On October 25, 1774, fifty-one white women in Edenton, North Carolina, met and agreed to uphold the non-importation resolves passed in August 1774 by the North Carolina Provincial Congress. They and many other colonists acted similarly in the spirit of the non-importation resolutions that the First Continental Congress adopted in Philadelphia on October 20, 1774, which prohibited importing all British goods after December 1, 1774, and threatened to stop all exports to Great Britain on September 10, 1775, unless the acts of Parliament were repealed.
According to local tradition, the organizer of the Edenton Tea Party was Penelope Barker. Her husband, Thomas Barker, a colonial agent for North Carolina, represented North Carolina's interests at Court and in Parliament, and resided in England from 1761 until 1778. Penelope Barker gathered friends and met at the house of Elizabeth King and agreed to boycott British goods. The firm commitment these women demonstrated by their petition for the patriotic cause is represented today by a teapot the Edenton town seal.
In January 1775, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser reported that a society of ladies in Edenton, North Carolina, had agreed to refrain from drinking tea and wearing British cloth. The London newspaper printed the petition:
“As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of members deputed from the whole Province, it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections, who have concurred in them, but to ourselves, who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do everything as far as lies in our power, to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.”
Two months later this satirical print mocking women's involvement in politics appeared in London. The women, many portrayed with masculine features, are from various social backgrounds, including a slave woman and, in the foreground, a neglected child. Women in the background drink from a punchbowl, an action usually reserved for men at gatherings. The rectangular boxes in the picture are tea chests, used for storing tea leaves. In the cartoon, the petition reads, “We the Ladys of Edenton do hereby solemnly Engage not to Conform to that Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, or that we the aforesaid Ladys will not promote the wear of any Manufacture from England untill such time that all Acts which tend to Enslave this our Native Country shall be Repealed.” This illustration depicts an unusual, purely political action by American colonial women. Domestic social events, such as tea parties, were one of the acceptable places for women, almost always in the company of men, to gather and discuss topics of the day.
1. Why do you think the artist chose to portray the women with masculine features and neglecting their children?
2. What kinds of women are portrayed in the print? According to this document who can participate in the political process?
3. What is the underlying message of this cartoon? According to this document, what rights do women have?
1. Did royal officials consider the Edenton ladies' declaration a true threat? Why or why not? Did Loyalists, patriots, slaves, free blacks, and other women consider these women's actions important for the cause? Did their actions make a difference?
2. How have women since 1774 engaged in political forums? How can you state your political position today and create change for the better? What can you do to become active in your community, state, and nation?
January 16, 1775, London Advertiser and Morning Chronicle, quoted in Halsey, R. T. H. The Boston Port Bill as Pictured by a Contemporary London Artist. New York: Grolier Club, 1904, 314–315.
Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
Iredell, James. 1976. The Papers of James Iredell. Edited by Don Higginbotham, 1:282–286. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources.