Boston Tea Party


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Boston Tea Party

Patriots Throwing Tea Overboard in Boston Harbor

The " Boston Tea Party " was held in December, 1773, when about sixty men, disguised as Indians, boarded two vessels laden with tea, tore open the hatches, and threw 340 chests overboard, as a protest against the levy of taxes without the consent of the people. The populace had previously refused to permit any cargo of tea to be landed, and a number of ships had been obliged to leave port with their cargoes untouched. In the following year the British Parliament passed a bill closing the port of Boston and transferring the seat of government to Salem.

The bill became a law on March 31, 1774, and its effects so exasperated the populace that General Gage, the British commander, began to fortify Boston Neck. Aided by General Gates, adjutant-general of the Continental army, Washington determined to prepare for a siege of Boston, and to confine the British to the peninsula or drive them to sea, and a regular siege was maintained from July 2, 1775, when Washington took command of the army at Cambridge, till March 17, 1776, when the British evacuated the city and retired to Halifax. For details of the engagement between the two armies on June 17, 1775, see BUNKER HILL, BATTLE OF.

Fortifications of Boston Neck

Map of General Gage's Fortifications on the Boston Neck

The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of a long period of stress between England and the Colonies over taxation. Below we will examine the politics of Tea in the colonies in a little more depth.

Among other articles imported into the colonies upon which a duty was laid, in 1767, was tea, the furnishing of which, for England and her colonies, was a monopoly of the East India Company. In consequence of the violent manifestation of opposition to this method of taxation, and especially of the serious effects upon British trade by the operations of the non-importation league, Lord North, then prime minister, offered a bill in Parliament, in the spring of 1770, for the repeal of the duties upon every article enumerated, excepting tea. He thought, unwisely, that tea, being a luxury, the colonists would not object to paying the very small duty imposed upon it, and he retained that simply as a standing assertion of the right of Parliament to tax the colonists. It was a fatal mistake. The bill became a law April 2, 1770. The minister mistook the character and temper of the Americans. It was not the petty amount of duties imposed, for none of this species of taxation was burdensome; it was the principle involved, which lay at the foundation of their liberties. They regarded the imposition of ever so small a duty upon one article as much a violation of their sacred rights as if a heavy duty on tea was imposed. The ministry would not yield the point, and a series of troubles followed. Merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, and other places agreed not to import tea, and there were combinations against its use in various places. Before North introduced his repeal bill into Parliament the mistresses of 300 families in Boston subscribed to a league, Feb. 9, 1770, binding themselves not to drink any tea until the revenue act should be repealed. Three days afterwards (Feb. 12) the young maidens followed the example of the matrons, and multitudes signed the following document: " We, the daughters of those patriots who have, and do now, appear for the public interest, and in that principally regard their posterity --as such, do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hopes to frustrate a plan which tends to deprive a whole community of all that is valuable in life." Violators of the non-importation agreements were sometimes handled roughly. A Boston merchant, Theophilus Lillie, of Tory tendencies, continued to sell tea openly, which excited popular indignation. A company of half-grown boys placed an effigy near his door with a finger upon it, pointing towards his store. While a man was attempting to remove it, he was pelted with dirt and stones. Running into the store, he seized a gun, and discharged its contents among the crowd. A boy named Snyder was killed, and a lad named Samuel Gore was wounded. The affair produced intense excitement, not only in Boston, but throughout the colonies. The funeral of Snyder was a most impressive pageant. His coffin, inscribed " Innocence itself is riot safe," was borne to Liberty Tree, where an immense concourse were assembled, who thence followed the remains to the grave. Six of Snyder's schoolmates bore the coffin, and nearly 500 school-boys led the procession. The bells of Boston were tolled; so, also, were those of the neighboring towns.

By smuggling, nonimportation, and nonconsumption agreements, the tax on tea, retained for the purpose of vindicating the authority of Parliament, was virtually nullified at the opening of 1773. Then a new thought upon taxation occurred to Lord North. The East India Company severely felt the effects of these causes, and requested the government to take off the duty of 3d. a pound on their tea levied in America. Already 17,000,000 lbs. had accumulated in their warehouses in England, and they offered to allow the government to retain 6d. upon the pound as an exportation tariff if they would take off the 3d. duty. Here was an opportunity for conciliation; but the ministry, deluded by false views of national honor, would not accede to the proposition, but stupidly favored the East India Company, and utterly neglected the principles and feelings of the Americans. They proposed a bill for the exportation of tea to America on their own account, without paying export duty, and it passed May 10, 1773. Agents and consignees were appointed in the several colonies to receive the tea, and the ministry congratulated themselves with outwitting the patriots. This movement perfected the nullification of the tea tax, for universal opposition to its use was manifested.

