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The Trouble with Tea

The Politics of Consumption in the Eighteenth-Century Global Economy

Jane T. Merritt

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How tea’s political meaning shaped the culture and economy of the Anglo-American world.

Americans imagined tea as central to their revolution. After years of colonial boycotts against the commodity, the Sons of Liberty kindled the fire of independence when they dumped tea in the Boston harbor in 1773. To reject tea as a consumer item and symbol of "taxation without representation" was to reject Great Britain as master of the American economy and government. But tea played a longer and far more complicated role in American economic history than the events at Boston suggest.

In The Trouble with...

How tea’s political meaning shaped the culture and economy of the Anglo-American world.

Americans imagined tea as central to their revolution. After years of colonial boycotts against the commodity, the Sons of Liberty kindled the fire of independence when they dumped tea in the Boston harbor in 1773. To reject tea as a consumer item and symbol of "taxation without representation" was to reject Great Britain as master of the American economy and government. But tea played a longer and far more complicated role in American economic history than the events at Boston suggest.

In The Trouble with Tea, historian Jane T. Merritt explores tea as a central component of eighteenth-century global trade and probes its connections to the politics of consumption. Arguing that tea caused trouble over the course of the eighteenth century in a number of different ways, Merritt traces the multifaceted impact of that luxury item on British imperial policy, colonial politics, and the financial structure of merchant companies. Merritt challenges the assumption among economic historians that consumer demand drove merchants to provide an ever-increasing supply of goods, thus sparking a consumer revolution in the early eighteenth century.

The Trouble with Tea reveals a surprising truth: that concerns about the British political economy, coupled with the corporate machinations of the East India Company, brought an abundance of tea to Britain, causing the company to target North America as a potential market for surplus tea. American consumers only slowly habituated themselves to the beverage, aided by clever marketing and the availability of Caribbean sugar. Indeed, the "revolution" in consumer activity that followed came not from a proliferation of goods, but because the meaning of these goods changed. By the 1750s, British subjects at home and in America increasingly purchased and consumed tea on a daily basis; once thought a luxury, tea had become a necessity. This fascinating look at the unpredictable path of a single commodity will change the way readers look at both tea and the emergence of America.

Reviews

Reviews

Jane T. Merritt provides a compelling analysis of the economic, social, and political consequences of tea consumption in the American colonies during the eighteenth century.

This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of the powerful global context of the American Revolution and of late-eighteenthcentury American commercial ambitions and achievements.

Students at all levels utilising this text will value the appended detailed essay on both primary and secondary sources in addition to the detailed end-notes.

Merritt's book on tea takes a distinguished place in a growing list of formidable studies of colonial commodities whose histories have global importance: cod, cotton, madeira, mahogany, rum, salt, sugar, and who knows what next.

By tackling a commodity we think we already know in its political, economic, and cultural dimensions, Jane T. Merritt demonstrates that the true story of tea is more complex and global than readers might expect. The Trouble with Tea is a surprising and detailed look at how the long-term moral debates over tea overlapped with and offered a vocabulary for the politicized debates of the Revolutionary War era.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
224
ISBN
9781421421537
Illustration Description
11 b&w illus., 5 maps
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Series Editor's Foreword
Introduction: Consumer Revolutions
Chapter 1. The English Commercial Empire Expands
Chapter 2. The Rise of a "Tea-fac'd Generation"
Chapter 3

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Series Editor's Foreword
Introduction: Consumer Revolutions
Chapter 1. The English Commercial Empire Expands
Chapter 2. The Rise of a "Tea-fac'd Generation"
Chapter 3. Politicizing American Consumption
Chapter 4. The Global Dimensions of the American Tea Crisis
Chapter 5. Repatriating Tea in Revolutionary America
Chapter 6. Chinese Tea and American Commercial Independence
Conclusion
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Jane T. Merritt

Jane T. Merritt is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University. She is the author of At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700–1763.