Thomas Nelson -- "Necessity Demands"
Parliament’s passage of the Tea Act in the spring of 1773 was the catalyst of a series of contentious events that culminated in colonial
America’s war with that began two years
later and its declaration of independence in 1776. Great Britain
The Tea Act granted the foundering British East India Company the right to import 18,000,000 pounds of surplus tea that it had stored in its
directly into the colonies without payment of any export tax. The Company would use co-signees appointed by
royal governors in London Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina
and the proprietors in
rather than local merchants to sell its tea. The American tea merchant was legislated out
of business. Even though consumers would
still have to pay the tax on tea imposed by the 1767 Townshend Acts, they would
be paying a price lower than that charged previously by American merchants and tea
smugglers. With the Tea Act, Prime
Minister Lord North hoped to accomplish two purposes: provide motivation for
colonialists to accept the Townshend Acts tax on tea and reinforce Parliament’s
authority to impose taxes of any sort on the colonies. In both particulars he failed. Colonial merchants of every kind recognized
that they, too, could be legislated out of business. Colonial representatives objected to any tax
imposed on the colonies by Parliament without their consent, regardless of
whether the public benefited as to cost of product taxed. In Pennsylvania Boston, New York, Philadelphia,
they, fearful merchants, and disgruntled consumers deprived of choice of
purchase were determined to prevent the off-loading of new East India Company tea
onto their docks. Charleston
New York and Philadelphia caused appointed co-signees to resign and
ship captains to return their vessels to with their unloaded cargo. In England
co-signees were also forced to resign and the cargo was left to rot on the
unloaded ships. Charleston had a very different outcome. Boston
The tea ship
Dartmouth arrived in the
in late November. British law required
the Boston Harbor
to unload and pay import duties to customs officials within twenty days of its
arrival. Dartmouth ’s governor Thomas Hutchinson
persuaded his co-signees, two of whom were his sons, not to resign. A mass meeting led by Sam Adams passed a
resolution that urged the captain of the Massachusetts Dartmouth
to send the ship back to
without paying the import duty. Governor
Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the England to leave without paying the
duty. Two additional tea ships, the Eleanor
and the Beaver, arrived in Dartmouth . Boston
also refused to allow these ships to leave.
On December 16 (one day before the twenty day deadline was reached) at a
meeting attended by about 7,000 people at the Old South Meeting House, Sam
Adams declared: "This meeting can do nothing further to save the
country" (Boston Tea Party 1). That
evening a crowd of what later was roughly estimated to be 30 to 130 “Sons
of Liberty” boarded the three East India Company tea ships. The entire cargo -- 342 chests of tea – were
dumped into the water. This flagrant act
of defiance impelled Parliament to pass several punitive measures that the
colonists came to call the “intolerable acts.”
The first measure, the Boston Port Bill, closed the Hutchinson
until the destroyed tea was paid for.
The other three measures sought to cripple the political rights of the
colony, transfer the trial of capital offenses to port of Boston England,
and renew the quartering of British troops in .
would be made the example of what British authority could do to rebellious
colonies. Instead of being cowed, the twelve
witnessing colonies, especially Massachusetts Virginia, made
cause their own. Massachusetts
Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and other members of Virginia’s House of Burgesses saw the necessity of arousing the Virginia people “from the lethargy into which they had fallen” (Henry 176) the past three years following Parliament’s repeal of all but the one that taxed tea of the Townshend Acts. The group decided to have the House declare “a day of general fasting and prayer” to be observed June 1, 1774, the day the Boston Port Bill would go into effect. The House passed the resolution. Two days later Governor Dunmore dissolved the legislative body.
Eighty-nine burgesses, Thomas Nelson among them, assembled the following day (May 27) at “The Raleigh” Tavern, formed a non-importation association, and called for a meeting to take place at a later date at which time all House members could determine what else they could do to aid
. Days later that meeting was scheduled for August
1 in Massachusetts .
Meanwhile, Burgesses would meet with
their constituents to formulate resolutions to be presented at the general
Thomas Nelson was moderator of the meeting of free holders in his county, York. He opened the meeting July 18 with a lengthy address that called for careful consideration of the resolutions about to be formed.
“You will know what it is to be FREE Men. You know the blessed privilege of doing what you will with your own, and you can guess at the misery of those who are deprived of this right. Which of these will be your case depends upon your present conduct. We have found already that petitions and remonstrances are ineffectual, and it is now time that we try other expedients. We must have those who are endeavouring to oppress us feel the effects of their mistakes of their arbitrary policy; for not till then can we expect justice from them” (Virginia Gazette July 21, 1774).
Nelson doubted that the colony could stop her exports without serious harm, “but that imports ought to be prohibited necessity demands, and no virtue forbids. It is not supposed that we can do this without subjecting ourselves to many inconveniences; but inconveniences, when opposed to the loss of freedom, are surely to be disregarded” (Ibid.).
Then, Nelson the merchant spoke: “It is true, we must resign the hope of making fortunes; but to what end should we make fortunes, when they may be taken from us at the pleasure of others” (Ibid.)?
Following the address, the
formed its resolves. They first defined
the rights of the American colonies, coming to the ultimate conclusion that
although county of York British America was under voluntary
subjection to the crown, every British parliamentary edict of taxation, custom,
duty, or impost on the American colonies without their consent was
illegal. The resolves declared the Tea
Act illegal and the Boston Port Act unconstitutional, the latter due to the
was only defending “their liberties and properties” the night the tea was
thrown overboard. All imports would be
stopped “with as few exceptions as possible.”
The question of stopping exports would be settled at the August
convention. Lastly, a subscription would
be “immediately opened for the relief of the inhabitants of Boston ” (Ibid.), under the direction of
Thomas Nelson and his fellow burgess, Dudley Digges. Boston
Nelson ultimately obtained 49 subscribers who pledged bushels of wheat and corn, barrels of flour, and shillings. In a not altogether trustworthy record kept by
authorities, ten subscribers’ contributions were specifically noted as not having
been delivered. This was due to no fault
of Nelson. He had the contributions of
twenty subscribers shipped to Massachusetts
at his own expense. The subscribers’
contributions averaged 4.8 bushels in wheat and 5.4 bushels in corn per
person. Nelson sent 100 bushels of wheat. Boston
Thomas Nelson and the delegates of the various other counties met in
August 1. They agreed to cut off all
British imports to the colony after November 1.
They would also cut off their own exports to Williamsburg if the mother country did
not redress “American Grievances” before August 10, 1775. The Convention ended its business by electing
seven of its leaders to represent Britain Virginia at
the First Continental Congress, which had been called to meet in September in . They were Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee,
George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison and Edmund
Pendleton. Nelson returned to Philadelphia to spend what would be
his last few months of peaceful living for the next four years. York
Tea Party.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Tea_Party#Standoff_in_Boston. Net. Boston
Henry, William Wirtz. Patrick Henry’s Life, Correspondence and Speeches. Vol. I.
Scribners and Sons, 1891. Print. New York
Virginia Gazette (Rind) July 21, 1774. Microfilm.