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                          Richard Collins, A Family of Three at Tea, 1727

Early in the 18th c., tea, accompanied by porcelain from which to drink it, and sometimes lacquered tables to serve it on, began to make some figure in the houses of the colonial gentry, who readily followed an English fashion.  Before 1725, tea “green and bohea” had no only become established in larger towns, but had found a secure lodgment among the country gentry of Virginia and the Carolinas; in North Carolina the “better sort” early showed a preference for such “sober liquors”.  When beaux were announced in the afternoon, Virginia young ladies were accustomed to go out into the hall and pour tea for them.  The Dutch of New York became very fond of the new beverage; they drank it after a fashion of their own, laying by each cup a lump of sugar, which they put into the mouth and held there while they sipped the tea. ..Tea made its way in New England much more slowly than elsewhere, and was not in general use until about the middle of the century.  There is a pretty well authenticated story of some young ladies in Connecticut, who in their eagerness to test the new drink, boiled it in a kettle and served it like broth, with the leaves for thickening.  Coffee was never so generally drunk as tea in any of the colonies…

The frequent loss of teeth in America was set down to the account of tea, when it had hardly been in general use for one generation.  A colonial historian of New York in 1756 said, “Our people are shamefully gone into tea-drinking”, and an Annapolis broadside of 1774 calls it “that detestable weed, tea.”  In 1742 Benjamin Lay, the Quaker Elijah, went into the market-place in Philadelphia at noon-time, during a general meeting of the Society of Friends, and “bore a testimony” against tea-drinking by mounting a huckster’s stall and breaking piece by piece with a hammer a valuable lot of china-ware that had belonged to his deceased wife.  In vain the crowd sought to stay his hand by offering to buy the dainty cups and saucers; the people at last pushed the enthusiast down and carried off what was left of the china.  The great popularity of tea-drinking was probably due in part to the wide-spread notion that it was a novel and rather dangerous dissipation.  But all the effects supposed to come from tea-drinking were not bad, for the Abbe Robin, who says that the Americans took tea at least twice a day, attributes to this beverage the ability of the Revolutionary soldiers to endure the military punishment of flogging. 

                          John Singleton Copley, 1768, Paul Revere

Source:  The Century Illustrated Magazine.  Vol. 29.  April 1885.

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