On December 16, 1773, members of the Sons of Liberty, many dressed in disguise as Mohawks, boarded three British ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea into the chilly waters of Boston Harbor. The sunken chests held over 45 tons of tea, worth almost $1 million today. Many believe the colonists’ actions had been spurred by the words of Samuel Adams during a meeting at the Old South Meeting House. In the meeting, Adams called on colonists from all towns surrounding Boston to “be in readiness in the most resolute manner to assist this Town in their efforts for saving this oppressed country.” The incident famously known as the Boston Tea Party was one of the leading acts of defiance by colonists that would come to full fruition a few years later in the Revolutionary War. Interestingly enough, General Charles Cornwallis, who surrendered the British army to General George Washington at Yorktown on October 18, 1871, was the governor-general and commander in chief in India from 1786 until 1794.1
The Boston Tea Party was a direct protest by colonists in Boston against the Tea Tax that had been imposed by the British government. The Boston Tea Party arose from the resentment of Boston colonists towards the British which had been fueled by protest activities by patriots in the Sons of Liberty organization.
- Who organized the Boston Tea Party? The Sons of Liberty
- When did the Boston Tea Party happen? Thurs December 16, 1773
- Where was the Boston Tea Party? Griffin’s Wharf, Boston Harbor
- How many people participated in the Boston Tea Party? 180+
- How many ships were involved in the Boston Tea Party? Three
- What were the names of the ships? Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor
- Where did the tea come from? China (not India!)
- Why were the patriots disguised as Indians at the Boston Tea Party? To protect their identity
- How many chests of tea were destroyed at the Boston Tea Party? 342
- Who were the leaders of the patriots in Boston? Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere
- Who opposed the Boston patriots at the Boston Tea Party? Loyalists led by Governor Thomas Hutchinson
Background facts and information: British troops had been stationed in Boston since 1768 and gangs of local workers and sailors often clashed with British soldiers quartered in Boston. Tensions rose leading to the events of an incident that became known as the Boston Massacre. But problems had been building years before this famous incident, due to the the demands made, and taxes, imposed by the Parliament in Great Britain. There were no American Colonists in the English parliament which led to the cry of “No taxation without representation!” in the colonies. The events leading up to, and therefore the causes of, the ‘Boston Tea Party’ were considerable.
The summary of the Boston Tea Party is as follows:
- British Policies, Laws and Taxes caused the Boston Tea Party
- Tea was to be marketed in America by special consignees (receivers of shipments) who were to be selected by the East India Company
- Three ships, carrying 342 chests of tea, arrived in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773 and were docked at Griffin’s Wharf
- The Sons of Liberty were enforcing a ban on goods imported from Britain via Nonimportation Agreements and persuading consignees to resign
- The agents of the East India Company (all relatives of the Governor) refused to resign
- The collector of the customs in Boston refused to give the ships permission to sail away before the tea was landed
- Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to give the ship captains a pass to sail by the Boston fort until the collector gave his permission
- The only way to get rid of the tea was to destroy it
- A party of Sons of Liberty patriots, dressed as Indians, went on board the ships at Griffin’s, broke open the tea boxes, and threw the tea into the harbor
The serious start of the conflict between Britain and America came at the end of the the French and Indian War (Seven years War). The war had left the British with a massive war debt and the British looked for ways of imposing new taxes in the colonies. The British ended their policy of Salutary Neglect in the colonies – which meant they would strictly enforce laws and taxes in Colonial America. The first tax the British imposed was the Sugar Tax in 1764. More laws and taxes followed. The causes and events that led to the Boston Tea Party are detailed on the following chart:
- 1764: Sugar Act – A tax on sugar and molasses that impacted the manufacture of rum in New England.
- 1764: Currency Act – Paper money issued by the colonies was regulated – also refer to Colonial, Continental and Revolutionary Currency
- 1765: The Quartering Act required the colonists to provide housing, food and drink to British troops stationed in towns
- 1765: The Stamp Act of 1765 affected everyone. A tax had to be paid on all legal papers, newspapers and pamphlets. The Stamp Tax led to violent opposition led by patriots such as Patrick Henry
- 1765: The Sons of Liberty was a secret society formed by American Patriots who opposed the British taxes. Their protests led to the repeal of the Stamp Tax in 1766.
- 1766: The Declaratory Act: Britain were not happy about the repeal of the Stamp Act and this act asserted Parliament’s authority to make laws binding on the American colonies
- 1767: Townshend Acts – Series of Laws placing taxes on items imported by the colonists including glass, lead, paints, paper and tea. The protests from the colonists was so intense that the British repealed all the taxes except the tax on tea.
- 1770: The incident called the Boston Massacre erupted on March 5, 1770 during which British troops killed 5 Boston civilians.
