George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Isaac Sears, 2 May 1776

From Isaac Sears

New-Haven, May 2, 1776.

Sir: Your Excellency will please excuse my writing to you on a subject that it is most probable you will have taken up before this comes to hand; but as it is the business of the Provincial Congress at New-York to first see that the resolves of the Continental Congress are carried into execution, I must suppose your Excellency would not interfere with them, unless you should see an absolute necessity for it; and it is a duty I owe my country to use my utmost endeavours to preserve and keep inviolate the laws of the Continental Congress.

I must now acquaint your Excellency that, before I left New-York, I heard many of the tea holders say they would have a dollar the pound for their tea, (if it should get to that, would it stop there?) and since I have been here, information has been given me that some of the tea holders have begun to sell their tea at eight shillings, which has induced the tea holders in this Colony to refuse selling their tea till they see what New-York intends to do. I think it would be a very dangerous consequence to sell the tea higher than the Congress has limited it; for it would lay a foundation for violating every law the Continental Congress has made, and may hereafter make, whenever it suits the mercenary merchant to line his pocket with cash; and it is scandalous to the highest degree for the merchant to sell the tea higher than the limited price; for the Continental Congress has limited it to one shilling and six-pence per pound higher than the tea holders asked for it last fall, which pays them a very large interest;1 and as to my part, I am entirely satisfied with the price; although I have as much tea by me as would advance my estate largely, were the tea holders to violate the resolves of the Congress; for I make not the least doubt but they would soon get twenty shillings a pound for it. I had thirty-nine chests in this Government; and since I returned from New-York have opened the sale by the small quantity, at six shillings, New-York currency, and sold about ten chests; but shall now stop till I see the event of what will be done in New-York respecting that article, as, if there is not a stop put to the use of it, the tea that I sell at the limited price may be sold by others at twenty shillings per pound.

I am, Your Excellency’s most obedient, and very humble servant,


Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 5:1175.

1The association that Congress adopted in October 1774 forbade the purchase or use effective 1 Mar. 1775 of “any tea imported on Account of the East India company, or any on which a duty had been or should be paid.” Many merchants were not able to dispose of their stocks of tea by that date. After much debate Congress agreed on 13 April 1776 to permit the sale of those old stocks excepting only tea imported by or for the East India Company. Because future importation of tea continued to be prohibited, Congress acted at the same time to prevent traders from taking advantage of the scarcity of the commodity to charge exorbitant prices for their holdings. Black tea, Congress resolved, should not sell for more than three-fourths of a dollar per pound, and the prices of other teas should “be regulated by the committees of the town or county where the tea is sold” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 4:277–79). GW sent this letter to the New York provincial congress on 13 May (see GW to Sears and GW to Nathaniel Woodhull, that date).

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