Originally published in 1896 by Frank R. Stockton (1834 - 1902). This was in reference to an event that occurred on December 22nd, 1774 in Greenwich Township, Cumberland County NJ.
At the time when the American colonists began to be restless under the rule of Great Britain, the people of New Jersey showed as strong a desire for independence as those of any other Colony, and they were by no means backward in submitting to any privations which might be necessary in order to assert their principles. As has been said before, the people were prosperous, and accustomed to good living, and it was not likely that there was any part of America in which a cup of well-flavored tea was better appreciated than in New Jersey.
But when the other colonists determined to resist unjust taxation, and resolved that they would not use tea, on which a heavy tax was laid without allowing the American people to have anything to say about it, the patriotic people of New Jersey resolved that they too would use no tea so long as this unjust tax was placed upon it. When the tea was destroyed in Boston Harbor, the Jersey patriots applauded the act, and would have been glad to show in the same way what they thought upon the subject.
But when tea was shipped from England, it was sent to the great ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston; and what was used in New Jersey came from these places after the consignees had paid the tax. However, to show their sympathy with the efforts which were being made at the sea-ports to prevent the landing of tea, the New Jersey people, that is, those who belonged to the Whig party,--which was the patriotic party, and opposed to the Tories, who favored England,--formed an association, the members of which bound themselves to buy or use no tea until the tax should be removed.
There is a story told of Hugh Drum of Somerset County, who was so thoroughly in earnest on this subject, and who probably supposed that the weak little Colonies would always have to submit to the power of Great Britain, that he took an oath that never again during the rest of his life would he take a cup of tea; and although he lived a great many years afterward, during which the Americans imported their own tea without regard to what any other country thought about it, Mr. Drum never again drank tea.
But at last an opportunity came for patriotic Jerseymen to show that they were not behind the other colonists in resisting the attempt of Great Britain to force upon them this taxed tea.
Nearly a year after the tea had been thrown overboard in Boston Harbor, a vessel from England--loaded with tea, and bound to Philadelphia--put into Cohansey Creek, a small stream which runs into Delaware Bay, and anchored at the little town of Greenwich. This vessel, called the "Greyhound," was afraid to go up to Philadelphia, because from that port tea ships were sent back to England as soon as they arrived, as was also the case in New York. So the captain of the "Greyhound" thought it would be a good plan to land his tea at Greenwich, from which place it could be taken inland to its destination. Here the cargo was unloaded, and stored in the cellar of a house opposite the open market place.
This business of forcing tea upon the American colonists had become a very serious matter to England; for the East India Company had now in their warehouses at London seventeen million pounds of tea, and, if there should be no sale for any of this in the American market, the loss would be very severe. Consequently every possible method was resorted to, in order to have the tea landed on American soil; it being believed, that, if the tea once got into the hands of the dealers, the people would overcome their prejudices to its importation, and begin to use it again.
Therefore the captain of the "Greyhound" thought he was doing a very sharp thing when he sailed up Cohansey Creek and unloaded his tea. That cargo was landed, and in those days an English captain of a tea ship might well be proud of having performed such a feat.
But it is not likely that the captain of the "Greyhound" had ever before sailed into a port of New Jersey, large or small, or had anything to do with Jerseymen; for if he had, he would not have been so well satisfied with the result of the voyage.
The people of Greenwich could not prevent the landing of the tea, for there was no organized force at the place, nor could they order the "Greyhound" to turn round and go back to England; but they would not allow their town to be made use of as a port of entry for this obnoxious merchandise, simply because it was a little town, and could not keep English ships out of its waters. A meeting of the patriotic citizens was held, and it was resolved that no tea should go out of Greenwich to comfort the bodies and contaminate the principles of people in any part of the Colonies; and they would show their British tyrants that it was just as unsafe to send tea into Cohansey Creek as it was to send it into the harbor of Boston.
Having come to this determination, they went immediately to work. A party of young men, about forty in number, was organized; and in order to disguise themselves, or strike terror into anybody who might be inclined to oppose their undertaking, they were all dressed as Indians. They assembled in the market place, and then, making a rush to the house in which the tea was stored, they broke open the doors, carried out the tea, split open the boxes in which it was contained, and made a great pile of it in an open space near by.
When tea is dry and in good condition, it will burn very well, and it was not many minutes before there was a magnificent bonfire near the market place in Greenwich; and in all that town there was not one man who dared to attempt to put it out. Thus the cargo of the "Greyhound" went up in smoke to the sky. It must have been a very hard thing for the good ladies of the town to sit in their houses and sniff the delightful odor, which recalled to their minds the cherished beverage, of which, perhaps, they might never again partake. But they were Jerseywomen, of stout hearts and firm principles, and there is no record that any one of them uttered a word of complaint.
