An earlier version of this essay was published on Lapham’s Quarterly website in July 2011 under the title “The Tea Party Parties On.”
The admission ticket below, die cut in the shape of a tea box, comes from the centennial party at Boston's Faneuil Hall in 1873.
Colonial-themed dinners became a widespread fad during the official Centennial Celebration in 1876, a hundred years after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Church groups and civic associations held parties throughout the country. The handbill below features the same charming illustration as seen on the admission ticket three years earlier. This event was hosted by the Ladies Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Jackson, Michigan. Two consecutive 35-cent suppers were served to diners who sat at thirteen tables representing the thirteen original states. The entertainment program for Wednesday evening includes singing, poetry, and four tableaus.
The bill of fare at the fund-raiser for the Library Society in Belvidre, Illinois includes pan dowdy, old-fashioned doughnuts, and “lection” cake, a yeast-leavened fruitcake, or plum cake, baked on election days in New England in a tradition going back to a few years before the Revolution.
The Society of Colonial Wars required that its members be descendants of those arriving in the American colonies between the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and the Battle of Lexington in 1775. In 1894, the newly-formed Society held a dinner at Young’s Hotel in Boston to commemorate the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The menu shown below features game dishes, such as venison, black bear, and pigeon pot pie, along with simple colonial fare like bean porridge and baked beans. Although similar bean dishes were served at the “Boston Tea Party” in Melrose in 1873, the two events were not the same in spirit. The Society lists the names of its members on this menu, giving the event an air of exclusivity.
1. The political event on the night of December 16, 1773, when chests of tea were dumped into the Boston Harbor, was not called a “Tea Party” until the 1830s. Coined fifty years later, the new term, which normally conjures up a genteel social occasion of no consequence, helped revive the collective memory of the incident, enabling it to become one of the leading symbols of the American Revolution. Alfred F. Young, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution, 1999.