Revolution 250 Podcast

TEA: Consumption, Politics, and Revolution with James R. Fichter

September 05, 2023 James Fichter Season 4 Episode 36
Revolution 250 Podcast
TEA: Consumption, Politics, and Revolution with James R. Fichter
Show Notes Transcript

How well do we know the Boston Tea Party?  Did you know that almost as much tea landed in Charleston, South Carolina--and in Boston--as was destroyed?  What happened to the tea that went to Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York?  What happened to the tea from the William, that wrecked on Cape Cod?   We talk with James Fichter, author of Tea:  Consumption, Politics, and Revolution 1773-1776, about the tea's arrival in places other than Boston, and how tea became a symbol and why boycotts were so difficult to maintain.   Why was the tea so important?  Why didn't the colonists break bottles of Madeira?  How old was the tea the East India Company was selling?  Where did the tea come from?  Who drank tea?  This conversation gives us much to think about!

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 Hello, everyone.
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 Welcome to the Revolution 250 podcast.
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 I'm Bob Allison.
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 I chair the Rev 250 advisory group, also teach history at Suffolk University.
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 And our guest today is James R. Fichter.
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 Professor Fichter is an associate professor in the Global Area Studies program at Hong Kong University.
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 Welcome, Professor Fichter.
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 Thank you.
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 And your first book, So Great a Profit, was How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism.
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 You really
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 I don't want to characterize the work you do, but you really do specialize in these trade networks in the 19th century, 18th and 19th centuries, and the development of global capitalism.
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 But your new book due out any day now is Tea, Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1773, 1776, that looks at this event we all know so well, what we call the Boston Tea Party.
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 But your book tells us it's actually a much bigger story, and Boston isn't central to it.
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 It is.
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 That's true.
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 When I came to the story, I thought Boston would be the core of it.
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 And I thought the Boston Tea Party was the name of the time.
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 And it was only really through digging around through the other secondary literature that you start to pick up.
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 At the time, it had a different name.
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 The Destruction of the Tea, it was often called, if it was specifically called anything.
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 But of course,
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 you can't give up the moniker of the Boston Tea Party.
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 It's the only thing that means anything to us today.
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 And so we should continue using the term.
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 It's rather like the First World War.
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 No one called it that at the time either, but they keep on calling it that now.
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 But in working through the material, it was striking to me how much material there was from far beyond Boston, as far as Charleston, which has surprisingly been neglected in the literature compared to other cities, and even farther afield than that.
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 Yeah, and your book really begins with Charlestown, South Carolina in December 2nd when the ships arrived, which is a striking development.
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 So why don't you just tell us what was going on in Charleston, or Charleston, Charlestown, the name changes during the course of the revolution.
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 And it's tricky because if you're thinking about Boston all the time, you think I'm just talking about Charleston, Mass.
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 But yes, in South Carolina, the tea arrived there on December 2nd.
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 And it had a similar trajectory to much of what was going on in Boston, a back and forth between the importers.
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 on the one hand and the Patriot organizers on the other debating what to do about the tea.
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 But what was so distinctive about Charleston, or at least what seems so distinctive about it was that the
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 the importers didn't quite back down or they didn't back down in the same way as happened in other cities.
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 What was so distinct about Charleston was the tea was actually landed.
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 Unlike in New York or in Philadelphia, and unlike in the Boston Tea Party, the tea was landed in Charleston safely and securely.
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 Sons of Liberty didn't come out all morning to interrupt the safe landing of the tea.
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 The sheriff and the customs officers organized it, safely stored it.
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 The funny thing about it is, is Charleston's geography is so distinctive.
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 They had this great hall where everyone, many of the patriotic meetings occurred in 1773 and four and five.
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 And this hall sat above a lower level that was served as a custom house storage space.
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 throughout the debates that would occur in the following year or two on Charleston as that city also moved toward a more revolutionary posture, they were literally meeting over the tens of thousands of pounds of tea that had been impounded underneath them.
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 And it would rarely come up in official discussion and debate, but it's hard to imagine that these patriot organizers could have
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 completely forgotten about this fact.
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 Yeah, it's 70,000 pounds of tea.
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 It's a lot.
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 And the total amount of tea, because ultimately, tea survived in Boston, too.
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 And when you add that surviving tea up, it's almost as much as the tea that was destroyed.
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 which suggests that the Boston Tea Party, as striking as an event as it was, certainly wasn't the whole story.
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 Yeah, yeah.
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 It's interesting.
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 And you also make the point that not everyone thought, even people on the Patriot side, thought that destroying the tea was a good idea, that this was this great act that is going to unite us.
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 There's a way in which I think because
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 The United States is a country today, and it's easy to look at the Boston Tea Party as this cut, this moment beyond which you see that before which you see the British Empire and after which you see the beginning of the making of America, perhaps.
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 But yeah.
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 You know, the people who were engaging with the East India Company's tea in 1773 were really looking to negotiate imperial authority.
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 And on that ocean waterfront was where so much imperial authority was negotiated.
