Last week, December 16th marked the 243rd anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, one of the most remembered acts of resistance against British tyranny in the years before the American Revolution. Highly regarded today, this protest garnered the attention of other patriots throughout the colonies and inspired numerous other “tea parties.” Tea was one of the most ubiquitous commodities consumed in Colonial society. Boycotting the purchase of tea—and destroying it– represented a strong statement of protest against the taxes imposed by the British Government. Defiance expressed colonists’ general discontent with their treatment within the British Empire.
92,000 pounds of tea were dumped into the harbor on this day. The enormity of this act was quickly noticed by other patriots, inspiring similar protests far and wide. One such place was Maine, which at the time was part of an essentially a colony of Massachusetts. Maine’s economy was linked to the ocean and therefore suffered just as major port cities did under government taxation.
British taxation and policy bore the brunt of Maine’s anger. In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, towns in Maine took steps to ban the selling and drinking of tea. In Falmouth, many tea merchants attempted to resist these boycotts, inviting the local Committee for Tarring and Feathering to enforce their demands with threats. Divisions between colonists fell away as the British Monarchy became an increasingly negative symbol. When the port of Boston was closed by the Boston Port Act in April 1774, Maine expressed solidarity by shipping firewood and foodstuffs to support the city, despite its own financial hardships experienced by its economic link to Boston.
Tea merchants became a prime target for colonists and their anger. One such merchant who had this misfortune was James Donnell, the Captain of the sloop Cynthia. Captain Donnell’s ship was put into the port of Falmouth on September 15th, 1774, carrying a cargo containing just 150 pounds of tea. In spite of the relatively small size of the cargo, the ship drew the ire of Maine patriots who quickly made off with the tea in an event known as the city of York’s Tea Party. However, even after being carried off by “Pickwacket Indians”, as the local newspaper claimed, the tea was rediscovered the next morning in a nearby building and promptly returned to the merchant.
York’s Tea Party of September 15th, 1774 was a small yet symbolic act of patriotic rebellion in a backwater of New England. York’s Tea Party was not an isolated incident; other tea protests erupted throughout the colonies during the same period, ranging as far away as Charleston, SC, and as close as Cambridge, MA. Some were small like York’s, while others were larger like Boston’s. Regardless of size, these far-reaching protests served to demonstrate the growing resistance to English rule that would soon blossom into full-blown rebellion a few years later.
To learn more about York’s Tea Party and other lesser-known acts of protest check out “Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests that History Forgot” by Joseph Cummins which can be found and purchased at the Old North’s Gift Shop.