Information

Boston Tea Party


In 1770, American protests led to Parliament's repeal of the Townshend duties — except for the duty on tea retained by the British as a matter of principle. The effectiveness of American resistance was shown in the precipitous decline in tea sales in the colonies — a drop of 70 percent over three years.In 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act, which gave the English East India Company a chance to avert bankruptcy by granting a monopoly on the importation of tea into the colonies. The British reasoned that the Americans would willingly pay the tax if they were able to pay a low price for the tea.On November 28 the Dartmouth arrived in Boston harbor with a cargo of Darjeeling tea. Samuel Adams and other radicals were determined that the cargo would not be landed in the city. Governor Thomas Hutchinson was equally belligerent and vowed not to capitulate in the face of public opposition as had happened in other colonies.Two other ships, the Beaver and the Eleanor, arrived with more consignments from the East India Company. Hutchinson remained firm and stated that the cargoes would be brought ashore and taxed in compliance with the law.The Tea Act required that the requisite tax be collected within 20 days of a ship’s arrival, making December 16 the deadline. Sam Adams kept public fervor high by holding public meetings in the Old South Meeting House; crowds as large as 5,000 clogged the surrounding streets.At one of these gatherings, a resolution was adopted that asked the consignees to return the tea. On December 16, the owner of the Dartmouth agreed to sail his ship back to England. This opportunity to ease tensions was abruptly ended, however, when British officials denied permission for the ship to clear the port and began preparations to seize the vessel for nonpayment of the tax.That evening the ship owner reported his inability to depart from Boston to the throng at Old South. A group of some 50 men, unconvincingly disguised as Mohawk Indians, moved the short distance to Griffin’s Wharf where the three ships were moored.The vessels were boarded, the cargo carefully taken from the holds and placed on the decks. A cheering crowd on the dock shouted its approval for the brewing of this “saltwater tea.”The “Tea Party” was quickly restaged in other port cities in America and tended to polarize the sides in the widening dispute. Patriots and Loyalists became more ardent about their views. A popular song of the day was called "Revolutionary Tea." Its first stanza was, "There was an old lady lived over the sea, And she was an Island Queen; Her daughter lived off in a new country, With an ocean of water between. The old lady's pockets were full of gold, But never contented was she, So she called on her daughter to pay her a tax, Of three pence a pound on her tea, Of three pence a pound on her tea."Parliament and King chafed at the destruction of private property and the deliberate flouting of royal authority. They would soon turn to sterner actions.


See timeline of the American Revolution and Boston map.


Boston Tea Party - History

Boston Tea Party
Digital History ID 1192

Author: George Robert Twelve Hewes
Date:1773

Annotation: George Robert Twelve Hewes, a Boston shoemaker who later fought in the Revolution as a common soldier and sailor, was present at the Boston Massacre and served as a leader in the Boston tea party.


Document: The tea destroyed was contained in three ships, lying near each other at what was called at that time Griffin's wharf, and were surrounded by armed ships of war, the commanders of which had publicly declared that if the rebels, as they were pleased to style the Bostonians, should not withdraw their opposition to the landing of the tea before a certain day, the 17th day of December, 1773, they should on that day force it on shore, under the cover of their cannon's mouth.

On the day preceding the seventeenth, there was a meeting of the citizens of the county of Suffolk, convened at one of the churches in Boston, for the purpose of consulting on what measures might be considered expedient to prevent the landing of the tea, or secure the people from the collection of the duty. At that meeting a committee was appointed to wait on Governor Hutchinson, and request him to inform them whether he would take any measures to satisfy the people on the object of the meeting.

To the first application of this committee, the Governor told them he would give them a definite answer by five o'clock in the afternoon. At the hour appointed, the committee again repaired to the Governor's house, and on inquiry found he had gone to his country seat at Milton, a distance of about six miles. When the committee returned and informed the meeting of the absence of the Governor, there was a confused murmur among the members, and the meeting was immediately dissolved, many of them crying out, "Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country" and there was a general huzza for Griffin's wharf.

