HistoryTea L. Golender, Coca-Cola, 2003

History of Tea : USA

Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America to the colonists in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (later re-named New York by the English) in 1650. Settlers here were confirmed tea drinkers. And indeed, on acquiring the colony, the English found that the small settlement consumed more tea at that time then all of England put together.

It was not until 1670 that English colonists in Boston became aware of tea, and it was not publicly available for sale until twenty years later. Tea Gardens were first opened in New York City. The new Gardens were centered around the natural springs, which the city fathers now equipped with pumps to facilitate the "tea craze". The most famous of these "tea springs" was at Roosevelt and Chatham (later Park Row Street).

By 1720 tea was a generally accepted staple of trade between the Colony and the Mother country. It was especially a favorite of colonial women, a factor England was to base a major political decision on later. Tea trade was centered in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, future centers of American rebellion. As tea was heavily taxed, even at this early date, contraband tea was smuggled into the colonies by the independent minded American merchants from ports far away and adopted herbal teas from the Indians. The directors of the then * the East India Company fumed as they saw their profits diminish and they pressured Parliament to take action. It was not long in coming.

Tea and American Revolution

England had recently completed the French and Indian War, fought, from England's point of view, to free the colony from French influence and stabilize trade. It was the feeling of Parliament that as a result, it was not unreasonable that the colonists shoulder the majority of the cost. After all. the war had been fought for their benefit. Charles Townshend presented the first tax measures which today are known by his name. They imposed a higher tax on newspapers (which they considered far too outspoken in America), tavern licenses (too much free speech there), legal documents, marriage licenses, and docking papers. The colonists rebelled against taxes imposed upon them without their consent and which were so repressive. New, heavier taxes were leveled by Parliament for such rebellion. Among these was, in June 1767, the tea tax that was to become the watershed of America's desire for freedom. (Townshend died three months later of a fever never to know his tax measures helped create a free nation.)

The colonists rebelled and openly purchased imported tea, largely Dutch in origin. The East India Company, already in deep financial trouble saw its profits fall even further. By 1773 the John Company merged with the East India Company for structural stability and pleaded with the Crown for assistance. The new Lord of the Treasury, Lord North, as a response to this pressure, by *the Tea Act of 1773 granted to the new Company permission to sell directly to the colonists, by-passing the colonial merchants and pocketing the difference. In plotting this strategy, England was counting on the well known passion among American women for tea to force consumption. It was a major miscalculation. Throughout the colonies, women pledged publicly at meeting and in newspapers not drink English sold tea until their free rights (and those of their merchant husbands) were restored.

*The Boston Tea Party

On December 16th 1773, about 50 members of the political organization, The Sons of Liberty, boarded 3 ships in Boston Harbor. Some were dressed, not very convincingly, as Mohawk Indians. In a very orderly and quiet fashion, they plunked [sterling] 9,659 worth of *Darjeeling into the sea. The original justification for taxation had been the expense of the French and Indian War. The event is called The Boston Tea Party. Such leading citizens as *Samuel Adams and *John Hancock took part. England had had enough. In retaliation the port of Boston was closed and the city occupied by royal troops. The colonial leaders met and revolution declared.

Establishing Tea Business

The first three American millionaires, Thomas Handasyd Perkins(1764-1854) of Boston, Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, and *John Jacob Astor of New York, all made their fortunes in the China trade. America began direct trade with China soon after the Revolution was over in 1789. America's newer, faster clipper ships outsailed the slower, heavier English "tea wagons" that had until then dominated the trade. This forced the English navy to update their fleet, a fact America would have to address in *the War of 1812

The new American ships established sailing records that still stand for speed and distance. John Jacob Astor began his tea trading in 1800. He required a minimum profit on each venture of 50% and often made 100%. Stephen Girard of Philadelphia was known as the "gentle tea merchant". His critical loans to the young (and still weak) American government enabled the nation to re-arm for the War of 1812. The orphanage founded by him still perpetuates his good name. Thomas Perkins was from one of Boston's oldest sailing families. The Chinese trust in him as a gentleman of his word enabled him to conduct enormous transactions half way around the world without a single written contract. His word and his handshake was enough so great was his honor in the eyes of the Chinese. It is to their everlasting credit that none of these men ever paid for tea with opium. America was able to break the English tea monopoly because its ships were faster and it paid in gold.

Perkins Clan

The syndicate began during the war of 1776-1783, when three members of T. H. Perkins's family fled the United States as British loyalists. The continuation of the political and business connections to the rulers of the British Empire, enlarged by this emigration, gave the young merchant, T. H. Perkins, a great advantage in his efforts to amass a personal fortune in the West Indies trade. The principal commodity sold into the West Indies by Perkins, until 1792 was black slaves from Africa.

