

Samuel Adams created the first draft. Congress then adapted the final version:

For as much as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

Neither when the Congress proclaimed the day of Thanksgiving on November 1, nor when the population celebrated in December, were they aware that on December 17, the French would finally formalize a military and trade alliance with the rebelling states. These were not disconnected events. The victory at Saratoga convinced the French king that the Americans might be worthy allies and the ensuing alliance made an American victory possible.

Merely having a national day of thanksgiving was a tremendous step forward in creating an American identity. Previously, the colonies had celebrated individually or as part of the British Empire. Now they had experienced an event that had affected them all and formalized a celebration that involved them all. With the French alliance, they had an ally who supported them all. Americans had just taken a major step on the tortured trail from colonies to states and from states to nation.

The Boston Tea Party

December 16, 2013

The Boston Tea Party, initially referred to by John Adams as simply “the Destruction of the Tea in Boston“,[2] was a nonviolent political protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, on December 16, 1773. Disguised as Indians, the demonstrators destroyed the entire supply of tea sent by the East India Company in defiance of the American boycott of tea carrying a tax the Americans had not authorized. They boarded the ships and threw the chests of tea into Boston Harbor, ruining the tea. The British government responded harshly and the episode escalated into the American Revolution. The Tea Party became an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “No taxation without representation,” that is, be taxed only by their own elected representatives and not by a British parliament in which they were not represented. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts, which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce. Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.


This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled “The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor”; the phrase “Boston Tea Party” had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier’s depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Indians.

The Boston Tea Party arose from two issues confronting the British Empire in 1765: the financial problems of the British East India Company, and an ongoing dispute about the extent of Parliament’s authority, if any, over the British American colonies without seating any elected representation. The North Ministry’s attempt to resolve these issues produced a showdown that would eventually result in revolution.[3]

As Europeans developed a taste for tea in the 17th century, rival companies were formed to import the product from China.[4] In England, Parliament gave the East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea in 1698.[5] When tea became popular in the British colonies, Parliament sought to eliminate foreign competition by passing an act in 1721 that required colonists to import their tea only from Great Britain.[6] The East India Company did not export tea to the colonies; by law, the company was required to sell its tea wholesale at auctions in England. British firms bought this tea and exported it to the colonies, where they resold it to merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.[7]

Until 1767, the East India Company paid an ad valorem tax of about 25% on tea that it imported into Great Britain.[8] Parliament laid additional taxes on tea sold for consumption in Britain. These high taxes, combined with the fact that tea imported into Holland was not taxed by the Dutch government, meant that Britons and British Americans could buy smuggled Dutch tea at much cheaper prices.[9] The biggest market for illicit tea was England—by the 1760s the East India Company was losing £400,000 per year to smugglers in Great Britain[10]—but Dutch tea was also smuggled into British America in significant quantities.[11]

In 1767, to help the East India Company compete with smuggled Dutch tea, Parliament passed the Indemnity Act, which lowered the tax on tea consumed in Great Britain, and gave the East India Company a refund of the 25% duty on tea that was re-exported to the colonies.[12] To help offset this loss of government revenue, Parliament also passed the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which levied new taxes, including one on tea, in the colonies.[13] Instead of solving the smuggling problem, however, the Townshend duties renewed a controversy about Parliament’s right to tax the colonies.

Controversy between Great Britain and the colonies arose in the 1760s when Parliament sought, for the first time, to directly tax the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue. Some colonists, known in the colonies as Whigs, objected to the new tax program, arguing that it was a violation of the British Constitution. Britons and British Americans agreed that, according to the constitution, British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives. In Great Britain, this meant that taxes could only be levied by Parliament. Colonists, however, did not elect members of Parliament, and so American Whigs argued that the colonies could not be taxed by that body. According to Whigs, colonists could only be taxed by their own colonial assemblies. Colonial protests resulted in the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1765, but in the 1766 Declaratory Act, Parliament continued to insist that it had the right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”.