- 1773: Tea Act – Law allowing the British East India Company to sell its low-cost tea directly to the colonies, undermining colonial tea merchants. The introduction of the Tea Act led directly to the Boston Tea Party
- 1774: December 16: The Boston Tea Party – Massachusetts patriots dressed as Mohawk Indians protested against the British Tea Act
The constant, and ever-increasing, demands from the British infuriated the American patriots especially those who belonged to the Sons of Liberty organization. The Boston Massacre arose from the resentment of Boston colonists towards the British which had been fueled by protest activities of the Sons of Liberty patriots. This violent incident resulted in the death of 5 colonists and the branding of 2 of the soldiers who were found guilty of manslaughter. The Tea Act stirred up all of the old feelings of resentment towards the British. Although various taxes had been repealed the Tea Tax was not.However, the colonists would get their tea at a cost lower than ever before – so the British thought that there would not be a problem. Definitely not! The Colonies were not represented in Parliament, so they saw the Tea Act as unconstitutional. The Committees of Correspondence rallied opposition on the common causes of the Patriots and established plans for collective action. The famous cry of “No taxation without representation!” had not been forgotten.
The events leading to the Boston Tea Party started in September and October 1773 when 7 ships carrying East India Company tea were sent to the American colonies. Four ships were bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. The colonists learned the details of the consignments whilst the ships were en route, and opposition began to mount. The Committees of Correspondence rallied opposition amongst the colonists. Details of the ships and their consignments of tea were well publicized and protests and actions against the British were agreed.
The American colonists in the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston had time to consider the action they could take, before the ships laden with tea arrived in their harbors. They had time to plan their responses and what action they could take against the Tea Act:
- The press, sympathetic to the patriots and the Sons of Liberty organisation became more active
- Circulars were printed and distributed
- Public demonstrations and meetings against the British government were organised by political agitators fueling strong Anti-British attitudes
- The colonists decided they would continue to boycott tea from the British
- The Nonimportation Agreements by merchants not to purchase British goods were to be enforced
- Anyone who aided in “unloading, receiving, or vending” the tea would be seen as an enemy to his country
- The colonists agreed that the Consignees, who were supposed to receive the tea, should “resign their appointment”
- Colonists resolved to prevent the landing and sale of the teas – they wanted the tea to be sent back to England
The ships arrive in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Boston. The consignees in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia refused to accept the shipments and allowed the tea to be returned. But the consignees in Boston would not agree to this action. The chosen consignees in Boston were two sons of the Governor, Thomas Hutchinson and his nephew, Richard Clarke. They were not going to give in to the demands of the colonists.
Three ships arrived in Boston. There were to be 4 ships, but the William ran aground off Cape Cod on December 10, 1773, in a terrible storm and never arrived. The remaining ships arrived at different times. The names of the Boston Tea Party Ships were the Dartmouth, the Beaver and the Eleanor.
- The William ran aground off Cape Cod on December 10, 1773 and never arrived in Boston
- The Dartmouth ship, under Captain Hall, carried 114 chests of tea and was the first to arrive in Boston Harbor on Sunday, November 28th
- The Eleanor ship, under Captain Coffin, carried 114 chests of tea and arrived in Boston Harbor on Thursday, December 2nd
- The Beaver ship, under Captain Bruce, carried 114 chests of tea, docked in Boston Harbor on Wednesday, December 15th.
- The Beaver was delayed due to an outbreak of smallpox, and was held in quarantine for 2 weeks in the outer harbor of Boston.
- Each of the three ships were about 80 feet long each had a crew of 8-12 men, who, aside from the captain, slept in the cargo hold
- The three ships with their of cargo belonging to the East India Company were left sitting at Griffin’s Wharf, a few blocks away from the Old South Meeting House in Boston
The tax on the tea had to be paid the moment the tea was unloaded. An armed guard of patriots was posted at the wharf to prevent the cargo coming ashore. The absolute deadline for payment of the Tea Tax was 20 days after the arrival of the consignment. If the tax was not paid within the 20 days the cargo would be seized by authorities. For the 20 days following the arrival of the Dartmouth, meetings occurred on a daily basis throughout Boston to discuss what was to be done about the shipments of “detested tea”. On November 5, 1773 Samuel Adams called a town meeting at Faneuil Hall in response to the “tea crisis” and declared anyone who aids or abets the “unloading receiving or vending the tea is an enemy to America!” Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere organized another meeting on November 29, 1773, the day after the Dartmouth arrived, at Faneuil Hall to discuss the situation. Over 5000 people showed up, so the meeting had to be moved to the Old South Meeting House to accommodate the thousands of Boston citizens.