The core of the Perkins syndicate was assembled as follows. One among the Perkins family who fled the United States during 1776-1783 was George Perkins, who set himself up as a British Empire merchant in Smyrna, Turkey. It was through George that James and Thomas Perkins were able to make the connection to supplies of Turkish opium, bypassing the monopoly over Indian opium controlled by the British East India Company. The first Perkins cargo of Turkish opium, on board the brigantine Monkey, arrived in China in 1816.

By the 1820s John Perkins Cushing was known as the most influential of all the foreigners in Canton. Cushing had struck up a close business and personal relationship with the hong merchant Houqua, who at his death in 1843 was said to be the richest man in the world. During the War of 1812, they loaned their money out--at 18 percent interest--to other merchants in Canton. But the fur trade paled and when hard cash grew harder to come by, a search began for a substitute for the furs and specie that had been foundations of Boston's China trade. Opium seemed the ideal commodity to fill the gap. By 1818, John Bennet Forbes had been stationed in China to assist his cousin John Perkins Cushing.

Ralph Bennett Forbes married T. H. Perkins's sister, Margaret. Their son, Robert Bennett Forbes, joined the Perkins firm at an early age(13). In China, this son became the foreign affairs manager for a merchant named Houqua, who had himself been made responsible for all of China's foreign relations with the West by the Chinese Emperor. Robert B. Forbes's brother, John Murray Forbes, took over managing Houqua and China's foreign relations, after Robert's death, and amassed a great fortune. Perkins's money bought out the work of Alexander Graham Bell, and John Murray Forbes's son, William, became president of the American Bell Telephone Company and married the daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Russell Sturgis married T. H. Perkins's sister, Elizabeth, and joined the firm. His grandson, by the same name, moved to England and became chairman of the Baring Bank, the bank of the same Lord Shelburne who had organized the massive subversion of the United States, the bank which was the bank of the British East India Company.

The China trade was financed almost entirely by the Baring Brothers Bank in England. From the earliest days of our republic, the question of who would provide credit to American merchants was of strategic importance. Even after Hamilton established the Bank of the United States, which made us potentially independent of foreign sources for domestic production and commerce, our nation's foreign trade required a significant margin of sources of foreign credit, especially for the net-import-values of capital goods. When the "free trade" movement, led by spokesmen who were themselves employed by the opium-traffickers, succeeded in closing that bank, the Barings and allied foreign oligarchists gained a great power over America's foreign trade. The Perkins syndicate did business in China entirely in the company of British Empire merchants and military officials, among the operations centered in the tiny Canton river-area reserved for foreigners. The Perkins syndicate lived with the British, smuggled and bribed with them, and poisoned and murdered a generation of Chinese for a fabulous profit. This fabulous profit was the payment they gained for attaching themselves to the rump of the British Indian Empire.

Thomas Handasyd Perkins welcomed Chinese moves to halt the opium traffic, figuring that if China made things hot enough for drug dealers, the less venturesome traders would be scared out of the business, leaving a bigger share for the Perkins firm. It was a shrewd guess: rival merchants John Jacob Astor and Stephen Girard dropped the opium trade.

* Elliot-Perkins family
* Elliot-Perkins family
* Robert Bennet Forbes House


America stabilized her government, strengthened her economy, and expanded her borders and interests. By 1904 the United States was ready for the world to see her development at the St. Louis World's Fair (* Louisiana Purchase Exposition). Trade exhibitors from around the world brought their products to America's first World's Fair. One such merchant was Richard Blechynden, a tea plantation owner. Originally, he had planned to give away free samples of hot tea to fair visitors. But when a heat wave hit, no one was interested. To save his investment of time and travel, he dumped a load of ice into the brewed tea and served the first "iced tea". It was (along with the Egyptian fan dancer) the hit of the Fair. This is how iced tea was popularized and commercialized. But it was drunk a long time before the exhibition(see * History of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea). Over the years, the 1904 World's Fair has been credited with a bushel of food firsts. According to Pamela J. Vaccaro, in her book "Beyond the Ice Cream Cone: The Whole Scoop on Food at the World's Fair", a handful of the 130 fully staffed restaurants and food stands had iced tea listed on the menus they had to submit for approval before the fair opened. Plus, there are written accounts dating back to the 1890s of iced tea being served elsewhere around the country.

Four years later, Thomas Sullivan of New York developed the concept of "bagged tea". As a tea merchant, he carefully wrapped each sample delivered to restaurants for their consideration. He recognized a natural marketing opportunity when he realized the restaurants were brewing the samples "in the bags" to avoid the mess of tea leaves in the kitchens.

Changes in drinking

Sixty years ago and more, the amount of black and green tea Americans drank was split fairly evenly--each accounting for about 40 percent of the market--with oolong constituting the rest. During World War II, however, the major sources of green tea--China and Japan--were cut off from the United States, leaving us with tea almost exclusively from British-controlled India, which produces black tea. Americans came out of the war drinking nearly 99 percent black tea.

* The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company

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Last updated : 25-Feb-04

American History - Past, Present, and Future
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