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Thursday, December 14, 2023

December 14, 2023: Boston Tea Party Studying: The Peggy Stewart

[This coming weekend marks the 250th anniversary of one of the most significant events in Colonial America, the Boston Tea Party. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of layers to that important moment, leading up to a special weekend tribute to some of the many BostonStudiers from whom I’ve learned a great deal!]

On what differentiates the “Annapolis Tea Party,” and what it adds to the Boston story.

Less than a year after the Boston Tea Party, an even more dramatic attack on a tea-laden ship took place in Annapolis, Maryland. Neither the general taxes imposed by the Townshend Acts of 1767 nor the specific ones enacted by the Tea Act of 1773, against both of which as I wrote in Monday’s post the Boston crowd was protesting, had changed in any substantive way in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. As a result, many of the colonists were taking part in another form of protest, ongoing tea boycotts, which were making things difficult for merchants hoping to trade in the popular commodity. And in the summer of 1774, a London merchant named Thomas Charles Williams decided to respond by secretly loading up a ship named the Peggy Stewart (after the daughter of its co-owner Anthony Stewart) with roughly a ton of tea and hoping to get it into America and pay the tax on it without attracting attention. He did not succeed.

To that point, the story seems like it could have unfolded very similarly to the lead-up to the Boston Tea Party. But what transpired over the five days between the Peggy Stewart’s October 14th, 1774 arrival in Annapolis and the burning of the ship and all its cargo on October 19th is quite different from, and far more organized and planned than, the events in Boston. There was an existing committee in the city that was in charge of the tea boycott, and when news of the Peggy Stewart began to spread that body convened for two separate, extended meetings and negotiations with Anthony Stewart, Williams’ two brothers and partners, and many others to decide what actions to take. Those steps included the businessmen publishing a formal apology in the Maryland Gazette and, most strikingly, a formal ceremony to burn the ship and its contents. On the evening of October 19th, in the aftermath of the second committee meeting, Stewart and the Williams brothers set the Peggy Stewart ablaze, and (as the Gazette reported it the next day) “in the presence of a great number of spectators” the ship and its cargo were destroyed.

It’s interesting to think about a Tea Party where most of the merchants were fully on board with the protest and even the destruction of their goods, although it’s worth adding that Anthony Stewart became an ardent Loyalist during the Revolution and went on to found the proto-British community of New Edinburgh in Nova Scotia. But I would also say that we should put the Boston and Annapolis Tea Parties on a continuum, and indeed that we can see the latter event as having evolved directly out of the former. That is, the Annapolis Tea Party reflects Revolutionary protesters who were learning from the past and becoming more intentional and sophisticated in their efforts to challenge the taxes, to thwart the English, and to maintain their community’s overarching goals in the face of different needs and actions from individual businessman like Williams. Too often history is boiled down to individual events or moments, but big changes develop out of multiple, interconnected such events, no two the same but no one occurring in a vacuum. As we commemorate the Boston Tea Party, let’s make sure to include Annapolis in the conversation as well.

Last Tea Party post tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Tea Party takes you’d share?

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