When new taxes were levied in the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, Whig colonists again responded with protests and boycotts. Merchants organized a non-importation agreement, and many colonists pledged to abstain from drinking British tea, with activists in New England promoting alternatives, such as domestic Labrador tea.[14] Smuggling continued apace, especially in New York and Philadelphia, where tea smuggling had always been more extensive than in Boston. Dutied British tea continued to be imported into Boston, however, especially by Richard Clarke and the sons of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson, until pressure from Massachusetts Whigs compelled them to abide by the non-importation agreement.[15]

Parliament finally responded to the protests by repealing the Townshend taxes in 1770, except for the tea duty, which Prime Minister Lord North kept to assert “the right of taxing the Americans”.[16] This partial repeal of the taxes was enough to bring an end to the non-importation movement by October 1770.[17] From 1771 to 1773, British tea was once again imported into the colonies in significant amounts, with merchants paying the Townshend duty of three pence per pound.[18] Boston was the largest colonial importer of legal tea; smugglers still dominated the market in New York and Philadelphia.[19]

The Indemnity Act of 1767, which gave the East India Company a refund of the duty on tea that was re-exported to the colonies, expired in 1772. Parliament passed a new act in 1772 that reduced this refund, effectively leaving a 10% duty on tea imported into Britain.[20] The act also restored the tea taxes within Britain that had been repealed in 1767, and left in place the three pence Townshend duty in the colonies. With this new tax burden driving up the price of British tea, sales plummeted. The company continued to import tea into Great Britain, however, amassing a huge surplus of product that no one would buy.[21] For these and other reasons, by late 1772 the East India Company, one of Britain’s most important commercial institutions, was in a serious financial crisis.[22]

Eliminating some of the taxes was one obvious solution to the crisis. The East India Company initially sought to have the Townshend duty repealed, but the North ministry was unwilling because such an action might be interpreted as a retreat from Parliament’s position that it had the right to tax the colonies.[23] More importantly, the tax collected from the Townshend duty was used to pay the salaries of some colonial governors and judges.[24] This was in fact the purpose of the Townshend tax: previously these officials had been paid by the colonial assemblies, but Parliament now paid their salaries to keep them dependent on the British government rather than allowing them to be accountable to the colonists.[25]

Another possible solution for reducing the growing mound of tea in the East India Company warehouses was to sell it cheaply in Europe. This possibility was investigated, but it was determined that the tea would simply be smuggled back into Great Britain, where it would undersell the taxed product.[26] The best market for the East India Company’s surplus tea, so it seemed, was the American colonies, if a way could be found to make it cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea.[27]

The North ministry’s solution was the Tea Act, which received the assent of King George on May 10, 1773.[28] This act restored the East India Company’s full refund on the duty for importing tea into Britain, and also permitted the company, for the first time, to export tea to the colonies on its own account. This would allow the company to reduce costs by eliminating the middlemen who bought the tea at wholesale auctions in London.[29] Instead of selling to middlemen, the company now appointed colonial merchants to receive the tea on consignment; the consignees would in turn sell the tea for a commission. In July 1773, tea consignees were selected in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston.[30]

The Tea Act retained the three pence Townshend duty on tea imported to the colonies. Some members of Parliament wanted to eliminate this tax, arguing that there was no reason to provoke another colonial controversy. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer William Dowdeswell, for example, warned Lord North that the Americans would not accept the tea if the Townshend duty remained.[31] But North did not want to give up the revenue from the Townshend tax, primarily because it was used to pay the salaries of colonial officials; maintaining the right of taxing the Americans was a secondary concern.[32] According to historian Benjamin Labaree, “A stubborn Lord North had unwittingly hammered a nail in the coffin of the old British Empire.”[33]

Even with the Townshend duty in effect, the Tea Act would allow the East India Company to sell tea more cheaply than before, undercutting the prices offered by smugglers. In 1772, legally imported Bohea, the most common variety of tea, sold for about 3 shillings (3s) per pound.[34] After the Tea Act, colonial consignees would be able to sell it for 2 shillings per pound (2s), just under the smugglers’ price of 2 shillings and 1 penny (2s 1d).[35] Realizing that the payment of the Townshend duty was politically sensitive, the company hoped to conceal the tax by making arrangements to have it paid either in London once the tea was landed in the colonies, or have the consignees quietly pay the duties after the tea was sold. This effort to hide the tax from the colonists was unsuccessful.[36]


This 1775 British cartoon, “A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina”, satirizes the Edenton Tea Party, a group of women who organized a boycott of English tea.

