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The Burning of the Peggy Stewart

Sailing into Annapolis harbor October 14, 1774 the ill-fated and heavily laden brig Peggy Stewart was soon to ignite a firestorm in the American Colonies fight against British tyranny and taxation without representation. The ship, co-owned by James Dick and his son-in-law Anthony Stewart, carried a cargo of 53 indentured servants and 2,230 pounds of tea known as “the detestable weed tea,”1 a product boycotted by the Colonies.

The Tea Boycott

In 1773 the British Parliament passed the Tea Act in an effort to “reduce the huge tea surplus of the struggling East India Company while undercutting the black market for tea smuggled into the Colonies duty-free.”2 This Act led to the infamous Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773 resulting in Britain closing down the Boston Harbor. In a show of solidarity with the Massachusetts Colony the Maryland General Assembly (meeting illicitly) and the Anne Arundel County Oversight Committee enacted a non-importation resolution for British tea and other goods.3

The Forbidden Cargo

Believed to have been purchased by business competitor Thomas Charles Williams and secreted aboard the ship in boxes marked linens, neither Dick nor Stewart knew about the tea until it arrived. Only after Williams completed his customs declaration did the ship’s Captain learn of the forbidden freight too late to alter its destination.4

The Fateful Decision

After a difficult Atlantic crossing leaving the ship damaged and the passengers’ quite sick Mr. Stewart was in an unenviable position. In order to disembark the indentured servants the duty on all cargo had to be paid, including tax on the tea. There were two choices – send the ship back to London, a trip the crew, passengers and it would not survive or pay the tax – which he did. Regardless of his ‘why,’ paying the tax on the smuggled tea enraged, embattled and energized the Colonists of Anne Arundel County, their anger primarily directed toward Anthony Stewart. Handbills were distributed, an angry mob marched on Stewart’s home demanding he be tarred and feathered. Fearing for his life Stewart agreed to destroy the tea but that wasn’t good enough for the protesting Colonists – they wanted the Peggy Stewart burnt, and so on October 19, 1774…it was.

Personal Repercussions

Stewart eventually fled Annapolis for Nova Scotia and his property seized. Remaining a loyalist to the very end he continually petitioned the British government for compensation for his losses as a citizen.5 In an ironic twist of fate, the sly Thomas Charles Williams was not unscathed. “…the news of Thomas’ treachery quickly spread across the Colonies. A bounty was even placed on his head! He eluded capture for three months. But, he eventually turned himself in signing a letter confessing his crime and was ‘forgiven.’ However, when it came time for him to bear arms against the British he disappeared, never to be heard from again.”6


Known as the Annapolis Tea Party, the burning of the Peggy Stewart was the most violent of the ten tea parties staged throughout the Colonies.7 The remains of the Peggy Stewart today lay beneath Luce Hall at the United States Naval Academy.8 8 Mdhistory.

1 Taraross.com/post/tdih-annapolis-tea-party.

2 Boundarystones.weta.org/2012/12/16/Annapolis-tea-party-1774.

3 Stratfordmail.buzzsprout.com Burning of the Peggy Stewart, Season 1, Episode 8.

4 en.m.wikipedia.org Peggy Stewart (ship).

5 Navalbagels.com, The Annapolis Tea Party and the Burning of the Peggy Stewart, June 20, 2018.

6 ld.

7 Ten Tea Parties, Patriotic Protests That History Forgot, Joseph Cummins, January 17, 2012.

8 Mdhistory.org The Burning of the Peggy Stewart.

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