Edenton Tea Party2021-05-28T15:34:48-04:00

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The Edenton Tea Party

In 1774, fifty women in Edenton, North Carolina, signed and published a statement declaring their intention to boycott all British goods. It was the first women’s public collective political action in American history.

Edenton, North Carolina

“Edenton, North Carolina, October 25, 1774,” Postscript. The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, VA: November 3, 1774). Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

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Summary

As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do everything as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so. We cannot ignore events that affect our country. The leaders of our country have decided to protest the actions of our government. We believe we have a duty to speak out. We owe it to the men who lead us, our husbands and fathers, and we owe it to ourselves. We sign this paper to show that we will do anything necessary to support their protests against the government.

“Edenton, North Carolina, October 25, 1774,” Postscript. The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, VA: November 3, 1774). Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

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Background

In the 1760s, the British government needed to find new ways to pay for their costly victory in the French and Indian War. First, they began enforcing the trade regulations that governed their North American colonies, cracking down on the smuggling of foreign goods that had been a part of the colonial economy for decades. Then, in 1767–68, British Parliament passed a series of five acts known as the Townshend Acts. These placed taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. The money raised from these taxes was supposed to offset the cost of defending the colonies. But they were very unpopular in the American colonies, who believed the trade regulations the government forced on them were already costly enough. When the new taxes were implemented, colonists refused to buy any British goods at all.

By 1773, the British East India Company was in danger of going bankrupt. To help the East India Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. This law allowed the company to sell tea directly to the colonists without having to use middlemen. This made their prices so low that they were cheaper than any other foreign seller, even with the taxes. The government probably expected that the colonists would be happy to have a perfectly legal, very cheap tea to buy. Instead, the colonists were furious at what they saw as a further abuse of power, and new protests swept the colonies. The Boston Tea Party is the most famous Tea Act protest.

About the Document

Tea was the most popular drink in the English colonies, and anger over the Tea Act of 1773 did not go away quickly. Throughout the spring and summer of 1774, women across the thirteen colonies were asked to stop buying tea to show their displeasure.

But not buying tea was not enough for the women of Edenton, North Carolina. On October 25, 1774, fifty-one women gathered at the home of Elizabeth King. They named their group the Edenton Ladies’ Patriotic Guild, and wrote and signed a statement about their decision to not buy tea. They explained that they were not just doing it because the men in their lives wanted them to, but because they felt it was a duty they owed themselves as concerned citizens. It was the first time in the history of the British colonies that women came together to make a public political declaration. It was published in newspapers all over the colonies and England, and it caused strong reactions in all who read it.

Vocabulary

  • act: Law.
  • middlemen: People who buy goods from one person and sell them to another.
  • smuggling: To secretly bring illegal goods into a country.

Pronunciation

  • Edenton: EE-din-ton

Discussion Questions

  • What reasons do the Edenton Ladies’ Patriotic Guild give for their support of the boycott?
  • Why were women critical to the boycott of British goods?
  • What makes this document remarkable enough that it was republished throughout the colonies and in England?
  • How does this document change our understanding of women’s roles in the political unrest before the American Revolution?
  • Why was the Boston Tea Party remembered and commemorated, while this event has been widely forgotten?
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Themes

ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE; DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY

New-York Historical Society Curriculum Library Connections

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