In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company tea were sent to the colonies: four were bound for Boston, and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.[37] In the ships were more than 2,000 chests containing nearly 600,000 pounds of tea.[38] Americans learned the details of the Tea Act while the ships were en route, and opposition began to mount.[39] Whigs, sometimes calling themselves Sons of Liberty, began a campaign to raise awareness and to convince or compel the consignees to resign, in the same way that stamp distributors had been forced to resign in the 1765 Stamp Act crisis.[40]

The protest movement that culminated with the Boston Tea Party was not a dispute about high taxes. The price of legally imported tea was actually reduced by the Tea Act of 1773. Protesters were instead concerned with a variety of other issues. The familiar “no taxation without representation” argument, along with the question of the extent of Parliament’s authority in the colonies, remained prominent.[41] Some regarded the purpose of the tax program—to make leading officials independent of colonial influence—as a dangerous infringement of colonial rights.[42] This was especially true in Massachusetts, the only colony where the Townshend program had been fully implemented.[43]

Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers, played a significant role in the protests. Because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper, it threatened to put smugglers of Dutch tea out of business.[44] Legitimate tea importers who had not been named as consignees by the East India Company were also threatened with financial ruin by the Tea Act.[45] Another major concern for merchants was that the Tea Act gave the East India Company a monopoly on the tea trade, and it was feared that this government-created monopoly might be extended in the future to include other goods.[46]

South of Boston, protesters successfully compelled the tea consignees to resign. In Charleston, the consignees had been forced to resign by early December, and the unclaimed tea was seized by customs officials.[47] There were mass protest meetings in Philadelphia. Benjamin Rush urged his fellow countrymen to oppose the landing of the tea, because the cargo contained “the seeds of slavery”.[48] By early December, the Philadelphia consignees had resigned and the tea ship returned to England with its cargo following a confrontation with the ship’s captain.[49] The tea ship bound for New York City was delayed by bad weather; by the time it arrived, the consignees had resigned, and the ship returned to England with the tea.[50]

In every colony except Massachusetts, protesters were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England.[51] In Boston, however, Governor Hutchinson was determined to hold his ground. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.[52]


This notice from the “Chairman of the Committee for Tarring and Feathering” in Boston denounced the tea consignees as “traitors to their country”.

When the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall on November 29, 1773. Thousands of people arrived, so many that the meeting was moved to the larger Old South Meeting House.[53] British law required the Dartmouth to unload and pay the duties within twenty days or customs officials could confiscate the cargo.[54] The mass meeting passed a resolution, introduced by Adams and based on a similar set of resolutions promulgated earlier in Philadelphia, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to send the ship back without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent the tea—including a number of chests from Davison, Newman and Co. of London—from being unloaded.[55]

Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty. Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor (there was another tea ship headed for Boston, the William, but it encountered a storm and was destroyed before it could reach its destination[56]). On December 16—the last day of the Dartmouth’s deadline—about 7,000 people had gathered around the Old South Meeting House.[57] After receiving a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, Adams announced that “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.” According to a popular story, Adams’s statement was a prearranged signal for the “tea party” to begin. However, this claim did not appear in print until nearly a century after the event, in a biography of Adams written by his great-grandson, who apparently misinterpreted the evidence.[58] According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams’s alleged “signal”, and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.[59]

While Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House headed out to prepare to take action. In some cases, this involved donning what may have been elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes.[60] While disguising their individual faces was imperative, because of the illegality of their protest, dressing as Mohawk warriors was a very specific and symbolic choice. It showed that the Sons of Liberty identified with America, over their official status as subjects of Great Britain.[61]

That evening, a group of 30 to 130 men, some dressed in the Mohawk warrior disguises, boarded the three vessels and, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water.[62] The precise location of the Griffin’s Wharf site of the Tea Party has been subject to prolonged uncertainty; a comprehensive study[63] places it near the foot of Hutchinson Street (today’s Pearl Street).

