18 June 2009

Greenwich Tea Party

Everyone knows of the famous Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773. New Jersey also had a “Tea Party” about one year later. But first, Boston -

The American colonists had successfully protested and had repealed the hated Stamp Act of 1765; they also were able to get the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767 repealed (in 1770), save for the tax on tea. The anger of the colonists was further inflamed in 1773, when the Tea Act was passed, effectively allowing the East India Company to have the lowest priced tea in the Colonies. Protests arose anew. When the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor in November 1773, the Sons of Liberty did not allow the tea to be unloaded from the ship. Governor Thomas Hutchinson, refusing to back down, did not allow the Dartmouth to leave the harbor without paying the duty. Two other tea ships arrived in the harbor during this period, and they were treated likewise. On the night of the 16th, a number of men (the exact number is uncertain) boarded the three tea ships, some of them dressed as Indians, and, over the course of about three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

About a year later, sometime between 12-14 December 1774, the brig Greyhound, under Captain J. Allen, sailed into the Cohansey River with a cargo of tea. Most likely, the brig had been refused entry first to Philadelphia. The tea was unloaded secretly at Greenwich, and then stored in the cellar of a house occupied by Dan Bowen on Market Square. (1) The residents soon found out about the tea, and a temporary committee was established to watch over it until the fate of the tea was determined. A committee was selected to meet in Bridgetown. The meeting occurred on 22 December 1774. Some members of the committee wished to immediately destroy the tea. Men from nearby towns met at the home of Richard and Lewis Howell (presently the Governor Howell Plantation on the Roadstown-Shiloh Road) and then moved on to the Fithian home, where the men from Greenwich awaited them. (2) The men then marched to Market Square and forced entry into the storehouse. They passed the chests of tea from the house to a neighboring field, where they piled the broken chests and tea before setting it ablaze. Like the men at the Boston Tea Party, some of the men at the Greenwich Tea Party also dressed as Indians.

The Rev. Philip Vickers Fithian, who is supposed to be one of the tea burners, wrote in his journal the next day, “Last night the tea was, by a number of persons in disguise, taken out of the house and consumed with fire. Violent and different are the words about this uncommon maneuver among the inhabitants. Some rave, some curse and condemn, some try to reason; many are glad the tea is destroyed, but almost all disapprove the manner of the destruction.” (3) The names of other men associated with the tea burning in Greenwich can be found on the monument there, erected in 1908: Ebenezer Elmer, Timothy Elmer, James Ewing, Thomas Ewing, Joel Fithian, Lewis Howell, Richard Howell, James B. Hunt, John Hunt, Andrew Hunter Jr., Joel Miller, Alexander Moore Jr., Ephraim Newcomb, Silas Newcomb, Clarence Parvin, David Pierson, Stephen Pierson, Henry Seeley, Josiah Seeley, Abraham Sheppard, Henry Stacks, Silas Whitekar, and others. Local tradition also includes the names of Enos Ewing and Isaac Preston with the tea burners. (4)

Many of these men were active participants in the war which followed. According to the research of Frank D. Andrews, the following men served thusly:

Ebenezer Elmer served in the army for the entire war. In 1800 he began six years’ service as a Congressman from New Jersey. He died 18 October 1843.

Timothy Elmer, who was the brother of Ebenezer, also entered into the service of the army in 1776. He did not live long enough to see the peace reached; he died 16 May 1780.

Thomas Ewing (who was the brother of James), like Timothy Elmer, entered the army immediately; also like Timothy, he did not make it to the signing of the peace treaty. Thomas died 7 October 1782.

Joel Fithian, a cousin of the Rev. Philip Vickers Fithian, served in the battle of Princeton & elsewhere. He died 9 November 1821.

Philip probably joined the men at the tea burning. He secured a position as chaplain in the army, but sickness swept through his battalion in September, which affected him. Philip died 8 October 1776.

Lewis Howell joined the army in 1776 and was present during the British retreat through New Jersey in June 1778, but he died on 28 June 1778 – the day of the Battle of Monmouth – at only 24 years of age.

Richard Howell, the twin brother of Lewis, joined the army in 1775, in time to join the expedition to Canada. He served at a number of other battles including Monmouth. He was involved in helping the cause of independence until the end of the war. He died 28 April 1802. As a side note, Richard’s granddaughter, Varina, married Jefferson Davis on 26 February 1845. When Davis became the first and only President of the Confederate States of America in 1861, Varina became First Lady. She lived until 1906.

James Booth Hunt (brother of John) enlisted in the army in 1776. He died 5 August 1824.

Andrew Hunter, Jr. received an appointment as chaplain in1776. He served until the end of the war, and was at the Battle of Monmouth. He died 24 February 1823.

Joel Miller served in the army at Princeton and Monmouth, among other battles. He died 8 December 1827.

Silas Newcomb joined the militia, and later the Continental army.

David Pierson joined the army in 1776 and served until at least 1780.

Josiah Seeley also joined the army in 1776. He died 1 October 1832.

(1) The Burning On Market Square Greenwich, New Jersey December 22, 1774.
Article taken from The History of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland Counties, New Jersey, by Sheppard and Cushing, p. 1

(2) The Tea-Burners of Cumberland County. Frank D. Andrews. Vineland, NJ, 1908. Republished by the Cumberland Co. Historical Society, 1974, p. 9

(3) The Burning On Market Square Greenwich, New Jersey December 22, 1774, p. 2

(4) The Tea-Burners of Cumberland County, p. 14


  1. Do you have any information on Abraham Sheppard? He is my (4x)great grandfather. From what my family is able to dig up he was a Quaker, and went back to Penn. and nothing much is written or heard from him again. Thanks in advance for any info.
    Respectfully Jonathan P Lewis

  2. Sorry, I don't know anything about him. If I come across anything I will let you know.