Back in Time: Ebenezer Stevens | Alyssa J Freitas: Back in Time: Ebenezer Stevens

September 25, 2019

Back in Time: Ebenezer Stevens

Yay for another back in time post! I visited the New York Historical Society recently (check out my Instagram Stories for all of my museum adventures) and there is a special exhibition on Paul Revere. I learned about the man outside of just his famous midnight ride, but it was a friend of his who caught my eye.
Click to read now or pin to save for later! Check out this cool dude, Ebenezer, to learn how he made his fortune off of those he once fought against

Meet Ebenezer Stevens. Son of Liberty. Lieutenant colonel. Merchant.

He and Paul Revere were friends who met as members of an Artillery Company (led by Captain Paddock). Both participated in the Boston Tea Party, and Ebenezer leaves us with some interesting primary source facts.

I'm sure you know the tale of the men who dressed up like Indians, boarded ships in Boston Harbor, and proceeded to toss tea overboard from the East India Company to protest the taxes they viewed as unfairly imposed on them. Well, turns out there are a few disputed points there.

First, get this, they may not have been dressed as Indians. Stevens wrote to his family saying,
"We commenced handing the boxes of tea on deck, and first commenced breaking them with axes, but found much difficulty, owing to the boxes of tea being covered with canvass—the mode that this article was then imported in. I think that all the tea was discharged in about two hours. We were careful to prevent any being taken away; none of the party were painted as Indians, nor, that I know of disguised, excepting that some of them stopped at a paint shop on the way and daubed their faces with paint."
The reason I say "may not" is because there are differing accounts on this and I haven't done my full blown research yet to tell you what I believe.

We also learn in this passage that it wasn't a thrilling, dashing expression of emotions, but rather that it took hours for them to dispose of the tea and it was hard work. This takes away quite a bit of the romantic imagery, but the gravity of the act remains the same.

Aside from being an enthusiastic participant in the early revolutionary activities, Stevens also had a distinguished military career as part of the Continental Army. Most notably, he served under Major General Nathanial Greene and was selected by George Washington to raise battalions against Quebec. And he served under Marquis de Lafayette, which puts him in contact and camaraderie with some of the most important figures in the military during the war.

What drew me to learning more about Stevens was his success as a merchant after the war. From the book The Old Merchants of New York City I learned that he was one of the most prominent merchants of the old war veterans. His trade began in lumber, he soon had ships going to Lisbon and Bordeaux, and the business exploded from there. By 1804 he had innumerable ships and was prospering while doing business with none other than the East India Company!

I wish there was more information to share on good old Ebenezer, more stories. Perhaps there are and it will take another trip to the library to find out.

-Alyssa J

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