Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

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In 1771, a group of colonists protest thirteen years of increasing British oppression, by attacking merchant ships in Boston Harbor. In retaliation, the British close the port, and inflict even harsher penalties.

At considerable expense, Britain had won France&rsquos North American territory in the Seven Years&rsquo War (1756-1763). Britain now faced a large postwar debt and the responsibility of additional land to protect and govern. Highly burdened by taxes themselves, the British were merely asking the colonies to bear the expense of their own administration and defense. As each proposed revenue bill met with opposition, it was repealed, Parliament being anxious to appease the colonies. But such "lenity" only encouraged additional disobedience, which was skillfully orchestrated by colonial propagandists. The Boston Massacre of 1770, during which redcoats fired on a mob owing to extreme provocation, was played up as if hundreds of colonists had been killed instead of five.

Scarcely noted in the British press at first, the Boston Tea Party was magnified from a simple matter of destruction of property into an intolerable insult to British authority. Chiefly responsible for the incident were Sam Adams, a tough and cunning professional politician, who was said to control two Boston mobs which he exploited for his own personal gain and glory, and the rich and vain businessman John Hancock, later described as "an elegant revolutionary" of the "native governing class of merchants and landowners who interests were threatened by imperial policies and by the barrier to obtaining western land." These "incendiaries" used all manner of intimidation, even tarring and feathering loyal subjects of the king, to undermine their own current democratic self-rule, although British lawyers determined after careful consideration that the rebels were not guilty of high treason -- yet.

Thanks to the political and physical difficulties of conducting such a huge overseas operation, the world&rsquos greatest power was defeated by a ragged band of revolutionaries. But the loss of the American colonies, as formalized by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, was taken by the British with characteristic aplomb -- rather as if a group of businessmen were closing down an unprofitable branch, it was said.

The Mystery of the Green Dragon Tavern and the Boston Tea Party

In the upper left hand corner of his drawing he put a square and compass. To this day no one knows who planned the Boston Tea Party.

The building had been purchased by the St. Andrews Lodge in 1764. There was a square and compass over the front door and a copper Dragon that had turned green through the weather. It was a community center. Downstairs was the Tavern. Upstairs was the St. Andrews Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Ancients). It was the largest place for meetings in the north east end of Boston. Historians have called it "headquarters of the American Revolution."

Here the Boston Committee of Correspondence was formed after a few initial meetings at Brother Joseph Warren's house a few doors away. Here the Sons of Liberty held secret sessions. They wore a jewel around their necks and were known to have a separate language for recognition. The jewel had a picture of the Liberty Tree on it.

The North End Caucus formed the guard here that publicly guarded the tea ships so no tea could be unloaded. Brother Edward Proctor (St. Andrews Lodge) was known to be leader of this guard. Brother Paul Revere served with this guard. Later Brother Paul Revere served in another guard called the Selectmen who walked the streets of Boston, two by two, and observed the movements of British troops before he went off on his famous ride to Lexington. The Selectmen guard met at the Green Dragon Tavern and took an oath of secrecy over a Bible.

Dr. Joseph Warren, a 33 year old physician is the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts that meets upstairs. Paul Revere is the Senior Grand Deacon. Both are Past Masters of the St. Andrews Lodge. They are close friends and had come to the St. Andrews Lodge in the same year. It is Joseph Warren who sends Paul Revere to Lexington with a coded message for Brother John Hancock (also of St. Andrews Lodge).

Warren and Revere met at the Green Dragon Tavern with the North End Caucus that sang the "Rally Mohawks" song. The song tells us that Warren and Revere are there, but no one ever tells us who the "Chiefs" are. And we'll never know who the "Mohawks" are.

Rally, Mohawks - bring out your axes! And tell King George we'll pay no taxes on his foreign tea! His threats are vain - and vain to think To force our girls and wives to drink His vile Bohea! Then rally boys, and hasten on To meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon. Our Warren's there, and bold Revere, With hands to do and words to cheer For Liberty and Laws! Our country's "Braves" and firm defenders Shall ne'er be left by true North-Enders, Fighting Freedom's cause! Then rally boys and hasten on to meet our Chiefs at the Green Dragon.

The "vile Bohea" is another name for the tea of the East India Company. It has been rotting in their warehouses in England. This is cheap tea and the Company needs to get rid of it. The British Parliament has given the East India Tea Company a monopoly on tea. The Colonies are not supposed to buy any other tea. Parliament has kept a tax on tea just to prove that they have the power to tax.

And taxation without representation, along with a tea monopoly, is tyranny!

On the night of the Boston Tea Party there were men who called themselves "Mohawks" and put lamp black and paint on their faces as a disguise. Some of these "Mohawks" met at the Green Dragon Tavern. Some met in homes. Some wrapped themselves in blankets and sat in the balcony of the Old South Meeting House mixing with the crowd. Some came from the Edes Printing Office.

