Remembering tea parties Renewed July 4 celebration recalls city's role in independence.

June 19, 1996

AFTER A ONE-YEAR hiatus -- caused by reconstruction of Main Street -- the city of Annapolis will resume its traditional Fourth of July parade, followed by a Naval Academy Band concert and fireworks. This is splendid news and an occasion to recall the intriguing role that Maryland's state capital played in events leading to America's Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The Boston tea party is well-known. But Annapolis, responding to calls for action from Massachusetts activists, organized its own tea parties as well.

The most notable occurred in 1774, when the brig Peggy Stewart arrived from London carrying 2,000 pounds of tea. The question in many patriots' minds was what to do?

Some urged that the vessel be burned and its owner tarred and feathered. Charles Carroll, who later became one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, recommended that only the tea be burned.

In the end, the radicals won and the ship went up in flames. The incident caused a great deal of excitement. Not all were in agreement with the burning. One critic wrote that the burning "makes all men of property reflect with horror on their present Situation; to have their lives and propertys at the disposal & mercy of a Mob is Shocking indeed."

The next year, another British ship, the Totness, ran aground near Annapolis with a cargo of salt and dry goods. A citizens' committee decided that it should be allowed to sail to Baltimore. But before the vessel could be freed, it, too, was set ablaze by a mob. Other ships were allowed to land their passengers but told to take their cargo either back to England or to the West Indies.

The year preceding the Declaration of Independence was a tense one. American patriots held constant meetings. The British were still officially in charge but a dual government of the king's officers and local committees of public safety existed in Annapolis. "Annapolis became daily more and more deserted," a chronicler wrote. "Agriculture was neglected, the voice of peaceful industry was hushed and military science became the universal study of the hour."

Maryland issued its own declaration of independence not on July 4, but on July 6 in 1776.

The rest is history.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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