Kilkenny Connection to Boston Tea Party
244 years ago today, 342 chests of tea were thrown into Boston Harbour in what became known as the Boston Tea Party. Those involved were of various nationalities, including Irish. One of those Irishmen was Thomas White, born in Kilkenny on the 19th of March 1739.
When left Ireland and arrived in Philadelphia on the 2nd of May 1770, it is clear that he brought his resentment for the British with him as only three years later, he found himself aboard a British tea ship pouring the contents over the side in an act of protest.
The event itself happened on the 16th of December 1773. It was a Sons of Liberty (secret society that protected the rights of American colonists) public protest against the British imposed 'Tea Act 1773' which granted the British 'East India Company' a monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. Thomas amongst others disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded ships belonging to the 'East India Company' and dumped the entire shipment of 46 tons overboard. They were cheered on by huge crowds of onlookers as the tea emptied into the harbour.
It was a public display of resistance against the British and rallied support from across the colonies. The British responded by imposing even heavier charges, further escalating tensions. This culminated in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) in which Thomas would fight under the command of George Washington. Although fighting ended in 1781, it was not until 1783 that the war was formally ended through the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain recognizing the sovereignty of the United States.
White attended the same masonic lodge as Washington. After the closing of business at the lodge, Washington would unveil and discuss his secret war plans to them, and no-one else. Unfortunately, papers pertaining to Thomas White's service under Washington were burnt by the British and as a result, we can only speculate as to what Thomas White's exact role and contributions might have been during this time. He served until 1782 and three of his sons would later serve. Of these three sons, only one returned home, with another drowning out on duty and the last, Ezekiel, dying of dysentery after being captured.
He was 15 years older than his wife Elizabeth Jones, the mother of their 21 children, of which a number died young. They had moved to Boston shortly after their marriage in Philadelphia.
In 1803, he moved with his family to Broad Top City, Pennsylvania. He cleared land and developed a farm here in an area that later became known as White's Church. White's profession upon arriving in America was that of a tailor, but he died a farmer on the 13th of September 1820. He was laid to rest at Evans Cemetery, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.
On the 4th of July 1899, Independence Day, a monument (bottom) was unveiled above his grave. There was a large turnout and the event even featured a parade.
The poster for the event (right) reads:
"This is the first and will be the last exercise of this kind held in this part of the state, and all descendants of Thomas White, all patriotic orders, citizens and people are cordially invited to attend, and if by nothing more than your presence, do honor to the memory of the brave and patriotic hero of the Boston Tea Party and Revolutionary fame. On this the Nation's natal day rekindle the torch of liberty and love of country."
Thomas White is still remembered in America today. In 1973, 200 years after the Boston Tea Party, the 'Thomas White Historical Association' erected a Pennsylvania Historical Highway Marker near his gravesite in his honour.
With 21 children, as you could imagine, there are many people alive today with ancestry linked to White. In 2011, White's descendants held a reunion in his honour.
Thomas White's bible (left) still survives and has been handed down through the generations. It's woolen fabric cover is believed to have been made from scraps of his military uniform. A written page in it is even believed to be by his hand.
2023 will mark 250 years since the Boston Tea Party and it would be great if something was done to mark the Thomas White connection here in Kilkenny.
The monument unveiled in 1899 (right)
On it is written:
"In Memory of Thomas White of the Boston Tea Party December 16,1773, and a Revolutionary Soldier and Patriot for American Independence, was born in Ireland, March 19, 1739 died Sept. 13, 1820, aged 61 yrs, 5 mo's and 24 days."
Followed by a beautiful verse:
"Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er
Dream of fighting fields no more.
How sleep the brave who sink to rest,
By all their country's wishes blest."
The other side is dedicated to his wife:
"Elizabeth Jones, wife of Thomas White Born June 19, 1754 Died Feb. 2, 1844. She was the mother of 21 Children 3 of Whom fought in the War of 1812-14."