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.”