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Boston Tea Party (1773)

BOSTON TEA PARTY (1773)


At nine o'clock on the night of December 16, 1773, a band of Bostonians disguised as Native Americans boarded the British merchant ship Dartmouth and two companion vessels anchored at Griffin's Wharf in Boston harbor. The Americans, who numbered around 70, shared a common aim: to destroy the ships' cargo of British East India Company tea. Many years later George Hewes, a 31yearold shoemaker and participant, recalled "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." Urged on by a crowd of cheering townspeople, the disguised Bostonians destroyed 342 chests of tea estimated to be worth between £10,000 and £18,000. Their actions, which became known as the Boston Tea Party, set in motion events that led directly to the American Revolution (177583).

The Boston Tea Party was one of a long series of conflicts between the American colonies and the English government after the British victory in the French and Indian War (175463). The French and Indian War was the last and most expensive of almost a century of colonial wars between France and England. Since a lot of this money was spent to protect the American colonists from French Canadians and their Native American allies, the British government felt the Americans should help pay for the war. They also wanted the colonists to pay some of the future costs of stationing soldiers at forts scattered over the new Western frontier. The Americans, for their part, saw little sense in sending money to England to pay for troops that were needed much closer to home.

During the 1760s Parliament passed a series of acts designed to reduce the British national debt and to finance the costs of keeping regular soldiers on the American frontier. The most notorious of these was the Stamp Act (1765), which placed a tax on almost every public piece of paper in the colonies, including newspapers, pamphlets, diplomas, licenses, packs of cards, almanacs, and dice. The colonists fiercely resisted these taxes, organizing public protests and intimidating tax collectors. The Stamp Act resistance was the most widespread and best organized intercolonial protest before the tea crisis of the 1770s. In the face of such widespread opposition the British Parliament backed down. It repealed the Stamp Act and its companion taxes in 1766.

The following year Parliament tried another means of raising money, through the Townshend Duties or Revenue Acts (1767), so named after Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles "Champagne Charlie" Townshend. Instead of placing a direct tax on materials that colonists bought and sold, these acts made certain important items such as lead, glass, paint, paper, and tea more expensive. The colonists responded by refusing to buy those products. Nonimportation agreements were signed throughout the American colonies. Citizens at all levels of society either refused to drink tea or bought black-market varieties that came from Dutch colonies. Faced with widespread American opposition, the British government backed down. The Townshend Duties were repealed on March 5, 1770, with the exception of a three penny duty on tea, kept to prove that Parliament had the right to tax the colonies. However, although this piece of legislation is credited with causing the Boston Tea Party, it had nothing to do with the American colonies.

The duty on tea mandated by the Townshend Duties act was meant to save the old British East India Company from bankruptcy. Until the Townshend Duties were first passed the Company had made much of its money transporting tea from India to England, where it was sold first to English wholesalers and then to American wholesalers before being sold to the colonial public. The American boycott of British tea, combined with intensive smuggling of Dutch tea, cut into Company profits. In an attempt to revive the East India Company, Prime Minister Lord Charles North(17701782) persuaded Parliament to pass the Tea Act (1773). This legislation effectively cut the wholesalers out and allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to agents in America. It gave the Company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies.

The monopoly hurt colonists at all levels of society. Because the Tea Act allowed the East India Company to name its own sales agents to distribute the tea in American ports, business for local merchants and middlemen decreased. The Act offended politicians and patriots, who saw it as an attempt by Parliament to tax them without their consent. Even smugglerswho included wealthy merchants such as John Hancock (17371793)were hurt because it made East India tea competitive with or cheaper than Dutch tea. Other Americans sought to profit from the Act. Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts (177174), for example, used his influence to get his sons Thomas and Elisha named East India Company sales agents.

In September of 1773 the East India Company readied 600,000 pounds of tea in 2,000 chests for shipment to the colonies. The cargoes arrived at major colonial ports a month and a half later and met with hostile receptions. In New York and Philadelphia angry crowds forced local officials to send the tea ships

back to England without unloading their cargoes. In Annapolis, Maryland, demonstrators burned a tea ship, and in New Jersey arsonists set fire to a warehouse where unloaded tea was stored. In Massachusetts, however, Governor Hutchinson decided to face down the demonstrators. When Boston citizens, led by patriot Samuel Adams (17221803), refused to allow the tea ships to unload, Hutchinson called on the Royal Navy to blockade Boston harbor so that the ships could not leave port. He knew that British law required a ship to unload its cargo after 20 days in port and he planned to use this law to sidestep Adams and his patriot followers.

The 20 day waiting period ended for the Dartmouth on December 16. On that day Sam Adams and his party tried to contact Governor Hutchinson to convince him to let the ships leave harbor. Hutchinson refused and, at five o'clock in the afternoon, the meeting of Boston citizens broke up. Some of them followed George Hewes' example, by dressing up as Native Americans. Carrying tomahawks and clubs, they marched to Griffin's Wharf. Hewes and his companions took great pains that nothing but the tea was destroyed and that no one profited from the destruction. "One Captain O'Connor, whom I well knew, came on board [to steal some tea], and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat," Hewes recalled. "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."

The Boston Tea Party led almost directly to the American Revolution. To punish the city of Boston for its role in the destruction of so much East India Company property, the British Parliament passed a series of laws known collectively as the Coercive Acts (1774). These laws closed the port of Boston until the citizens paid for the destroyed tea, dismantled Massachusetts's colonial charter, expanded the powers of the king's governor, and made it harder to convict royal officials of crimes. In the Quebec Act (1774), Parliament also took away lands that had been claimed by the American colonies since their founding. In reply the Americans formed the First Continental Congress to organize and coordinate their response. Sixteen months after the tea finally sank in Boston harbor, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

See also: American Revolution, French and Indian War, John Hancock, Stamp Act, Townshend Act

FURTHER READING

Labaree, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

McCusker, John J., and Menard, Russell R. The Economy of British North America, 16071789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,1985.

