The First Tea Parties Went Viral, Too

Everyone knows about the Boston Tea Party -- that is,  the original one in 1773. But somehow, elementary school text book authors forgot to tell us about dozens of others. Turns out, the current Tea Party craze went viral the first time around, too.

In his new book, Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests that History Forgot, Joseph Cummins tells the story of a series of protests and tea boycotts that galvanized revolutionaries from Maine to South Carolina.  

In Annapolis, Maryland, the owner of a ship of tea agreed to allow the colonists to burn the tea, but when mob showed up at his house while his wife was giving birth, he burned the entire ship.  

And in Edenten, N.C., a group of 51 women signed a document agreeing not to let a sip of tea pass their lips until "all Acts which tend to enslave this our Native Country shall be repealed." The meeting’s organizer did this despite the fact that her husband worked for the North Carolina government and was often in London.

Cummins argues that if Boston had been the lone site of a tea party, the revolution would never had gotten underway. It was the sum total of all the civil disobedience that created unity among colonists.

“Before the Revolutionary War, people from the thirteen colonies were not all that fond of one
another -- there were regional differences and prejudices,” Cummins said.

The author believes there are some similarities with present day Tea Party groups. The colonists were battling economic hardship, and were outraged by high taxes and inadequate government representation. But the comparison pretty much stops there.  An argument can be made, Cummins said, that the tea parties are just as tied to Occupy Wall Street.

“The present day Tea Party is funded, at least in part,  by corporate interests, so it didn’t really arise from the grassroots even though it certainly engages average people,” Cummins said.

“The original tea party activists were fighting against wealthy Loyalist merchants and the East India Company, and they were using civil disobedience. So in that way, they are much more like the Occupy movement. ”