March 8, 2017

One Woman’s Boston Tea Party

1958.0003 Tea Caddy.
Gift of Children of Col. George Woodward Langdon.
In honor of Women's History Month, I'm taking a closer look at the oral tradition that surrounds this 18th century tea caddy. It belonged to the wealthy and powerful Cushing Family who lived on King Street (now State Street), just down the street from the Old State House. Thomas Cushing (1725-1788) was an influential moderate politician both before and after the Revolution. His wife Deborah (née Fletcher) (1727-1790) is said to have asked him to take the tea contained in this tea caddy and dump it into the harbor on the day after the Boston Tea Party. Cushing, being somewhat more staid than his wife, refused. Mrs. Cushing put on her bonnet, walked straight down King Street to Long Wharf, and dumped the two different types of tea contained in the tea caddy into the harbor.

We have no way of verifying if these events actually took place, but the story is so charming that I hope that it is. The idea of the respectable middle-aged wife of a politician marching down King Street in broad daylight to add her small amount of tea to the protest (not forgetting to put on her bonnet) speaks to her strength, agency, and bravery - she didn’t feel the need to conduct her protest in costume or under the cover of darkness!

We gain further insight into Mrs. Cushing’s character in this excerpt from a letter that Mr. Cushing wrote to her from Philadelphia in 1774:

“The Farmer says, if it were customary to choose women into the assembly, he should be heartily for choosing you Speaker of the House – they all wish to see you there”.

Whether or not the story of the tea caddy is apocryphal, it tells us something about how she was perceived. The sense that one gets from both this story and the letter is of an active, opinionated, politically savvy woman – although she isn’t included in the history books, because we care for her tea caddy, we help to keep her story alive.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

5 comments:

  1. Hello Sira, thanks for this entry! Could you say something about how the story of Deborah Cushing and her dumping the tea was passed down? … and the provenance of the tea caddy as well? I find the survival and history of material culture fascinating, especially those objects that can be identified with particular people or events. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Cortney,
    This tea caddy and the story about it come from the same source: her descendants. The caddy was donated in honor of Colonel George Woodward Langdon by his children. He was the nephew of a great-grandson of Deborah and Thomas Cushing. The story about her protest was handed down through the generations of the family and told to our staff in 1958 when the donation was made. I can't independently corroborate it, but I think it is a great story and if nothing else, it at least tells us that Deborah's family thought she was smart and brave enough to have committed this public act of protest.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks so much, Sira! So interesting to hear about these stories that come with the artifacts!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would like to believe in the truth of this story. Because we all need more heroic women in our lives and our history.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I will come back to this place, its huge and open, and have really tall ceilings. Wait staff was also pretty good. Bartender was awesome and personable. I was really pleased with my party at LA event venues. Ha! I highly recommend these guys.

    ReplyDelete