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SONS OF LIBERTY & COFFEE
How They Made Drinking Coffee Patriotic...
NOV 1, 2019
The Sons of Liberty are a staple in the retelling of the American Revolution. They were, after all, a driving force for change in the public's opinion of the American cause. So what does all this have to do with coffee? Everything.
But it all starts with tea.
Tea in the 1700's was a staple, both culturally and economically. Culturally, it was a very big part of social gatherings and was a sort of status symbol. *During an interview, Historian and Professor Mary Beth Norton of Cornell University once described the important role tea played in British North America a.k.a. the colonies:
The first consumer good that a family would buy when they had a little money was a tea pot because it shows you have some little claim to gentility. Then after you buy the tea pot then you start to buy proper tea cups, a sugar bowl, and a cream pitcher, and things like that...And you'd buy a tea table or a tea tray on which you would display all this china when your friends would come to visit. Then you would use it. It was of tremendous cultural importance, socializing over tea.
Tea was an important part of social culture at that time, which meant that it also played a big role economically. At that time, Europeans saw tea as an exotic luxury commodity from China, Japan and India. In other words, it was a valuable commodity for many merchants. They would buy tea from the British, the Dutch, and others.
The British had real problem: they were deeply in debt after their financially costly victory of the French and Indian war in North America. They turned to their North American colonies to help get out of debt. The colonists had no say in the matter. As a series of laws were introduced, colonists argued that it was unconstitutional for the Parliament to pass taxes on them - that only their elective colonial assemblies could tax them. Parliament rejected their arguments and still claimed they had a right to impose taxes despite their being no colonial representatives. In 1767, the Townshend Revenue Act was passed. Taxes were raised on items such as paint, oil, glass, molasses, and more. Taxes were actually lowered on tea in an attempt to convince merchants to stop getting their tea from other countries. Merchants again watched as more of their profits were taken away with no say in the matter. The Sons of Liberty, a Patriotic group, encouraged the colonists to hold protests and boycott the taxed items including tea. The rumblings of a discontentment started. It was at this time that the Sons of Liberty started making drinking coffee patriotic.
Three years later, the raised taxes on everything were repealed, but the lower tax on tea stayed as the British continued to flounder in debt. Tensions calmed a bit, and tea was again enjoyed. By 1773, the Tea Act was passed, giving the British East India a monopoly on tea in the colonies. Colonial merchants were essentially cut out with no way to compete - again with no say in the matter. Colonists were further outraged by this. While many would drink Dutch tea that had been smuggled into the colonies, many gave up tea again in favor of drinking coffee in order to take a stand against what they saw as an affront to their rights.
By then frustrations had increased and tensions grew stronger. The Sons of Liberty organized the now iconic Boston Tea Party - dumping over 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Their indirect message: "Nope. We'll take coffee with our freedom". A few years later, the Declaration of Independence would be published and the American Revolution was on it's way. America and Tea had a complicated relationship.
*Ben Franklin's World - A Podcast About Early American History
Official Boston Tea Party Ship
Journal of the American Revolution
Official Massachusetts Historical Society
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