Masters Thesis

A tempest over a teapot: The invention of the Edenton Tea Party

The Edenton Tea Party is frequently cited by historians and antiquarians alike as the first political action taken by women in the years leading to the American Revolution. Although the original text no longer exists, it is known that on or about October 25, 1774, fifty-one women from the greater Edenton area signed their names to a resolution in support of recent resolves passed by the Provincial Congress of North Carolina. The resolution, and a list of those who signed it, appeared in only one colonial newspaper in 1774. Interestingly, British response was much greater. After the spring of 1775, the resolution disappeared from the pages of history. Then in 1892, it was rescued from obscurity by the antiquarian writer, Dr. Richard Dillard, whose pamphlet, The Historic Tea-Party of Edenton, provided fuel for Southern genealogical societies working strategically to counteract a historical narrative that they, like Dillard, believed ignored the South’s contributions to the founding of America. Throughout the early twentieth century and well into the twenty-first, the narrative surrounding the Edenton Tea Party has continued to be appropriated in a variety of ways. This study will explore the historical foundation of the resolution, its transition to becoming known as a “tea party,” and the numerous ways in which the myth of the signing endures to this day. Finally, it will demonstrate that the true importance of the resolution lay not in its influence at the time it was written, but in the varying ways its narrative has been constructed and utilized over time.

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