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Palmetto Past & Present: Before The Tea Party

How an event that took place 261 years ago in South Carolina sowed the seeds of revolution …

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Saturday, December 16, marks an important milestone in American history. Exactly 250 years ago on that night, dozens of Patriots disguised as Mohawk Indian warriors slipped onboard the RMS Dartmouth under cover of darkness and decided Boston Harbor needed to be caffeinated. Over the next three hours, they smashed open and dumped 342 large crates of highly taxed (but unpaid) English tea into the cold water.

The Boston Tea Party was a significant event leading up to the American Revolution just two years later.

But did you know that on that same date a decade earlier, another important but lesser-known event played a key role in starting the thirteen colonies on their path toward breaking with Britain? And it happened here in South Carolina …

Blame it on Tom Boone. The son of a Lowcountry landowner, his dad was a wealthy London merchant and his big brother had served a stint in parliament.

After his father’s death, Boone arrived in Charleston in 1752 to take a look at the property he had inherited. With his family connections, it was no surprise the Crown named Boone royal governor of the New Jersey Colony in 1759. London moved him down South two years later, making him governor of its South Carolina Colony.

Because Boone was blood kin to the Colleton family (as in Colleton County), Lowcountry citizens welcomed him with traditional Southern hospitality. But it didn’t take long for them to discover that when loyalty to London was involved, water was thicker than blood.

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Before setting sail for our shores, the British board of trade told Boone it was growing uncomfortable with the colonists’ increasing sense of self-reliance from their Mother Country. The Election Act of 1721 had created the Commons House of Assembly (the forerunner of today’s state legislature), but London now appeared to regret that decision – believing the colonists were getting too big for their britches.

Boone’s marching orders were clear and to the point: Bring the Carolinians down a peg or two and put them back in their place.

Needless to say, Boone’s warm welcome didn’t last long. The mood turned downright hostile when word of what he intended to do got out. Ordered by the governor to revise the 1721 legislation (and thus restrict its own power), the Assembly flat-out refused.

Things took a nasty turn the following spring. Christopher Gadsden was a successful merchant and early Patriot leader in resisting the excesses of British rule. Reelected to the Assembly in April 1762, Boone knew a troublemaker when he saw one. When he learned of a minor technicality in Gadsden’s election victory, the governor pounced. Boone refused to administer the oath of office, thus denying Gadsden his seat. An ugly standoff ensued. Finally, a frustrated Boone dissolved the Assembly.

That really angered the Carolinians. Another round of elections was held in November, and Gadsden was easily swept back into office in a landslide. His outraged colleagues weren’t content to leave it at that, though. The Assembly opened an official investigation into Boone’s behavior.

On December 16, 1762, the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly passed a resolution declaring it would no longer do any business with Boone until he expressly recognized and acknowledged the legislature’s rights – which he stubbornly refused to do.

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It was a stinging rebuke to Boone, who, to put it in modern terms, had his fanny handed to him on a platter.

Still, he clung to his notion that he alone was the Big Boss. South Carolina’s colonial government ground to a halt for over a year as the governor and Assembly refused to have anything to do with each other. Boone tried to buy the colonists’ support by handing out grants for free land like parents passing out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. It didn’t work.

Boone eventually ran up the white flag, hopped on a ship, and returned to England for good in May 1764. His failure followed him across the pond. The board of trade severely reprimanded him for having displayed, in its words, “more zeal than prudence.” The damage was done, and Boone finished his career as a minor customs bureaucrat, a long fall from royal governor.

Gadsden emerged from the affair more popular than ever. He went on to become an influential leader in the Patriot cause in South Carolina during the Revolution – including designing the famed flag which bears his name (a.k.a. the “Don’t Tread On Me” banner).

The tiff between the two played a critical role in creating an atmosphere that made the split with England possible. It opened many Carolinians’ eyes to the stark reality that although they viewed themselves as loyal British subjects, they were second-class citizens in the eyes of London. And always would be. Charleston, S.C., is 975 miles from Boston, Mass., and the Boone affair was 11 years distant from the Tea Party. Yet the events of those December 16s were essential episodes in creating the freedom we cherish today.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mark Powell (Provided)

J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at mark@fitsnews.com.

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