It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin's wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination.

When we arrived at the wharf, there were three of our number who assumed an authority to direct our operations, to which we readily submitted. They divided us into three parties, for the purpose of boarding the three ships which contained the tea at the same time. The name of him who commanded the division to which I was assigned was Leonard Pitt. The names of the other commanders I never knew.

We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time, which we promptly obeyed. The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging.

We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.

In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded bv British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.

We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates nor do I recollect of our having had the knowledge of the name of a single individual concerned in that affair, except that of Leonard Pitt, the commander of my division, whom I have mentioned. There appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his services, keep his own secret, and risk the consequence for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.

During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets.

One Captain O'Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off but, springing forward, by a rapid effort he made his escape. He had, however, to run a gauntlet through the crowd upon the wharf nine each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke.

Another attempt was made to save a little tea from the ruins of the cargo by a tall, aged man who wore a large cocked hat and white wig, which was fashionable at that time. He had sleightly slipped a little into his pocket, but being detected, they seized him and, taking his hat and wig from his head, threw them, together with the tea, of which they had emptied his pockets, into the water. In consideration of his advanced age, he was permitted to escape, with now and then a slight kick.

The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of the tea, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water and to prevent the possibility of any of its being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of the harbor wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as to render its entire destruction inevitable.


From Tea to Shining Sea: The Boston Tea Party

Developed by Lisa M. Green, Swampscott High School, Swampscott, Mass.

From Tea to Shining Sea contains curriculum units for both A.P. United States History and A.P. Economics classes. In the History curriculum, students use five sections of primary source documents to discern the different economic, political, and social strands that created the tension leading up to the Boston Tea Party. Each section contains document analysis and "Consider" questions to help students prepare for group discussion. The unit culminates with an oral debate, as well as argumentative essays that draw from the documents. In the Economics curriculum, students view the historical event of the Boston Tea Party by applying economic analysis, including taxation policy, Game Theory, demand curves, and monopolies. A PowerPoint presentation that reviews the major events leading up to the Tea Party may be downloaded for use with either curriculum.


George Hewes is certainly one of the most well known names when it comes to participants of the famous protest. One of the less known events in his biography was the circumstances of his meeting with John Hancock. When Hewes was a shoemaker apprentice in 1763 he had a chance to repair shoes for John Hancock.

Sometimes the tea party ships are mistakenly called British. In fact only the tea belonged to East India Tea Company but the ships themselves were American. Nantucket was homeport to two ships that were involved in the Boston Tea Party, the Beaver and the Dartmouth. Even though Dartmouth made history for carrying tea it was built for a different purpose – offshore whaling.


The Boston Tea Party – An Event That Changed American History

The Boston Tea Party had the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians. Here's more about this famous incident.

The Boston Tea Party had the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians. Here’s more about this famous incident…

An act of protest that was undertaken by the American colonists against Great Britain, in which the American colonists destroyed many crates of tea bricks which were on the ships at the Boston harbor, is known in history as The Boston Tea Party.

The Reason

This incident took place because Britain’s East India Company was sitting on large stocks of tea that they were unable to sell in England, due to which, it nearly went bankrupt. The government intervened and passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave the company the right to export its merchandise directly to the colonies, without paying any of the regular taxes that were imposed on the colonial merchants. With this done, the company could now undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade.

This act became inflammatory for many reasons. The first was that it infuriated the influential colonial merchants, who feared that they would be replaced and bankrupted by a powerful monopoly. Further resentment was created among those who had been excluded from the profitable trade with the East India Company’s decision to grant franchises to certain American merchants for the sale of tea. The important thing, however, was that the Tea Act revived American passions about the issues of paying taxes without representation. Lord North was of the idea that most of the colonists would welcome the new law, because it would reduce the price of tea to consumers by removing middlemen. It was not to be so. Instead, the colonists responded by boycotting tea. This boycott mobilized large segments of the population, and also helped link the colonies together in a common experience of mass popular protests. Women too joined the protest.

