The Ladies of Boston Swear off Tea

A lengthy, illustrated article appeared in the December 1852 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine recalling the events leading up to the 1773 Boston Tea Party and the defiant role New England women played in setting the course for opposing George III’s tax schemes. A portion of the article reads as follows:

In America meetings were frequently held and men thus encouraged each other by mutual conference. Nor did men, alone, preach and practice self-denial of the dreaded tea; American women cast their influence into the scale of patriotism as they assembled in Faneuil Hall, there to declare that they would “totally abstain from the use of tea,” and other proscribed articles.

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FANEUIL HALL

Early in February, 1773, the mistresses of three hundred families subscribed their names to a league, binding themselves not to use any more tea until the impost clause in the Revenue Act should be repealed. Their daughters speedily followed their patriotic example, and three days afterward, a multitude of young ladies in Boston and vicinity, signed the following pledge:

“We, the daughters of those patriots who have, and do now appear for the public interest, and in that principally regard their posterity—as such, do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hopes to frustrate a plan which tends to deprive a whole community of all that is valuable in life.”

From that time, tea was a proscribed article in Boston, and opposition to the form of oppression was strongly manifested by the unanimity with which the pleasant beverage was discarded. Nor did the ladies of Boston bear this honor alone, but in Salem, Newport, Norwich, New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, Williamsburg, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah, the women sipped “the balsamic hyperion,” made from the dried leaves of the raspberry plant, and discarded the poisonous bohea.”1

bohea tea potThe newspapers of the day abound with notices of social gatherings where foreign tea was entirely discarded in favor of herbal and fruit teas that filled the teapots of homes up and down the Atlantic seaboard.

These faux teas were referred to as liberty teas, and woe be unto the colonist who was caught drinking Chinese tea that had passed through the warehouses of London’s East India Company!

 

1 Bohea became a common term for tea both in England and the colonies. A poor quality black tea called bohea came from China’s Wuyi Mountains and 240 chests of it were dumped into Boston Harbor three years later.