Original Tea Party steeped in controversy, says Tufts historian Benjamin Carp

Historians in the News

The truth is that not everyone who participated in the Boston Tea Party was able to resist the allure of the tea itself.

Tea, after all, had become the beverage of choice by the late 18th century. It was a commodity much sought after by both the elite and middle classes, and tea drinking was a societal ritual. Women coveted the best tea services; social conventions grew up around serving and sipping the exotic, pricey drink whose origins were in Asia.

In his latest book “Defiance of the Patriots,” historian Benjamin L. Carp recounts the antics of a so-called patriot by the name of Charles Conner. Conner was among those who disguised themselves as Mohawks on the evening of Dec. 16, 1773, then boarded three merchant ships and went to work dumping 46 tons of tea into Boston Harbor. While appearing to go about the business at hand, Conner was observed stuffing his pockets full of tea leaves. When he realized he had been caught, he tried to slip away, as Mr. Carp tells it, but a cry went up....

Mr. Carp, a graduate of Yale with a doctorate from the University of Virginia, is an associate professor of history at Tufts University. He is 34 and was recently named one America's top young historians by the History News Network.

Although his father was a high school history teacher, Mr. Carp was not initially attracted to the field. He was converted while a sophomore in college during a class in Colonial American history. The professor handed each student a name or a topic. Mr. Carp got the word “theft.” The assignment was to delve into the court records of Essex County, examine cases and draw conclusions about society at that time. Mr. Carp went on to write a senior thesis on firefighters during the Revolution. His first book, “Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution,” was published in 2007.

In a personal statement that Mr. Carp wrote for the History News Network, he described how his study of history brought his father and him close together. At one point, they collaborated “to devise a teaching assignment that captured the spirit of the Essex County court records project.” The father used it in his AP U.S. history class, while the son uses it in one of his introductory survey courses....

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