As studying private and collective memory plays significant role in historical studies of the present days, exploring “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution” by Alfred Young seems important in terms of revealing the truth about the American Revolution.
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The author of the book under consideration is Emeritus Professor of History at Northern Illinois University and Senior Research Fellow at the Newberry Library in Chicago. He was awarded with the Distinguished Service Award by the Organization of American Historians in 2000. Even these facts from the author’s biography make “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” a reliable source of the knowledge on the American past.
“The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” is based on the story of a little-known at the beginning citizen of Boston who lived there in the 1760s. The book may be regarded as the guide on the American Revolution presented in the form of the main character’s memoir on the issue.
An ordinary tradesman (a shoemaker, fisherman, sailor and farmer intermittently), George Robert Twelves Hewes, is depicted as a part of the common mass of people in Boston whose role in the American Revolution cannot be underestimated.
The shoemaker witnessed the key events in the Pre-Revolutionary period. Hewes was present at the Boston Massacre connected with the campaign known as the Tea Party. Six decades later, Hewes, an old man that has seen so much in his life, willingly shares his knowledge on the events with the generation of inquisitive writers. Being an eye-witness to the American Revolution, the shoemaker is a precious “discovery” for the descendants. Hewes is one of the remaining veterans of the Revolution whose story is highly evaluated by those seeking for truthful information about the event of historical significance. Young’s main purpose was to reconstruct the events in strict accordance with the shoemaker’s memory as it itself became the subject for Young’s work.
“The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” reveals two stories: that one of the life history of the main character and the history of the Tea Party. Actually, the book comprises two linked essays: the first is concentrated on the shoemaker’s life, his memories and the meaning that these memories have for him. The second studies the problem of memory, namely, its kinds: public versus private and popular versus official. The problem of human memory is closely connected with interpretation of history performed by people. Public acts and public memory do not always coincide. The interpretation of the American history suggested in the “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” is based on the main character’s memoir, and, without the author’s studying appropriate sources related to the issue, one would not regard “The Shoemaker”” as a reliable source. The same goes with the general evaluation of the historical past of this or that nation: people are not empowered to make conclusions about their countries’ past and, moreover, to criticize it without proper understanding of the subject.
One more aspect related to the human memory is treated by the author. Young analyzes the reasons which turn the memory of the Revolution patriots into tradition that is so commonly neglected. Is it a mere property of the human memory to neglect the previous achievements? Or, is the reason rooted somewhere inside of the state of current political affairs? This is one of the main questions the author tries to answer in his work.
The numerous questions Young was seeking answers to demanded from him a particular book structure. The entire book is a successful combination of narrative history, interpretation, and the author’s commentary. Both of the lines are skillfully documented: the work is provided with illustrations, newspaper accounts and the contemporary prints. The reader is guided by the author-archeologist, who digs into the shoemaker’s past and explains the significance of the main character’s participation in the events of Boston Massacre in March, 1773, and dumping the tea into Boston harbor in December, 1773. The event served as a springboard for the American Revolution. If we look back we will restore the following events: 342 chests of tea were carried by the three ships of the East India Company, 30 people were expected to throw the tea into the harbor, but above 150 persons took part in the revolt, including Hewes. Hundreds of observers looked at the people disguised as Mohawk Indians. That was a real spectacle. Now it is regarded as an icon of the American Revolution.
This act of protest by the American colonists against Great Britain is studied by the author in its close relation with the coming appreciation by the following generations.
In 1835, after the long neglect of the War veterans the shoemaker was recognized. According to Young, the recognition took place because of the political insurgency of the 1820’s and 1830’s.
After taking part in key events in Boston and witnessing the republic’s birth, Hewes disappeared from Boston, he migrated to the west and started an obscure life in Central New York. With the coming years the role of the Tea Party was constantly neglected: the moral values have changed, the anniversary of the Boston events was rarely noticed, instead, the Fourth of July was privileged. By retelling the shoemaker’s story Young tries to commemorate the American patriots. What does it mean to be a veteran of the Revolution? Young asks. And the answer is either to be celebrated or to be absolutely forgotten that purely depends on the current power. The author implies that the memory is such a treacherous thing that should not be neglected by the society notwithstanding the power that reigns in it.
Young states that the Revolution is a conservative event and not the one which radically changed the social structure of the colonies. Though the Revolution was a creature both of the elite and the working class, the elite’s view on its further development always prevailed. And this arouses the author’s pity.
All work long the author tries to understand what ventures people into political arena. The problem of the person’s involvement into the historical process is one of the main ones that the “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” touches upon. What are the borderlines between the quiet life and political revolt? What are the consequences that the person’s intrusion into historical process has? Apart from their desires Boston inhabitants were involved in the Revolution as the political situation in the mid-eighteenth century town was so crucial for the whole country that everyone became a citizen and a political man at once.
By showing the influence that Revolution had on one person that took part in the revolutionary events Young described the overall affect of the American Revolution on ordinary people. Hundreds of the most cherished dreams were realized but neglected so soon. The crash of ideas that came after the Revolution gave the general tone of the book under consideration. But the reader feels that the author does not lose his faith in the people’s values that always win. And this author’s implied faith attracts the reader.
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Thus, “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” may not only be treated as an argumentative meditation on the American history, but a manual on human values as well. The questions raised by the author penetrate in the reader’s mind and make him or her think them over and if not find concrete answers, but at least elaborate one’s own view on the problems, as they need urgent solving and cannot be left untouched.
The author’s critical view on the history, memory and tradition which served a starting point for writing the book resulted in the significant and engaging retelling he story of an ordinary person. Remembrance of the events that are more than 160 years old performed by the author in the “The Shoemaker and the Tea Party” present a fresh insight into the processes where ordinary people become heroes. And it does not matter whether the memory about these people will remain forever in the humans’ minds’ or will be quickly neglected. Heroes will be heroes. This is Young’s point that one will not dare to argue. History, memory and tradition – these are the constant human values the presence of which will help the modern world to survive.