"Recollections of George Hewes," in A Retrospective of the Boston Tea Party, 1843. Reprinted in Commager, Henry Steele, and Morris, Richard B., editors. The Spirit of 'Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants. Volume I. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1958.

in about three hours from the time we went on board, we had . . . 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.

george hewes, shoemaker and participant

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Boston Tea Party

BOSTON TEA PARTY

BOSTON TEA PARTY. The British East India Company, facing severe financial reverses, convinced Parliament to allow them to sell tea in the American colonies at a price that would undercut even smuggled Dutch tea, and raise revenue while clearing their warehouses of a huge surplus. Unfortunately, this tea would still carry the despised three-pence per pound tax, which had remained as a token duty, and would be sold through only a handful of dealers in America. This high-handed policy united small merchants, left out of the deal, with patriot organizations that protested the tax. The arrival of the tea ships Eleanor, Dartmouth and Beaver sparked public protest in Boston, including public meetings, fliers and harassment of the consignees, who took shelter in Castle William to avoid the crowds.

The Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, decided on 13 December 1773 that the tea must not be unloaded, nor could it remain onboard twenty days and thus be seized for sale by customs officials. On 16 December, the night the Sons of Liberty planned their raid, a public protest at the Old South Meeting House turned rowdy after someone suggested dumping the tea in the harbor. As protesters stormed out of the meeting house, they met Sons of Liberty, costumed as Narragansett Indians, on their way to do the same thing. With a crowd of perhaps 1,000 Bostonians following, the "Indians" and volunteers stormed the three ships and in a three-hour fracas, broke open all 342 of the tea chests and dumped them into the harbor, which was at low tide.

The attackers were conscientious, and they damaged no ship or other cargo. Only one man was injured, knocked unconscious by a collapsing winch. However, they had ruined 18,000 pounds worth of tea and infuriated the British government, particularly the king. Despite arresting a barber named Francis Eckley, who had been caught bragging about his participation, the Boston authorities were unable to find anyone who could identify


the protestors. Patriots tarred and feathered Eckley's accuser in retaliation. George III specifically noted the Tea Party in his address to Parliament, and he and Prime Minister Lord North pushed through the Coercive Acts by April 1774. The Coercive Acts were designed to punish Boston and the colony of Massachusetts. They sparked further protests and eventually, war between Britain and her American colonies.

Although usually considered by itself, the Boston Tea Party was a natural growth of other protests against the British administration in Boston, centered on royal governor Thomas Hutchinson and his subordinates. Until the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense in 1776, these protests were notable in their careful avoidance of blaming George III, instead focusing on his council or colonial administrators. The costumes and violence of the Tea Party were also an outgrowth of regular crowd demonstrations in Boston, including burning Catholic figures in effigy, vandalizing administrator's homes or intimidating customs and tax inspectors. Even when not politically motivated, the apprentices and laborers of Boston also engaged in highly charged territorial contests that often ended in injuries and rowdy outbursts, and were led by men who took pains to hide their appearance using symbolic disguises. In all these respects, it was not the Tea Party itself that was unusual, but the British reaction to it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Griswold, Wesley S. The Night the Revolution Began. Brattleboro, Vt.: The Stephen Green Press, 1972.

Labarre, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Shaw, Peter. American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Margaret D.Sankey

See alsoSons of Liberty (American Revolution) ; Townshend Acts .

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Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party, 1773. In the contest between British Parliament and the American colonists before the Revolution, Parliament, when repealing the Townshend Acts, had retained the tea tax, partly as a symbol of its right to tax the colonies, partly to aid the financially embarrassed East India Company. The colonists tried to prevent the consignees from accepting taxed tea and were successful in New York and Philadelphia. At Charleston the tea was landed but was held in government warehouses. At Boston, three tea ships arrived and remained unloaded but Gov. Thomas Hutchinson refused to let the ships leave without first paying the duties. A group of indignant colonists, led by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others, disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded the ships on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and threw the tea into the harbor. In reply Parliament passed the Boston Port Bill (see Intolerable Acts).

See studies by B. W. Labaree (1964) and B. L. Carp (2010).

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Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party, 1773. This marked a distinct stage on the road from resistance to insurrection in North America. The unpopular tea duty was continued after the repeal of the other Townshend duties. In 1773 the East India Company was allowed to export dutied tea directly to America. The patriotic leadership in Boston failed to gain undertakings that tea would not be landed. A group of men disguised as ‘Mohawks or Indians’ ‘emptied every chest of tea’ on board three ships into Boston harbour on 16 December 1773. This unchecked attack on British property provoked the ‘Intolerable Acts’ of 1774.

Richard C. Simmons

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JOHN CANNON. "Boston Tea Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

JOHN CANNON. "Boston Tea Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-BostonTeaParty.html

JOHN CANNON. "Boston Tea Party." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-BostonTeaParty.html

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party (1773) Protest by a group of Massachusetts colonists, disguised as Mohawks and led by Samuel Adams, against the Tea Act and, more generally, against “taxation without representation”. The Tea Act (1773), passed by the British Parliament, withdrew duty on tea exported to the colonies. It enabled the East India Company to sell tea directly to the colonies without first going to Britain and resulted in colonial merchants being undersold. The protesters boarded three British ships and threw their cargo of tea into Boston harbour. The British retaliated by closing the harbour.

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"Boston Tea Party." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Boston Tea Party." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-BostonTeaParty.html

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