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 The surprise shock of the coercive acts of 74, what was in part so shocking about them was that it really did seem like the past decade had been this back and forth negotiation, a rough and tumble one, to be sure at times, but one in which
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 the fundamental legitimacy of the empire to decide something wasn't quite in question.
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 It was more about exactly how it was going to happen, who was going to decide.
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 And the Boston Tea Party pushed beyond what was seen as what other patriots in other cities saw as the normal bounds of negotiation.
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 Sure, we can deal with this tea.
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 We can push it aside.
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 We can send it back.
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 We can lock it up without having to destroy it, which seems a step too far for them.
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 So this does then trigger something later.
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 I mean, it's the coercive acts, the response, as opposed to the event itself.
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 Or is it something else that I'm missing?
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 It's something else.
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 So the Boston Tea Party destroys three ship loads of tea.
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 And there were four ships of tea that were sent to Boston.
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 And this fourth ship, the fourth vessel, the William, wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod.
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 And this tea was ultimately salvaged.
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 And in a way that if you're
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 It was very sneakily, or if you're a loyalist, it was very cleverly secured in Castle William, in this island castle in the middle of Boston Harbor, where it was safely locked up.
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 And in this, it mirrors, Boston starts to mirror Charleston.
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 Here you have two ports now, meaningful supplies of tea, about 10,000 pounds in Boston.
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 It's a little, you know, you wonder in Boston, because it was a salvage operation,
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 if all the pounds that were salvaged were really that great.
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 But they were salvaged, and they were stored in this sort of combined operation where the army was in charge of the castle, the navy guarded the water around it, and the customs officers had the keys to the room where the tea was stored.
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 This created a sort of hammer and anvil problem because Boston both had destroyed tea and had tea that could be sold.
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 And that was unique.
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 Other cities all had some sort of definitive response.
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 New York and Philadelphia sent it back.
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 Charleston locked it up.
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 Here, Charleston and Boston had done two things at once.
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 And the reason the tea had been destroyed was in part because
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 people may well have wanted to consume it.
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 It was not simply as a protest, but also as a way to prevent consumers from undermining the patriot movement.
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 And so now here was the remainder of this tea, which could any day risk being landed.
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 And if it were, and if it were sold,
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 Suddenly, the ability of Boston patriots in, say, March or April to speak for the public on this issue would be radically undermined.
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 And so this this necessitated a level of agitation and violence that was throughout Boston in the winter and early spring.
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 It was very distinctive.
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 You make this really interesting argument that the whole attempt to ban tea was a failure because it was too popular a commodity.
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 And that with the Patriots in Boston and other places had pushed non-importation because they couldn't really do non-consumption.
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 They couldn't get people to agree to stop the drinking tea.
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 Yeah, there's a very old definition of political legitimacy that predates politics.
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 the emergence of American democracy or really most systems of specific systems of rule.
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 And it's about, you know, are the people starving most generally and more broadly the standard of living of the populace.
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 And it can be dangerous for politicians to be going out and taking things away from people and taking away consumer goods, especially in the 1770s.
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 when historians debate to what extent there was a consumer revolution going on at the time.
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 Whether or not there was, there's certainly enough evidence to be worth having a debate about it.
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 Beyond that,
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 you can look at what daily colonial consumer life was like a generation or two earlier.
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 People's lives really were mean and short and spare.
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 And so to be able to have a little bit extra, to have one extra finer coat, an extra nice dress,
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 some Magiera to enjoy drinking, a bit of wine, a bit of tea, a bit of coffee, a few other consumer goods.
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 This is what lubricates life and makes it worth living in the cold winter and to make daily life a little bit nicer than it used to be.
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 this becomes quite tricky.
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 It's hard to see that when we think about consumer protests, and we can be very excited about these protests.
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 These are the first major consumer protests, boycotts in world history.
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 But the boycotts have another side to them, which is most boycott movements
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 Many boycott movements don't succeed.
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 People lose interest or they don't have the impact they want.
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 And this one was potentially no different because the war happened.
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 Suddenly we stopped paying attention to the boycotts.
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 We're not worried about it.
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 Parliament kindly enforced the colonists boycott of Britain for them with the Royal Navy.
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 So there wasn't really...
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 any long-term necessity for the public to be engaged in boycotting.
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 We're talking with James Fichter, author of Tea, Consumption, Politics, and Revolution.
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 Your book also makes this case that we overlook the fact that this was a revolutionary period then between the destruction of the tea and the war as people's minds are changing.
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 As you said, the British are enforcing this boycott that the patriots
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 and their boycotts hadn't really worked.
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 We saw that in the late 1760s with the attempted non-importation.
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 of British goods in the wake of the Townsend duties, which hadn't been working.
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 And again, they're falling apart.
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 And the Boston Massacre really bails out the Patriot movement at that moment.
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 And in this case, it's not just the destruction of the tea.
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 It is the fact that this then triggers the coercive acts and the change in dynamic, which often we overlook when we're trying to tell the story.
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 We think everyone always thought the same way, when instead this is a period of tremendous change.
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 I'm wondering, again, when I was doing some work on the Tea Party some years ago, I remember that I was surprised the first real, the Philadelphia merchants, when they heard about the Tea Act, knew the Bostonians are going to cut us out, so we want all the merchants to agree on something before, they thought for some reason that Bostonians were self-interested self-dealers and not the disinterested selfless patriots that we know them to be.