Plans were made to prevent the East India Company from landing its cargoes in colonial ports. Apart from the Boston port, agents elsewhere were persuaded to resign, and new shipments of tea were being returned to England or warehoused. The agents at Boston refused to resign, and with the royal governor’s support, preparations were made to land incoming cargoes, regardless of the opposition. When they failed to turn back the three ships in the harbor, they staged a drama.

The Event

The tea was due to land on Thursday, December 16, 1773. It was on this fateful night that the Sons of Liberty who were disguised as Mohawk Indians, left the huge protest and headed towards Griffin’s Wharf. This was where the three ships―The Dartmouth, the newly arrived Eleanor, and Beaver were. Casks of tea were brought up from the hold on to the deck with great efficiency, proving that the Indians were actually longshoremen. Then the casks were opened and the tea was dumped overboard. By morning, 90,000 lbs of tea, that was estimated to cost at least ₤10,000, had been consigned to the waters of the Boston harbor. Apart from the tea and a padlock, which had been accidentally broken, everything else was intact. This incident caused tea to be washed up on the shores around Boston for weeks.

The Reaction

As expected, the act received criticism from both the British and colonial officials. Benjamin Franklin said that the tea that had been destroyed must be repaid, and he even offered to repay it with his own money. The ports of Boston were closed down by the British government, who also put in place other laws that were known as the Intolerable Acts or Coercive Acts or Punitive Acts. But this did not deter some colonists from carrying out similar acts, like the burning of the Peggy Stewart. It was the Boston Tea Party that eventually led to the American Revolution. At this time, many colonists in Boston and other parts of the country promised to abstain from tea as a protest. Instead, they resorted to drinking Balsamic hyperion, other herbal solutions, and coffee. Luckily, this social protest against tea drinking did not last long.


Boston Tea Party Timeline

The Boston Tea Party was a protest that took place in Boston during the American Revolution. The protest was against the Tea Act of 1773. It was a significant event in the American Revolution and is considered a contributing factor in the buildup to the Revolutionary War.

It is important to know the timeline of the Boston Tea Party because it gives you a better understanding of why and how it happened and what led up to it.

The following is a timeline of the Boston Tea Party:

  • On June 29, Parliament passes the Townshend Acts which places an import tax on British goods sold in the colonies, such as lead, paper, paint, glass and tea.
  • On April 12, Parliament repeals most of the clauses in the Townshend Acts except for the tax on tea.
  • In December, Benjamin Franklin is residing in London as an agent for the House of Representatives of Massachusetts and receives a package from an anonymous sender that contains letters written by Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver to British authorities. The letters recommend that the British government handle the colonial revolts against taxes by making the colonial government independent from provincial assemblies and by gradually reducing the colonist’s civil liberties. Franklin sends the letters to Samuel Adams and allows Adams to show them to the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence.
  • On April 27, Parliament passes the Tea Act which allows for tea to be shipped by British companies duty-free to the North American colonies, thus allowing the companies to sell it for a cheaper price, but the tax on the tea still remained.
  • On May 10, the Tea Act receives the royal assent (formal approval from the ruling Monarch.)
  • On June 2, Thomas Cushing presents the leaked Hutchinson and Oliver letters to the First Continental Congress, who decide to petition the British crown to have Hutchinson and Oliver removed.
  • In mid-June, the leaked letters are published in the Boston Gazette which causes a stir in the city.
  • In early October, colonial newspaper report that the East India Company is sending 600 chests of British tea each to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
  • On November 3, the Sons of Liberty hold a public meeting at noon under the Liberty Tree to order the local consignees (special agents who had been appointed by the British government to receive and sell the tea) to send away the British tea when it arrives in Boston port. Around 500 people attend the meeting, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Joseph Warren, but the consignees refuse to comply.
  • On November 5, another meeting is held on the matter in Faneuil Hall but the consignees still refuse to comply.
  • On November 18, another meeting is held at Faneuil Hall during which the consignees still refuse to comply and they then flee to Castle William (Fort Independence) for protection.
  • On November 28, the Dartmouth, a merchant ship carrying 114 chests of British tea, arrives in Boston harbor but the colonists refuse to let it dock at Griffin’s wharf due to the tea tax.

