Chestertown Tea Party: Fact or Fiction

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The Re-enactment, by Gibson Anthony for Chestertown Tea Party Festival

Each year in May since 1968, Chestertown, MD, has celebrated its historic role in our nation’s fight for independence from Britain.

In 1774, after Chestertown residents learned that the port of Boston had been closed in response to its infamous tea party, the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty drafted a list of grievances called the “Chestertown Resolves.” The “Resolves” stated that it was unlawful and traitorous to buy, sell, or drink tea shipped from England.

According to legend, in May 1774, the brigantine Geddes arrived in the port of Chestertown carrying a cargo of tea. Angry patriots gathered in the town square and proceeded to forcibly board the ship and throw the tea into the Chester River. This event has become part of the town’s identity and is re-enacted each year at the Chestertown Tea Party Festival. But, did this event really happen?

While the Geddes was historically noted to be in Chestertown in May 1774, there is no known record of the event in documents or newspapers of the time. The earliest mention of the Chestertown Tea Party occurs in an 1899 booklet Gem City on the Chester. The author, local newspaper editor Frederick G. Usilton, was known to exaggerate facts for a good story.

Perhaps one day a letter or diary from the period will be found to substantiate the legend, but until then, whether the citizens of Chestertown actually followed in the footsteps of Boston remains a mystery.

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Chestertown Tea Party: Fact or Fiction