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 The merchants that were importing tea didn't really have any ability to have a combined intercity agreement.
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 And the broader groups of merchants also failed to really pull that off.
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 It is funny, though.
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 You begin to see in many of these cities, you begin to see merchants acting collectively, either in response to the ECD company tea imports or...
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 in the broader time period.
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 So the Charleston, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce emerges at this moment as a specific lobby to speak for the merchant interest.
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 And you see an earlier Chamber of Commerce, it's not called a Chamber of Commerce, it's called a meeting of merchants, as began to sit in Virginia in the,
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 1769 boycotts, and that also speaks for this much more spread out collective group.
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 But this then, right, it becomes a problem because there is no, this sort of, the patriot ability to coordinate even is still quite limited.
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 I like Henry Lawrence, I think, calls the Bostonians the Wiley Cromwellians, which is an interesting term.
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 I suspect he was not one himself.
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 No, I don't think so either.
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 And Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Patrick Henry all think this was a bad idea.
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 The destruction of the tea was not the...
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 good event that we see it to be, is creating this colonial unity.
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 I mean, it is surprising how many people that are sort of leading names of the revolutionary movement, especially people like Patrick Henry, who are perhaps most famous and most people for having said one thing once, also have this other thing to say.
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 And this was too radical.
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 And in some ways you can say, well, it really wasn't that radical.
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 It was a property crime.
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 They didn't kill anybody.
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 They didn't
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 really hurt anybody even, unlike at other times.
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 But it was seen as too radical by many other patriot elites and other colonies.
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 It was divisive.
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 And in fact, the Boston Committee of Correspondents, when you look at their letters with the other committees of correspondence, especially outside of Massachusetts and outside of New England, where they're more likely to be directly corresponding with...
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 colony-wide committees in New York or Philadelphia or something.
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 And they are apologetic about the Boston Tea Party.
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 They get the sense that this is embarrassing.
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 And so in the letter, Paul Revere brings the letter from Boston down to New York and it's brought on to Philadelphia that explains what goes on there.
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 And there's different levels to the apology.
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 On one level,
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 they have to pretend they don't know what happened.
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 The criminal act, the revolution hasn't happened yet.
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 Imperial authority is still there.
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 So they can't admit in writing that they've committed a crime.
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 Some stuff happened to the tea.
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 We don't know who did it.
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 But then also they soft pedal the severity of the action in order to make it seem more palatable to other readers.
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 And it's funny, even Congress,
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 A year later, when Congress is explaining itself in announcing the Continental Association and explaining itself back to Britain, it says it tries to launder the Boston Tea Party as being a more acceptable event.
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 Congress says, oh, it wasn't so bad.
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 And, you know, the courts were open.
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 If people were upset, they could have sued.
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 You know, they could have sued.
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 Well, no, the courts weren't open.
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 The radicals had sued.
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 prevented judges from being there.
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 They had scared away all potential plaintiffs from civilian courts, from admiralty courts, from criminal courts.
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 So there's no way that that can be true.
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 But you want to reimagine it, more palatable that way.
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 The time, it's funny, in that short window of time, like you're saying, it's a quick revolution.
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 in that short window of time, people reimagine what things meant so that even a year later, they reimagine their own past and re-remember it to make it make sense to themselves.
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 And this is also why they make such a labored effort to blame Thomas Hutchinson, the governor, who won't allow the ships to go, the customs commissioners.
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 It's this bureaucracy that's preventing the tea from simply going back, which is what we wanted.
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 exactly the the you know they say we really only wanted to just send it back to britain and they wouldn't let us do it um and and uh you know actually you could have landed it paid the tax and shipped it back to britain at a loss that was technically and legally possible there would have been no buyers for it but it would have been doable but the
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 it was not, you know, that need to always blame someone else for it, just to tell that maybe you think it's a blameworthy act.
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 Well, as Samuel Adams said, you know, putting your enemy in the wrong and keeping him in the wrong is a good rule in politics and in war.
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 And that's definitely what we see happening here with the really careful creation of this story around this event.
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 So that, you know, we're blameless because we know, as you said, that it is a blameable act that
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 And they're also right in that the colonial officials that they're dealing with are probably most obviously and quite probably deliberately dragging their heels.
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 This is the way to really stick it to the Boston Patriots.
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 No, they're not going to help get the Patriots out of this jam.
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 No, they're not going to help send this tea back to England.
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 They're going to make it impossible to get rid of and try to, in so doing, bring down
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 the rebelliousness of the Patriot movement.
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 And it's striking that after the Boston Tea Party, only two weeks later, suddenly that salvaged tea is coming in from Cape Cod and being brought to Castle William and Jonathan Clark, the ECD company consigning in Boston, corresponding with Hutchinson, corresponding with Leslie, Lieutenant Colonel Commanding the 64th in the Castle.
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 corresponding to other officials.
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 They immediately come up with a plan about what to do when the tea arrives.
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 In fact, they create this tidy little legal fiction.
