Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Boston Tea Party

On the night of December 16 in 1773, a group of Boston citizens protested the British government's recent tea tax by dumping millions of dollars worth of British tea into Boston Harbor.

Due to a series of costly wars, the British government was deeply in debt by the late 1700s and hoped to make some much needed money off of the sale of British tea in the colonies. Colonists were drinking 1.2 million pounds of tea a year and it became clear that adding a small tax to this tea could generate a lot of extra money for the government.

The British government passed and then repealed a few tea taxes before it finally passed the Townshend Act of 1767. The Townshend Act placed a tax on all tea sold in the colonies, among other goods. The colonists resented the government's attempts to make money off them and complained that it was unfair. To appease the colonists, the government repealed the tax on most goods sold in the colony except for the tea tax. In an attempt to prevent further complaints, the overall price of the tea was reduced but the tax remained. The government hoped that since the price was reduced, the colonists wouldn't mind paying the tax.

Depiction of the Boston Tea Party
The colonists did not fall for Parliament's trick. Still angry about the unfair tax, they refused to let a merchant ship filled with tea, the Dartmouth, dock in Boston harbor at Griffin's Wharf. The colonists sent a message to the Custom house to send the ship away without any payment for tea. The Collector of Customs refused.

Colonists held a meeting at Faneuil Hall on November 29, 1773 but it was moved to the Old South Meeting House to accommodate the large crowd. At the meeting, the colonists all agreed that the tea should be sent back and the tax should not be paid. They assigned 25 men to guard the docks and prevent the ships from docking while they adjourned the meeting for the next day.

The following day, the colonists met again in the Old South Meeting House and listened to a message delivered via John Copley from the tea company. The company suggested storing the tea in a warehouse until further instruction from Parliament. This idea was immediately rejected because it would mean paying the tax on the tea once it landed. The local sheriff, Stephen Greenleaf, then delivered a proclamation from Governor Hutchinson ordering them to stop blocking the ships from landing. The colonists refused to comply with Hutchinson's demands.

In the first week of December, two more tea ships arrived; the Eleanor and the Beaver. The meetings continued while colonists tried to find a way to prevent the ships from docking. The last meeting was held on December 16 and included over 5,000 people. The colonists sent a message to the governor asking him to allow the ships to return to England without payment. As the owner of one of the ships, Francis Rotch, left the Old South Meetinghouse to give the governor the message, the colonists waited. When Rotch returned hours later with the governor's reply, a definite “no”, they realized they had run out of options.
Plaque commemorating the site of the Boston Tea Party

Little did they know, the Sons of Liberty, a radical political group based in Boston, had anticipated this response and had a secret plan laid out. Samuel Adams, a member of the Sons of Liberty, delivered a pre-arranged signal to put the plan into action when he then declared "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!"

Members of the Sons of Liberty, sitting in the audience, immediately stood up and shouted “Hurrah for Griffin's Wharf!” and “Boston Harbor a Teapot Tonight!” as they began disguising themselves as Native Americans, and rushed out of the meetinghouse towards the harbor. Other people joined the Sons of Liberty along the way and together the mob rowed out to the ships and dumped 90,000 pounds of tea, about 1 million dollars worth, into Boston Harbor.

The Boston Tea Party was a bold statement that the colonists were not to be pushed around and it became a turning point in the American Revolution.

Eyewitness to History: The Boston Tea Party


Mass.gov: Boston Tea Party


Old South Meeting House: How The Boston Tea Party Began


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