A public and political action by Wilmington women, the Wilmington Tea Party occurred sometime between March 25 and April 5, 1774. It was one of the many tax protests that swept the American colonies after the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773.
In 1774, Wilmington townspeople started expressing their displeasure over the sudden increase and tightening of British trade regulations. Like other colonial sea towns, Wilmington decided to close its ports to British trade, thereby turning down the opportunity to acquire a monopoly of the North American tea trade. Meanwhile, Wilmington women took to the streets to express dissatisfaction with what they considered corrupt British rule. Hard evidence for the Wilmington Tea Party is scarce. However, a Scottish visitor to the Cape Fear region during the late winter of 1774, Janet Schaw, describes agitated Wilmingtonians’ swelling discontent. In doing so, Schaw briefly mentions a women’s political demonstration: “The Ladies have burnt tea in a solemn procession, but they delayed however till the sacrifice was not very considerable, as I do not think any one offered above a quarter of a pound.”
Although Schaw discounts the women’s economic sacrifice, their action was notable and striking. The women openly expressed political opinions and a love of family and country. Such patriotic boldness contributed to the eventual formation of the United States.
Vernon O. Stumpf, “The Radical Ladies of Wilmington and Their Tea Party” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Bulletin 16 (Feb, 1973); Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McClean Andrews, eds., Journal of a Lady of Quality; Beginning the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776 (Chapel Hill, 1939; reprint, Spartanburg, 1971).