Boston Tea Party, Illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne circa 1895
  • On November 29, colonists schedule a meeting about the ship at Faneuil Hall but it is moved to the Old South Meeting House to accommodate the large crowd of attendees. At the meeting, the colonists agree that the tea tax shall not be paid and they assign 25 men to guard the docks and prevent the ships from docking.
  • On November 30, the colonists meet at the Old South Meeting House again to listen to a message from the East India Company. The company suggests storing the tea in warehouse until further instructions from Parliament arrive but the colonists reject this idea because it means the tax would have to be paid once the tea landed. Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf delivers a proclamation from Governor Hutchinson declaring the meeting illegal and orders the crowd to disperse.
  • On December 1, another cargo ship, the Eleanor, arrives carrying a cargo of British tea followed by another cargo ship, the Beaver, a few days later. The three ships are carrying a total of 342 chests of tea.
  • On December 8, Governor Hutchinson takes measures to prevent the ships from leaving port without his permission by stationing two armed vessels at the entrance to the harbor and ordering Colonel Leslie, commander of Castle William, to load the fort’s cannons and not to let any vessels leave the harbor without his permission.
  • On December 14, another meeting is held at the Old South Meeting House at 2pm during which Francis Rotch, son of the owner of the Dartmouth and the Beaver, is ordered to ask the customs collector for clearance to send his ships back to England with the tea. The meeting is adjourned until December 16 to wait for an answer.
  • On the morning of December 16, Rotch is denied permission from the customs collector to send his ships back to England. A meeting is held that morning at Old South Meeting House and over 5,000 people attend. Rotch is ordered to ask Governor Hutchinson for clearance to send his ship back to England. The meeting is adjourned until 3pm to wait for an answer.
  • Shortly before 6pm on December 16, Rotch returns to the meeting with the news that the governor denied his request. After the governor’s reply is announced, Samuel Adams rises and states “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Suddenly a war whoop is heard and a large group of men dressed as Native-Americans shout “To Griffin’s Wharf! Boston Harbor a tea pot tonight” and leave the meeting house.
  • From 6pm to 9pm on December 16, several hundred participants row in small boats out to the three cargo ships anchored in Boston Harbor, climb aboard and dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor.

Destruction of Tea in Boston Harbor, illustration published in the Pictorial History of the United States, circa 1877
  • On December 17, the Committee of Correspondence write up a report on the events of the night and send Paul Revere to New York and Philadelphia to share the information.
  • On December 20 & 23, local tea dealers, except for the consignees, hold a meeting and vote not to sell anymore tea after January 20, 1774 and not to purchase any tea before then.
  • On January 20, the Committee of Correspondence hold a bonfire on King Street in which they burn seven hundred pounds of tea.
  • Also on January 20, John Hancock’s ship, the Hayley, reaches London, England carrying news of the Boston Tea Party.
  • On January 22, several newspapers in London publish news reports on the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party participants disguised as Mohawks, illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne, circa 1895
  • On January 29, Benjamin Franklin meets with the Privy Council in London to explain the Massachusetts Assembly’s complaints against Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver but is berated and blamed by the council for stirring up anger against Hutchinson by sending the leaked Hutchinson letters to Boston. Franklin is dismissed from his duties as deputy postmaster for the American colonies.
  • On March 8, colonists board the Fortune in Boston, Mass, which is carrying 28 chests of British tea purchased by a private merchant, and dump the tea overboard.
  • On March 25, Parliament passes the Boston Port Act, which orders that the port of Boston be closed, effective June 1, until the colonists pay the East India Company for the tea they destroyed.
  • On May 10, news of the Boston Port Act reaches Boston, Mass.
  • On May 13, General Thomas Gage arrives in Boston and takes over as the new governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.
  • On May 20, Parliament passes the Massachusetts Government Act and the Administration of Justice Act. The Massachusetts Government Act suspends the 1691 charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and gives control of the colony to Governor Thomas Gage. The Administration of Justice Act allows the governor to order trials of accused royal officials to take place elsewhere within the British Empire if he feels that the defendant won’t get a fair trial in Massachusetts.
  • On May 31, the last day vessels are permitted to leave Boston harbor, former Governor Thomas Hutchinson sails for England with his family.

