This Day in History: The “infamous and rascally affair” in Annapolis
On this day in 1774, a letter is written about an “infamous and rascally affair.” You’ve heard of the Boston Tea Party, but did you know that Annapolis had one, too?
Both the Boston and Annapolis Tea Parties were driven by the hated tax on tea. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party had been a relatively civilized affair. Unfortunately, the Annapolis Tea Party stemmed from the actions of an irate mob.
That mob meant to enforce an agreement not to import tea – at all costs.
The series of events had begun months earlier when a merchant named Anthony Stewart dispatched his brigantine, the Peggy Stewart, to London. Stewart hoped to sell the vessel, but a buyer couldn’t be found. Instead, the ship’s captain brought the Peggy Stewart back to Annapolis, carrying the most profitable cargo available.
It was an unfortunate turn of events. The cargo included more than 50 indentured servants and 2,320 pounds of “that detestable weed tea.” Did the captain know that he was carrying the tea when he left the London port?
Evidence is conflicting, but one theory is that he was tricked into carrying the tea by Stewart’s business rival.
Either way, the Peggy Stewart arrived in Annapolis on October 14, 1774. By then, the captain had discovered that the cargo included tea. He had another problem, too: Rough weather in the Atlantic had damaged the ship, and the servants aboard the ship were not in great health.
These people needed to disembark quickly. There was just one complication: Stewart could not get them off the ship unless he paid the tax on the cargo—ALL the cargo, both the servants and the tea. If he refused to pay the tax, the ship would be forced to return to London, despite the fact that it was in no shape to make the return trip.
What was Stewart to do? Pay the hated tax? Or let the men aboard the ship die on their way back to England?
He paid the tax.
Local Patriots were incensed. What should be done about the man who had paid the hated tea tax? Could Stewart destroy the cargo and deliver a written apology and explanation? Would that be enough? The matter festered for days until a public meeting was finally held on October 19.
That meeting did little to squash the mob scene that would follow! Locals did not think that burning the cargo was enough—they wanted Stewart to burn his ship, too! A mob went to Stewart’s house to present their demands. They constructed a gallows in front of his house. There was talk of tarring and feathering Stewart. Stewart began to fear for his physical safety.
Would you believe that Stewart’s wife was in their house welcoming a new baby into the world during all this? What a crazy conflict of emotions inside that house!
Stewart finally agreed to emerge from the house and burn his ship. He later recounted that he didn’t want to comply, but “his Wife being then ill in Child Bed, apprehensions of the Consequence to Her and His Family, should he expose Himself any longer to the Fury of a lawless Mob, prevailed on him . . . .”
In the end, Stewart ran the Peggy Stewart aground in full view of his house. There, “with her sails and colours flying,” he “voluntarily set fire to the tea; and in a few hours the whole, together with the vessel, was consumed in the presence of a great number of spectators.”
Needless to say, these events sat badly with Stewart. He became a staunch Loyalist and eventually left the colonies.
In a strange twist, his home was later sold to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
David Lee Russell, The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies (2000)
Jane W. McWilliams, Annapolis, City on the Severn: A History (2011)
John Galloway and Thos. Ringgold, Account of the Destruction of the Brig “Peggy Stewart,” at Annapolis, 1774 (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography; 1901)
Joseph Cummins, Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot (2012)
Richard D. Fisher, The arson of the “Peggy Stewart” and the Annapolis (1905)