November 4, 2023
The Copley Family

By Kellee Blake

November 4, 1773

On this very day, 250 years ago . . .


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Boston merchant Richard Clarke carefully considered the choice before him.  Just two days earlier, he received an unwelcome 1:00 AM knock from men standing in his moonlit courtyard.  They presented a letter demanding Clarke and his son to appear at Boston’s Liberty Tree the next week, foreswear their roles as official tea importers,  and promise not to accept the incoming East India Company tea shipment.  “Fail not upon your peril,” the message warned.  

Clarke was a highly successful merchant who enjoyed an elegant lifestyle among Boston’s elite.  His daughter was the wife of famed painter John Singleton Copley and the young Copleys lived on a Beacon Hill estate next to John Hancock. Much more than the Clarkes’ social position was at stake, however. Clarke’s reputation in British commerce and with the Crown would be ruined if he acceded and refused to accept the tea. On the other hand, Boston mobs were demonstrably willing to punish those who disagreed with them. It is hard to imagine today’s pleasant beverage as such an iconic catalyst to war.  

When the bells rang for Clarke and others so summoned to appear at the Liberty Tree, they did not go.  He and members of his family were forced from their home by the repeated visits of hundreds of angry locals and, by Christmas 1775, had permanently relocated to England where the Copleys were already resettled.    

Things were stirring on the Shore, as well.  Much transpired as usual: merchant vessel captains brought news from the British Isles, a new renter was needed for the “noted” ordinary at Northampton Courthouse, and Williamsburg newspapers still marketed the latest goods and enslaved humans on the same page. Soon enough, actions at far away Boston Harbor would bring the British lion’s roar to the Shore. 

Join WESR on the 4th of each month to learn more about Virginia and the Shore’s role in the War for Independence.  Get ready for the Revolutionary Shore!  

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