Non-Violent Defiance: 5 Boycotts that Changed America

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Boycotts are a form of non-violet protest intended to do economic harm. They have a tendency to also bring attention to practices deemed discriminatory or damaging. Boycotts happen throughout the world, but Americans have perfected this mode of protest as an act of defiance. Named for an Irish land agent, Charles Boycott, who harshly evicted tenant farmers that were unable to by their annual rent due to discriminatory laws passed in England, Boycott has unwittingly given his name to a very successful act of disobedience. Historians have argued that boycotts were an essential component to defeating the British, obtaining civil rights, and streamlining foreign policy. Below are five shocking boycotts that changed America.

North Carolina History Project

1. Edenton, North Carolina Tea Party 1774

European immigrants settled Edenton, North Carolina in the late seventeenth century. In 1722, the King’s appointed governor made Edenton his home, thus making the small town the capital of the Province of North Carolina until 1743. During those years, the town’s population, and importance as a seaport increased. Situated at the mouth of the Chowan River and the Albemarle Sound, Edenton is connected to the backcountry of Virginia and the shipping routes of the Atlantic Ocean.

Merchants shipped tea, wine, sugar, and many other goods into Edenton. Great Britain had passed laws that prohibited the sale of any goods in America that were not produced in England or shipped via British vessels. Any goods made in America such as muskets, knives, or furniture, had to be shipped to England. Selling those goods directly to a neighbor, for example, would be in direct defiance of the King. As such, Americans made goods, but they were not allowed to sell them without approval from British officials.

In the aftermath of the Seven Years War, known as the French-Indian War in America, the King and Parliament began passing tax proclamations. All British colonies, including America, were to pay coinage to pay down war debts and to fund new fort construction. When Great Britain won new frontier territory from France, old French fortifications had to be staffed and new forts built to ensure the proper protection of British colonists living along the frontier.

As taxes were levied on goods, American colonists attempted to air their grievances with British officials. When their numerous requests for an audience were denied or ignored, colonists began to boycott all British-made and British-shipped goods. This was an enormous act of defiance considering Americans were forbidden to sell the goods they made unless they were shipped form England.

Throughout the British Colonies, Patriots began boycotting goods. Shops operated by British merchants were targeted as shameful places to purchase British-shipped wine and fabric. People that shopped at these stores were later targeted as traitors to the patriot cause; some were even tarred and feathered. Women supportive of the anti-tax movement began spinning their own fabric and making homespun clothing instead of purchasing fabric imported by the British.

Anti-British fervor was rising in the small town of Edenton. Inspired by the defiance of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, fifty-one women met in the parlor of Penelope Baker on October 25,1774. The women signed a petition stating that they would never purchase tea or other British-imported goods “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.” In January 1775, the British press printed the women’s petition along with their names. They were vilified with satirical cartoons that painted them as being neglectful of their children, lacking obedience, and as being puppets of men.

The Edenton Tea Party was the first known anti-British movement in the colonies organized solely by women. Each woman that signed the petition could have been tried for treason and hung as they were in direct defiance of the King. Throughout the colonies, the Edenton women became a symbol of American defiance and influenced the formation of many other anti-British organizations that ultimately contributed to the successful break from colonial rule.