Today’s Keyhole to History 1773 we celebrate Phillis Wheatley, first enslaved American of African descent, and only the third colonial woman to have her work published. Phillis was named after the slave ship that brought her to Boston and Wheatley, the family that purchased her. Phillis could read and write in English, Greek and Latin by the age of 12. By 13, Phillis was a celebrity, publishing poems and touring in England. Freed in 1773, Phillis focused her writings on American independence. In 1775 she composed a patriotic poem His Excellency General Washington. Washington praised her “poetical talents” and supported its publication in the Virginia Gazette. Wheatley’s poetry remains a cornerstone of African American literary tradition.
Today’s Keyhole to History June 1773 former Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s letters are published in the Boston Gazette by John Adams. The letters sent to British authorities by Hutchinson and his Lieutenant Governor expressed the need for additional British troops to control protests by Americans over tax increases. The letters were shared with Benjamin Franklin in 1772. Franklin believed the letters’ content should be shared with American leaders but not published. While the source of the letters remained anonymous, Franklin took the blame to avoid a possible duel between two accused leakers, William Whately and John Temple. Franklin was reprimanded by Parliament and lost his job as the Postmaster General. The Hutchinson letter affair was another incident that divided the British and American colonists.
Keyhole to History: June 2, 1773. That’s the day John Randolph, an almost-forgotten American statesman, was born in Virginia. Randolph was believed to be a descendant of the famed Indian princess Pocahontas, and the son of a respectable Virginia planter. At age twenty-six, he was elected to the United States Congress, where he displayed great powers of eloquence and became known for his cutting wit and satire. At one point, just before Patrick Henry died, he debated Randolph. It was reported that a friend of Henry’s remarked, “Come, Colonel, let us go. It is not worthwhile listening to that boy.” “Stay, my friend,” Henry replied, “There’s an old man’s head on that boy’s shoulders.”
Today’s Keyhole to History December 16, 1773 340 chests of East India Company tea are tossed overboard by the Sons of Liberty into Boston Harbor. The chests contained Bohea, Congou, and Souchong black tea, as well as Singlo and Hyson green teas. Colonists rallied against “taxation without representation” and the East India Company. Once expensive, lower costs boosted tea consumption by Americans. Most tea was sold loose from the chest in quarter, half, and one-pound quantities. One pound of Souchong would have made 126 cups of tea. George Washington favored Bohea and Hyson tea and recorded tea activities during Constitutional deliberations. Tea services demonstrated respectability, status, and leisure throughout colonial society.
Keyhole to History: December 16, 1773. That’s the night the Boston Tea Party took place in defiance of the Stamp Act. As thousands of New Englanders swarmed down to Boston Harbor, where three ships laden with highly taxed tea were about to unload, radical patriots were meeting everywhere to stop the shipments at any cost. When Captain Rotch informed the crowd that he was going to “land the tea,” there arose a loud Indian war whoop. The crowds poured down to Griffin’s Wharf, then, almost magically, what appeared to be dozens of Indians in war paint appeared. They boarded the ships and threw three hundred forty-two chests of tea into the water. Then, just as magically, they disappeared back into the crowd. Were they Mohawks, Narragansett, or just fellow patriots dressed as Indians?