For thousands of years, indigenous peoples lived in the vast expanse of land that is now known as the United States of America. They developed their own complex cultures before the arrival of the European colonists. The Spanish had early settlements in Florida and the Southwest. The French settled along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast.
After 1600, most of the colonists in these new-found lands were from England. By the 1770s, there were 13 British colonies along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains. About two and a half million people populated these colonies.
In early 1770s, the British East India Company was in financial difficulties. It held a massive surplus of tea in its London warehouses. The English Parliament presented the Tea Act of 1773 to help the struggling company survive. This Act was also promulgated to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies.
The Tea Act of 1773 granted the British East India Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America. The Company also received the right to duty-free export of tea from Britain. Yet, the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. The Tea Act received the royal assent on May 10, 1773. (See my article: The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773).
The colonies did not send representatives to the British Parliament. Hence, they had no influence over the taxes raised, levied, or how they were spent. So, they objected to the Tea Act. They believed the Act violated their rights as Englishmen in America to be taxed without their consent. They raised the slogan: “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.”
In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company’s tea set sail to the American colonies. The ships carried more than 2,000 chests containing about 600,000 pounds of tea. Four ships were bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
The Americans learned the details of the Tea Act only after the ships were en route. Whigs was a nickname for the Patriots, who sometimes called themselves the “Sons of Liberty”. They mobilized a coalition of merchants and artisans to oppose the delivery and distribution of the inbound tea.
The Whigs began a campaign to raise awareness about the implications of the provisions in the Tea Acts. They opposed the Acts which implicitly agreed to accept the right of taxation by the English Parliament.
Benjamin Franklin said the British were trying to use cheap tea to “overcome all the patriotism of an American”.
Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father of the United States from the state of Pennsylvania, urged his fellow Americans to oppose the landing of the tea. He said the cargo contained “the seeds of slavery”.
On October 16, 1773, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Colonel William Bradford, Thomas Mifflin, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, and other local leaders and members of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty organized a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House. They adopted eight resolutions. One resolution stated:
“That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.”
The most important one read:
“That the resolution lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to America subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.”
These declarations, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, comprised the first public protest against the importation of taxed tea from England.
In Boston, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall. Three weeks later, on November 5, 1773, at a town meeting at Faneuil Hall the Bostonians adopted the same resolutions that Philadelphians had promulgated earlier. In their resolution the Bostonians declared:
“That the Sense of the Town cannot be better expressed on this Occasion, than in the words of certain Judicious Resolves lately entered into by our worthy Brethren the Citizens of Philadelphia.”
Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers of Dutch tea, joined the Whigs. They played a significant role in the protests because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper. Also, the Tea Act was a threat to put an end to their smuggling business. Other legitimate importers of tea, not chosen as consignees by the British East India Company, also faced financial ruin because of the Tea Act. Most American merchants feared that this type of government-created monopoly might extend to include other goods in the future.
The Whigs convinced, and sometimes harassed the Company’s authorized consignees to resign. They successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three colonies and forced the ships to turn back to England. They could not do so in Massachusetts.
The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, 1773. On November 29, a handbill posted all over Boston, contained the following words:
Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! – That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor.
That day Whig leader, Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting, at Faneuil Hall. As thousands of people arrived, the meeting shifted to a larger venue – the Old South Meeting House. The assembled passed a resolution, introduced by Adams, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to turn back to England without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent unloading of the tea from the ship.
British law required the Dartmouth to unload its cargo of tea and pay the customs duties within twenty days . If the customs duties were not paid within that time, the customs officials could confiscate the cargo.
Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave Boston without paying the duty. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.
Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor. Another ship, the William headed for Boston encountered a storm and sank before it could reach Boston.
On December 16th, the last day of the Dartmouth’s deadline to pay the customs duties, about 7,000 people gathered around the Old South Meeting House.
After receiving the report that Governor Hutchinson had refused to let the ships leave, Samuel Adams announced: “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country”.
Immediately, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House. Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, but the throng headed out to prepare to take action.
Some donned elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes, disguising their faces, because of the illegality of their protest. Dressing as a Mohawk warrior was a specific and symbolic choice. In the evening of December 16, 1773, they boarded the three vessels – Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver. Over the course of three hours, they dumped 342 chests of tea into the water.
Eventually, the Boston Tea Party proved to be one of the many courses that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.
Click on the image below to see video
- Resolutions Of The Town Of Boston, November 5, 1773 (history1700s.com)
- The Boston Tea Party of 1773 (johncashon.wordpress.com)
- Boston Tea Party Was Act of Terrorism Says New School Lesson Plan(godfatherpolitics.com)
- Boston Tea Party History (mademan.com)