Two thousand people stand on Griffin's wharf and watch the Boston Tea Party. The crowd is silent as sixty men dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the salt water.

There are secret signs and countersigns for recognition.

A second raises his hatchet and says, "Me know you."

The first then counters by raising his hatchet and gives another "Ugh!"

In all that crowd no one wanted to identify a "Mohawk." One man said he would be a witness provided the trial would be 3,000 miles away in London. There never was a trial. Governor Hutchinson wouldn't have a trial in Boston because he thought the jury would turn out to be "Mohawks" or their sympathizers. The "Mohawks" remain one of the mysteries of the American Revolution.

The events leading up to the evening of the December 1 6th Tea Party might shed a bit of light.

Brother Warren and Brother Revere meet at the Green Dragon Tavern to publish the Resolution of the North End Caucus:

"To oppose the vending of any tea sent by the East India Company . . . with our lives and fortunes."

Brother William Molineux, a member of St. Andrews Lodge, acts as spokesman for the Sons of Liberty. A notice was placed on the Liberty Tree that the Consignees of the Tea were to report and publicly resign their commissions as tea agents for the East India Company. "Ignore this at your peril." The Consignees do not appear. A crowd of 300 people follow Brother Molineux and Brother Warren to the Customs House to confront the Consignees. The crowd tears the doors off the hinges and Brother Molineux confronts the Consignees. Will they resign as Consignees so the tea ships can turn around and carry the tea back to England? No. The Consignees would not resign. In fact they then moved to Fort William under military protection.

In New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, the Consignees for the tea had resigned their Commissions at the request of the Sons of Liberty. Those tea ships had sailed back to England with the tea. There were no Consignees to pay the tax and sign for the tea.

But not in Boston! Governor Hutchinson and his family were in the tea business. Two of Governor Hutchinson's sons and a son-in-law were Consignees. The Tea Act stated that if the tea was not sold by December 17th, it could be seized by the custon house and sold for nonpayment of duties. Once the tea was in the Governor's hands, he could dispose of it secretly to local merchants. No. The Consignees would not resign. Steps had to be taken before December 1 7th.

The Town Committee of Selectmen try another approach to the Governor and the Consignees. These Selectmen are leading tradesmen in Boston. They are led by Brother John Hancock, a member of the St. Andrews Lodge. He is the richest man in New England. He is the Colonel of the Governor's Cadet Corps. He has been given special orders by the Governor to maintain order around the Tea Ships.

Also on the Committee of Selectmen is Brother John Rowe. He is the Grand Master of the St. John's Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Moderns). The St. John's Lodge meets upstairs over the Bunch of Grapes Tavern and most of the members are Tory in their sympathy. Brother Rowe is the owner of one of the tea ships, the Eleanor. He has promised to use his influence with the Governor to return the tea ships and the tea to England.

It is a matter of trade with the Selectmen and they use a different appeal:

"The Selectmen meet to wait on the Consignees and request them from a regard of their own characters and the peace and good order of this Town and Province immediately to resign their appointment."

No. The Consignees still would not resign. History might have been different if the Governor of Massachusetts had not been in the tea trade.

The Tea Ship Dartmouth arrives in Boston. The Committee of Correspondence, led by Brother Joseph Warren, distributes handbills calling for a Mass Town Meeting to return the tea whence it came.

"The detestable Tea shipped for this port by the East India Comnpany is now arrived in this harbor. The Hour of Destruction on manly Opposition to the Machinations of Tyranny stares you in the face."

Five thousand people gather and vote to return the tea ship. Brother John Hancock acts as Moderator for the Town Meetings.

Brother Paul Revere starts his work as a guard on the tea ship to see that the tea is not unloaded.

Records of the St. Andrews Lodge indicate that the Lodge is adjourned this night "on account of few Brethren present."

Note: "Consignees of Tea took up the Brethren's time."

Time is running out. Colonel John Hancock goes to the tea ships to review the Governor's Cadet Corps. Both he and Brother Warren had been Orators at the commemoration of those who had died in the Boston Massacre.

The Consignees were blaming the North End Caucus guard because they would not let the Consignees unload the tea. The Caucus had been guarding the tea at gun point and holding secret sessions at the Green Dragon Tavern.

The Consignees were blamed by both Tory and Patriot because they would not withdraw and let the tea be returned to England.

Brother Warren goes to the Customs House with Francis Rotch, the owner of the tea ship, Dartmouth. All exits to the harbor are blocked. By law the Customs Officials cannot release the ship unless the Consignees unload the tea and pay the tax. On December 17th the Customs Officials are to seize the tea according to the law.

Brother Warren visits Brother Rowe, owner of the tea ship, Eleanor. These two Grand Masters hold a unique title in American history for the Ancients and Moderns. Each were called the "Grand Master of the Continent of America." They meet in a concern for his "ship and cargo." Another appeal must be made to the Governor.

