Friday, June 1, 2012

The 1773 Committee For Tarring and Feathering Invites You To A Tea Party

By Stephen J. Gertz

On November 27, 1773, Philadelphia's Committee For Tarring and Feathering issued a playful yet very stern warning to a British mercantile ship captain that his arrival in the city's harbor might precipitate action by Colonists who harbor ill-will. 

A scarce copy of this extraordinary broadside is being offered by Sotheby's - New York in their Fine Books and Manuscripts sale June 15, 2012. It is expected to sell for $18,000 - $25,000.

The text reads: 

To the Delaware Pilots.

We took the Pleasure, some days since, of kindly admonishing you to do your duty; if perchance you should meet with the (Tea) Ship Polly, CAPTAIN AYRES, a Three Decker which is hourly expected.

We have now to add, that Matters ripen fast here; and that much is expected from those lads who meet with the Tea Ship ---There is some Talk of A Handsome Reward For The Pilot Who Gives The First Good Account Of Her --- How that may be, we cannot for certain determine; But all agree, that Tar and Feathers will be his Portioo, who pilots her into this Harbor. And we will answer for ourselves, that, whoever is committed to us, as an Offender against the Rights of America, will experience the utmost Exertion of our Abilities, as THE COMMITTEE FOR TARRING AND FEATHERING.

P.S. We expect you will furnish yourselves with Copies of the foregoing and following Letter, which are printed for this Purpose, that the Pilot who meets with Captain Ayres may favor him with a Sight of them.

To Captain Ayres,
Of the Ship POLLY, on a voyage from London to Philadelphia.


We are informed that you have, imprudently, taken Charge of a Quantity of Tea, which has been sent out by the India Company, under the Auspices of the Ministry, as a Trial of American Virtue and Resolution.

Now, as your Cargo, on your arrival here, will most assuredly bring you into hot water; and as  you are perhaps a Stranger to these parts, we have concluded to advise you that of the present Situation of Affairs in Philadelphia --- that, taking Time by the Forelock, you may stop short in your dangerous Errand --- secure your ship against the Rafts of combustible Matter which may be set on Fire, and turned loose against her; and, more than all this, that you may preserve your own Person, from the Pitch and Feathers that are prepared for you.

In the first Place, we must tell you, that the Pennsylvanians are, to a Man, passionately fond of Freedom, the Birthright of Americans; and that at all events are determined to enjoy it.

That they sincerely believe, no Power on the Face of the Earth has a Right to tax them without their Consent.

That in their Opinion, the Tea in your Custody is designed by the Ministry to enforce such a Tax, which they will undoubtedly oppose; and in so doing give you every possible Obstruction.

We are nominated to a very disagreeable, but necessary Service --- To our Care are committed all Offenders against the Rights of America, and hapless is he, whose evil Destiny has doomed him to suffer at our Hands.

You are sent out out on a diabolical Service, and if you are so foolish and obstinate as to complete your Voyage, by bringing your Ship to Anchor in this Port,  you may run such a gauntlet, as will induce you to, in your last Moments, most heartily to curse those who have made you the Dupe of their Avarice and Ambition.

What think you, Captain, of a Halter around your neck --- ten Gallons off liquid Tar decanted on your Pate --- with the Feathers of a dozen wild Geese laid over that to enliven your Appearance?

Only think seriously of this --- and fly to the Place from whence you came ---fly without Hesitation --- without the Formality of a Protest --- and above all, Captain Ayres, let us advise you to fly without the wild Geese Feathers.

Your Friends to serve,


The Tea Act of May 10, 1773 was not well-received in the American colonies. In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying a total of 600,000 pounds of East India Company tea were sent to America. Four were bound for Boston, and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In every colony except Massachusetts protesters were able to force the tea ships to return to Britain. In Boston, the tea hit the fan.

Image courtesy of Sotheby's, with our thanks.

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