• Exploring American History

Grab some tea, mate; it's time to party!

Likely one of the best known events leading up to the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Party was ‘celebrated’ in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. That year, Parliament was highly concerned about the financial health of the East India Tea Company and sought to do what it could to save the business from potential bankruptcy.

In an effort to preserve the company, England passed into law the Tea Act on April 27, 1773. This law placed a duty-free status on goods shipped to the colonies by the East India Tea Company (EITC). A quantity of tea weighing half a million pounds was shipped to the colonies with a tax of only three pence per pound imposed.

The lack of duty attached to the goods permitted EITC to undercut the colonial merchants’ prices and still realize a profit on their sales. As a result, the price charged for EITC products was much lower than the Dutch tea which was smuggled in. Needless to say, the colonial merchants were quite upset with the law and sought retaliation in an effort to survive. Soon numerous ports refused to offload tea chests shipped from England and they were sent back.

On November 27, 1773, three Tea Act ships – Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver - sailed into Boston Harbor. The fourth ship, William, encountered a storm at sea and was destroyed. When the ships docked, they encountered members of the Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, and were not allowed to unload. The ships agreed to leave with their cargo still aboard.

Before they could leave, Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson, had different ideas and would not authorize them to do so. Determined to uphold the British law, Hutchinson imposed a 20-day waiting period.

December 16th was the end of the waiting period. Approximately 7,000 colonists gathered at the Old South Meeting House, expecting the ship to leave Boston Harbor the following day. During the meeting, the colonists learned Governor Hutchinson had renewed his refusal to allow the ships to depart. Thus, Samuel Adams announced, “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.” Likely some there may have considered his statement a call to end the boycott. Actually, it was nothing of the sort. Instead, it was a coded message to certain individuals announcing the time had come for the festivities to begin.

That night several thousand colonists cheered on sixty men disguised as Mohawk Indians as they boarded the three ships and destroyed 342 chests of tea, then tossed them overboard into Boston Harbor. The monetary value of the tea was approximately £90,000 ($14,606,943 in 2020). The following morning a large quantity of the damaged tea chests were seen bobbing along in the water. Concerned a portion of their contents might still be salvaged and sold, a number of patriots manned rowboats and held the floating chests underwater until they sank. This ensured complete destruction of the chests.

Unknown to most history books, this was not the only time the colonists expressed their frustrations toward the British by throwing a tea party. Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter.

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