The meeting decided to demand that the tea be sent back to England with the tax unpaid. The attendees told Francis Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth ship, to ask Governor Hutchinson for permission to sail out of Boston and back to England. On December 16, 1773 yet another large meeting at the Old South Church in Boston was called. During this meeting the patriots were told that Governor Thomas Hutchinson had refused their demands. The people of Boston and the Sons of Liberty agreed that their only course of action was to destroy the cargo. The scene was set for the Boston Tea Party…
Once the decision to destroy the tea had been made the Sons of Liberty quickly moved into action. Volunteers were called for and over 200 men volunteered to take part. The action was to take place at 7pm on December 16, 1773. The volunteers were organised into three groups in order to board the three different ships. Each group had its own leader. The names of 180 men are known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party – there were probably more who wanted to keep their participation a secret. At least two thirds of the participants of the Boston Tea Party were under 20. Only nine are known to have been older than 40 years old. These patriots came from all different walks of life. The majority of participants of the Boston Tea Party were young apprentices, laborers and seamen. About one third of the participants were skilled artisans such as carpenters, masons and shoemakers and there were also a small number of merchants, doctors and clerks. Paul Revere was the most famous known participant of the Boston Tea Party.
Why Did They Dress Up as Indians? Destroying the tea at the Boston Tea Party was a risky business and would be viewed as an act of treason that was punishable by death. One of the participants, called Nathaniel Bradlee, had a sister called Sarah Bradlee. Sarah Bradlee was a prominent member of the Boston Daughters of Liberty and is credited for being the person who came up with the idea of patriots dressing up as Mohawk Indians. Sarah Bradlee has since been referred to as the “Mother of the Boston Tea Party” for helping the patriots to disguise themselves as Indians. So this is why many of the Boston patriots who participated in the Boston Tea Party disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians to hide their identity. A shop owned by John Cane, who was one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party, was used by some of the patriots as a gathering place before heading to the ships at Griffins’ wharf. It was here that that many adopted their disguises as Mohawk Indians. They carried hatchets, or tomahawks, which they would use to break open the crates during the Boston Tea Party.
There are some eye witness accounts and quotes from participants in the Boston Tea party. Joshua Wyeth, reminiscing the events of the Boston Tea party said,
“To prevent discovery we agreed to wear ragged clothes and disfigure ourselves, dressing to resemble Indians as much as possible, smearing our faces with grease and lamp black or soot, and should not have known each other except by our voices.”
George Robert Twelves Hewes, also reminiscing the events of the Boston Tea party said,
“…I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet…after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith.”
The three groups, many disguised as Mohawk Indians. made their way to Griffin’s Wharf where the three ships were berthed. They were not quiet, they were excited and there were lots of them. A large mob attended the Boston Tea Party and there was little interference and no violence occurred. Many accounts of the Boston Tea Party mention that “war whoops” were heard from the participants throughout the evening.
The leaders of each of the groups of patriots requested that each Captain unlocked the hatches to the cargo decks. The patriots then hoisted the tea crates on to the main deck. The crates were then smashed open with the tomahawks and thrown into the water. The Captains of the three ships and their crews of the ships generally stood by impassively watching the events of the Boston Tea Party, and the surrounding British warships did not fire their weapons. The only casualty during the Boston Tea party happened to John Crane who was knocked unconscious by a falling crate. He was carried to the docks by his comrades and put on a bed of wood shavings. The patriots took 3 hours between 7pm and 10pm to dump the cargo. Over 45 tons of cargo went into the water the night of the Boston Tea Party. The patriots taking part in the Boston Tea Party did not vandalize the ships, nor did they steal any of the cargo for personal consumption. The crews of the Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor ships later confirmed that nothing had been damaged or destroyed during the Boston Tea Party, except the tea, and that the protesters had swept the decks clean afterwards!
The next day some of the participants returned to Griffin’s Wharf and, seeing some of the tea still floating on top of the water, they approached it in small boats and destroyed what remained by hitting it with their oars.
The reaction to the Boston Tea Party were diverse as these quotes will indicate. Samuel Adams defended the actions of the Boston Tea Party patriots stating that it:
“was not the act of a lawless mob, but a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their Constitutional rights.”
Another Boston Tea Party Quote was made by King George III stated that:
“The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph.”
There were many Americans who were not in favor of the unlawful actions taken in Boston by destroying private property. Benjamin Franklin stated that the destroyed tea must be repaid. Robert Murray, a New York financier and merchant together with three other merchants approached Lord North the British Prime Minister offering to pay for the losses incurred during the Boston Tea Party, but the offer was turned down.
What were the Effects of the Boston Tea Party? What happened after the Boston Tea Party?