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 Their letters discussing what to do when the tea arrives are all written after it's arrived.
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 They keep pretending it hasn't arrived so that they can not have to commit to anything that might not be well considered.
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 And then they execute their plan in about a day and a half.
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 They come up with a plan.
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 When they have to move, they can.
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 It's interesting.
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 So what happens to that tea that lands at Castle William?
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 Well, it's locked up.
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 And to be honest, I spent the longest time trying to figure that out.
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 It was so confusing.
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 Ultimately, it's sold.
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 And the weirdest thing is that the only evidence we have that it was sold is in the one place that everyone had looked.
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 And that was these India companies papers.
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 we had all looked in their ledgers for 73 and for 74 and just hadn't thought to look to see if Boston showed up in their mail in 1775.
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 It did.
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 Uh, and so it's in 75 after Boston is, uh,
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 denuded of its rebellious patriots after the Battle of Lexington Conquered, when Gage allows all the patriots to leave and loyalists come in from the rest of the province into Boston.
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 So Boston loses about roughly two thirds of its population and more.
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 And now Boston is a loyal town.
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 There are no more troublemakers in the city.
 20:13.330 --> 20:25.258
 There's no more risk of... Before this moment, it had been impossible to form a loyalist militia because the loyalists were afraid to stand up and be counted because they knew the Patriots would count them.
 20:25.298 --> 20:26.219
 Now that's not a problem.
 20:26.659 --> 20:27.780
 Now the tea can be sold.
 20:28.601 --> 20:33.084
 And that's when it's sold, when it's liberated from Patriot rule by the British Army.
 20:33.104 --> 20:33.664
 And the...
 20:35.623 --> 20:40.628
 So it's tempting to discount this and say, well, yeah, of course, the loyalists bought the tea.
 20:41.129 --> 20:44.292
 But yes, that was also the point in 1773.
 20:44.673 --> 20:53.322
 The point of the Boston Tea Party was to prevent people who might buy the tea who were not members of the Patriot movement, not believers in the Patriot cause.
 20:53.802 --> 20:54.003
 20:54.623 --> 20:54.783
 20:54.823 --> 20:56.685
 Because it was a very popular commodity.
 20:56.885 --> 21:03.770
 And so this is an attempt to prevent, you know, the Patriot people who might be Patriots are leaning that way to buy the stuff.
 21:04.250 --> 21:05.451
 So we have to enforce the boycott.
 21:05.471 --> 21:11.715
 We're talking with James R. Fichter, author of Tea, Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1773 to 1776.
 21:13.937 --> 21:21.182
 And I know that actually the city of Charleston, South Carolina is planning a big event for December 2nd, commemorating their, um,
 21:22.608 --> 21:25.769
 the events there and there were other actions in other places.
 21:26.290 --> 21:29.191
 By the way, do you know what happens to the tea that's landed in Charleston?
 21:30.011 --> 21:30.772
 It's also drunk.
 21:30.792 --> 21:34.273
 It's drunk in a different moment.
 21:34.473 --> 21:47.039
 In 1776 and 1777, after American independence, it is decided that what had been the king's property is now because the US is an independent, or rather because the United States are 13 independent states.
 21:48.374 --> 21:51.356
 becomes reverts to be owned by each individual state.
 21:51.996 --> 21:59.400
 And so the state of South Carolina owns the customs facilities and it owns the seized goods.
 21:59.740 --> 22:02.602
 So it owns that tea and they sell the tea off.
 22:02.942 --> 22:10.426
 The value for the tea, it's a little hard to quite assess the value of it, but it's roughly about the value of some of the fortifications they put up around Charleston in that year.
 22:11.427 --> 22:13.328
 And it's meaningful because
 22:14.048 --> 22:19.270
 At this point, the Charleston government is basically printing money to pay for the war.
 22:19.610 --> 22:23.752
 We begin to have this hyperinflation happening across colonies by 1777.
 22:24.032 --> 22:35.356
 So being able to sell off assets to pay for the revolution is a much more attractive alternative to just printing money or having to tax your people or raise loans that no one really wants to give them.
 22:36.276 --> 22:37.216
 And so it gets sold.
 22:39.199 --> 22:43.561
 This, of course, is sold in the completely reverse political context of the tea in Boston, right?
 22:43.601 --> 22:46.363
 This is sold by the Patriot government.
 22:46.783 --> 22:49.625
 And in fact, the Patriot government sells it and collects the revenue.
 22:50.065 --> 22:58.049
 Weirdly, the merchants who administer it are the 1773 East India Company consignees who are still there in 1776.
 22:58.169 --> 22:59.690
 They haven't been ostracized.
 22:59.710 --> 23:01.291
 They haven't been isolated.
 23:01.371 --> 23:01.611
 They have...
 23:05.613 --> 23:07.675
 negotiated a different kind of arrangement.
 23:07.955 --> 23:12.238
 Some of them will become loyalists in the future and ultimately leave and be prescribed.
 23:12.638 --> 23:15.040
 But that's more around their military service.
 23:15.400 --> 23:17.962
 This is this weird moment where the state takes advantage of them.
