The Edenton Tea Party and Perceptions of Women, 1774
By 1774 protest and confrontations against British rule in America had become commonplace. The Tea Act of May 1773 produced a series of reactions, especially among merchants who saw the act as a way of removing them from America's vital and profitable tea market. In December 1773, Boston citizens had dressed as Indians and dumped all the tea on the ship in Boston harbor into the water (see Chapter 24).
Support of the actions in Boston spread throughout the colonies. In the North Carolina port of Edenton, however, backing came from what might be considered an unlikely source. On October 25, fifty-one women--members of the Edenton Ladies' Patriotic Guild--gathered at the home of Penelope Barker and made this promise: "We, the Ladys of Edenton, do hereby solemnly engage not to conform to the Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea. . . . We Ladys will not promote ye wear of any manufacturer from England until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed."1 Their actions produced responses, including a belittling editorial woodcut that appeared in British papers and this sarcastic comment from an Englishman to his brother in the town: "I see by the Newspaper that the Edenton Ladies have signalized themselves by their Protest against Tea-drinking," Arthur Iredell wrote to his brother James. "Is there a Female Congress in Edenton too? I hope not, for we Englishmen are afraid of Male Congress, but . . . the Ladies . . . have ever, since the Amazonian Era, been esteemed the most formidable Enemies; . . . the only Security on our Side to prevent the im-