The promise of snow only days before Christmas proved to be no more than a whispered threat, but the wind still whipped a chill around those who slipped from their warmed hearths and into the dark night. Wrapped in blankets and faces smeared dark with soot, they boarded the three English vessels which had docked in Boston’s harbor, axes and hammers in hand. They went to work, the sound of splintering wood cracking through the crisp air as they split boxes filled with tea and dumped them into the Atlantic Ocean. Three hours later, before the aroma of loose leaves steeped in icy laced water wafted through the area but after their fingers had grown rigid with cold, the men stepped on to land and dispersed; back to their homes or to a new colony, for now they had reason to fear for their lives.
Indeed, the Sons of Liberty entrusted their very lives to Providence the evening of December 16, 1773. This act proved to be one of many which would lead to the genesis of the Revolutionary War, which would once and for all establish America’s independence from rule and oppression. These concepts were all too familiar for one of the Sons, and when the opportunity presented itself to fight against the Tories, he readily accepted.
Born in Kilkenny, Ireland on March 19, 1739, Thomas White came of age during a time of English oppression and torment for his country. As a result, there existed a zeitgeist of distrust for the “Black and Tans” on the Emerald Isle. In his thirty second year, after learning the trade of tailoring, he, like so many of his countrymen, left his homeland for a different set of shores to find riches untold and freedom. All this, ironically offered in a colony of England.
Thomas settled in Philadelphia in 1771, set up shop, and married Elizabeth Jones. They moved to Boston within the first two years, where Thomas witnessed the continued rule by the crown and the growing dissatisfaction of the colonists. Then, like an ember that starts a wildfire, he learned of the clandestine group of rebellious patriots who were led by the firebrand Samuel Adams. In short order, he joined the St. Andrews Lodge and became devoted to the cause.
In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, these men and their actions were considered treasonous. Many of those involved, including Thomas, fled to different regions to avoid prosecution and execution. Thomas returned to Philadelphia with his growing family and enlisted in the Continental Army 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. This regiment saw action in the battles of Brooklyn, Valcour Island, the Brandywine, Germantown, Springfield, and Trenton, a battle which could be considered the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
After the war, Thomas led his family to Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. With the Appalachian Mountains surrounding his home, Thomas went on to live out his days as a farmer, nurturing his crops and children. It is reported that he had anywhere between nine to 21 offspring, with nine seeming to be the most likely number.
Thomas died September 13, 1820, after outliving three of his sons, all of whom died in the War of 1812. On July 4, 1889 a group of historians, added by family members, erected a monument to the memory of Thomas White in the Evans Cemetery in Huntingdon County. Etched in the stone was a brief biography:
“In Memory of Thomas White of the Boston Tea Party December 16, 1773 and a Revolutionary Soldier and Patriot for American Independence. Was a F. and A.M. Was born in Ireland, March 19, 1739. Died Sept. 13, 1820.”
Thomas’s last child, Ann, was born in 1800. She married Jesse Cook and had nine children of her own. Her middle daughter, Jane, married Isaac Newton Sheets and began a progeny of sons and grandsons which later evolved into the line from which I am descended. With the passing of my grandfather in 2002, the Sheets line in our family ended as well.
I grew up with the story of Thomas and have always felt a very strong connection. As a young child I developed an affinity for history and thought that everyone was curious about genealogy. I would ask my mother to tell me again and again (especially on the Fourth of July) about how we were related to someone who had helped change the course of this country. My imagination soared as I pictured the Sons of Liberty lifting a pint to toast freedom from tyranny; bravado and huzzahs treading a path before fear and hunger joined the campaign.
From my pride in my Celtic heritage to my obsession with Revolutionary Way history, I credit my independent streak and urges to test authority and the status quo to the blood of this man. The passion and danger that he may have felt has filtered through generations, and the need to push and question and distrust what does not seem true has remained steadfast in my family. It can’t be coincidence that as a 12 year old, I fell in love with the musical “1776” and walk around to this day with the score running through my head.
I would like to think that Thomas had a hand in another life altering event, one a lot more personal. Two hundred thirty-one years to the day of the Tea Party, his nine times great grandson was born, forever sealing this date as special to me and giving it further importance. As if I needed any reminders.
About The Author: From the time she could speak, Mindy Windholz has loved to tell, listen to, and write stories. Her Scottish. Irish, English, and German roots blessed her family with the gift of gab and she is intent on passing it to future generations. Mindy is a genealogical enthusiast, a history nerd, and an admirer of all things paranormal. She is the blogger behind “Pop Goes Annabelle Lee“; in her writings, she puts a classical twist on paranormal pop culture.
To support her writing habit and her amateur paranormal investigations, she is gainfully employed as a Licensed Professional Counselor, which counts as one of her many passions in life. Licensed in three states, Mindy is also Nationally Certified and uses her experience and knowledge of human behavior to relate back to her own family’s history. A native of the Midwest, Mindy now lives in the South, where she has learned the correct use of “y’all’ in a sentence.
Special Thanks: Key To Your Tree would like to send a special thank you to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum for allowing us the use of their photos, taken by Boston photographer, Michael Blanchard. As a follow up to Mindy’s blog, keep a look out for our first Key “Field Trip” where Kris will visit the museum and cover her experience there. Until then-check out the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum website and if you live locally-stop in and check it out!