Newburyport Tea Party: Patriots burning tea in Market Square

The Newburyport Tea Party, March 1775

Excerpt from “The Standard History of Essex County, Massachusetts,” published in 1878

“When Parliament laid a tax on tea and other merchandise, agitation immediately commenced in resistance similar to that which had led to a repeal of the Stamp Act. Sensing trouble, the British moved all the tea that had arrived in Newburyport into the powder house and bolted the door. It is recorded that a party of young ladies gathered at the house of Rev. Mr. Parsons in Newbury, who was the head and soul of resistance to British tyranny preceding the Revolution, who preached them a sermon; after which they drank “liberty tea”, as herb tea was called.

No man could favor the execution of the law without being deemed a public enemy, and so jeopardized in reputation, property, and person. It was at this period, and before the ”Mohawks” in Boston had tested whether tea would mix with salt water, that Eleazer Johnson, a ship-builder, led the carpenters in his employ to the destruction of tea.

One day, Mr. Johnson, (than whom there was not a more determined patriot in the land, a member of Mr. Parsons’s church, where treason to royal prerogatives was preached every Sunday), standing upon some timber, called his men around him. Few and short were the words he said when the order was given: “Every man ready to do so will knock his adze from the handle, shoulder the handle, and fall into line.”

They all did so, and himself — a man of herculean frame, with iron will and iron nerve, so strong that he was known to carry one end of a stick timber over the bows of a ship against four ordinary carpenters — shouldered his broad axe, the emblem of power, and bis black hair floating in the wind, and his black eyes flashing, led the way to the place of tea deposit.

Plaque on the side of a building at Market Square in Newburyport

A single stroke of the strong man’s trusty axe shattered the oaken door, when, at his command, each man took a chest upon his back, and in solemn, single file, not a word spoken, they wound their way to Market Square, marched around the meeting-house, which then stood where the town pump now is, broke the chests in a pile, and Eleazer Johnson lighted the fires of liberty with his own hand. When the tea was reduced to ashes, like trained soldiers they formed, and returned to their work as silently as they had left it.

This was the first tea destroyed by the patriots in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The tradition has come down in all its minuteness, placing the fact beyond doubt. We had it from Eleazer Johnson’s grandson, the town and city clerk for some forty years. The seizure and destruction not only took place as narrated, but was repeated, — the second burning being at the foot of Federal Street, in front of Mr. Johnson’s house.”

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