The evening of the famous Tea Party. The records of the St. Andrew Lodge show that only five members were present. A note says "Lodge closed on account of few members present."

The Committee of Correspondence with Brother Warren calls for a Mass Town Meeting. Seven thousand people meet in and around the Old South Meeting House. It is the largest crowd that had ever assembled in Boston. They wait to hear a message from Governor Hutchinson. Will he return the tea to England?

Seven miles away at Milton, the Governor meets with Francis Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth. Brother John Hancock and Brother John Rowe help in the appeal to the Governor to return the tea.

The Governor would not let the ships leave with the tea. It would be contrary to the Customs law. Instead he would give the Dartmouth military escort to Castle Island and Fort Williams. There his sons would unload the tea and pay the tax. The owner of the Dartmouth did not want to move his ship under those circumstances of a 60-gun warship military escort.

The Dartmouth owner returns to the crowded Old South

eeting Hall with the news. He is asked two questions.

Will he take the Dartmouth to England with the tea? No. It would mean his "ruin."

Would he unload the tea at the wharf? No. He was "not authorized" to unload it.

The meeting ended and it was then that the "Mohawks" unloaded a consignment of tea at Griffin's Wharf.

The Governor's Cadet Corps stood far back from the crowd on the wharf.

The crews of the tea ships went below and gave no assistance. Some of them even helped unload the tea. The crowd observed a silence. No damage was done to the ships. No tea was kept by an individual.

The whole Tea Party was in range of a 60-gun warship. The British Admiral watched from the upstairs window of a house nearby. v Afterward the "Mohawks" marched by under his window. The Admiral opened the window and shouted, "Tomorrow you'll have to pay the piper!"

Brother Paul Revere mounts his horse and carries the news to New York. With that news a tea ship at New York turns around and sails back to England with the tea. The news is spread by the Committee of Correspondence. There are over one hundred of these Committees in Massachusetts alone. From the time of the Boston Tea Party the East India Company sold no more tea in America.

Brother John Rowe calls the dumping of the tea "a disastrous affair" in his diary. "I can truly say, I know nothing of the matter, nor who were concerned with it. This might I believe have been prevented. I am sincerely sorry for the event." Brother Rowe was a Loyalist and he remains a Loyalist.

The English Attorney General placed Joseph Warren's name at the top of a list of five. The charge would have been Treason for the Boston Tea Party. There was a lack of evidence. The Ministers never pressed charges.

This was not the first time that Governor Hutchinson and his sons had taken a loss in their tea trading. Just three years before Brother William Molineux and Brother James Otis (St. John's Lodge) led a crowd of a thousand patriots from Faneuil Hall to confront the Hutchinsons. That time there was a nonimportation agreement in Boston. It was about to run out. His sons had been importing tea and hiding it, waiting to make a profit. His sons surrendered the tea and the money for the tea they had already sold. The Hutchinsons didn't forget it. Nor did the Sons of Liberty.

After the Tea Party, Governor Hutchinson was withdrawn to London for "consultation." The King and Ministry sent in General Gage as a new military Governor and gave him "full discretion" to find evidence for a trial of those responsible for the Boston Tea Party. There was no trial in Boston.

Benjamin Franklin, a Grand Master of Pennsylvania, was in London at the time. He called the Boston Tea Party "an act of violent injustice." A group of London merchants wanted to pay twice the value of the tea to keep trade open. Franklin offered to pay for the tea himself.

"Though the mischief was the act of persons unknown, yet as probably they cannot be found, or brought to answer for it, there seems to be some reasonable claim on the society at large in which it happened."

But no one ever paid for the tea, because Parliament closed down the port of Boston, cut off the trade, and sent in the troops.

Many years later Sir Winston Churchill - Prime Minister, Historian and Freemason - commented on the act of Parliament that had given the East India Company a monopoly on tea. Brother Churchill called it "a stupid blunder."

Americans have been drinking coffee ever since. The English said that the reason the Americans lost their taste for tea was that they had a peculiar way of mixing it in the salt water.

It started in the Green Dragon Tavern. If a man ordered tea, he was a Tory. If he ordered coffee, he was a Patriot.

It is not strange that no one could be found to identify the "Mohawks." It was the same the year before in Rhode Island. Some Patriots dressed as Indians attacked the Gaspee in long boats. The British claimed that Brother Abraham Whipple (St. John's Lodge, No. 1, Providence) was the leader. They promised to hang him. Brother Whipple said they would have to catch him first.

George Washington, at age 22, was asked why he became a Mason. He said it was because he found them to be "Leaders in the community."

Faneuil Hall and the Old South Meeting House still stand in Boston. The Green Dragon Tavern burned down years ago. The heritage lives on in a picture made in 1773. The artist had the fortitude to sign his name to the words: "Where we met to Plan the Consignment of a few Shiploads of Tea. Dec 16, 1773."