- Many of the Boston Tea Party participants fled Boston immediately after the event to avoid arrest
- Only one participant and patriot of the Sons of Liberty called Francis Akeley, was caught and imprisoned for his participation in the Boston Tea Party. He was the only person ever to be arrested for the Boston Tea Party and he was released because of a lack of evidence
- Hundreds of people had watched the events of the Boston Tea Party, yet no eyewitnesses would cooperate with the authorities
- Ministers decided to punish the town of Boston as a whole
- The British Parliament ordered the Royal Navy to blockade Boston Harbor
- British army regiments were sent to enforce the closure of the harbor
- The blockade prevented supplies from entering the Harbor and prevented Massachusetts merchants from selling their goods
- These measures that followed the Boston Tea Party were implemented under the 1774 Coercive Acts (aka Intolerable Acts) which consisted of the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quartering Act and the Quebec Act.
- American colonists responded with protests and coordinated resistance by convening the First Continental Congress in September and October of 1774 to petition Britain to repeal the Intolerable Acts.
The constant stream of new laws and taxes demanded by the British parliament was like a slow burning fuse to a keg of dynamite that would explode into the American Revolutionary War.
- The Battles of Lexington and Concord followed the Boston Tea Party and were fought on April 19, 1775. They were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War
- In January of 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published the 50 page pamphlet entitled Common Sense which supported America’s independence from Great Britain and its monarchy
- The National government emerged from the Continental Congress. The Continental Army was created and George Washington was appointed as its commander in chief
The ships each carried 114 chests of tea making a total of 342 crates that were destroyed at the Boston Tea Party. The 342 chests of tea were equivalent to more than 46 tons of tea leaves which would have made nearly 19 million cups of tea! There were different types of tea on the ship although the Tea Act text states “to increase the deposit on bohea tea to be sold at the India Company’s sales”. Bohea Tea (pronounced boo-hee) was a black tea from China. The word Bohea was commonly used as the slang term for tea and used as a generic term for tea during the period in history of the Boston Tea Party. The different types of tea on the three ships involved in the Boston Tea Party were:
- Boston Tea Party: 240 chests of black Bohea tea – the cheapest type
- Boston Tea Party: 15 chests of Congou which was a superior type of black Bohea tea
- Boston Tea Party: 10 chests of Souchong which was the best black tea
- Boston Tea Party: 60 chests of of Singlo which was a green tea and more expensive than black tea
- Boston Tea Party: 17 chests of Hyson which was the most desirable, and expensive green tea
In the year of 1768, American colonists consumed almost two million pounds of tea – The 3 million inhabitants of the American colonies were consuming an average of 2-3 cups every day. Tea was first introduced into England in 1650 by the Dutch and soon became extremely popular. Peter Stuyvesant brought tea to the American colonists in New Amsterdam, later called New York. The Tea Act provided the means for the seventeen million pounds of unsold surplus tea that the British East India Company held in London could be sold to markets in the American colonies. The American colonists were drinking more tea than all of England. The boycott of English tea resulted in 90% of the tea in the colonies being smuggled in. The American tradition of drinking coffee increased as British tea was subject to boycotts during and after the Boston Tea Party.
This thrilling book tells the full story of the an iconic episode in American history, the Boston Tea Party—exploding myths, exploring the unique city life of eighteenth-century Boston, and setting this audacious prelude to the American Revolution in a global context for the first time. Bringing vividly to life the diverse array of people and places that the Tea Party brought together—from Chinese tea-pickers to English businessmen, Native American tribes, sugar plantation slaves, and Boston’s ladies of leisure—Benjamin L. Carp illuminates how a determined group of New Englanders shook the foundations of the British Empire, and what this has meant for Americans since. As he reveals many little-known historical facts and considers the Tea Party’s uncertain legacy, he presents a compelling and expansive history of an iconic event in America’s tempestuous past.
After two introductory pages succinctly explain the historical background of the Boston Tea Party, including the protesting colonists’ view of taxation without representation and the tea tax in particular, the curtain rises on Boston in 1773. The arrival of the Dartmouth, a merchant ship carrying tea, sparks an emergency town meeting of colonists, who vow that the tea will not be brought ashore. Governor Hutchinson insists that the tea must be unloaded and tax paid. As the deadline approaches and negotiations fail, a number of citizens disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians, board the ship, and dump the tea into the harbor. Quotes from participants and observers (several colonists, a mate aboard the Dartmouth, and Admiral Montagu) bring a sense of immediacy to the clearly written narrative. Lively vignettes include the story of Peter Slater, a 14-year-old apprentice locked in his upstairs bedroom that night for his own safety. Sliding down a rope made from his bedding, he blackened his face, boarded the ship, and recognized his employer among the “Indians.” Malone’s distinctive watercolor paintings dramatize events in a series of beautifully composed tableaux, notable for their dramatic low-light effects and subtle shading. Informative and well documented, this handsome picture book offers a memorable account of the Boston Tea Party. Grades 2-5. –Carolyn Phelan –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.