Let’s Tea Party! By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s much to celebrate in Chestertown at this time of year. Spring has sprung; the college just graduated another class; downtown businesses are thriving, the arts are vibrant, and the real estate market is picking up. And then there’s tea, as in TEA PARTY WEEKEND! Hold on to your tricornered hats!

Boston’s Tea Party may be a bit more famous, but ours is, well, ours alone. It all began back in May of 1773 Parliament slapped a tax on tea with the royal assent of King George III. It didn’t take long for the economics of surplus supplies of English tea and colonial politics to collide head-on because at least in theory, British subjects (and we still were) could not be taxed without their consent; remember “no taxation without representation?” Trouble was brewing, so to speak.

A few months later, in November and December of 1773, three ships—the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver—arrived in Boston harbor loaded with tea. A group of angry patriots possibly led by brewmaster Samuel Adams and known as the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships, and proceeded to toss 342 chests of tea—more than 92,000 pounds which today would be worth about $2 million!—belonging to the British East India Company into the water. Needless to say, Mad King George was less than pleased; he closed Boston harbor and Parliament passed a new set of laws known as the Intolerable Acts which were viewed on the this side of the pond as gross violations of constitutional rights and American colonial charters. We were in hot water, so to speak.

Six months later, the brigantine Geddes arrived at the Chestertown wharf with a load of fine English tea on board. Not to be outdone by their Massachusetts brethren, the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty published a list of grievances now known as the Chestertown Resolves in the Maryland Gazette essentially making it unlawful to buy, sell, or drink English tea. But down at Worrell’s Tavern, published Resolves seemed downright insufficient and on May 23, 1774, undisguised and in broad daylight, our own Sons of Liberty boldly boarded the Geddes and dumped her cargo into the Chester. We’ve been partying on Memorial Day weekend ever since, or at least since 1976 when Tea Party Weekend became an official event on the town calendar.

Tea Party is by far the biggest weekend of the town’s year. There are craftsmen and vendors, food tastings and beer, road races, parades (of course), Redcoats and colonial militia firing rifles, fifes and drums and bagpipers, and all manner of period attire and manners. On Saturday, the tea party reenactment always draws a big crowd with Sultana playing the part of the Geddes. (Sadly, a couple of years ago, liability laws precluded throwing actual people overboard so these days a dummy gets dunked with the tea.) Sunday’s main attraction is the annual raft race, a creative and competitive celebration of almost anything that floats, as long as its powered by humans. Don’t miss it!

We may be a small town, but we’re proud, we have a big heart, and we’re steeped in history. So to speak.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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