Covering the Annual Boston Tea Party Reenactment on Twitter
December 15, 2009 by Ben Edwards
Last Sunday I attended the annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party at Old South Meeting House celebrating the 236th Anniversary of the event. I decided to cover it using some of the latest technology available to any 21st century correspondent these days – with mobile device in hand (in my case an iPhone) I would be sending tweets on Twitter using TweetDeck as the events unfolded. My Twitter handle @bostonhistory seemed appropriate for the assignment. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to step back in time and discuss these modern communication tools with patriot printers like Benjamin Edes and Isaiah Thomas. I’m sure they would both think I had taken leave of my senses and ask me to follow them back to their respective print shops – the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy – so I might help set type by hand so everyone could learn the news “as quickly as possible” about the events that took place in Boston on December 16, 1773. Well, I digress…back to the present day. It was a rainy night in Boston on Sunday but that didn’t prevent a large crowd from gathering at Old South. This “meeting of the people of Boston and the neighboring towns” was completely Sold Out with over 600 in attendance including some 70 reenactors. (At the original meeting over 5,000 people, 1/3 of Boston’s population, gathered both inside Old South and in the area surrounding the building.) The performance by Old South’s Tea Party Players was outstanding. The reenactors, dressed in correct period attire, were mixed in with audience members throughout the meeting house and each and every one had a particular role to play.
The reenactment of the meeting was called to order by Mr. Samuel Savage, a gentleman of the Town of Weston, who was chosen as moderator. The first of the three tea ships, the Dartmouth, had been in Boston since late November and its cargo still remained on board. A tax had to be paid the moment the tea was landed and if the duty was not paid within 20 days of the ship’s arrival, it would be seized by British customs officials. For weeks, the colonists held mass meetings and tried to prevent the tea from being unloaded, even stationing guards around the ships. They sought a peaceful resolution – have the tea ships return to England with their cargo. Up to this point, all their requests had been denied. The meeting’s moderator asked Mr. Francis Rotch, owner of the Dartmouth, to seek a pass from Governor Hutchinson so his ship might return to England with its cargo. Mr. Rotch left for Governor Hutchinson’s country home in Milton and as the crowd awaited his return and the governor’s reply, a debate ensued and I began my work as a Twitter correspondent.
Audience members were given the opportunity to participate in the debate. In the program for the evening, everyone received a slip of paper, color-coded for either a patriot or a loyalist, and containing words that people attending the original meeting and supporting that particular side of the debate might have spoken. People of all ages stepped up to microphones placed throughout the hall as Mr. Samuel Savage moderated the debate. Here are a few of the 24 tweets I sent during the event: “Doctor Joseph Warren speaks out against the tea tax.”; “Loyalists speak out – 3 pence a pound is a paltry sum to pay.”; “William Health says patriots are traitors to the crown.”; “Patriot – the tea tax is an insult to the citizens of Boston.”; “Loyalist – we must pay for the French and Indian War debt.”; “Patriot – I will continue to wear only homespun clothes and drink Liberty tea, huzzah!”; “Loyalist – we might be speaking French if not for the King. Fi!”; “Patriot – we should have the right to tax ourselves and keep it in the colonies.” A motion was made from the chair that the tea not be landed and a short time later, Mr. Francis Rotch returned with Governor Hutchinson’s answer. The Governor would not grant a pass for the Dartmouth, the tea must be landed and the tax paid. At that very moment, patriot leader Samuel Adams stood up and said “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” It was a secret signal for the Sons of Liberty to act.
The lights dimmed in Old South Meeting House and the “destruction of the tea” was played out in fine theatrical fashion. Men thinly disguised as “Mohawks” or “Indians” resembled their period counterparts who at the actual event were covered with blankets or ragged clothing with their faces smeared with lampblack or soot. The reenactors depicted how the tea was dumped into the sea, while a narrator filled the audience in on all the details including an interesting tale of an individual who tried to pocket some of the loose tea and how he was dealt with by the patriots. On the evening of December 16, 1773, in less than four hours, a party of patriots dumped 342 chest of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor in a protest against British taxation that John Adams called “so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it an Epocha in History.” As the lights came back up in the Old South Meeting House and the audience expressed its appreciation for a wonderful production, I thought of one individual likely in attendance at the original meeting 236 years ago – my ancestor Alexander Edwards a member of the Sons of Liberty. Old South’s Tea Party Players truly helped me picture what his experience might have been like.
The 236th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Annual Reenactment was sponsored by Salada Tea – offering some exciting new flavors of green tea – and The Liberty Hotel located in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. Teachers: Visit the Old South Meeting House website to learn more about the Boston Tea Party and their great school programs including the very popular Tea is Brewing.
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