 23:18.082 --> 23:20.884
 But South Carolina has a very distinctive
 23:21.704 --> 23:25.326
 mercantilist and self-interested approach to the revolution and the boycotts throughout.
 23:25.947 --> 23:26.527
 That's interesting.
 23:26.907 --> 23:31.730
 And it's much different from what happened to the tea consignees in Boston who are ostracized and driven.
 23:31.950 --> 23:36.273
 They're also sent out to Castle William because it's not safe for them on the mainland.
 23:36.893 --> 23:37.353
 That's right.
 23:38.234 --> 23:43.917
 I wonder, can we talk a little bit about, I do want to talk about where the tea comes from and the East India Company.
 23:43.957 --> 23:49.561
 But before we do that, can we talk a little bit about the tea that gets to Philadelphia and New York and what happens in those places?
 23:50.444 --> 23:50.664
 23:50.804 --> 23:57.266
 So the East India Company had sent, as we're saying, four larger parcels of tea.
 23:57.306 --> 24:02.848
 The Boston shipment was spread across several vessels from New York and Philadelphia to each one large vessel.
 24:03.788 --> 24:05.509
 And the Philadelphia vessel arrives.
 24:06.569 --> 24:08.830
 And on Christmas Day, it arrives.
 24:08.850 --> 24:09.670
 News of it arrives.
 24:09.710 --> 24:13.231
 And because of Philadelphia's geography, you have to go upriver to get to the city.
 24:13.591 --> 24:16.052
 They're able to intercept it at the river mouth.
 24:16.502 --> 24:18.884
 And to tell them, you know, don't go up the Delaware River to Philadelphia.
 24:18.904 --> 24:20.126
 It's going to be a big disaster.
 24:20.166 --> 24:21.987
 The ship captain goes up on his own.
 24:22.067 --> 24:28.133
 He sees this large mass meeting of the public and they outfit his ship and send him back to England.
 24:28.654 --> 24:35.761
 And Philadelphia becomes this template for New York, which is a storyline that runs about four months later.
 24:36.482 --> 24:40.167
 I think the New York tea is the weirdest of them by far.
 24:40.527 --> 24:47.596
 It just because the New York tea ship is hit by a storm and nearly wrecks and puts it in Antigua.
 24:48.277 --> 24:53.304
 And what puzzles me is why he didn't just sell the tea in Antigua.
 24:53.705 --> 24:53.885
 24:54.787 --> 24:56.728
 It was covered by the Tea Act.
 24:57.609 --> 25:02.533
 He could have simply said, if he had been too wrecked to continue, which was not impossible, right?
 25:02.933 --> 25:05.896
 He may have had to unload his tea there if he had been too wrecked to continue.
 25:06.636 --> 25:07.156
 But he wasn't.
 25:07.637 --> 25:08.758
 And of course, the Caribbean...
 25:09.462 --> 25:11.903
 where everyone's buying their smuggled tea.
 25:11.923 --> 25:15.605
 So it would have been a great place to sell tea to ship up to North America.
 25:15.905 --> 25:18.526
 But he didn't, and he carefully kept the tea.
 25:19.146 --> 25:23.488
 He doesn't appear, this ship does not appear in any Antiguan records I've been able to find.
 25:23.628 --> 25:24.509
 I think this is the...
 25:25.615 --> 25:29.518
 This is the space where people need to really start looking, I think, in the story.
 25:29.938 --> 25:35.203
 And eventually, when it arrives in New York, it's part of a prearranged story that they will bring it to New York.
 25:35.263 --> 25:45.030
 They previously agreed, the governor has previously agreed, and then carefully makes himself unavailable to ship the tea off and pretend he didn't notice that it arrived.
 25:45.851 --> 25:48.693
 The naval officers take the same perspective.
 25:48.733 --> 25:51.195
 The patriots agree not to be upset about it.
 25:51.615 --> 25:53.677
 The consignees agree not to cause trouble.
 25:54.269 --> 25:57.353
 Everyone has more to gain by just washing their hands of it and moving on.
 25:57.834 --> 26:00.438
 But that's a negotiated settlement.
 26:01.419 --> 26:01.860
 26:02.100 --> 26:10.292
 So I know we don't want to focus too much on Boston, but what makes it so different from these other places where negotiation was possible?
 26:11.799 --> 26:14.500
 You mean sort of what made the negotiation impossible to happen?
 26:14.741 --> 26:15.441
 Yes, exactly.
 26:16.061 --> 26:18.582
 Because the T both lived and died.
 26:18.622 --> 26:31.989
 It was this sort of Schrodinger's cat of T. So the result is that any negotiated settlement would have, a negotiated settlement had always presented the risk of the William T being landed.
 26:32.629 --> 26:38.292
 And that wasn't a negotiation that the patriots in Boston could walk away from safely.
 26:39.373 --> 26:40.213
 If it gets landed,
 26:40.740 --> 26:48.025
 By the time of the Port Act, which is really it's not supposed to be this crazy draconian law.
 26:48.105 --> 26:52.187
 It's supposed to just punish Boston for the Tea Party.
 26:52.427 --> 26:59.131
 And if they had put a time limit on it, like close Boston for a month and then walk away, it could have been a very different story.