If "Leaders in the community" ever meet at the Green Dragon Tavern and sing the "Rally Mohawks" song for a television show, let them be sure that their makeup is on straight.

How Many People Participated in the Boston Tea Party?

Through oral tradition, old family stories and some documentation, an incomplete list of 175 names was pieced together and published in a book titled, Tea Leaves, by Francis Drake in 1884 as well as in the 1973 Boston Globe 200th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Special Section:

Francis Akeley (or Eckley)
Nathaniel Barber
Samuel Barnard
Henry Bass
Joseph Bassett
Edward Bates
Adam Beals Jr.
Thomas Bolter
David Bradlee
Josiah Bradlee
Nathaniel Bradlee
Thomas Bradlee
James Brewer
John Brown
Seth Ingersoll Browne
Stephen Bruce
Benjamin Burton
Nicholas Campbell
George Carleton
Thomas Chase
Nathaniel Child
Benjamin Clark
Jonathan Clark
John Cochran
Gilbert Colesworthy
Gersham Collier
Adam Collson
James Foster Condy
Daniel Coolidge
Joseph Coolidge
Samuel Coolidge
Samuel Cooper
William Cox
Thomas Crafts
John Crane
Obadiah Curtis
Thomas Dana, Jr.
Amasa Davis
Robert Davis
John DeCarteret
David Decker
John Dickman
Edward Dolbeare
Samuel Dolbeare
John Dyar, Jr.
Joseph Eaton
Joseph Eayres
Benjamin Edes
William Etheridge
Samuel Fenno
Samuel Foster
Thomas Fracker
Nathaniel Frothingham, Jr.
John Fulton
John Gammell
Eleazer Gay
Thomas Gerrish
Samuel Gore
Moses Grant
Nathaniel Greene
Timothy Guy
Samuel Hammond
Peter Harrington
William Haskins
William Hendley
George Robert Twelves Hewes
John Hicks
Samuel Hobbs
John Hooton
Elisha Horton
Elijah Houghton
Samuel Howard
Edward Compton Howe
Jonathan Hunnewell
Richard Hunnewell
Richard Hunnewell, Jr.
Thomas Hunstable
Abraham Hunt
Daniel Ingersoll
Daniel Ingoldson
Charles Jameson
Robert Jameson
Jared Joy
Robert Lash
Amariah Learned
Joseph Lee
Nathaniel Lee
Amos Lincoln
John Locke
Matthew Loring
Joseph Lovering
Joseph Ludden
David Lyon
Thomas Machin
Ebenezer MacIntosh
Peter McIntosh
Archibald MacNeil
John Marston
Martin, probably Wm.
Thompson Maxwell
John May
Mead, probably John
Henry Mellius
Thomas Melville
Aaron John Miller
James Mills
William Molineaux
Francis Moore
Thomas Moore
Anthony Morse
Joseph Mountfort
Eliphalet Newell
Joseph Nicholls
Samuel Nowell
Joseph Pearse Palmer
Jonathan Parker
Joseph Payson
Samuel Peck
John Peters
William Pierce
Isaac Pitman
Lendall Pitts
Samuel Pitts
Thomas Porter
Henry Prentiss
Nathaniel Prentiss
Rev. John Prince
Edward Procter
Henry Purkitt
Seth Putnam
John Randall
Joseph Reed
Paul Revere
Benjamin Rice
Jonathan Dorby Robins
Joseph Roby
John Russell
William Russell
John Sawtelle
George Sayward
Edmund Sears
Robert Sessions
Joseph Shed
Benjamin Simpson
Peter Slater, Jr.
Samuel Sloper
Ephriam Smith
Josiah Snelling
Thomas Spear
Samuel Sprague
John Spurr
James Starr
Phineas Stearns
Ebeneezer Stevens
James Stoddard
Elisha Story
James Swan
Abraham Tower
Bartholomew Trow
John Truman
Benjamin Tucker Jr.
Thomas Urann
James Watson
Henry Wells
Thomas Wells
Josiah Wheeler
John Whitehead
David Williams
Isaac Williams
Jeremiah Williams
Thomas Williams
Nathaniel Willis
Joshua Wyeth
Thomas Young

Other people have also been suspected of taking part in the Boston Tea Party but have never been officially listed, such as my ancestor Captain Edward Burbeck, brother of Henry Burbeck.

Numerous documents list Burbeck as a possible participant of the event and suggest that he had to flee Boston to avoid persecution from the British government who had placed a price on his head. The author of the History of Plymouth, New Hampshire states:

“Edward Burbeck, son of Col. William and Abigail (Tuttle) Burbeck…He was a wood carver in Boston, a captain of artillery, 1775, and, by tradition, one of the ‘Boston Tea Party.”

