The Shoemaker and The Tea Party by Alfred Fabian Young was published in 1999 by the Beacon Press. Young writes about the Revolution and the historic events that took place through the perspective of commoner George Robert Twelve Hewes. Young tries to figure out what kind of influence Hewes had and why he is not remembered for his duties. He gives his readers a different perspective on history and gives a fresh look at America in colonial times and the lives of regular everyday people in the eighteenth century that were deprived of being wealthy and did not have a lineage from our Founding Fathers.
The first part of the book is about Hewes, his recollection of the revolution and what these memories uncover about what the revolution really meant to him. Hewes had two different memoirs written about him, one from James Hawkes and the other by Benjamin Bussey Thatcher. Young researched to see just how accurate these memoirs actually were. The author starts the book off by telling us about an encounter between Hewes and John Hancock, Hancock was a wealthy man in Boston and Hewes was a shoemaker. Hewes was considered low class, and he recalls having to work up the courage to talk to Hancock. We find out that Hewes became a shoemaker because there were not really any resources that could afford to put him through any other trade and how little respect others had for that profession.
Young described Hewes as someone who had nothing and for a short period became a “somebody” in the revolution. George for a moment was on the same level as his “superiors,” or so he thought, and his memories of that time grew clearer as that time faded from his life. The author writes that there are different types of memory, private memory, and public memory. Private memory being what someone remembers, their own personal memories and public memory being what society remembers after all personal memories are gone or faded. Hewes memory was excellent for him being in his nineties according to Young. Most of Hewes experiences checked out but then Alfred also found that Hewes would embellish or elaborate his stories, he would claim that John Hancock was on the ship right beside him throwing the tea overboard with him which was probably not an accurate claim at all. When history or any other story for that fact is told repeatedly, it becomes less accurate and not as credible as it was the first time it was told. This is what Young had issues with when writing this book, he was unsure what was fact and what was an embellished story that Hewes thought he knew but really just elaborated so much that he believed it to be true.
Hewes participated in three significant events in the revolution, the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party, and the tarring and feathering of John Malcolm. The Boston Massacre was when British soldiers shot and killed people when they became under attack by a mob. Young describes the massacre saying that people were defensive and had every right to be. Hewes had known four of the five men that were murdered that night in the crowd, and he caught a man as he was falling.
The Tea Party, known as the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was the destruction of tea in the Boston Harbor and was organized by radical Whigs. American patriots disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and threw chests of tea into the Boston Harbor in hopes of lowering taxes and reducing the United States national debt by decreasing the spending of the Government. Hewes volunteered to be in charge and was appointed as an officer. He helped plan the entire event.
The other significant but rarely talked about event that Hewes participated in was the tarring and feathering of John Malcolm. Malcolm was found standing over a small child, threatening to beat him with a large cane, and Hewes was concerned if the boy were struck it would more than likely kill him. He told Malcolm “I hope you are not going to strike the boy with that stick,” Malcolm told him to not interfere in a gentlemen’s business, and when Hewes would not leave him alone, Malcolm struck Hewes on his head with the cane knocking him unconscious. Even after being hit in the head by Malcolm, Hewes tried to protect him when a crowd of people stripped him to the waist and tarred and feathered him in 1774.
The second section of the book covers the history of the Tea Party. Young ask “When did they start calling it the Boston Tea Party?” However, as he starts to dig through and research, he realizes that in Hewes memoirs “the destruction of the tea” is referred to for the first time as the Boston Tea Party. It might have been something that had been said before but it was never put into print until his biography. Hewes was the only living survivor of the Tea Party and was being paraded around Boston. Meanwhile, other politicians were trying to claim their fame for the Revolution. Young thought that Hewes was probably demoralized by all the prominent Whigs that wanted to forget any role that a lower-class person had played and that’s why he was not recognized. These types of people began to accept the expression The Boston Tea Party to make an event that was revolutionary or radical seem less important.
Young’s book was a great honor and tribute to Hewes. He corrected any slander or untrue propaganda that was written about Hewes and gave him the proper acknowledgment that he deserved. Young did a great job of giving the people that were not talked about, the less fortunate that was not given credit they deserved a way of having that acknowledgment and showed his readers a new view on history as we know it. In an age that the more fortunate people dominated, it was nice to see all the events unravel through a unfortunate shoemakers’ perspective and see he was not just someone standing on the side watching but an actual participant in historical events. We see in this book a rise in the lower class working towards fairness and equality with the more superior people. Overall, Alfred Young did a great job with this book and gave us a new way of looking at things. The lower class people need to be recognized for what they did as well.
- Young, Alfred F. 1999. The shoemaker and the tea party: memory and the American Revolution. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.