Tea floating in Boston Harbor, illustration published in “The Boston Tea Party, December 1773,” by H.W. McVickar, Josephine Pollard, circa 1882
  • On June 2, news arrives in Boston that the 1691 charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay is suspended and the government of the colony is in the hands of General Gage who will appoint all local magistrates and sheriffs. Gage dissolves the Massachusetts assembly.
  • On February 27, Parliament passes the Conciliatory Resolution which states that any colony that wants to contribute its share of the “common defense” to Parliament will be exempted from further taxes except for regulation of trade.
  • Parliament passes the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778 which declares that Parliament will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment for generating revenue in any of the colonies in British America or the British West Indies.

Sources:
Wall, Caleb A. The Historic Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. F.S. Blanchard & Co, 1896.
Allison, Robert J. The Boston Tea Party. Commonwealth Editions, 2007.
“Benjamin Franklin Purloined Some Letters and Practically Gets Someone Killed.” New England Historical Society, newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/benjamin-franklin-steals-letters-practically-gets-someone-killed
Farrand, Max. “The Taxation of Tea, 1767 – 1773.” The American Historical Review, Jan. 1898. Vol 3, No. 2, pp. 266 – 269, jstor.org/stable/pdf/1832503.pdf


Boston Tea Party, the key-event for the Revolutionary War

The Boston Tea Party was the key-event for the Revolutionary War. With this act, the colonists started the violent part of the revolution. It was the first try of the colonists, to rebel with violence against their own government. The following events were created by the snowball effect. There, all the colonists realized the first time, which they were treated wrong by the British government. It was an important step towards the independence dream, which was resting in the head of each colonist. They all flew from their mother country to start a new life in a new world, but the British government didn't give them the possibility by controlling them. Read more>>


Boston Tea Party - History

On the evening of December 16th, thousands of Bostonians and farmers from the surrounding countryside packed into the Old South Meeting house to hear Samuel Adams. Adams denounced the Governor for denying clearance for vessels wishing to leave with tea still on board. After his speech the crowd headed for the waterfront. From the crowd, 50 individuals emerged dressed as Indians. They boarded three vessels docked in the harbor and threw 90,000 pounds of tea overboard.

Relations between the Colonists and the British had barely recovered from the Gaspee incident, when the British severely miscalculated, once again. They forced the Americans to accept a monopoly on the importation of tea. The sole source for tea was to be the British East India Company. Furthermore, they gave merchants in Boston, who were supporters of the British government, the exclusive contract to be the representatives of that tea company. Adding insult to injury, tea was the one item from which the British had not removed tariffs when they repealed the Townshend Act.

The Colonists were united in their opposition to the importation of tea. Thomas Hutchison wrote to Lord Dartmouth: “The people of Boston, and all the neighboring towns, are raised to the highest degree of opposition to the duty on tea."

On November 3rd, members of the Sons of Liberty met at the liberty tree in Boston and marched to the offices of the merchants that represented the East India Company. They demanded that the firm refuse to import the tea when it arrived. When the merchants refused, a mob threatened them.

Throughout the colonies, tea agents under pressure from local patriots, resigned their commissions to sell tea. In most parts of the colonies the ships carrying tea turned around before arriving in America. In Boston, however, the governor was committed to forcing the issue and landing the tea.