Boston Tea Party, engraving by W.D. Cooper, circa 1789

A book written by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1896 also states Edward Burbeck was:

“suspected of being a member of the Boston tea party. When Boston was in the hands of the British, Edward managed to send his family from the city and then escaped himself, disguised as a fisherman. He was reunited to his family at Newburyport.”

Historians are not sure why the tea participants chose Native American disguises but Daughter of Liberty leader Sarah Bradlee Fulton, who has since been nicknamed the “Mother of the Tea Party,” has since been credited with coming up with the idea of the disguises and many historians speculate it is probably because “playing Indian” was a popular American tradition back then just as it is now.

Due to the secrecy, most of the tea party participants escaped punishment, except for Francis Akeley who was the only person imprisoned for his role in the tea party.

If you want to learn more about the Boston Tea Party, check out this timeline of the Boston Tea Party.

Year Book of the Wisconsin Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Swain & Tate Company, 1896
Stearns, Ezra Scollay and Moses Thurston Runnels. History of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Vol. I, University Press, 1906
“Frequently Asked Questions About the Boston Tea Party.” Old South Meeting House,
“Complete List of Participants.” Boston Tea Party Historical Society,

Boston Tea Party - HISTORY

Boston Tea Party
Digital History ID 1192

Author: George Robert Twelve Hewes

Annotation: George Robert Twelve Hewes, a Boston shoemaker who later fought in the Revolution as a common soldier and sailor, was present at the Boston Massacre and served as a leader in the Boston tea party.

Document: The tea destroyed was contained in three ships, lying near each other at what was called at that time Griffin's wharf, and were surrounded by armed ships of war, the commanders of which had publicly declared that if the rebels, as they were pleased to style the Bostonians, should not withdraw their opposition to the landing of the tea before a certain day, the 17th day of December, 1773, they should on that day force it on shore, under the cover of their cannon's mouth.

On the day preceding the seventeenth, there was a meeting of the citizens of the county of Suffolk, convened at one of the churches in Boston, for the purpose of consulting on what measures might be considered expedient to prevent the landing of the tea, or secure the people from the collection of the duty. At that meeting a committee was appointed to wait on Governor Hutchinson, and request him to inform them whether he would take any measures to satisfy the people on the object of the meeting.

To the first application of this committee, the Governor told them he would give them a definite answer by five o'clock in the afternoon. At the hour appointed, the committee again repaired to the Governor's house, and on inquiry found he had gone to his country seat at Milton, a distance of about six miles. When the committee returned and informed the meeting of the absence of the Governor, there was a confused murmur among the members, and the meeting was immediately dissolved, many of them crying out, "Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country" and there was a general huzza for Griffin's wharf.

It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin's wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination.

When we arrived at the wharf, there were three of our number who assumed an authority to direct our operations, to which we readily submitted. They divided us into three parties, for the purpose of boarding the three ships which contained the tea at the same time. The name of him who commanded the division to which I was assigned was Leonard Pitt. The names of the other commanders I never knew.

We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time, which we promptly obeyed. The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging.

We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.

In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded bv British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.

We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates nor do I recollect of our having had the knowledge of the name of a single individual concerned in that affair, except that of Leonard Pitt, the commander of my division, whom I have mentioned. There appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his services, keep his own secret, and risk the consequence for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.

During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets.

One Captain O'Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off but, springing forward, by a rapid effort he made his escape. He had, however, to run a gauntlet through the crowd upon the wharf nine each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke.

Another attempt was made to save a little tea from the ruins of the cargo by a tall, aged man who wore a large cocked hat and white wig, which was fashionable at that time. He had sleightly slipped a little into his pocket, but being detected, they seized him and, taking his hat and wig from his head, threw them, together with the tea, of which they had emptied his pockets, into the water. In consideration of his advanced age, he was permitted to escape, with now and then a slight kick.

The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of the tea, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water and to prevent the possibility of any of its being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of the harbor wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as to render its entire destruction inevitable.

Boston Tea Party - HISTORY

The Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773. It was one of the key events leading up to the American Revolution.

Was it a big, fun party with tea?

Not really. There was tea involved, but nobody was drinking it. The Boston Tea Party was a protest by the American Colonists against the British government. They staged the protest by boarding three trade ships in Boston Harbor and throwing the ships' cargo of tea overboard into the ocean. They threw 342 chests of tea into the water. Some of the colonists were disguised as Mohawk Indians, but the costumes didn't fool anyone. The British knew who had destroyed the tea.

The Boston Tea Party by Nathaniel Currier

At first, throwing tea into the ocean dressed as Mohawks might seem a bit silly, but the colonists had their reasons. Tea was a favorite drink among the British and the colonies. It also was a major source of income to the East India Trading company. This was a British company and the colonies were told they could only buy tea from this one company. They were also told they had to pay high taxes on the tea. This tax was called the Tea Act.

