Our less-than-prim Penelope had lived in Edenton on the coast of North Carolina during the last excitement that erstwhile colonial capital had experienced since the sinking of Black Beard, a leading local entrepreneur from a previous generation. It was the pre-Revolutionary year 1773, when Americans the length of the Atlantic seaboard were being asked to weigh their love of tea against their love of country.
Boston was not alone in the staging of patriotic tea parties, but history quickly forgot the tea protests of that autumn and winter at Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, Annapolis, and Greenwich. The tale of Penelope Barker's tea party at Edenton has survived, however, handed down in our family along with the very pot that was present for the occasion. Generations of children have been suitably impressed by this big old pot and by Mrs. Barker's phrase, "the Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea."
After a farewell cup, 50 of the Albemarle's foremost ladies swore, in Penelope's own words, "not to Conform to the Pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea, until such time as all Acts which tend to enslave our Native Country shall be repealed ... and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this Page." Whenever the ancient pot appeared, we were told once again how Mrs. Barker got the ladies to sign "this Page" which she had sent to a London newspaper in confident expectation of creating a sensation in England. Only a few months later, however, some anonymous New Englander fired "the shot heard round the world," and with a prenatal disinclination for tea our Republic began struggling to be born. We imagined this was all largely Mrs. Barker's doing, and aided by her large vocabulary. Hot tea from her pot tasted better, I still think, because it was "Pernicious."
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