Whether or not Samuel Adams helped plan the Boston Tea Party is disputed, but he immediately worked to publicize and defend it.[64] He argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.[65]

By “constitution” he referred to the idea that all governments have a constitution, written or not, and that the constitution of Great Britain could be interpreted as banning the levying of taxes without representation. For example, the Bill of Rights of 1689 established that long-term taxes could not be levied without Parliament, and other precedents said that Parliament had to actually represent the people it ruled over, in order to “count”.

Governor Thomas Hutchinson had been urging London to take a hard line with the Sons of Liberty. If he had done what the other royal governors had done and let the ship owners and captains resolve the issue with the colonists, the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver would have left without unloading any tea.

In Britain, even those politicians considered friends of the colonies were appalled and this act united all parties there against the colonies. The Prime Minister Lord North said, “Whatever may be the consequence, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over”.[66] The British government felt this action could not remain unpunished, and responded by closing the port of Boston and putting in place other laws known as the “Coercive Acts”.

In the colonies, Benjamin Franklin stated that the destroyed tea must be repaid, all 90,000 pounds (which, at two shillings per pound, comes to £9,000, or £968 thousand today).[67] Robert Murray, a New York merchant, went to Lord North with three other merchants and offered to pay for the losses, but the offer was turned down.[68] A number of colonists were inspired to carry out similar acts, such as the burning of the Peggy Stewart. The Boston Tea Party eventually proved to be one of the many reactions that led to the American Revolutionary War.[citation needed] In his December 17th, 1773 entry in his diary, John Adams wrote:

Last Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails.

This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered—something notable And striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.[69]

There was a repeat performance on March 7, 1774, but it was much less destructive.[70]

In February 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution, which ended taxation for any colony that satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of imperial officers. The tax on tea was repealed with the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778, part of another Parliamentary attempt at conciliation that failed.