Old South Meeting House by Ducksters
Patriots met at the Old South Meeting House
to discuss taxation prior to the Boston Tea Party

This didn't seem fair to the colonies as they were not represented in British Parliament and didn't have a say on how the taxes should be done. They refused to pay taxes on the tea and asked that the tea be returned to Great Britain. When it wasn't, they decided to protest Britain's unfair taxes by throwing the tea into the ocean.

It's unclear to historians if the protest was planned. There had been a big town meeting earlier that day led by Samuel Adams to discuss the tea taxes and how to fight them. However, no one is quite sure if Samuel Adams planned the destruction of the tea or if a bunch of people just got mad and went and did it unplanned. Samuel Adams did later say that it was the act of people defending their rights and not the act of an angry mob.

It was just tea, what's the big deal?

It actually was a lot of tea. The 342 containers totaled 90,000 pounds of tea! In today's money that would be around a million dollars in tea.

  • The three ships that were boarded and had their tea dumped into the harbor were the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver.
  • The Beaver had been quarantined in the outer harbor for two weeks due to a case of smallpox.

Tea Party Finds Inspiration In Boston History

The Boston Tea Party of 1773, as depicted in an old engraving. Bostonians dressed as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea overboard from three British ships in protest against "taxation without representation." The famous Tea Party took place at Griffin's Wharf, where the ships were tied up. The site remained a landmark even after the waterfront was filled in, leaving the spot several hundred yards inland. AP hide caption

The Boston Tea Party of 1773, as depicted in an old engraving. Bostonians dressed as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea overboard from three British ships in protest against "taxation without representation." The famous Tea Party took place at Griffin's Wharf, where the ships were tied up. The site remained a landmark even after the waterfront was filled in, leaving the spot several hundred yards inland.

April 15 is not a date that most Americans look forward to. And lately, the grumbling over paying taxes has been louder than usual.

The Tea Party movement has been staging major rallies around the country to protest taxes and government spending, including one in Boston, where the original Tea Party took place.

There's actually a dock in Boston Harbor where historians believe that on Dec. 16, 1773, some colonists came down — with 50 or so dressed up as American Indians — and dumped a bunch of tea in the water.

Joe Thorndike, a tax historian, says the image is colorful. "And it's so ridiculous on some level," he adds. "People dressing up and running on and throwing crates of tea over the side of the ship — it's like a nice little picture we can put in our head."

But are modern-day Tea Partyers carrying on the same ideals as the Founding Fathers?

Thorndike, who is also director of the Tax History Project at the nonprofit group Tax Analysts, says many people seem to think the Boston Tea Party was a protest about high taxes. But it wasn't he says it was about that famous phrase in fourth-grade history books: "No taxation without representation."

The protest against British taxation on tea imports, depicted in the drawing above, brought the country one step closer to the American War of Independence. Edward Gooch/Getty Images hide caption

The protest against British taxation on tea imports, depicted in the drawing above, brought the country one step closer to the American War of Independence.

It was the idea of being taxed by a government that they didn't have any say in.

"What the original Tea Party was trying to drive home was that the British did not have a right to impose a tax on the Colonies, because the Colonies did not have representation in Parliament," Thorndike says. "That's a very different sort of message than saying, 'This tax is just too damn high for us.' I think the Tea Party today — at least it strikes me — is more about just taxes being too high."

Bailouts: Then And Now

The original Tea Party in 1773 was also sparked, Thorndike says, not just by a tax, but by a government bailout.

England was looking to prop up the British East India Company. So it gave a tax break that enabled the company to undercut Colonial tea merchants, which threatened to put a lot of them out of business.

Modern-day Boston Harbor near the spot of the original Boston Tea Party. Chris Arnold/NPR hide caption

Modern-day Boston Harbor near the spot of the original Boston Tea Party.

"They wanted to help bail out this company, which was struggling under a big debt load, if that sounds familiar," Thorndike says, adding that this is similar to what has motivated the modern-day Tea Party movement.

The recent Wall Street bailouts got a lot of Tea Party activists upset. And in both cases people saw the government as favoring big business over the little guy.

Boston's Modern-Day Tea Party

The Greater Boston Tea Party is planning a modern-day demonstration. The president of the group, Christen Varley, says that a year ago she was a housewife who decided to get involved in politics.

"You know, I was very dissatisfied with bailing out banks, bailing out auto companies — too big to fail — and thought as a newcomer to Massachusetts, we should definitely be having one of these Tea Party things here, because this is where it all started," she says.

Varley says she feels a connection to the original Tea Party.

Christen Varley is president of the modern-day Greater Boston Tea Party. The group is planning a rally on the Boston Common. Chris Arnold/NPR hide caption

Christen Varley is president of the modern-day Greater Boston Tea Party. The group is planning a rally on the Boston Common.