 26:59.431 --> 26:59.812
 27:00.765 --> 27:04.788
 There is a lot of debate in Boston about will we pay for the T to reopen the port?
 27:04.828 --> 27:08.990
 The response to the Port Act is not immediately clear.
 27:09.010 --> 27:14.954
 A lot of people are saying, yeah, let's just reimburse the company, which was what the Port Act requires for Boston to be reopened.
 27:16.115 --> 27:17.836
 But they can't because they don't just have to.
 27:18.736 --> 27:30.991
 reimburse the company for its losses, they have to let the Williams T be landed and sold, accept the T Act to be operating, agree that the imperial tax system is fine, and basically give up all their talking points.
 27:31.492 --> 27:36.558
 So there is deliberately structured by the administration
 27:37.119 --> 27:42.023
 and by the Patriots in Boston as a existential do or die conflict.
 27:43.064 --> 27:53.432
 The administration really focuses on Boston deliberately by April of 74 as they say to sort of from their perspective is to cut out the rot, right?
 27:53.792 --> 27:54.273
 Right, right.
 27:54.833 --> 27:59.095
 I think Walpole the diarist says that the king has Boston on the brain.
 28:02.757 --> 28:13.443
 Now, one of the stories that emerges or myths, stories that emerges from the Patriots is that Americans, and again, you talk about this definition of American and where does it come from?
 28:13.863 --> 28:39.550
 and does this unify people and you say it doesn't is also that they gave up drinking tea and switched to coffee and you make the case that americans continued to drink tea even though it was politically suspect yeah i mean i i think the the most obvious way to sort of think our way through the illogic of turning away tea is um uh during the revolution americans became quite good
 28:40.149 --> 28:43.850
 at taking the British Army's things and using it against them.
 28:44.350 --> 28:56.633
 Henry Knox, famously, brings those cannons from Fort Ticonderoga up more or less what will become route I-90 over to Boston and besieges the British positions.
 28:56.973 --> 29:00.634
 Well, good for him, but he certainly wasn't boycotting British goods by doing that.
 29:01.474 --> 29:03.095
 Well, he was seizing, appropriating them.
 29:03.515 --> 29:03.735
 29:03.955 --> 29:08.416
 But if you can appropriate rather than boycott British arms,
 29:10.040 --> 29:12.624
 which are much more significant than mere tea.
 29:13.045 --> 29:14.568
 Why are we making a fuss over tea?
 29:14.868 --> 29:18.995
 And of course, this is because the boycott movement is never just about tea.
 29:19.015 --> 29:23.182
 It quickly moves from tea to all imports from and exports to Britain.
 29:23.775 --> 29:31.698
 And so why why should we be depriving ourselves of British shirts and British goods if we are using British guns?
 29:33.438 --> 29:39.100
 As long as we're using them, as long as we're taking them from them and appropriating them, we take them in war and make them ours.
 29:39.520 --> 29:41.361
 Then it's all the more of a triumph.
 29:41.881 --> 29:43.822
 And so there becomes this weird.
 29:44.488 --> 30:00.166
 way in which tea becomes this thing that we must symbolically oppose and it has this very useful symbolic value but then quickly loses it once warfare begins because it's one more thing we can take from the enemy and line our pockets with and so much of
 30:00.826 --> 30:04.810
 Civilian experience of warfare, of course, is looting, giving them one side or the other of that.
 30:05.911 --> 30:07.773
 And of course, the privateering that goes on as well.
 30:08.253 --> 30:09.434
 30:09.715 --> 30:16.761
 We're talking with James Victor from Hong Kong University about his book, Tea, Consumption, Politics and Revolution.
 30:17.782 --> 30:22.364
 And of course, you're writing this from an interesting perspective.
 30:22.404 --> 30:26.486
 That is, you're in Hong Kong, which is where the tea came from, southern China.
 30:26.506 --> 30:36.530
 I wonder if we could talk a little bit about the East India Company and how it works in getting the tea from southern China to Boston in 1773.
 30:36.570 --> 30:42.832
 So the English East India Company had been long been involved in this tea business.
 30:43.633 --> 30:44.513
 It wasn't the most
 30:45.795 --> 30:48.057
 It wasn't yet its most successful business.
 30:49.158 --> 30:52.962
 And in fact, the Dutch East India Company was in many ways doing better than the English at this time.
 30:53.462 --> 31:01.150
 The English company was hampered by British taxes, which made it very expected to consume legally imported tea, either in North America or in Britain.
 31:01.570 --> 31:07.596
 And so the entire smuggling network that the East India Company is dealing with in North America is a mere...
 31:09.013 --> 31:34.630
 know appendage of this broader smuggling network that is smuggling tea from france and the netherlands and denmark and sweden into britain across the north sea in the english channel um and so all of these india companies the english the dutch and so on are all sourcing their tea from the same port uh in china uh from canton and and macau and this is of course strange right how you could be importing things
 31:35.103 --> 31:46.088
 All these rival companies are buying things from the exact same location and then shipping them halfway across the planet, but more or less on strikingly similar routes.
