Engraving by E. Newberry, 1789. New York Public Library
You’ve probably seen some of the coverage come across your news and social media feeds in the past week about the 250th anniversary of an infamous day in American history - the Boston Tea Party. In preparation for the day, organizations like The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum and Revolution 250 have been identifying participants of the day and placing memorials at their graves and preparing a December 16th recreation of the famous dumping of the tea in Boston Harbor.
We are always curious about how news of such important events was received here in Longmeadow, so we went off to our favorite resource for all things 18th century … the diary of Rev. Stephen Williams (1694-1782). Though the event happened on the night of December 16, 1773, Stephen Williams does not hear of it until a few days later. On December 20, 1773, he recorded in his diary*, “This day we hear that the multitude have risen, and have taken all the Tea (belonging to the East India Company) that was on the ships in Boston Harbour – (broke the Boxes in pieces) – and flung it into the Sea. A strange affair indeed…” That was all. Over the next few days and weeks, he immediately returns to reflecting on matters closer at hand: weather, health of his family and congregants, and concerns over a proposed split from Springfield.
Rev. Stephen Williams (1694-1782)
It would be another two and a half years before some frustrated Longmeadow men staged their own “tea party” of sorts when they set upon town merchant, Samuel Colton’s, shop late on the night of July 24, 1776 - a mere three weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They broke in to steal molasses, sugar, rum, and other items from the West Indies that they believed he had been overcharging for. Rather than throw it into the Connecticut River, they brought it to the home of another town resident who was trusted to sell it at a fair price.
Merchant Colton fiercely defended himself against his neighbors’ accusations that he was more loyal to the crown of England than to his own country. He was deeply angered and hurt by their accusations against him as unpatriotic. Within a year, the robbers attempted to pay him back the cash from the sales of the items, but he refused to accept it, on grounds that the money had depreciated so much that it wasn’t worth half of what it had been at the time of the theft. Nearly 250 years later, the verdict is still out on whether Longmeadow’s “Tea Party” raid on Colton’s store was justified or not.
-Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
* Spelling in Diary entry has been edited here for clarity
Storrs, Richard Salter. The Longmeadow Centennial. Springfield, MA: 1883. (218).
Williams, Stephen. Diary for December 20, 1773. (Transcript Volume 8 229-230/ Original Volume 8 page 880). Accesse