But in every community there is at least one person in whose mind there is a little streak of the Ananias nature, and there was a man of that kind in Greenwich. His name was Stacks, and he was a great lover of tea; moreover, he had a soul disposed to economy and thrift. Consequently it was very hard for him to stand by and see all that tea wasted; and he thought it would be no harm--as he was not a merchant, and did not intend to exercise evil influences upon the people of America by inducing them to buy tea--if he appropriated to himself a little of this most desirable herb, which was to be burned and wasted before his very eyes.
Whenever he had a chance, he slipped a little tea into some part of his clothes where he thought it would not be noticed, and so gradually loaded himself with a considerable stock of the herb. In fact, he stowed away so many handfuls of it, that, when the fire was over, his companions noticed that he had considerably increased in size; and it was not long before his trick was discovered. We do not hear that he was compelled to empty out the tea, but we are told that ever after he went by the name of "Tea Stacks."
This tea bonfire created a great stir, and although the patriotic party approved it, there were a great many Tories in the country who condemned it as a piece of outrageous violence and wanton waste. This latter opinion was so freely expressed, that the English owners of the cargo were encouraged to take legal steps against the men who destroyed the tea. It was easy enough to do this; for the young fellows who had made the bonfire were very proud of what they had done, and, instead of denying their connection with the burning of the tea, were always very ready to boast of it.
When it was understood that the tea burners were to be prosecuted, all the Whigs of the surrounding country determined to stand by them; and they subscribed a large sum of money to engage lawyers to defend their case. The strength of the popular feeling was shown by the fact, that, when the case was brought to court, the grand jury positively refused to bring a bill against these young men, although the judge insisted that they should do so. The matter was thus postponed; and as it was not long before the Colonies broke out into open rebellion, and a period followed when Englishmen no longer brought suits in American courts, there was no further action in regard to the tea burning at Greenwich.
Therefore, unless Mr. Stacks contrived to keep some of the tea which he carried off in his clothes, the good people of the neighborhood, if they drank tea at all, made it of the dried leaves of raspberries, or those of some other bush, which have something of a tea taste, and were thus enabled to have a hot beverage with their evening meal, with but a little strain upon their imaginations, and none at all on their consciences.
In other neighborhoods, however, there were people who, although they were patriots and inclined to support the cause of American liberty, could not see how such a little thing as drinking a cup of tea, if they happened to have it, could interfere with their regard and respect for the great principle of justice and independence.
Of course, it was to be supposed that the Tories, who were opposed to this nonsense about independence, were glad to buy tea and to drink it whenever they got the chance; but it was expected that those who called themselves Whigs and patriots would stand by their party, and discountenance tea drinking. There is a story told of a man who lived in Bridgetown, who was a member of one of the Committees of Safety which were formed for the purpose of promoting the cause of American liberty. It was found out that this man and his family were in the habit of drinking East India tea; and when his fellow-committeemen asked him in regard to this matter, he boldly admitted that they all liked tea, that they drank tea, and that they intended to drink tea.
This was a very serious matter, and the committee saw that it was necessary to take vigorous measures in regard to this peculiar case. At first they tried the force of argument; but all they could say to the man amounted to nothing. He had principles, and what he considered very good principles; but he liked tea, and, having it in the house, he saw no harm in drinking it. So the teapot was on his table every day.
Now, his fellow-committeemen held another meeting, and formally resolved that this unpatriotic patriot should be punished in a way which would make a powerful impression on him, and which would show the whole community how the Committee of Safety intended to stand firm in the position they had taken in resisting unjust legislation. It was resolved, that, so long as he and his family drank tea, the patriots of the neighborhood would have nothing to do with him, they would not deal with him, nor would they associate with him or his. This was an early instance in America of what is known now as "boycotting."
It was a very hard thing to be shut out from all dealing and connection with his friends and fellow-citizens, and it was not long before the tea drinker made up his mind that the society and friendship of his neighbors was better even than the highest flavored cup of tea; and so he formally acknowledged his error, begged the pardon of the committee, and promised that thereafter he would act in accordance with their rules and regulations; and his family teapot was put away upon a high top shelf.
But the time came, in a very few years, when the American people attended to their own taxation, and when this teapot, with all the others in the country, could be taken down and freely used without interference with law or conscience.