Cup of Tea and a Blog

Welcome to my spot for musing about all things tea. Here you'll read reviews of quality teas, click through comments on tea rooms and shops I've visited, and see photos of leaves and cups. You’ll also find things I might talk about over a cup of tea, like philosophy, literature, current events, or fun ways to pass the time.

Location: Pacific Northwest, United States

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04 July 2005

Tea & Independence

I suppose it is impossible to sip tea on Independence Day in the U.S. without thinking of the Boston Tea Party. That’s certainly what I found myself doing this morning.

What am I currently sipping, on this sunny morning of July 4, 2005? Imported tea from China, brewed up British style. Specifically, I chose the lightly smoky (thinking of tonight’s fireworks) Wuyi Shan China Lapsang from Perennial Tea Room.

It has been a while since my last American history class, so I decided to spend a quiet morning browsing Wikipedia and a few other online resources. As always, one web page led to another, and soon I was finding a wealth of information on the importance of tea protests to the American Revolution. I hope you enjoy these fun links as much as I did!

Two Tea Parties

England’s taxes on stamps, sugar, molasses, and especially the taxes on tea were meeting with waves of protest from the colonists. “Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000 pounds to 520 pounds" (Wikipedia entry). Women were exchanging recipes for herbal infusions to substitute for tea, magazines and newspapers published poems and essays on boycotting tea, and merchants were refusing to purchase tea from the East India Company.

Tea was not directly responsible for the American Revolution, of course. However, there is no mistaking the importance of the colonists’ symbolic acts of protest over tea, from drinking herbs or coffees instead, to participating in the more aggressive Boston Tea Party. An Eyewitness Account by a Participant gives a fascinating (and fairly brief) look at the planning and execution of the Boston Tea Party. My favorite bit of the eyewitness tale is this,

“During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets.”

Obviously, many colonists were missing their tea! However, not all of them got away unscathed (read the full eyewitness account to find out more). Not much tea survived those costumed patriots who smashed the tea chests to pieces then flung them overboard. There are only two known surviving tea chests, one of which was grabbed from the shore by a 15-year-old, then passed down from generation to generation. The Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum has quite a few photos and a news article about the Robinson Half Chest.

The Boston Tea Party has become a patriotic symbol for the U.S., but did you know about the Edenton Tea Party? I didn't before today!

"Like their male counterparts, women held protests against British goods. The Edenton Tea Party is one example. On one October day in 1774, fifty-one women signed Penelope Baker's declaration to ban English imports. They renounced drinking British tea and wearing clothes made of British cloth. However, unlike the Boston Tea Party, the signers did not attempt to hide their identities, and boldly signed their true names."

(from a highly recommended essay titled American Athenas: Women in the Revolution, by Tina Ann Nguyen)

The site of the Edenton Tea Party is marked by a Colonial teapot mounted on a Revolutionary cannon. There’s also an Edenton Tea Party Chapter of the D.A.R.

The Declaration of Independence

Of course, all of these protests led to the writing of one of the most rhetorically stirring documents of all time. If for no other reason, it is worth reading the Declaration of Independence for the brilliance of the written argument (this is the writing teacher side of me showing through). Jefferson skillfully moved from establishing inalienable rights, to declaring philosophical truths, to leveling specific accusations that go against these truths, to declaring the separation of the colonies and the creation of the United States of America. It is a brilliant piece of persuasive writing, and it was a stirring document for all who read and signed it.

The British Are Coming!

"Paul Revere was not the only one who announced the British's arrival. Sybil Ludington rode through Connecticut on a chilly April night and yelled that the British were burning Danbury and warned soldiers to prepare for a raid. Thanks to her daring actions, the British were halted at Ridgefield, Connecticut on April 27, 1777 and were forced to retreat to Long Island Sound5."

(also from American Athenas: Women in the Revolution, by Tina Ann Nguyen)

I brewed my tea today in a brown betty, which can’t approach the beauty of this silver teapot by Paul Revere. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has two wonderful web sites that feature silver teapots and accessories: Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate in Early America, and Paul Revere, Jr., 1734 – 1818. Take some time to look at the gorgeous silver and reflect on how important tea really was for the colonists. Also note that Revere, like others in his time, took a few years off from teapot-making while that pesky revolution was happening.

After the Revolution

What was George Washington doing on July 4, 1787 (the anniversary of independence)? Why, sipping tea, of course!

"Wednesday 4th. Visited Doctr. Shovats Anatomical figures and (the Convention having adjourned for the purpose) went to hear an Oration on the anniversary of independence delivered by a Mr. Mitchell, a student of Law--After which I dined with the State Society of the Cincinnati at Epplees Tavern and drank Tea at Mr. Powells."

Tea seemed to be quite important to the orginal George W. Indeed, if you read through some of his diaries, you'll find that he meticulously records the taking of tea.

I greatly enjoyed this account of Tea with Martha Washington, 1790 (from a letter written by Judith Sargent Murray). Definitely read this for more of her rather breathless description of President George Washington:

“. . . his figure is elegant beyond what I have ever seen, that his countenance is benignly good, and that there is a kind of venerable gravity inscribed upon every feature -- as I sat by his side, Homer's Nestor frequently occurred to my imagination, and, of this I am certain, no Grecian Dame, could have beheld the hoary sage, with greater admiration”

It goes on like this for several more gloriously fawning lines – wonderful stuff! :)

Lest we forget the charm of that Washington countenance, I direct your attention to perhaps his most ostentatious profile, that is the one at Mount Rushmore National Monument. I’ve been to Rushmore and the Black Hills many times (my family lives a few hours away, in Wyoming). The best time to visit, in my opinion, is at night in the October or November– take a blanket and thermos of tea at dusk, then sit on a bench and wait for the lights to be switched on. You’re almost always alone, although you’ll see the ranger who opens the gate and turns on the floodlights. (those wonderful clicks through to photos are from Stephanie Sheldon's After Dark Photo Gallery)

Happy 229th Birthday, U.S.A! :)


Blogger Bainbridge of My Existence said...

Hi there...thank you for your comment on Soaking Rhet. In turn, I have discovered your blog. Your Tea and History lesson was excellent. I am working on a degree in American History and I think more people should do what you did. History is better than fiction and you tied the past to the present with revelance. Bravo! I am in dicovery-mode for tea as well, and you will be a resource going forward. Thanks.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Bainbridge of My Existence said...

revelance? I mean relevance, of course. Age is bringing dislexia to the keyboard.

3:44 PM  

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