  1. Young, Shoemaker, 183–85
  2. John Adams: Revolutionary Writings 1755–1775. “This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History”
  3. Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (2010) ch. 1
  4. Labaree, Tea Party, 3–4
  5. Knollenberg, Growth, 90
  6. Knollenberg, Growth, 90; Labaree, Tea Party, 7
  7. Labaree, Tea Party, 8–9
  8. Labaree, Tea Party, 6–8; Knollenberg, Growth, 91; Thomas, Townshend Duties, 18
  9. Labaree, Tea Party, 6
  10. Labaree, Tea Party, 59
  11. Labaree, Tea Party, 6–7
  12. Labaree, Tea Party, 13; Thomas, Townshend Duties, 26–27. This kind of refund or rebate is known as a “drawback”
  13. Labaree, Tea Party, 21
  14. Labaree, Tea Party, 27–30
  15. Labaree, “Tea Party”, 32–34
  16. Knollenberg, Growth, 71; Labaree, Tea Party, 46
  17. Labaree, Tea Party, 46–49
  18. Labaree, Tea Party, 50–51
  19. Labaree, Tea Party, 52
  20. The 1772 tax act was 12 Geo. III c. 60 sec. 1; Knollenberg, Growth, 351n12
  21. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 248–49; Labaree, Tea Party, 334
  22. Labaree, Tea Party, 58, 60–62
  23. Knollenberg, Growth, 90–91
  24. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 252–54
  25. Knollenberg, Growth, 91
  26. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 250; Labaree, Tea Party, 69
  27. Labaree, Tea Party, 70, 75
  28. Knollenberg, Growth, 93
  29. Labaree, Tea Party, 67, 70
  30. Labaree, Tea Party, 75–76
  31. Labaree, Tea Party, 71; Thomas, Townshend Duties, 252
  32. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 252
  33. Labaree, Tea Party, 72–73
  34. Labaree, Tea Party, 51
  35. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 255; Labaree, Tea Party, 76–77
  36. Labaree, Tea Party, 76–77
  37. Labaree, Tea Party, 78–79
  38. Labaree, Tea Party, 77, 335
  39. Labaree, Tea Party, 89–90
  40. Knollenberg, Growth, 96
  41. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 246
  42. Labaree, Tea Party, 106
  43. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 245
  44. Labaree, Tea Party, 102; see also John W. Tyler, Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution (Boston, 1986)
  45. Thomas, Townshend Duties, 256
  46. Knollenberg, Growth, 95–96
  47. Knollenberg, Growth, 101
  48. Labaree, Tea Party, 100. See also Alyn Brodsky, Benjamin Rush (Macmillan, 2004), 109
  49. Labaree, Tea Party, 97
  50. Labaree, Tea Party, 96; Knollenberg, Growth, 101–02
  51. Labaree, Tea Party, 96–100
  52. Labaree, Tea Party, 104–05
  53. This was not an official town meeting, but a gathering of “the body of the people” of greater Boston; Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 123
  54. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 124
  55. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 123
  56. The Story of the Boston Tea Party Ships by The Boston Tea Party Historical Society
  57. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 125
  58. Raphael, Founding Myths, 53
  59. Maier, Old Revolutionaries, 27–28n32; Raphael, Founding Myths, 53. For firsthand accounts that contradict the story that Adams gave the signal for the tea party, see L. F. S. Upton, ed., “Proceeding of Ye Body Respecting the Tea,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 22 (1965), 297–98; Francis S. Drake, Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents, (Boston, 1884), LXX; Boston Evening-Post, December 20, 1773; Boston Gazette, December 20, 1773; Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, December 23, 1773
  60. Was there a True Indian Disguise?
  61. Mohawk was Emerging as a Symbol of Liberty in the New Land
  62. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 125–26; Labaree, Tea Party, 141–44
  63. Where Was the Actual Boston Tea Party Site?
  64. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 126
  65. Alexander, Revolutionary Politician, 129
  66. Cobbett, Parliamentary History of England, XVII, pg. 1280-1281
  67. UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2013), “What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)” MeasuringWorth
  68. Ketchum, Divided Loyalties, 262
  69. Diary of John Adams, Volume 2
  70. Diary of John Adams, March 8, 1774; Boston Gazette, March 14, 1774


  • Alexander, John K. Samuel Adams: America’s Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. ISBN 0-7425-2115-X
  • Carp, Benjamin L. Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (Yale U.P., 2010) ISBN 978-0-300-11705-9
  • Ketchum, Richard. Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution came to New York. 2002. ISBN 0-8050-6120-7
  • Knollenberg, Bernhard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775. New York: Free Press, 1975. ISBN 0-02-917110-5
  • Labaree, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party. Originally published 1964. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1979. ISBN 0-930350-05-7
  • Maier, Pauline. The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams. New York: Knopf, 1980. ISBN 0-394-51096-8
  • Raphael, Ray. Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past. New York: The New Press, 2004. ISBN 1-56584-921-3
  • Thomas, Peter D. G. The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-822967-4
  • Thomas, Peter D. G. Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. ISBN 0-19-820142-7
  • Young, Alfred F. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8070-5405-4; ISBN 978-0-8070-5405-5

Aurora Borealis first recorded in New England

December 11, 2013

The first display of the northern lights was recorded in America. The sighting was made in New England on December 11, 1719. Witnesses claimed to have seen a mysterious face looking back at them from the atmosphere, and many interpreted the sighting as a precursor to the last judgment. Since most aurora borealis displays occur in September and October and again in March and April, this was very unusual.


The simplest explanation for the green, red, and frost-white northern lights is that, just as the gas in a neon light glows when charged with electricity, so the gas in the atmosphere glows with specific colors when charged with electric particles from the sun. The intensity of the displays is affected by an 11-year solar cycle and are more intense during periods of increased solar activity.

There is still no technical explanation for the off-season display.


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