Charles Town’s First Tea Party: December 3, 1773

Posted by Darren Hartford on


Tea caddy, England (attributed), c.1830. Made from mahogany and mahogany veneers with paper-lined interior compartments. Courtesy of the Charleston Museum, copyright 2016

By the 1770’s, tea trading was a vital industry in colonial America. Parliament’s Townshend Duties tax began to put a strain on the colonists’ use of tea as a source of income. When parliament ruled to repeal the Townshend duties, it was with the exception of the tax on tea.

Shortly thereafter, the major colonies altered their previous non-importation agreements against the Townshend duties to apply strictly to tea (Charles Town on December 13, 1770). In the Fall of 1773, hostilities between the East India Company and the colonists reached a point where the colonists resorted to tea-smuggling, with the goal of complete abstinence from the British East India Company’s taxed tea. Smuggled tea, coming from countries such as Holland, Sweden, and France, was quite easy to receive at secluded ports.[1]

As intended, the colonists’ business of tea-smuggling had a negative effect on the East India Company and on the second-hand profit for the British crown. In an attempt to reverse their loss of the American colonies as a tea trading destination, and to compete with the Dutch, Parliament struck a conditioned agreement with the East India Company. Parliament amended the Townshend Act, with a previous Act still in force, to remove the colonists’ importation duty on tea coming from England if the East India Company would pay the full amount of taxes on the tea to Great Britain before its exportation to America.[2] Colonists in Charles Town still refused the tea. But the East India Company had agents in Charles Town who were loyal to the crown and still wanted to purchase the tea. In October of 1773, the ship London set sail for Charles Town, with 257 chests of tea for the agents of the East India Company.[3]

Charles Town’s first tea party occurred on December 3, 1773, when Captain Alexander Curling’s ship London arrived in Charles Town’s port. Among the agents were Roger Smith and William Greenwood. Before the chests were unloaded, a meeting was called in the Great Hall over the Exchange Building “to take the sense of the people so collected, what would be absolutely necessary to be done in the present case”. The decision of the people in attendance at the meeting was that the men who were to receive the chests of tea “should be requested to enter immediately into a written agreement, not to import any more teas that would pay duties, laid for the UNCONSTITUTIONAL purposed of raising a revenue up us, WITHOUT OUR CONSENT”.[4] The men agreed not to accept the tea and on December 22, 1773, the tea was unloaded and taken to be stored in the warehouse under the Exchange, and no payment of duties was made. Satisfied, the citizens allowed the tea to remain in Charles Town only if locked away.[5]

 

Glass tea caddy with tea leaves, Courtesy of the Charleston Museum


PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE CHARLESTON MUSEUM - "AMERICA'S FIRST MUSEUM". LEARN MORE AT WWW.CHARLESTONMUSEUM.ORG.
[1] Schlesinger, Aurthur Meier. “The Uprising Against the East India Company.” Political Science Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1917): 60-62.
[2] Farrand, Max. “The Taxation of Tea, 1767-1773.” The American Historical Review 3, no. 2 (1898): 266-67.
[3] S. C. Gazette, December 6, 1773.
[4] Ibid.
[5] The Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon. “History.” 
http://oldexchange.org/history/