NYC Tea-Water: Mother of Revolution?

by Jason Walker on July 6, 2009

in Uncategorized

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Water has been called the mother of tea. If so, then Water is the grandmother of America, because no other drink had such a critical impact on early US history.

To fully appreciate the impact of tea on the Colonies, one must go back beyond the Boston Tea Party. And, one must look south to New York.

New Amsterdam was Dutch, and thanks to the influence of the Dutch East India Company, the early settlers were already drinking tea by the time the British renamed the colony New York. Most likely, New York was consuming more tea than England.

Demand for tea in the British colonies shaped the politics and culture of the early United States. Smugglers in the Hancock family (e.g. John Hancock) made fortunes offering cheaper Dutch teas. Taxes on tea led to revolt, despite the fact that Britons were paying taxes that more than doubled the price of their tea, while tea taxes on the Colonies amounted to pennies on the dollar.

The problem with drinking tea in New York was that tea’s good mother was hard to be found. Personal accounts,

cholera epidemics, and yellow fever outbreaks in New York testify to the shortage of clean water in the first centuries of the city’s history.


Enter the tea-water pumps. The earliest written description dates to the mid 1700s, and describes specific springs of

higher quality water. These tea-water pumps created trade (as tea water men carted the water through the city), contributed to the establishment of the New York Fire Department, and perpetuated the US spirit of tea.

I recently went in search of the locations of the tea-water pumps. Records give us clues as to where they once stood. One location held a possible clue; a sign warning of of sinking ground. Does an ancient cave spring continue to eat away at the earth below?

IMG_0005In proximity of another suspected site lay a small garden. There, a fish pond was being fed with a steady flow, but from where?

Alas, the water that nursed a Revolution may have been lost.

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