Lexington -- Outside Munroe Tavern, residents were encouraged to drink coffee and hot chocolate to keep warm, but absolutely no tea, as Lexingtonians celebrated one of the first known instances of Colonial rebellion.
Almost 200 people, some in Colonial garb, gathered for the Lexington Historical Society’s reenactment of the “Burning of the Tea” on Saturday, Dec. 15. More than 10 pounds of loose tea leaves (provided by Peet’s Coffee and Tea) were burned as a tribute to what some believe was America’s first tea-based protest.
The reenactment recalls the events of Dec. 13, 1773 — three days before the Boston Tea Party — when Lexington residents gathered to pass a resolution written by the Rev. Jonas Clarke that would essentially ban all British tea in town. A few days prior, patriots blocked Boston Harbor to prevent East India Company ships from docking, in an attempt to break up their monopoly imposed by British Parliament.
The Rev. Peter Meek portrayed Clarke, reading the fiery resolution in front of a bonfire built by Boy Scout troops 119, 160 and 10. As he read, members of the crowd showed their support with shouts of “huzzah!” and “indubitably!”
“That we will not be concerned in landing, receiving, buying or selling, any of the teas sent out by the East India Company for the purpose of raising a revenue in America,” Meek read.
After Meek finished, all members of the crowd were invited to grab a handful of loose tea and throw it triumphantly into the fire as a way to protest “overbearing British rule.”
Elaine Doran, the archivist and curator for the Lexington Historical Society, said the event was a great way to build a sense of community as it brought people together around local history.
“Most people didn’t know there were other tea burnings prior to the one in Boston, so this is a great way to educate residents,” Doran said.
Doran said the Historical Society is hoping to make the Burning of the Tea reenactment an annual December tradition. There are no other reenactments in the winter, and unlike the battle reenactments, the Burning of the Tea allows for more active participation by women and children.
Ahead of the curve
Writer and filmmaker Rick Beyer first became interested in the Burning of the Tea while doing research for his film “First Shot: The Day the Revolution Began,” which was released in 2009 as an orientation film for the Historical Society. Beyer said wanted to know more about the events leading up to the battles of Lexington and Concord, and the answer to the question: “Why did all this happen in Lexington?”
As he was doing his research, members of the Historical Society stumbled upon an article written by Anita Worthen in the 1970s about the Burning of the Tea — a largely forgotten event in Lexington history.
“It’s a cool story,” Beyer said. “There were a lot of places in the colonies that did tea protest. The Boston Tea Party had one of the most notable ones, but there were other situations where they impounded tea or burned tea.”
“I don’t know of any that happened before Lexington,” he said. “I think we were the first and that’s pretty interesting to me. This town is just ahead of the curve.”
Beyer said he doesn’t know if Lexington’s tea protest directly influenced the Boston Tea Party, but he believes it acted as reinforcement to those who had already planned to dump the tea in Boston Harbor.
Beyer and his crew did their own private tea burning for “First Shot,” but last Saturday’s reenactment was the first time the public was invited.
A step toward revolution
Beyer said one of the most interesting things about the Burning of the Tea was the inspirational language of Clarke’s resolution. According to Beyer, it is believed Clarke wrote most of the town’s resolutions leading up to the American Revolution.
Although it isn’t known exactly when the tea burning took place, Beyer said it makes the most sense that people were so inspired by Clarke’s words, they immediately grabbed all the British tea in town and burned it on the spot.
Beyer said Clarke’s resolution is one of the first instances of colonists thinking about a separate identity from the British motherland. His wife, Marilyn Rea-Beyer, pointed out the language refers to the colonies as a country, years before the start of the Revolutionary War.
The passage reads: “… If any Head of a Family in this Town, or any Person shall purchase or consume any Tea, such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this Town, & to this Country, and shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt.”
“What country?” Beyer said. “There was no country. But the language indicates people in Lexington wanting to build an identity as a country with its own needs. And this was before the Battle of Lexington and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”
“Unless you know some of the history, it can be very hard to know what it’s about.”
Taraz said music around the time of the Revolutionary War was “like propaganda.”
“We have songs that the British soldiers sung and we have songs the Colonials liked to sing,” she said in between demonstrations on Tuesday.
Taraz said she is particularly interested in songs about Colonial women. She has found many songs about “camp following,” an old term referring to soldiers’ wives and families following them from place to place, or “camp to camp.”
Taraz said women often went to the battlefield with their husbands, even joining the fight if their spouse was injured.
Another song Taraz referred to is about the boycott against imported goods from England.
“One song’s lyrics said, ‘Grace your smooth locks with a twined string,’” she said. “They were always about fashion.”
Researching the role
Taraz said part of the fun of what she does is dressing up in period clothing. She is constantly researching and looking for paintings and pictures of Colonists in Lexington to learn more about what they wore.
“Nowadays women’s clothing is so fussed over, but back then the men’s clothing was so elaborate,” she said, describing men’s clothing detailed with lace and intricate hats.
Taraz also does research to add more songs to her repertoire. She tries to use primary sources but says they are difficult to come by.
“History is like a game of telephone,” she said.
Taraz mostly uses musical magazines and publications from the time that were printed with the sole purpose of preserving the music. According to Taraz, because printing was so expensive, most of the music was never made into sheet music.
“The folk songs were passed down just by being sung,” she said.
