I attended the re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party on Dec 16. We were each given a program with a blue or yellow slip of paper. I later found out that the blue papers represented Loyalist views and the yellow papers represented Patriot views. I had been thinking of my Loyalist ancestor Thomas Sumner, so was happy to have a blue piece of paper.
The first part of the re-enactment was dialogue between actors about how to handle the tea on the ships. If you agreed you shouted “hear, hear” or “huzzah”. If you disagreed, you shouted “fie, fie” or “boo”. Most of the people around me were Patriots, but I stuck to my Loyalist part and, all in good fun and with lots of smiles, always shouted the opposite of my pew mates.
I was trying to put on Thomas’s shoes and try to think what he would have though. It certainly wouldn’t have been in good fun for him to be in opposition to his neighbors. As far as I know, he wasn’t in Boston, but he and his family were driven out of their home in Vermont and lost all their property to the Patriots. His views would have been sincere. He was a judge, and perhaps the oaths he had taken and his occupation that involved upholding the law every day influenced his decisions. I doubt that it was an easy thought process though. Many Loyalists saw many problems with the king and Parliament, but in spite of that, retained their loyalty. All these thoughts crossed my mind as I shouted “fie, fie” or “hear, hear”.
When the floor was opened up to us, I was the very first person at the mic to say my part. “Like all Englishmen we are universally represented in Parliament. The Patriots must stop complaining that we do not have a voice in England.” I wanted to do this to honor Thomas, who is not well known in my family, compared to our Patriot ancestors. Throughout the night I posted on Facebook as if I was a Loyalist.
As we left the meetinghouse and marched to the harbor behind a fife and drum corps (fun but not authentic), I continued thinking of what Thomas would have thought if he had been there. Would he have even gone to the harbor? Would he have tried to stop the ship raid? Since he wasn’t there, what did he think when he heard the news?
As I watched the Patriots throwing the tea into the harbor, the part of me that was channeling Thomas thought “you bloody fools!”. While perhaps nobody could know what would happen only 15 months later in Lexington and Concord, many feared that this would happen. Thomas may have been among those.
This was such a wonderful experience for me to put myself into an ancestors shoes. While I certainly don’t know what he was thinking and feeling, I could make some educated guesses that helped me see a historical event from a different perspective than I had ever seen it before. I am so glad I received that blue paper!