"The root of it is we believe in limited government and personal responsibility and individual liberty — those are our core principles," Varley says.

When it comes to taxes, the Obama administration has actually cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans through a federal income tax credit.

But Varley says she doesn't believe that — no matter what the government says. And regardless, she says she's worried about what's to come with the rising deficit.

Meanwhile, some historians say the modern Tea Party movement has become enough of a force in politics that it will probably garner at least a small mention in the history books.

George Hewes is certainly one of the most well known names when it comes to participants of the famous protest. One of the less known events in his biography was the circumstances of his meeting with John Hancock. When Hewes was a shoemaker apprentice in 1763 he had a chance to repair shoes for John Hancock.

Sometimes the tea party ships are mistakenly called British. In fact only the tea belonged to East India Tea Company but the ships themselves were American. Nantucket was homeport to two ships that were involved in the Boston Tea Party, the Beaver and the Dartmouth. Even though Dartmouth made history for carrying tea it was built for a different purpose – offshore whaling.

What happened at the Boston Tea Party?


The law of bell Townshend Acts 1765 and 1767 did the settlers are displeased about the British decisions on imposing taxes to the colonies without consultation of the Parliament of Westminster. One of the protesters was John Hancock. In 1768, the boat Liberty Hancock was retained by customs officials and smuggling charges against him. John Adams defended the charges were finally dropped. However, Hancock had to face after many other accusations.

Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China and sold by the East India Company, sales to the colonies which fell from 145,000 kg to 240 kg. Since 1773 the company had large debts, large stocks of deposits and has no prospect of sales, as smugglers Hancock expensive imported tea without paying tariffs. The British government approved the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly, without paying any customs duty or tax in Britain in exchange for colonial pay the tariff, which was much smaller . This suspension of taxes allowed the Company to sell at prices lower than those offered by the merchant colonists and smugglers.

The settlers, especially wealthy smugglers, offended by the favorable treatment to a company that had acted as a lobby and had exerted great influence in Parliament. As a result, there were protests in Philadelphia and New York, but were demonstrations that took place in Boston that marked history. Still recovering from the incident of “letters of Hutchinson,” the settlers of Boston suspected that the new tax on tea was simply another attempt by the British parliament to bring down the colonial autonomy. Samuel Adams, prosperous smugglers and others who had profited from the smuggling of tea, demanded to representatives and agents of the East India Company to abandon their posts. The agents who doubted were frightened with attacks on their deposits and even their homes.

The first of many boatloads of tea East India Company was the HMS Dartmouth, who arrived in late November 1773. At that time, found themselves in an impasse between the port authorities and Sons Freedom. Samuel Adams Aviv increasing multitude demanding a series of protest meetings. Thousands attended these meetings from the city and outlying areas, each larger than the last meeting. Crowds cried not only disobey the British Parliament, the East India Company and the HMS Dartmouth, but the governor Thomas Hutchinson, who fought because you were downloaded. The night of December 16, the assembly protesting the Old South Meeting House in Boston was the largest seen before. It is estimated that around 8,000 people attended.


The evening of the same day, put up movement. Before you download tea, the Sons of Liberty (according to sources, between 60 and 150 people) is disguised as Mohawk Indians, leaving the great assembly of protest and Griffin drove the dock, where they were Dartmouth and Beaver and newly arrived ships Eleanour. Quickly and effectively armed with axes and knives, and esporuguiren sailors climbed up boxes of wine on the deck (reasonable evidence that some of the “Indians” were actually longshoremen). Opened the boxes and threw the tea overboard. The study, which lasted well into the night, take less than three hours, was thorough and effective. At dawn on 45 tons of tea, with an estimated value of £ 10,000 had been spilled in the waters of Boston Harbor. are not damaged or stole anything, except a padlock broken accidentally and replaced anonymously shortly after. Tea fleet on the shores around Boston for weeks.


The event attracted much criticism from officials of the colony as British. For example, Benjamin Franklin declared that the cost of tea was to be reimbursed and offered to pay it with their own money. From the metropolis were carried out repressive measures against the colonies: The British government closed the port of Boston in 1774 as retaliation and declared a state of emergency, restoring other laws known as the Intolerable Acts, also called “coercive laws “or” Punitive Laws. ” However, a number of settlers was inspired to carry out similar acts such as the burning of the boat Peggy Stewart. The Boston Tea Party, over time, proved to be one of several causes that led to the War of Independence of the United States. At least this riot and the reaction that followed served to consolidate the support of the revolutionaries Thirteen Colonies that eventually were successful war of independence.

Regarding the consumption of tea, many colonists in Boston and elsewhere in the country, swore not to take this drink as a sign of protest, preferring other herbal teas and coffee. However, this social protest movement against the tea consumption was not lasting.