 31:46.108 --> 31:51.110
 The shipping route from China to France and China to Britain is the same except the last few miles.
 31:53.350 --> 31:56.693
 And then suddenly they differentiate once they get there.
 31:57.374 --> 32:00.016
 And so this India company had this huge supply of tea.
 32:01.137 --> 32:08.002
 We sometimes like to say that they used that the tea act was used in part to help these India company unloaded supplies of tea.
 32:08.443 --> 32:09.463
 This wasn't quite accurate.
 32:10.264 --> 32:11.245
 They were getting bailed out.
 32:11.725 --> 32:15.146
 already, and American demand probably wasn't big enough to make a difference.
 32:15.786 --> 32:32.010
 But the company did have a massive supply, and it had gone through the previous adjustments in the tea taxes in the 1760s poorly, not because of North America, which was kind of irrelevant, but because of Britain.
 32:32.430 --> 32:39.752
 They had overbought tea and anticipating that these tax cuts would make for greater tea sales in Britain, and they did it wrong.
 32:41.531 --> 32:44.772
 And they didn't cut their prices enough to take market share.
 32:45.353 --> 32:48.775
 And as a result, they had massive oversupply of inventory.
 32:49.315 --> 32:54.678
 Millions, tens of millions of pounds of inventory and about at least 7 million pounds oversupply.
 32:55.779 --> 32:59.401
 But, you know, all it takes is a little inventory management and you can sort yourself out.
 32:59.481 --> 33:01.242
 They had sorted themselves out in a few years.
 33:02.623 --> 33:08.606
 The weird thing about this, one thing that I'm talking to other colleagues about what tea is and what it means is
 33:10.859 --> 33:13.920
 It's confusing how old this tea must have been.
 33:13.940 --> 33:24.583
 And, you know, if you think about it wasn't one doubt, the Chinese merchants, the Hong merchants that were selling to Xenia Company were always selling the newest stuff.
 33:24.663 --> 33:27.884
 By the time it got shipped from there to Britain, it was six months older already.
 33:28.184 --> 33:36.626
 Xenia Company then keeps it in rotation in its warehouses in London and the oldest stuff gets sold first, of course, right?
 33:36.646 --> 33:37.047
 And so...
 33:39.656 --> 33:47.381
 There's actually some debate over whether the tea sent to Boston was rubbish, old, out-of-time tea anyway that wasn't worth much.
 33:47.521 --> 33:49.342
 It's very unclear.
 33:49.362 --> 33:54.305
 We'll have to ask the fish what they think of it, but there's no way for us to know.
 33:55.806 --> 33:57.387
 So it is a puzzle.
 33:57.487 --> 34:07.933
 And then if it had been like the Williams tea or the tea from the London that was the ship that brought tea to Charleston, locked up for two, three more years, this tea could be five or ten years old by the time people are drinking it.
 34:08.173 --> 34:08.493
 34:08.513 --> 34:08.994
 34:09.918 --> 34:11.039
 Does anyone comment on it?
 34:11.159 --> 34:14.481
 I mean, in Boston under Block K, they're probably happy to have anything.
 34:14.962 --> 34:15.442
 34:15.462 --> 34:18.184
 And in Charleston in the revolution, which is,
 34:18.982 --> 34:22.085
 also under some level of blockade and happy to have anything, I guess.
 34:22.565 --> 34:24.366
 So I don't see any complaints about it.
 34:24.406 --> 34:27.729
 But I mean, I guess the fish got the better.
 34:27.749 --> 34:28.350
 34:29.170 --> 34:29.511
 34:31.032 --> 34:31.932
 So it's interesting.
 34:31.952 --> 34:34.434
 Now, the tea market, I mean, it emerged.
 34:34.935 --> 34:38.838
 When does tea become a staple in America or in Britain?
 34:38.938 --> 34:40.699
 Britain is really the focus of the company.
 34:40.719 --> 34:44.823
 They're not when the tea act, they're really not thinking, how is North America going to react?
 34:44.843 --> 34:47.345
 They're thinking about the company and its needs.
 34:47.385 --> 34:47.485
 34:48.272 --> 34:55.197
 When does tea become such a popular commodity in England, France, the Netherlands?
 34:55.258 --> 34:59.261
 In the middle of the 18th century, it really emerges as a major consumer good in Britain.
 34:59.621 --> 35:13.852
 And it's also part of this, actually, this very fascinating literature on how we understand the emergence of the British Industrial Revolution and the shift in what the average Englishman is drinking and eating.
 35:13.952 --> 35:16.694
 Is it oats and brown bread and beer?
 35:17.253 --> 35:19.875
 or is it tea and white bread with jam and sugar?
 35:20.976 --> 35:24.059
 Uh, the latter is this 19th century industrial diet.
 35:24.099 --> 35:27.762
 And the former is this 18th century healthy farmer diet.
 35:28.343 --> 35:41.594
 Um, and there's this shift, uh, and by the middle 18th century, you see all sorts of, uh, you know, middle-class English people complaining that poor people are drinking tea and it's offending them by daring to eat their betters.
 35:42.215 --> 35:42.275
 35:42.898 --> 35:44.940
 But tea consumption isn't limited to Britain.
