Dec 16, 1773 – When Coffee Became a Symbol of Democracy and an American Beverage

The Boston Tea Party, a defining moment in American history, was a direct action protest against the high price of tea resulting from the much hated and unpopular British taxes of English goods imported to the British Colonies in America. The colonies were more and more considered by Britain as a cash cow to be taxed whenever Parliament needed money.

The “Tea Party” was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout the colonies against the Tea Act passed by Parliament May 10, 1773. Sentiment had been growing about illegal and excessive taxation by what was becoming more and more a foreign government that had lost touch with its responsibilities to its colonies. Throughout the pre-revolution period, tax laws were contested on the grounds that the British Constitution clearly stated that British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their representatives in Parliament. The American colonies had no such representation in Parliament. So in 1765, Nine colonies had formed secret societies of patriots called the “Sons of Liberty” promoting opposition to these acts of the British Parliament. Their rallying cry was “No taxation without representation”

Local taxes authorized by their own elected officials were not an issue.

The following series of excessive taxations and enforcement acts were considered by the colonists as being oppressive, unjustified and illegal and causing hardships, animosity and promoted an adversarial relationship regarding British authority.

The Sugar Act, April 5, 1764

Making customs enforcement more effective, placing new duties on items most widely consumed in America and adjusted old duties rates in such a way to maximize revenues.

Stamp Act, 1765

The Stamp Act was so wildly unpopular in the colonies and it was repealed the following year yet followed with an even more unpopular act.

The Declaratory Act, 1766

Parliament adhered to the position and proclaimed that it had the right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” in spite of the fact that it was unconstitutional.

The Townshend Acts, 1767

Duties were placed on colonial imports of lead, glass, paper, and tea. The money collected on these imports was used to support British officials in the American Service.

In effect, this would take the power of the purse from the colonial legislatures. They could no longer force the governors to implement their own acts. If you controlled the purse strings, you controlled the governmental policies affecting your colony.

The Townshend Acts would also re-organize the American customs service. Parliament had set up an independent customs service based in Boston. Crown appointees would man this service. In turn, the crown, not the colonies, would pay these commissioners.

This board was there to enforce the Navigation Acts, the Sugar Act of 1764 and the new Townshend duties. In addition, as a part of this act it suspended the New York Assembly until they obeyed the Mutiny Act of 1765.

Incidental to the new duties, the majority of the British army on the colonial frontier was pulled back to the east. These troops would be housed in the cities and towns. The Quartering Act provided for the troops. This move was strictly to save money.

The Townshend Duties or Acts included:

 Revenue Act

Indemnity Act

Commissioners Act

Vice Admiralty Court Act

New York Restraining Act

In 1768 troops were sent to enforce the Townshend Acts, because already, British goods were being boycotted by the colonists.

Boston Massacre, May 5, 1770

Also known as the Boston riot, was an incident that led to the deaths of five civilians at the hands of British redcoats on March 5, 1770, the legal aftermath of which helped spark the rebellion in some of the British American colonies, which culminated in the American Revolutionary War. A heavy British military presence in Boston led to a tense situation that boiled over into incitement of brawls between soldiers and civilians and eventually led to troops discharging their muskets after being threatened by a rioting crowd. Three civilians were killed at the scene of the shooting, eleven were injured, and two died after the incident

Tea Act, May 10, 1773

The East India Company was given authority to ship tea directly to the colonies without the added London duties. Already colonists were boycotting British good in protest to the Townshend Acts. Several colonies were preventing the unloading of tea shipments and demanded it be sent them back to England. In some cases tea was unloaded but not allowed to be removed from the docks and allowed to rot. In an act of protest in Charleston the imported tea was locked up in vaults and not distributed. In Philadelphia and New York it was sent back to the ships.

Boston Tea Party, Dec 16, 1773

Three British merchant ships (Dartmouth, Eleanor, Beaver) were boarded by some few dozen raiders in Boston Harbor where they removed and deposited some 342 chests of British tea into the waters of Boston Harbor.

Coercive Acts, 1774 (referred to as the Intolerable Acts in America) Four punitive measures in response to the Boston Tea Party

Boston Port Act. Closed the Port of Boston until the East India Company was paid for the destroyed tea.

Massachusetts Government Act. All positions in colonial government would be appointed by the King.

Administration of Justice Act. British government officials charged with impropriety could only be tried in England. George Washington called it the “Murder Act” because corrupt officials could get away with murder.

The Quartering Act. Required the colonies provide housing for occupying troops.

First Continental Congress, Sept. 5, 1774, Agrees to further boycott British goods

Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia. March 23, 1775

“I know not what course others may take; but as for me give me liberty, or give me death.”

Battles of Lexington and Concord. April 19, 1775. The first armed conflict. “The shot heard round the world”

Second Continental Congress. May 10, 1775 Preparations for war.

Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense. Jan 10, 1776

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

“We the people…

“Up to the date of the Boston Tea Party, it took almost ten years for colonists to change from being loyal British subjects to Americans capable of sedition.”

“From the date of the Boston Tea Party to the signing of the Declaration of Independence was two years seven and a half months.”

After seven years of war American victory on the battlefield came in October 1781, and the British recognition of the United States as independent and sovereign in 1783.

On this anniversary I salute our first fallen in the American Revolution. They designed their own flags. They wrote their own anthems. They fought with their own hunting rifles. They made their own bullets. They had no uniforms and often no shoes. They didn’t fight for country but fought for dignity and the hope of “creating a new country” worthy of freedom. All this happened within twenty years.

About the coffee.

John Smith at age 27 is said to have brought coffee with him to the Virginia colony. Previously he was a veteran of war with the Ottoman Empire, imprisoned and escaped through Russia. He was probably introduced to coffee during that time.

First coffee imports came from the British West Indies colonies of Jamaica, etc

Pre-revolutionary days saw the advent of coffeehouses in the American colonies. In New Orleans, the custom of the coffeehouse was learned from Paris. New Orleans was the only American city where the true type of coffeehouse existed. The coffeehouses of Virginia, New York, Massachusetts and other sections of the original thirteen colonies were naturally fashioned after the English prototype as half coffeehouse and half tavern closely associated with the historical Ale house or Pub of the period.

The first coffeehouse in New York was Burn’s Coffeehouse, which was northwest of Boling Green. The place was a favorite haunt for the enemies of the oppression practiced by the government of George the Third.

Boston had numerous coffeehouses during the days of the Revolution. Among the most famous was the British Coffeehouse at 66 State Street, which served as headquarters for Loyalists; but later, owing to growing political schism among patrons, it became the American Coffeehouse.

The Bunch of Grapes, located at the southeast corner of State and Kilby Streets, was decidedly Whig in sympathies. The Crown Coffeehouse at the head of Clark’s Wharf on the north side of State Street, the North End Coffeehouse opposite the head of Hancock’s Wharf on the northwest side of North Street, the Exchange Coffeehouse in Congress Square, and the Royal Exchange on State Street were among the famous coffeehouses of Boston.

These coffeehouses were liberally patronized by both Whig and Tories. In some of these Coffeehouse -Taverns hostelries, British sympathizers gathered and drank toasts to King George III. In others, Yankee rebels assembled.

At The Green Dragon, which was also known as Freemason’s Arm, such adventurous and ardent patriots as James Otis, Joseph Warren, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Cushing, Pitts, Molyneux and Paul Revere met nightly to discuss public affairs. An historical tablet at 80-86 Union Street, Boston, still marks the location of this famous coffeehouse.

Merchant’s Coffeehouse and The Green Dragon Coffeehouse both played roles in the revolution, The Sons of Liberty society met at Boston’s Green Dragon Coffee House, which Daniel Webster called “the headquarters of the revolution”. In New York’s Merchant’s Coffee House, another group of radicals made the first plans for a Union of Colonies, And in 1788, the United States Constitution was celebrated by unfurling a flag from, you guessed it, the Merchant’s Coffee House.

The Merchant’s Coffee House in New York City was so well known by 1758 that people gave directions by referring to the distance and direction of a given destination from the coffeehouse. Merchant’s had a meeting room it made available to businessmen and societies. In 1764 a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the possibility of conducting a coordinated boycott on English goods and in particular, tea.

But when the revolt finally came, it was at another Boston coffeehouse, The Bunch of Grapes that the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public. In the celebration that followed, the coffeehouse was nearly destroyed by a bonfire built in the street.

For a “decade” it became unpatriotic to drink tea after the Boston Tea Party.

Eventually tea would be imported directly from China without English taxes.

Coffee would no longer be imported from British colonies but from French Haiti until 1803 before the slave rebellion of 1791-1804. Then imports shifted to Brazil where slavery persisted until 1881. It has always been about economics.

At the time of Independence, coffee consumption was one pound per capita in cities yet it was still too pricey for most Americans. In 1882 consumption of coffee was up to nine pounds per capita. Only in 1890 did coffee become more popular than tea. Yet it is important to understand that tea produces four times the beverage as coffee per unit weight.

Not until comparatively recent years, however, did the pure type of coffeehouse invade the cities of the eastern United States; their establishment has been coincident with Greek and Armenian immigration of the early twentieth century.

Wayside Inns and Taverns

By Elizabeth Y. Rump

From prehistoric times people have enjoyed socializing with each other. A natural outcome of this socialization was a formal, designated place of meeting. Early meeting places, or public houses, were a “center for social, religious and political events” (Twaddell). Villages and towns often sprang up surrounding these establishments. When meetinghouses or churches were built as the center for religious life, these public houses remained a center for politics, business, and socialization.

