On November 7, 1774, residents of York County threw a “tea party,” reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when they boarded the ship Virginia and dumped two half-chests of tea into the York River. The first Virginia Revolutionary Convention that met in August of that year had adopted a resolution to refuse to purchase English goods or consume tea, hoping to pressure English merchants to persuade Parliament to repeal tax laws and regulations that Virginia leaders believed to be unconstitutional. The tea that reached Yorktown in November was en route from the London mercantile firm of John Norton and Sons for the Williamsburg merchants John Prentis and Company. The men in Yorktown acted after growing impatient waiting for guidance from a committee in Williamsburg. They did not damage the ship or any other cargo; they only dumped the tea. Later, committees in York and Gloucester Counties condemned Norton, Prentis, and the ship's captain for violating the Virginia boycott. They ordered the ship not to load any tobacco for shipment to England but to return to England empty. The committees' resolutions were published in Williamsburg's Virginia Gazette on November 24, 1774, which also printed a public apology from John Prentis.
John Norton defended his behavior in a letter written in London on January 16, 1775, and published in the Virginia Gazette on May 6, 1775. He stated that he believed the Virginia convention resolutions “were preparatory only to those intended at the general meeting in August that they were then to receive a sanction from the Congress.” He agreed “that the Parliament of Great Britain have not the least shadow of right to tax America; that I never will, directly or indirectly, deviate from these principles . . . which ought to govern every person that has any regard for the liberty of America.”
1. Why did the colonists dump the tea?
2. Why did John Prentis print his apology in the newspaper?
1. How does this event compare to the Boston Tea Party that took place in December 1773 in Massachusetts? How are they alike and how are they different? What prompted the colonists to dump their tea? What were the results of the Boston tea dumping and the Virginia tea dumping? Why do you think the responses were different?
2. If you had been a member of the York or Gloucester committees what would you have done? Waited for word from the committee, dumped the tea, burned the ship, or taken some other action? Explain your reasons.
3. In May 1775, John Norton published his apology for importing the tea and stated there had been confusion concerning the resolves. Do you think John Norton was loyal to the Crown, or was he a true supporter of the patriotic cause?
The events surrounding the Yorktown Tea Party are printed in several editions of the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg).
• Resolutions from the York and Gloucester County Committees and John Prentis's Apology, Purdie and Dixon, November 24, 1774, page 2, and in Pickney, November 24, 1774, page 3.
• Letter from John Norton, Dixon and Hunter, May 6, 1775, page 2, and Purdie, May 12, 1775, page 2–3.
Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission. Revolutionary Virginia: the Road to Independence, a Documentary Record, Vol 2: The Committees and the Second Convention, 1773–1775. Compiled and edited by William J. Van Schreeven and Robert L. Scribner. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.