The Boston Tea Party’s 250 th Anniversary and the Importance of the Charlestown Patriots
Ellen S. Kitzis, Board Member, Charlestown Preservation Society
Although the Boston Tea Party occurred 250 years ago-December 16, 1773-the day is still
remembered as a powerful symbol of the American resistance against unjust taxation and government
oppression as well as one of the key events leading up the American Revolution. But who were the brave
souls that dumped the tea into the harbor? Who risked their lives to make an extreme declaration against
oppression? With the help of historic records, family histories, and the Boston Tea Party Organization, we
can identify several of the participants who were born or lived in Charlestown. Many names you will still
recognize today, some of whom are buried in Phipps Street Burying Ground in Charlestown.
First, a little historic context to remind us why “tea” became such a trigger event for the colonists.
The Tea Act passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, granted the financially failing British East India
Company the right to sell tea in the American colonies and Britain exclusively through its agents,
therefore bypassing the independent colonial shippers and merchants. In effect, the company could sell
the tea at a lower price, underselling everyone else. The perception of monopoly drove the typically
conservative colonial merchants into an alliance with the more radical Sons of Liberty led by Samuel
By November 1773, Charlestown, like many other parts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was a hotbed
of revolutionary sentiment. Towns in and around Boston began to organize local “committees of
correspondence” to determine how to respond to the imminent arrival of thousands of pounds of tea-free of duty from England-with taxes to be paid in the colonies. By November 24 th , meetings had begun in earnest in Charlestown. By the 27 th , the town had elected its Committee of Correspondence, which was instructed to work quickly and report back proper measures to be adopted. The committee included: Isaac Foster, Peter Edes, John Frothingham, Richard Devens, David Cheever, Nathaniel Frothingham, John Codtnan, Isaac Foster, Jr., and William Wyar.
On November 28 th the first ship, the Dartmouth, arrived in Boston Harbor partially loaded with tea. On
Monday morning, November 29 th , a handbill authored by Samuel Adams was posted all over Boston,
containing the following words:
Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! –That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by
the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly
opposition to the machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face. Every friend to his country, to
himself and to posterity, is now called upon to meet at Faneuil Hall, at nine o’clock THIS DAY (at
which time the bells will ring), to make united and successful resistance to this last, worst, and
most destructive measure of administration.
On December 4 th , twelve days before the Tea Party, the Charlestown committee presented the town with the following position and resolves:
…We cannot but have our minds most deeply affected, and our fears greatly alarmed at the
encroachments on our rights and privileges, by the British administration’s raising a revenue
from Americans without their consent … Our alarms are increased by the East India Company in
Great Britain, sending their tea for sale here while subject to a duty–a measure evidently tending
to facilitate the destructive designs of administration upon us: and two ships with said tea being
arrived, we think it our duty, to take every proper step to prevent the impending ruin, and do
therefore pass the following resolves:
…That whoever shall be directly or indirectly concerned in landing, receiving, buying, or selling
said tea, or importing any tea from Great Britain while subject to duty, is an enemy to America
and ought to be treated accordingly…
That we will be ready on all proper occasions, in conjunction with our oppressed American
brethren, to risk our lives and fortunes in support of those rights, liberties, and privileges, with
which God, nature, and our happy constitution have made us free.
The Committees of Correspondence attempts to send the tea back were unsuccessful; thus, on the evening of December 16 th , colonists determined that no tea be off loaded disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians. They donned blankets and Indian headdresses, marched to Griffin’s wharf, and boarded the British ships in the Boston Harbor-the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver. The colonists then proceeded to dump 342 chests of British tea into the harbor, which the British East India Company claimed was worth £9,659 at the time (more than $1.7 million today!)
The Tea Party was not the final act of rebellion. The “resolves” of Charlestown were further conducted
with the burning of all imported tea from Britain on December 31 , 1773. As reported in the Boston
Gazette of January 3, 1774, “The inhabitants of Charlestown, agreeably to an unanimous vote of said
town the Tuesday preceding, on Friday last voluntarily brought all their tea into the public market-square,
where it was committed to the flames, at high noon-day, an example well worthy of imitation.”
Charlestown was well represented among the Tea Party participants. They ranged significantly in both
age and position. Some came from well-established Charlestown families such as the Frothinghams;
others were just citizens who felt compelled to support the act of rebellion-what today we would now
call “civil disobedience.”
Ezekiel Cheever, 1720 – 1793, buried in the Granary Burial Ground
Ezekiel Cheever, a “sugar baker” or a refiner of sugar (who probably owned a sugar house), was one of
the “Indians” who boarded the ship. He was born in 1718 but was not baptized until May 15, 1720.
Cheever married Sarah Phillips, with whom he had nine children, on July 14, 1743. Sarah passed away in
1784 and, shortly thereafter, Cheever married Sarah (Weaver) Gooch (May 29, 1784). He passed away on
July 3, 1793. His estate was later valued at £719 pounds.
Cheever was one of the Charlestown selectmen from 1752 to 1755 but afterward moved to Boston. He
was among the Sons of Liberty who dined at Liberty Tree in Dorchester, on August 14, 1769. He took an
active part in the proceedings of the inhabitants of Boston and the neighboring towns, attending the
meetings held in Faneuil Hall and adjourning to the Old South Church on November 29 and 30, 1773, to
oppose the landing of the tea. On the evening of 30 th , he was made captain of the watch set to observe the tea ships that were already in the harbor.
He was appointed the Commissary of Artillery of the Revolutionary Army on August 17, 1775.
