Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Boston’s Tea Party, the event that ignited the American Revolution
The 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is fast approaching, bringing with it commemorative events, impromptu history lessons, and re-enactments of what is perhaps the most iconic moment in American history. Schoolchildren have been learning about the Boston Tea Party ever since it happened. To refresh our collective memory, let’s revisit the Tea Party and cheer on Boston's original Patriots!
Lead-up to the Boston Tea Party
Throughout the 18th century, England had enacted a “series of laws that controlled trade and shipping between Great Britain and the American Colonies. The laws were expanded to restrict manufacturing in America and enforce the Mercantile System. However, it was the enforcement of the Navigation Acts which most directly caused the American Revolution.”
The Boston Massacre
By 1770 there were 1,000 “Redcoats” posted in Boston who were tasked with law enforcement. In March a skirmish occurred between approximately 50 Bostonians and the British troops posted at the Customs House on King Street, now State Street. The Redcoats, in response to the angry protesters, shot into the crowd. A formerly-enslaved sailor named Crispus Attucks became the first casualty of the Revolution; many of those who rioted were mere teenagers and several died.
No Taxation without Representation
To circumvent heavy taxes, most tea was smuggled in by Dutch merchants. Since the Dutch Republic didn’t tax imported tea, their price was very competitive. The Tea Act 1773 was Parliament’s response to the problem of smuggled tea. Although higher taxes were unpopular with the Colonists, the Tea Act was the final insult. Parliament granted the British East India Company exclusivity in the tea trade. As Dutch tea was being smuggled into both England and the Colonies, and for much lower prices; the Dutch Republic didn’t tax tea.
Colonists protested the state-sanctioned monopoly and demand that to pay more taxes (without representation), regardless of England’s financial woes. Despite being Englishmen, the colonists didn’t enjoy the same constitutional rights as their fellow countrymen living in Great Britain. To wit, they had no elected member of Parliament to represent their interests as British citizens.
Boston’s Famous Tea Party
In late October, 1773 the Boston North End Caucus resolved “That this body will oppose the vending any Tea, sent by the East India Company to any part of the Continent, with our lives and fortunes… That this body are determined that the Tea shipped or to be shipped by the East India Company shall not be landed.”
On December 16, 1773 the Sons of Liberty revolted against Great Britain’s economic and political stance by raiding ships in Boston Harbor: The Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor were docked at the now long-gone Griffin’s Wharf in Boston Harbor. The clandestine Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as members of the Mohawks, a First Nations tribe, and boarded the ships. Colonists had previously refused tea-laden vessels to be unloaded, and in at least one case, a load of Chinese tea was left to rot on the wharf. But on this cold December night, in protest against BEIC’s monopoly on the tea trade, the soon to be American Patriots unloaded the cargo themselves by throwing it overboard.
The huge amounts of Chinese tea that were dumped into the harbor caused a tremendous loss of revenue for the already-struggling British East India Company (BEIC). As it turned out, many members of Parliament held shares in the struggling BEIC, equaling millions of dollars in today’s money. Selling off BEIC’s massive surplus of tea was therefore of utmost importance to Parliament, who had decreed all tea be purchased from BEIC.
England strikes back
In response to the Tea Party, Parliament passed a series of laws, the Coercive Acts. The first of these was The Boston Port Act 1774. As a punitive measure, the Port of Boston was closed until the colonists paid for a million dollars’ worth of destroyed tea. These Coercive (or Intolerable) Acts expanded the list of commodities that were controlled by the Crown: the Colonies were prohibited from freely trading with whomever they wanted. When English interests were threatened by cheaper goods from Dutch, French, and Portuguese merchants, even more duties were imposed: “Vessels had to unload its cargo in Britain, pay duties and reload its cargo before sailing to the colonies.” Economic hardships in the Colonies continued to mount.
The shot heard around the world
In September 1774 American Patriots organized the First Continental Congress. As hostility intensified, the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, leading to the declaration of an independent United States of America on July 4, 1776.Historians agree that the location of Griffin’s Wharf is proximal to today’s Independence Wharf, only a 20 minute walk from Battery Wharf. The Tea Party Museum is nearby and will be the site of a four-part reenactment of this seminal act of Colonial protest.
Walk Boston's waterfront to see it all
Reserve your stay at the Battery Wharf Hotel on the Boston Waterfront, and find yourself on the doorstep of the historic Freedom Trail. Wander through the echoes of New England’s colonial era as you experience the dawn of the American republic.