Four ships were due to arrive in Boston with tea. The first was the Dartmouth. One of the ships was lost in a storm on the way. Governor Hutchison ordered the British Naval Commander to block the entrance to the harbor to stop the ships from departing. Large crowds met at Faneuil Hall, at a meeting called by Samuel Adams, on November 29, 1773. The colonists demanded that the tea be returned. The ship's captain finally agreed. However, the governor would not hear of it. On December 16th, the last day the tea could be downloaded and tax paid or the cargo forfeited, 7,000 people gathered at another meeting held Old South Meeting House. Once again, this meeting was called by Samuel Adams. It was clear the governor would not budge. Samuel Adams announced at the meeting they could do nothing more to save the country.

As the meeting ended, a group of men made their way to the harbor dressed as Mohawk Indians. In small boats, they rowed out to the ships holding the tea. The men demanded access to the tea, which they promptly dumped into Boston Harbor. The tea would not be landed and the tax was not paid.


10 Things You May Not Know About the Boston Tea Party

1. The “tea partiers” were not protesting a tax hike, but a corporate tax break.
The protestors who caffeinated Boston Harbor were railing against the Tea Act, which the British government enacted in the spring of 1773. Rather than inflicting new levies, however, the legislation actually reduced the total tax on tea sold in America by the East India Company and would have allowed colonists to purchase tea at half the price paid by British consumers. The Tea Act, though, did leave in place the hated three-pence-per-pound duty enacted by the Townshend Acts in 1767, and it irked colonists as another instance of taxation legislation being passed by Parliament without their input and consent. The principle of self-governance, not the burden of higher taxes, motivated political opposition to the Tea Act.

2. Commercial interests, perhaps more than political principles, motivated many protestors.
The Tea Act was a government bailout for a company on the brink of financial collapse, the flailing East India Company, which was deemed to be, in modern terms, “too big to fail.” The legislation gave the East India Company a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade, allowing it to bypass colonial merchants as middlemen and to even undercut the price of smuggled Dutch tea, which was widely consumed in the colonies. Thus, the Tea Act directly threatened the vested commercial interests of Boston’s wealthy merchants and smugglers, such as John Hancock, who fomented the revolt.

3. George Washington condemned the Boston Tea Party.

Although America’s foremost Revolutionary figure wrote in June 1774 that “the cause of Boston𠉮ver will be considered as the cause of America,” he strongly voiced his disapproval of “their conduct in destroying the Tea.” Washington, like many other elites, held private property to be sacrosanct and believed the perpetrators should compensate the East India Company for the damages.

4. It was the British reaction to the Boston Tea Party, not the event itself, that rallied Americans.
Many Americans shared Washington’s sentiment and viewed the Boston Tea Party as an act of vandalism by radicals rather than a heroic patriotic undertaking. There was less division among the colonists, however, about their opposition to the measures passed by the British government in 1774 to punish Boston. The legislation closed the port of Boston until damages were paid, annulled colonial self-government in Massachusetts and expanded the Quartering Act. Colonists referred to the measures as the “Intolerable Acts,” and they led to the formation of the first Continental Congress.

5. For decades, the identities of participants were shrouded in secrecy.
The band of protestors was tight-lipped. Even after American independence, they refused to reveal their identities, fearing they could still face civil and criminal charges as well as condemnation from elites for engaging in mob behavior and the wanton destruction of private property. Even today, only the names of some of the participants are known.

6. The event wasn’t dubbed the 𠇋oston Tea Party” until a half-century later.
For years, Bostonians blandly referred to the protest as “the destruction of the tea.” The earliest newspaper reference to the 𠇋oston Tea Party” doesn’t appear until 1826. In the 1830s, two books𠅊 Retrospect of the Tea-Party and Traits of the Tea Party—popularized the moniker and cemented it in popular culture.

7. There was a second Boston Tea Party.
Three months after the Boston Tea Party, Bostonians once again sent tea splashing when 60 disguised men boarded the Fortune in March 1774, forced the crew below deck and dumped tea chests into the harbor. The sequel wasn’t quite as impressive as the original, however, as only 30 chests were sent overboard.