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor at the time of the Boston Tea Party

Those who accepted the office of consignees of the tea cargoes of the East India Company were held in equal disrepute with the stamp distributors. They were requested to refrain from receiving the proscribed article. The request of a public meeting in Philadelphia, Oct. 2, 1773, that Messrs. Wharton should not act, was complied with, and their answer was received with shouts of applause. Another firm refused, and they were greeted with groans and hisses. A public meeting in Boston (Nov. 5) appointed a committee to wait upon the consignees in that town and request them to resign. These consignees were all friends of Governor Hutchinson - two of them were his sons and a third his nephew. They had been summoned to attend a meeting of the Sons of Liberty (under Liberty Tree) and resign their appointments. They contemptuously refused to comply; now, in the presence of the town committee, they so equivocated that the meeting voted their answer " unsatisfactory and daringly affrontive." Another committee was appointed for the same purpose at a meeting on the 18th, when the consignees replied.: " It is out of our power to comply with the request of the town." The meeting broke up with ominous silence. The consignees became alarmed and asked leave to resign their appointments into the hands of the governor and council. The prayer was refused, and the consignees fled to the protection of the castle. At a meeting held first in Faneuil Hall and then in the South Meeting-house (Nov. 29), a letter was received from the consignees, offering to store the tea until they could write to England and receive instructions. The offer was rejected with disdain. The sheriff then read a proclamation from the governor, ordering the meeting to disperse. It was received with hisses. Then the meeting ordered that two tea vessels hourly expected at Boston should be moored at Griffin's Wharf. At the demand of a popular meeting in New York (Nov. 25) the appointed consignees there declined to act, whereupon Governor Tryon issued an order for the cargo of any tea-ship that might arrive to be deposited in the barracks.

When news reached America that teaships were loading for colonial ports, the patriots took measures for preventing the unloading of their cargoes here. The Philadelphians moved first in the matter. At a public meeting held Oct. 2, 1713, in eight resolutions the people protested against taxation by Parliament, and denounced as " an enemy to his country " whoever should " aid or abet in unloading, receiving, or vending the tea." A town meeting was held in Boston (Nov. 5), at which John Hancock presided, which adopted the Philadelphia resolutions, with a supplement concerning remissness in observing non-importation and non-consumption agreements, but insisting upon a strict compliance with them in the future. A tea-vessel, bound for Philadelphia, was stopped (Dec. 25) 4 miles below that city, information having been received of the destruction of the tea in Boston. Another, driven by stress of weather to the West Indies, did not arrive at New York for several months afterwards. When it arrived (April 21, 1774) at Sandy Hook, the pilots, under instructions from the city committee, refused to bring her up, and a committee of vigilance soon took possession of her. When the captain was brought to town he was ordered to take back his ship and cargo. The consignees refused to interfere; and meanwhile another ship, commanded by a New York captain, was allowed to enter the harbor, on the assurance that she had no tea on board. A report soon spread that she had tea on board, and the captain was compelled to acknowledge that he had eighteen chests, belonging to private parties, and not to the East India Company. The indignant people poured the tea into the harbor, and the captain of the East India tea-shipówith grand parade, a band of music playing " God save the King," the city bells ringing, and colors flying from liberty-polesówas escorted from the custom-house to a pilot-boat, which took him to his vessel at the Hook, when, under the direction of the vigilance committee, the vessel was started for England. A tea ship (the Dartmouth) arrived at Boston late in November, 1773, and was ordered by a town-meeting (Nov. 29) to be moored at Griffin's Wharf. It was voted by the same meeting that the " owner be directed not to enter the tea-ship at his peril "; and the captain was warned not to suffer any of the tea to be landed. Two other tea-ships that arrived there were served in the same way, and suffered outrage. A fourth tea-vessel, bound for Boston, was wrecked on Cape Cod, and a few chests of her tea, saved, were placed in the castle by the governor's orders. About twenty chests brought in another vessel, on private account, were seized and cast into the water. In Charleston a cargo was landed, but, being stored in damp cellars, was spoiled.



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