Excerpt from Chapter 1: Cardinal Points
The mood was charged, as though there was lightning flashing in the air, although there was no storm. Curious at the large crowds, he followed a mass of people to the square in front of the large brick church on the corner of Milk Street. The crowd had moved into the square from a meeting at Faneuil Hall, and now gathered in front of the Old South Meeting House. It was enormous, large enough so that it contained nearly every adult in the town. It was also very quiet. Every man, woman, and young person who had not been lucky enough to get a seat inside on this cold damp night stood at the big windows, straining to hear the speeches. Occasionally the voices inside would make a point or call for a vote, then loud “huzzahs!” and “fies!” would pour from the windows.
It was a typical December night on the New England coast. Jason pulled his collar closer, but didn’t mind. Coming from the north of England, he sort of liked it, but others found the freezing drizzle, constant rain, snow, cold and fog to be unpleasant. He shuffled his feet when the crowd moved, and listened. The arguments had been going on all week, and the crowds were here because of a shipment of East India Company tea – that small leaf, from a small plant, grown very far away, taxed by Parliament, and desired by nearly everyone. And held for ransom, it seemed, on three ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver – ships docked, but not yet passed by the customs men.
The three were loaded with legal tea, and their large cargo was ready to offload. The owners, who well understood the mood of the town, were prepared to sell cheap, just to maintain order, and give Parliament their bitty tax. But the mood of the town said that the ships should sail away with their cargo untouched.
The arguments in the Meeting House had to be finished this night because the ships had been docked for weeks, and tomorrow the customs men could legally seize the tea and sell it in the shops. What those same customs men did not know was that among Jason’s possessions on the Chardon, anchored just off Windmill Point, was a lovely little cargo of tea from Holland. Of course, his was not legal tea, smuggled as it was, and then seized as a prize from a French merchantman.
So, as far as the East India Company and their cronies were concerned, his tea, nicely hidden in wine casks, was to rot onboard. The only way he would be allowed to bring his tea into town was to smuggle it in on a dark night. Now, the governor, with his stubborn insistence that the captains of the three tea ships not return to London with their cargo, had made the town too ‘hot’ to sell any tea, even good quality Chinese tea, carefully smuggled.
It was unlike Jason to stand and listen to political discussions. Generally, he did not concern himself with Parliament and their doings. His brothers did that for him. He hadn’t heard from either of them in a while, and there wasn’t time at the present to get their intellectual, reasoned, Parliamentarian reading on the situation concerning the Boston tea. Governor Hutchinson was about to make his decision, and no doubt it would be to land the tea. The governor knew the mood of the town, but Thomas Hutchinson had never listened to the desires of his fellows, and he was not starting now.
It seemed odd, and yet not, to find himself outside Old South, with the young men of Boston. He had been a sailor since he was fourteen, and maybe he had always wanted to defy authority and carefully and methodically throw cargo off a ship into a harbor. Bostonians’ natural aversion to taxes and restraint of trade might be giving him a unique chance to fulfill that dream, and take part in what was sure to become an important moment in history, something rare in any life.
Jason knew he could not open his mouth to speak. He occasionally was able to sound like a lowly seaman, but he could never sound American. The handicap had never bothered him, and the last times he had stayed in Boston, it had not mattered. But tonight he might sound like a spy, and he was not in the mood to follow the tea into the cold, wet harbor.
After word came from the governor to land the tea, the crowd broke up. Slowly, small groups moved into taverns and parlors around the plaza. He found himself with a group walking up School Street to the Cromwell’s Head Tavern. There, a dark-haired girl, her own hat low on her head almost hiding her face, was distributing feathers and applying black war paint and burnt cork patches to disguise the participants.