Numerous letters between Cheever and General George Washington are on record. In one dated May 17,
1778, for example, Washington relayed his concerns regarding the poor condition of the men and the
slowness of supplies reaching the soldiers.
His brother, David Cheever, a distiller, was born in Charlestown, June 1, 1722. Though not among the Tea
Party members that night, he was a member of the Committee of Correspondence held on November 27 th and at the meeting at Old South Church in Boston on December 14, 1773, where he was appointed to go with Mr. Botch to the Collector to obtain a clearance for the tea ships. He was one of the Charlestown
selectmen from 1761 to 1768.
Ezekiel and his brother David are descendants of Ezekiel Cheever (1614-1708), famously known as the
“chief representative” of the colonial schoolmaster and author of the earliest American school
book, Accidence, A Short Introduction to the Latin Tongue. After the war, the Cheever family laid claim
to over £2,000 of lost property.
John DeCarteret, 1745-1821, buried in the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Unfortunately, not much is known about DeCarteret. He was born around 1745 in Charlestown and
passed away in Boston on January 23, 1821. He married Mary Crosby in 1768 who then died in 1777. He
marries a second wife, who also passed away in 1793. He remarries for a final time in 1805 to Nancy
Smith. He was a participant in the Boston Tea Party and later served as an artificer in the Commissary
Department. Artificers were considered skilled craftsmen who were often proficient as wheelwrights,
leathermakers, blacksmiths or carpenters. They were enlisted men in the army and often traveled with the troops they serviced.
Nathaniel Frothingham, Jr., 1746-1825, buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.
Nathaniel Frothingham, Jr. was born in Charlestown on April 6, 1746, to Nathaniel Frothingham, (1722-
1791) and Mary Whittemore, both of Charlestown. In 1773, he was named a member of the Charlestown
Committee of Correspondence to confer with other towns on the impact of the Boston Tea Act passed
earlier that year. Like his father, Frothingham was a coachmaker who lived in and around Boston his
entire life. He participated in the Boston Tea Party and was a member of the Minutemen. He married three times, first in Charlestown on May 16, 1771, to Rebecca Austin, who died between 1781 and 1785;
second in Boston on December 22, 1785, to Mary (Polly) Townsend, who died in Boston on October 12,
1800. Lastly, in Boston on April 8, 1802, to Lydia Kettle. She died in Boston on November 5, 1836.
Frothingham died in Boston on January 22, 1825. In his obituary, he was remembered as “one of the
remaining few that assisted in destroying the tea, at Boston.” After the Battle of Bunker Hill,
Frothingham reported £3,353 in property losses.
Eliphalet Newell, 1735- 1813, buried Phipps Street Burying Ground
Eliphalet Newell was born in Salem on August 17, 1735, but spent most of his years in
Charlestown. He was initiated into St Andrews’s Lodge in Boston on December 11, 1777, and
was admitted to membership in the same Lodge in December 1778. Newell was a baker by trade.
The front part of his house stood on Main Street, opposite the junction of Bow (now Devens) and
Harvard Streets. It was among the first buildings rebuilt after the Battle of Bunker Hill conflagration when Newell erected the Federal style Warren Tavern on the spot in 1780, naming it after his close friend General Joseph Warren (who had become an instant hero following his death during battle of Bunker Hill). The bar was reportedly built with wooden beams salvaged from the Charlestown Navy Yard. Frequent guests of the Tavern included Paul Revere, who had been a close friend of Warren. It is also widely noted that George Washington stopped by the Tavern while in Charlestown to see his friend Benjamin Frothingham.
The Warren Tavern served patrons until 1813, when it shuttered after Newell’s death on July 11,
1813. In the end, his debts exceeded his assets, and his property and possessions were sold off to pay
them. Throughout the following decades, the establishment operated as a bakery, private club, and
warehouse until it was restored in the early 1970s.
Bartholomew Trow, 1736-1806, buried in the Central Burying Ground in Boston
Trow was born and baptized at the First Church in Charlestown in 1736 and was among ten brothers and
sisters also born in Charlestown. He married Mary (Call) Trow in 1758, also born in Charlestown, who
bore him nine children born between 1758 and 1780. Trow passed away September 20, 1806, at the age of 70 and is buried in the Central Burying Ground in Boston. But Mary, unlike many of the women of this
period who died in childbirth, lived to the ripe old age of 85, dying in 1823. She is also buried in the
Central Burying Ground.
He was a member of the Tea Party and later became a minuteman who was at the Battles of Lexington
and Concord. He rose to the advanced rank of lieutenant under Colonel Thomas Gardiner’s regiment at
Bunker Hill and was a second lieutenant at the frigate “Boston.” As reported by the Navy Historical
Center ” The Boston, was a 514-ton 24-gun frigate, was built at Newburyport, Massachusetts, as part of
the effort by the American colonies to create a seagoing navy. Completed in 1777, in May of that year she
began a North Atlantic cruise in company with the frigate Hancock. In addition to making prizes of two
merchant vessels, they captured the British 28-gun frigate Fox on 7 June. A month later, Boston was able to escape when Hancock and Fox were taken by a stronger enemy squadron. In February and March
1778, she transported American envoy John Adams to France.”
In closing, this seminal act involved men from Charlestown who were part of changing history and,
ultimately, the future of the United States. We might have missed some details due to poor records, but it
is important for us as citizens of Charlestown today to recognize how many of our forebears were patriots and participants in the revolution.
Sources used for this article include:
Navy Historical Center
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum | #1 Best Patriotic Attraction
Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents
History of Charlestown Charles Frothingham 1845 Part 2
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