A direct connection
Lisa and Bob Byerts of York, Penn. visited the Living History Center during a weeklong trip to Boston. Lisa Byerts said she and her husband belong to their local historical society and wanted to see what Lexington had to offer.
“We’re interested in anything historical,” said Byerts, who lives just 30 minutes from Gettysburg.
Taraz believes the Living History Center helps visitors like the Byertses understand what life was like for Colonists and makes them seem more real.
“I think it really helps the people from back then come to life,” she said. “When you sing a song that they sang and you hear their words and melodies, it’s a direct connection.”
Copyright © 2006-2012 GateHouse Media, Inc. Some Rights Reserved.
From the Lexington Minuteman
'First Shot’ premieres at the Flick
By Jenny Marz/Special to the Minuteman
Wed Jun 17, 2009, 06:53 PM EDT
Lexington - More than 200 people filled the Lexington Flick on Saturday night for the premiere showing of “First Shot: The Day the Revolution Began.”
The sold-out event marked the culmination of the long journey that filmmaker Rick Beyer and the Lexington Historical Society began two years ago when they decided to make an orientation film for visitors touring historic Lexington.
Beyer’s filmmaking experience and passion for history, especially the first 24 hours of the Revolution, made him the best candidate to write, produce and direct the film, said Susan Bennett, executive director of the Lexington Historical Society.
“Rick is a creative filmmaker, a wonderful historical interpreter, and he knows Lexington’s story inside and out,” she said.
Lexington is well-known for its Revolutionary history, but the film aimed to tell the back-story of the town, and the events that led to the first shot fired on the Battle Green.
“Lexington did not spring into existence on the night of April 18, 1775,” Beyer said. “It actually was here before Paul Revere arrived. So we wanted to answer the questions: Why did these people become revolutionaries? How did that happen? Why Lexington?”
Shining new light on life before Revolution
By Bob Clark
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2010© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.
Stored and forgotten for decades, artifacts from the site of Lexington’s historic Hancock-Clarke House will soon offer a rare glimpse into family life in the early 18th century.
“It’s a really outstanding collection,’’ said Christa Beranek, a research archeologist who is helping to organize a display of the items for three successive Sundays starting Oct. 17 at Lexington’s Buckman Tavern. “I have not seen another like it from rural Massachusetts in this period.’’
Beranek leads a team from the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at University of Massachusetts Boston that has been cataloging the items and studying their significance. “I’ve always been interested in people’s stuff,’’ she said.
Picture Caption: Lexington Historical Society member Elaine Doran works on the show of rediscovered Hancock-Clarke House artifacts to open Oct. 17 at Buckman Tavern. (Evan Mcglinn for The Boston Globe)
And quite a lot of stuff there is — including ceramics, glassware, metal tools, buttons, buckles, and other items dating from about 1690 to 1740. They offer a window into everyday life in Lexington before the Revolutionary War.
The house, built in 1737, served as the parsonage for the Rev. John Hancock and his wife, Elizabeth. Their grandson John, whose famous signature has a prominent place on the Declaration of Independence, lived in the house for several years after the death of his father in the 1740s.
The Lexington Historical Society bought the house in 1896 with the proviso that it be moved across the street to preserve it. Then in the 1960s, the society acquired the original land and moved the house back.
But first, it arranged for a dig led by archaeologist Roland Robbins, who had help from many community volunteers. Some 40 boxes of artifacts were collected, stored, and forgotten.
Fast-forward to 2007, when the society was getting ready to do an extensive restoration of the Hancock-Clarke House.
Susan Bennett, the society’s executive director, “asked me to find the collection’’ of artifacts from the house, recalled Elaine Doran, its collections manager. “I couldn’t come up with it.’’
But Doran found a newspaper article from the 1960s showing people working with the artifacts in the basement of the town’s visitors center. Based on the clue, Doran starting poking around in the dusty space, and pushed open a closet door that had been swollen shut.
“There was this sort of ‘Eureka!’ moment when she opened the closet door and there they were,’’ Bennett said.
“I was so excited,’’ Doran said.
The Fiske Center was contacted, and its team began to study the findings.
Beranek said she believes the artifacts date from when the elder Hancock and his family — his wife, three sons, and two daughters — lived in a smaller, earlier home on the site. They show that the Hancocks lived quite well for their time.
“For a rural collection it includes lots of imported ceramics and other things that no one else in Lexington probably had around then,’’ Beranek said.
But at the same time, she said, “It was a working, farming household.’’ They had to produce a fair amount of their own food and things to sell, such as butter.
In 1728, Doran said, the town allocated money so that Hancock could buy a “servant’’ — actually a slave — named Jack. Little is known about Jack, but records show there were 20 slaves in the town as of 1735. Slavery was not abolished in Massachusetts until 1783.
The artifacts exhibition is scheduled for three Sundays, Oct. 17, 24, and 31, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Buckman Tavern, coinciding with Massachusetts Archaeology Month.
There will be additional viewing hours in the new year, Bennett said.
Doran hopes the display will provide a new appreciation of Lexington’s past. “A lot of people who live here who haven’t lived here for a long time don’t realize what the community was all about,’’ she said. “It was one of the places to live back then.’’
The Hancock-Clarke House also played a role in the American Revolution, when it was owned by Hancock’s successor as the town’s minister, the Rev. Jonas Clarke.
The younger John Hancock and Samuel Adams were Clarke’s guests on the night of April 18, 1775, when Paul Revere and William Dawes both stopped on their separate rides to Concord to warn them that the British were coming.
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.