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Stories of New Jersey
A Jersey Tea Party
The Burning of the Tea at Cohansey. (Period, 1774.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

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

"History of New Jersey." I. Mulford.
"History of New Jersey." J. C. Raum.
"Historical Collections." Barber and Howe.
"Story of an Old Farm." A. D. Mellick.


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