8. Subsequent “tea parties” were held in other colonies.

Tea Act protests spread to other colonies throughout 1774. In cities such as New York, Annapolis and Charleston, South Carolina, patriots dumped tea off ships or burned it in protest.

9. The financial loss was significant.
It’s estimated that the protestors tossed more than 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. That’s enough to fill 18.5 million teabags. The present-day value of the destroyed tea has been estimated at around $1 million.

10. One “tea partier” appeared to rise from the dead.

After being knocked unconscious by a falling tea crate in the hold of a ship, John Crane was reportedly thought to be dead and hidden by his compatriots under a pile of wood shavings in a nearby carpenter’s shop. He awoke hours later, however, and was the only man harmed in the Boston Tea Party.


What caused the Boston Tea Party?

Many factors including “taxation without representation,” the 1767 Townshend Revenue Act, and the 1773 Tea Act.
In simplest terms, the Boston Tea Party happened as a result of “taxation without representation”, yet the cause is more complex than that. The American colonists believed Britain was unfairly taxing them to pay for expenses incurred during the French and Indian War. Additionally, colonists believed Parliament did not have the right to tax them because the American colonies were not represented in Parliament.
Since the beginning of the 18th century, tea had been regularly imported to the American colonies. By the time of the Boston Tea Party, it has been estimated American colonists drank approximately 1.2 million pounds of tea each year. Britain realized it could make even more money off of the lucrative tea trade by imposing taxes onto the American colonies. In effect, the cost of British tea became high, and, in response, American colonists began a very lucrative industry of smuggling tea from the Dutch and other European markets. These smuggling operations violated the Navigation Acts which had been in place since the middle of the 17th century. The smuggling of tea was undercutting the lucrative British tea trade. In response to the smuggling, in 1767 Parliament passed the Indemnity Act, which repealed the tax on tea and made British tea the same price as the Dutch. The Indemnity Act greatly cut down on American tea smuggling, but later in 1767 a new tax on tea was put in place by the Townshend Revenue Act. The act also taxed glass, lead, oil, paint, and paper. Due to boycotts and protests, the Townshend Revenue Act taxes on all commodities except tea were repealed in 1770. In 1773, the Tea Act was passed and granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. The smuggling of tea grew rampant and was a lucrative business venture for American colonists, such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The Townshend Revenue Act tea tax remained in place despite proposals to have it waived. American colonists were outraged over the tea tax. They believed the Tea Act was a tactic to gain colonial support for the tax already enforced. The direct sale of tea by agents of the British East India Company to the American colonies undercut the business of colonial merchants. The smuggled tea became more expensive than the British East India Company tea. Smugglers like John Hancock and Samuel Adams were trying to protect their economic interests by opposing the Tea Act, and Samuel Adams sold the opposition of British tea to the Patriots on the pretext of the abolishment of human rights by being taxed without representation.


The Tea Party

The biggest shipment arrived in Griffin’s wharf, in Boston on or just before November 29, 1773.

The royal governor Thomas Hutchinson had no intention of letting the colonists force the ships to return to England, and due to the Boycott, the dockworkers refused to unload the ship. He held the ships in port, demanding that the cargo be unloaded and customs duties paid.

But the colonists, already stirred to action, were unwilling to bear the stalemate.

On December 16, “there was a meeting of the citizens of the county of Suffolk, convened at one of the churches in Boston, for the purpose of consulting on what measures might be considered expedient to prevent the landing of the tea, or secure the people from the collection of the duty. At that meeting a committee was appointed to wait on Governor Hutchinson, and request him to inform them whether he would take any measures to satisfy the people on the object of the meeting.” 1

The Governor promised an answer by 5 pm, but when the appointed time came, the committee met at the Governor’s house, and he was missing.”Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country,” 2 cried the members and dissolved the meeting.

Boston Tea Party picture by Sarony and Major, 1846 | Public domain image

The Events of the Boston Tea Party

That night, over 100 men including the Sons of Liberty dressed in “Indian” garb, or rather, the poncho and soot streaks soldiers wore during the French and Indian War. They armed themselves with hatchets, axes, and pistols, and sneaked aboard the ships.