The Ohio Land Company was formed in The Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia. At the Bull Tavern in Phoenixville, land was purchased from the Delaware Indians. Many, like Dilworthtown, also served as courtroom and prison. And let’s not forget, the original owners of the Historical Society’s historic houses also ran taverns to serve the needs of the local and traveling public.

The terms used for these public houses varied by region. In New England, tavern was the most popular term. Inn and tavern were used interchangeably in the Middle Atlantic States, and the term ordinary was used in the southern colonies. An ordinary implies that a meal was offered “at a set time and price to the public” (Rice), while an inn implies overnight stays, and tavern simply means food and entertainment.

Whether called an inn, tavern, or ordinary, a public house offered food, drink, socialization, and a place to spend the night for road-weary 18th century travelers. The type of beverages that were permitted to be served were often specified in the tavern license. In 1722, William Barns was granted a license to sell only “beer and ale.” However, in his license renewal of 1726, he was granted permission to sell “wine, beer, syder, ale, brandy, rum, and other strong liquors” (Chadds Ford Historical Society Archives.) While taverns were an important local meeting place, it was necessary to maintain proper order within your establishment. In William Barns’ 1726 license he was not “to suffer any unlawful game to be used in his house.” Failure to keep order could result in loss of license. Sleeping accommodations were somewhat different than what we would expect of an inn today. In the 18th century, it would not be unusual to share a bed with one or more fellow travelers. This was a practical solution during cold weather, as more people in a bed made for warmer night’s sleep. Sometimes the accommodations might just be pallets and blankets on the floor. With this type of accommodation, you would want to be sure to get to bed early to grab a prime spot near the fire in order to keep warm during cold weather.

Taverns were ranked by the class of their patrons. According to Meg Daly Twaddell, author of Inns, Tales, and Taverns of Chester County, the classifications for taverns from the most elite to the lowest were stage stand, wagon stand, drove stand, and the common taphouse. The stage stand served coach travelers, business men, and the wealthy. A wagon stand served wagoneers and teamsters hauling supplies from rural areas to port cities for sale or export. Drove stands were used by immigrants, local workers, and by those herding livestock to markets. The poorest of the population patronized taphouses as a meeting place.

Tavern signs that were hung over the door to the establishment were very important in announcing the location of a tavern, and its desired patrons. These signs used a combination of pictures and words and were, in fact, a type of pictograph. This was very useful, indeed, when only a limited number of people were able to read. Many of the signs survive to this day. Chester County Historical Society has a wonderful collection.

Taverns were an equal opportunity business. Running an inn or tavern was considered an acceptable occupation for a respectable woman. Indeed, it was the basic housewifery skills learned as a child and utilized within their own homes that made tavern keeping an ideal occupation for a woman. Widows often took over the running of an establishment they previously operated with their husbands or, after their husband’s death, opened a tavern as a respectable means of supporting themselves and their families. According to Diana Ross McCain, the first woman granted a tavern license in the colonies received it in 1643 in Massachusetts, and by 1691, more than one half of the tavern licenses in Boston were held by women. Women in the Chadds Ford area were no exception. From 1741 to 1744 Elizabeth McNeil’s name appears on the Kennett Township petition along with that of her husband. In 1756, Mary House, “widow of James House,” also of Kennett Township, petitioned for a license, and Mary Dilworth petitioned to operate the Rising Sun Tavern in Birmingham in 1804 (Chester County Historical Society: Index to Chester County Tavern Petitions by Petitioner).

Pennsylvania has the distinction, according to Elise Lathrop, of having “more inns than any other state.” This can easily be believed when looking at the Chester County Historical Society’s Index to Tavern Petitions for Chester County. Indeed, in the townships of Kennett, Pennsbury and Birmingham alone, from the years 1721 to 1799, fifty people petitioned to operate a tavern or inn.

Inns and taverns of the Chadds Ford area have continued to serve the public from the eighteenth century to the present. They continue to offer similar amenities, although up-graded by modern conveniences, as their eighteenth century counterparts. Today’s inns and taverns still offer good food, a place for weary travelers to lay their heads, and, most importantly, a place to socialize with neighbors and catch up on the local gossip.

References Cited

Inns, Tales, and Taverns of Chester County by Meg Daly Twaddell.

Early American Inns and Taverns by Elise Lathrop.

“Women Tavernkeepers” Diana Ross McCain, Early American Life Magazine, June 1990.

Chester County Historical Society, Index to Chester County Tavern Petitions by Petitioner Name, Newspaper Clipping Files.

Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers by Kym S. Rice, Early American Life Magazine, October 1983.

Chadds Ford Historical Society Archives.