 35:44.960 --> 35:46.942
 There's tea consumption in Germany as well.
 35:46.962 --> 35:48.803
 The Netherlands consumed significant amounts.
 35:49.704 --> 35:53.627
 So it's a more widespread good at that time already.
 35:54.168 --> 35:55.129
 Interesting, interesting.
 35:55.709 --> 36:05.958
 And you also make the case about comparing the whole politicization of tea with Madeira, another popular drink that the Americans don't boycott.
 36:07.079 --> 36:07.320
 36:07.500 --> 36:08.481
 I mean, this is striking.
 36:10.580 --> 36:19.624
 Madeira is the only other commodity that specifically, the only other consumer good that specifically singled out in the article of association in the boycotts around them.
 36:20.044 --> 36:26.767
 And they say this when they boycott trade from the wine islands, which means Madeira and other similar islands.
 36:26.787 --> 36:28.587
 So they can boycott this.
 36:28.627 --> 36:36.931
 And these are islands which are not controlled by Britain, but are economically dominated by British merchants that live on the island, supply the Madeira.
 36:39.007 --> 36:43.315
 But Madeira does not become a symbol of it, even though it's officially boycotted.
 36:44.177 --> 36:50.969
 And it's not practical or really to make it a symbol because the boycott says,
 36:51.636 --> 36:56.519
 Well, you know, it's only Madeira imported after this date, December 1st, 1774.
 36:56.839 --> 37:00.401
 So you can't tell by looking at the bottle when it was imported.
 37:00.421 --> 37:04.303
 And colonists like to age their own Madeira anyway.
 37:04.803 --> 37:11.226
 So you buy it young before the boycott starts, you keep it in your cellar during the boycott, and you drink it when it's aged after.
 37:11.246 --> 37:18.150
 And so Thomas Jefferson's happy to settle his Madeira bill at the end of the Second Continental Congress when the
 37:19.290 --> 37:25.991
 when it was under boycott, but only New Madeira, and he's not violating any rules by doing so.
 37:26.532 --> 37:28.352
 So it never has that symbolic value.
 37:28.372 --> 37:33.153
 They're not smashing bottles of Madeira in protest, even though on paper they should be.
 37:33.593 --> 37:34.633
 That's right.
 37:34.973 --> 37:39.354
 We've been talking with James Victor, author of Tea, Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1776.
 37:39.394 --> 37:40.154
 Now, is the book out yet?
 37:40.174 --> 37:41.194
 When will we be able to read it?
 37:45.245 --> 37:45.725
 It is not out.
 37:45.745 --> 37:54.609
 It comes out on December 15th, 2023, in the day before an August date, before the Boston Tea Party's 25th anniversary.
 37:55.389 --> 37:59.511
 So it is available for pre-order at the Cornell University Press website.
 37:59.971 --> 38:00.311
 Very good.
 38:00.411 --> 38:00.691
 Very good.
 38:00.711 --> 38:01.351
 Thank you.
 38:01.371 --> 38:06.233
 I mean, it seems like we've covered a lot of ground, and we probably could go on, in my case, all day, and yours would be all night.
 38:06.273 --> 38:09.775
 But I know we... Anything else we should talk about before we let you go?
 38:10.575 --> 38:11.896
 Oh, I think it's been wonderful.
 38:11.936 --> 38:12.156
 I think...
 38:13.403 --> 38:15.064
 I think we should stop here, yeah.
 38:15.364 --> 38:15.965
 Okay, I think so.
 38:16.005 --> 38:16.825
 You're right.
 38:16.845 --> 38:18.206
 Let's give folks a break.
 38:18.226 --> 38:21.768
 So thank you so much to James Victor for joining us from Hong Kong.
 38:22.049 --> 38:25.491
 And we look forward to the book, Tea, Consumption, Politics, and Revolution.
 38:26.111 --> 38:26.872
 And so thank you.
 38:26.952 --> 38:30.474
 And I want to thank our producer, Jonathan Lane, the man behind the curtain.
 38:31.795 --> 38:38.459
 And by the way, if you have an idea for a topic or a guest, send Jonathan Lane an email, jlane at
 38:40.621 --> 38:47.769
 And I also want to thank our many listeners around the world, including Professor Victor, who says he listens in from Hong Kong.
 38:47.809 --> 38:54.576
 But we also have listeners in Marseille and in Frankfurt, Garfield, New Jersey, Warren, Vermont, Jamaica Plain.
 38:55.157 --> 38:58.698
 Massachusetts, and Brisbane, Australia, and all places between and beyond.
 38:58.738 --> 39:04.899
 If you're in one of these places, send Jonathan an email and they'll send you one of our Revolution 250 refrigerator magnets.
 39:05.400 --> 39:07.620
 And I look forward to talking to you all again.
 39:07.640 --> 39:11.981
 And Professor Victor will be making appearances in North America in December.
 39:12.381 --> 39:14.542
 So look for him then about the time the book comes out.
 39:14.682 --> 39:17.583
 And now we will be piped out on the road to Boston.
 39:17.603 --> 39:18.663
 39:18.683 --> 39:19.063
 Thank you.