1774 Tea Party

On November 4th, 1774, Captain Esten sailed the ship Virginia into the York River and declared his invoice.  It was found he had two half-chests of tea.  The firm of Mess.Prentis and Company, merchants in Williamsburg, placed an order with the London firm, John Norton and Sons.  The refusal to pay duties in Boston and dumping of tea chests into the bay on Thursday, December 16, 1773, resulted in other ‘Tea Parties” up and down the coast.  On October 19, 1774, Annopolis had its Tea Party resulting in the Peggy Stewart cargo ship burning along with its tea.  The Yorktown Tea Party is adequately told on the front page story for the Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon) issue of November 24, 1774.  A similar item also appear in John Pinkney’s Virginia Gazette (pg 3) also on this date.

(The York County Committee Report on the tea ordered by the John Prentis Company.)

YORK TOWN, November 7, 1774.
 THE Inhabitants of York having been informed that the Virginia, commanded by Howard Esten,* had on Board two Half Chests of Tea, shipped by John Norton, Esq; and Sons, Merchants in London, by Order of Mess. Prentis and Company, Merchants in Williamsburg, assembled at 10 o’Clock this Morning, and went on Board the said Ship, where they waited some Time for the Determination of the Meeting of several Members of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, who had taken this Matter under Consideration. A messenger was then sent on Shore, to inquire for a letter from the Meeting; but returning without one, they immediately hoisted the Tea out of the Hold and threw it into the River, and then returned to the Shore without doing Damage to the Ship or any other Part of her Cargo. On the Wednesday following the County Committee met, to consider of this Matter; and, after mature Deliberation, came to the following Resolutions:

Resolved, that we do highly approve of the Conduct of the Inhabitants of York, in destroying the Tea on Board the Virginia.

Resolved, that Mess. Prentis and Company have incurred the Displeasure of their Countrymen, by not countermanding their Orders for the Tea, having had frequent Opportunities to have done so; and that they ought to make proper Concessions for such Misconduct, or be made to feel the Resentment of the Publick.

Resolved, that John Norton, Esq; of London, must have known the Determination of this Colony with Respect to Tea, as the Ship Virginia did not sail from hence till after [t]he late Assembly was dissolved, and the Members of that Assembly, in Behalf of the Colony, immediately upon their Dissolution, entered in[t]o a solemn Association against that Article.

Resolved therefore, to convince our Enemies that we never will submit to any Measure that may in the least endanger our Liberties, which we are determined to defend at the Risk of our Lives, that the Ship Virginia ought to clear out from hence in Ballast, in eighteen Days from this Time.

Resolved, that Howard Esten, Commander of the Ship Virginia, acted imprudently in not remonstrating in stronger Terms against the Tea being put on Board the Ship, as he well knew it would be disagreeable to the Inhabitants of this Colony.

We submit to our Countrymen whether every Ship, circumstanced as the Virginia is, ought not share the same Fate.

Signed by Order of the Committee.

WILLIAM RUSSELL, Clerk.

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(The Goucester County Committee Report regarding the tea ordered by John Prentis Company.)

GLOUCESTER COUNTY, November 7, 1774.

FROM certain Information that the Virginia, Captain Howard Esten, was arrived in York River with a Quantity of Tea on Board, twenty three members of the Committee of Gloucester County, with a Number of the other Inhabitants, assembled at Gloucester Town, to determine how the said Tea should be disposed of.

Hearing that the Members of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, at 8 o’Clock this Morning, had taken the Matter under their Consideration, we determined to wait the Result of their Deliberations. We accordingly waited till after twelve; but the Determinations from Williamsburg having not then come down, we repaired to the Ship, in Order to meet the Education and Outreach Division Committee of York, which we supposed to be in the great Number of those we discerned on Board. On our Arrival, we found the Tea had met with its deserved Fate, for it had been committed to the Waves. We then returned, and after mature Deliberation came to the following Resolutions:

Resolved, that John Norton, Merchant in London, by sending over Tea in his Ship, has lent his little Aid to the Ministry for enslaving America, and been guilty of a daring Insult upon the People of this Colony, to whom he owes his ALL.

Resolved, that no the Ship Virginia, in which the detestable Tea came, ought and shall return in twenty Days from the Date hereof.

Resolved, that Tobacco shall be shipped from this County on Board the said Ship, either to the Owners or any other Person whatsoever; and we do most earnestly recommend it to our Countrymen to enter into the same Resolution, in their respective Counties.

Resolved that the said Norton has forfeited all title to the Confidence of this County, and we will not in future consign Tobacco, or any other Commodity, to his House, until satisfactory Concessions are made; and we recommend the same Resolution to the rest of the Colony.

Resolved, that John Prentis, who wrote for and to whom the Tea was consigned, has justly incurred the Censure of this Country, and that he ought to be made a publick Example of.

Resolved, that Howard Esten, Commander of the Virginia, has acted imprudently, by which he as drawn on himself the Displeasure of the People of this County.

Signed by Order of the Committee.

JASPER CLAYTON, Clerk

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(This is Prentis Company’s public apology for the order of tea.)

WILLIAMSBURG, November 14, 1774.

It gives me much Concern to find that I have incurred the Displeasure of the York and Gloucester Committees, and thereby of the Publick in general, for my Omission in not countermanding the Order which I sent to Mr. Norton for two Half Chests of Tea; and do with Truth declare, that I had not the least Intention to give Offence, nor did I mean an Opposition to any Measure for the publick Good. My Countrymen, therefore, it is earnestly hoped, will readily forgive me for an Act which may be interpreted so much to my Discredit; and I again make this publick Declaration, that I had not the least Design to act contrary to those Principles which ought to govern every Individual who ha[s] a just Regard for the Rights and Liberties of America.

JOHN PRENTIS.

* The printer of this document used the long or leading s, a character that looks similar to an “f”  but is used as an “s.” Citation:  Notices pertaining to the Yorktown Tea Party, November 24, 1774, Purdie and Dixon, Virginia Gazette, page 2, Special Collections, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia

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