Accounts actually vary from 30 to 130. Bostonteapartyship.com maintains a list of 116 names culled from various historical reports.

An observer of the Boston Tea Party, John Andrews wrote the following in 1773:

They say the actors were Indians… Whether they were or not to a transient observer they appear’d as such, being cloth’d in blankets with the heads muffled and copper color’d countenances, each being arm’d with a hatchet or ax, and pair pistols, nor was their dialect different from what I conceive these geniusses to speak, as their jargon was unintelligible to all but themselves. 3

Three ships with their cargo of precious teas lay in Boston harbor, their captains unaware of the colonists’ approach.

The clothing was both to keep their identities hidden (because they were committing a treasonous crime) and symbolic: to show England that they were beginning to identify themselves as Americans, not British subjects.

On reaching the pier, they divided into three groups and several men took charge. No one knew the names of their co-conspirators, nor did they know the names of the other commanders besides their own. They boarded the ships and demanded the keys to the hatch from the captains. The men were under strict orders to cause no harm to anyone and to carry out the rebellious act in an oxymoronic orderly fashion. Soon the chopping of boxes could be heard on the sleeping ships. The chests were torn open and the contents thrown into the Boston Harbor. Tea leaves scattered everywhere.

Some of the patriots tried grabbed up some of the loose tea and stuffed it into their pockets for their own families and personal use. The Sons tried to stop them, but at least one man managed to escape their custody and run through the crowd with his pockets stuffed with tea, even though each person either kicked or hit him as he passed by. Another man, much older, was seen filling his hat with tea, but the Sons grabbed his hat and wig and threw them overboard. Because of his age, he was allowed to escape.

No one was hurt, and aside from the tea, the only damage recorded was one broken padlock. The ships and their crews were unharmed and the Sons of Liberty pulled off the organized protest without being injured or arrested except for one man. Just as quickly as they had come, the men were gone.

We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates nor do I recollect of our having had the knowledge of the name of a single individual concerned in that affair, except that of Leonard Pitt, the commander of my division, whom I have mentioned. There appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his services, keep his own secret, and risk the consequence for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months. 4

In their wake lay almost 100,000 pounds of tea, worth 9,000 pounds sterling, or almost $1.5 million in today’s money.

This act became known as the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party engraving by W.D. Cooper in his book The History of North America from 1789 | Public domain image.

The following morning, boats were sent out to beat the remaining floating tea down with paddles until it was completely drenched and unusable.

Who Was Involved in the Boston Tea Party?

The most well-known name involved in the Boston Tea Party was that of Paul Revere. However, several other participants were noteworthy.

Samuel Cooper, just 16 in 1773, would go on to become a major in the continental army and fight numerous battles. George Hewes, age 31, had been injured in the Boston Massacre after being struck by a rifle. He led one of the parties and wrote an account of the raid …

It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination. (The Boston Tea Party Historical Society, from which we obtained this quote, has extensive information on the colonial raid.)

George Hewes was rejected as a soldier and did not fight in the revolutionary war. Thomas Crafts, Jr., however, another participant in the Boston Tea Party, became a member of Major Paddock’s famous Paddock’s Artillery Company and attained the rank of colonel in the continental army.

The patriot organization, the Sons of Liberty, provided the most participants that November night. It’s also fascinating that of those involved in the protest whose ages are known, two-thirds were under 20 years of age.

Final Comments

The Boston Tea Party was an act of rebellion from which the strained relationship between Britain and the colonies would never recover. The captains of the three ships were summoned to the privy council, but were unable to identify any of the people involved with the Boston Tea Party. The Coercive Acts (or “Intolerable”) acts followed swiftly to punish the colony of Massachusetts. The British closed down the port with the Boston Port Act until the city of Boston paid the damages. and within a year the Americans would convene the first Continental Congress to organize the protest against Britain.


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