We have all heard of the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, but in January, 1770 over 400 Boston women bound themselves to “totally abstain from Tea (sickness excepted) not only in our respective families but that we will absolutely refuse it, if it should be offered to us upon any Occasion whatsoever.”
The Townshend Acts imposed by the British were so hated, that merchants in Massachusetts towns had bound themselves not to purchase any of the articles taxed. At an Ipswich Town meeting on March 19, 1770, it was voted not to purchase any imported goods until the British retracted the tax, “And Further taking under Consideration the Excessive Use of Tea, which has been such a bane to this Country, Voted that we will abstain therefrom ourselves & Recommend the Disuse of it in our Families Until all the Revenue Acts are Repealed.”
The women of Ipswich shared the patriotic fervor, but there is a tradition that the wife of Michael Farley persisted in slipping in to neighbor Dame Heard’s house and partaking of the forbidden thing until the family supply was exhausted.
A story in the The Knickerbocker magazine published in 1843 recorded that “In the time of the Revolution, Mr. Shatswell was a staunch Whig, a leader of one of the classes into which the town of Ipswich was divided; and though his good wife, a descendant of Simon Bradstreet, agreed fully in his political sentiments, she did not like the infringement upon domestic luxuries which many of the patriotic resolutions of the meetings contemplated. Madame Shatswell loved her cup of tea, and as a large store had been found for family use before the hated tax was imposed, she saw no harm in using it as usual.
“There were in those days, as there are now, certain busy-bodies who kindly take upon themselves the oversight of their neighbors’ affairs, and through them the news of the treason spread over the town. A committee from the people immediately called at the house to protest against the drinking of the tea. The good lady received their visit kindly, informed them of the circumstances of the case, and dismissed them perfectly satisfied.
“Some months passed away, and one Sabbath, Madame Shatswell’s daughter, a bright-eyed coquettish damsel, appeared at church in a new bonnet. This was a new cause of excitement, and the committee came again to administer reproof. The lady satisfied them again, and finding no treason to the people’s cause, they again departed.
“Two years of the war passed away, and meanwhile Jeanette had found a lover. It was the beginning of winter; the army had just gone into winter quarters; and the young suitor was daily expected home. Wishing to appear well in his eyes, the maid had spun and woven with her own hands a new linen dress, from flax raised upon the homestead, and some old ribands, long laid aside having been washed and ironed to trim it withal, the damsel appeared in it at church on the Sunday after her love’s arrival.
“Here was fresh alarm, as forthwith on Monday morning came the officious committee against the extravagance. The old lady was now aroused, and she could contain her self no longer. “Do you come here to take me to task, because my daughter wore a gown she spun and wove with her own hands? Three times have you interfered with my family affairs. Three times have you come to tell me that my husband should be turned out of his office. Now mark me! There is the door you came in, so you may go out! And if you ever cross my threshold again, you shall find that calling Hannah Bradstreet a Tory will not make her a coward!”
Madame Shatswell’s family affairs were thereafter left to her own guidance.
- The Knickerbocker, 1843
- Revolutionary Tea (“Our Monthly” magazine, 1873)
- The Breach With Great Britain” by Thomas Franklin Waters