International Influence

What happened at the Boston Tea Party is known worldwide and was an inspiration for other rebellions. For example, Erik Erikson said in his book Gandhi’s Truths (truths Gandhi) when Mahatma Gandhi met with the viceroy British in 1930, after the Salt March, he took a pinch of salt, free of tariffs from his blanket and said with a smile, that the salt had reminded the famous Boston Tea Party.

Ships of the Boston Tea Party: Eleanor, Beaver, and Dartmouth

The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of a series of events that steadily aroused the ire of colonists who considered themselves British subjects entitled to the same rights and privileges as those who lived in England—rights that included representation in Parliament. England needed money, especially after the French and Indian Wars, and imposed monopolies and taxes—especially on tea, which was a hugely popular commodity—on the American colonists, denying them any recourse. Bostonians submitted to the inequity of the taxation until their resentment motivated them to resist, and on the night of December 16, 1773, they made their historic move.

Everyone knows that the Boston Tea Party was a pivotal point in United States history and that it was the spark that ignited the American Revolution. But how many know that two of the three ships involved were whaleships out of Nantucket?

How the Ships Become Involved in the Boston Tea Party

By the 1770s, Nantucket whalers were hunting sperm whales in the Atlantic off the coasts of South America and Africa and as far south as the Falkland Islands. It was common practice to send whaleships loaded with barrels of spermaceti and oil collected from oilier vessels in the South Atlantic directly to the London market.

Spermaceti was the sperm whale’s most prized oil. The head cavity of the sperm whale-the “case,” averaging two feet in diameter and about six feet deep-could contain upwards of a hundred gallons of this superior oil. It burned more brightly and cleaner than any other substance and was used then mainly for making candles. The manufacturing process of spermaceti candles, an important and lucrative branch of the whaling industry, was a closely guarded secret. Only a handful of colonial candle manufacturers possessed this knowledge, and they attempted to establish a monopoly under the name of the United Company of Spermaceti Candlers. The Nantucket whaleship owners, being shrewd businessmen, knew they would get a better price for the oil in London than what was offered by this cartel in the colonies.

The ship Dartmouth and the brig Beaver were in London in the late sunmmer of 1773. Having discharged their cargoes of oil and spermaceti, their captains-James Hall and Hezekiah Coffin-acting as agents for the ships’ owner, Joseph Rotch, were obligated to find cargoes for the return trip to the colonies, and they accepted the controversial tea. The Dartmouth was loaded with 114 chests of tea, each weighing about 350 pounds, and the Beaver carried 112 chests. The Beaver’s hold also held fine English furniture an English Chippendale side­ chair from that cargo is in the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association.

The donor of the chair is the great, great grandson of Captain Coffin. Presumed line of descent for the chair: Hezekiah Coffin (1741-1779) to Elisabeth Coffin Brown (1763-1843) to Mary Brown Pinkham (1791-1874) to Harriet B. Pinkham Locke (1828-1874) to John Goodwin Locke Jr. (1868-1955).

English Chippendale side chair from the cargo aboard the ship Beaver. Gift of John G. Locke. 1952.2.1

By October 19, 1773, seven colonial ships had departed England for the eight-week voyage to the American ports of Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia. The ships were carrying almost 600,000 pounds of the East lndia Company’s tea, and the intention was to sell it only to its consignees in the colonies in an attempt to monopolize the tea market.

The Ships Arrive in Boston Harbor

On November 28, 1773, the Dartmouth was the first “tea ship” to arrive in Boston, commanded by Captain James Hall with mate Hodgdon. Upon entering the harbor, Hall proceeded to take the Dartmouth to Rowe’s Wharf. But at the insistence of merchant John Rowe, perhaps with the motive to avoid a violent scene on his property, the Dartmouth was later warped to Griffin’s Wharf. John Rowe was also the owner of the merchant vessel Eleanor. Joseph Rotch’s son, twenty-three-year-old Francis, represented the Dartmouth and the Beaver. By law, after having entered the harbor, Rotch had only twenty days to unload his cargoes before the ships would be seized and the cargoes sold at auction to pay the customs duties. Once having entered the harbor, a vessel could not legally set sail again with the cargo still on board without special permission from the governor of Massachusetts.

At a public meeting, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and others, supported by thousands of Boston residents, urged him to return the tea in the same vessels in which it arrived, but Rotch knew that he would not be granted the needed permission from Governor Hutchinson to do so.

The main channel of Boston Harbor was secured by the British with a hundred large cannon on Castle William at the mouth of the harbor and two men-of-war, the Active and Kingfisher. No ship could leave without permission of the governor. When the same “request” was made of Captain Bruce of the Eleanor, he replied, “If l am refused, I am loath to stand the shot of 32 pounders from the Castle.” Over the next twenty days, the tension built as all concerned worried about what would happen on the December 17 deadline.

The Tea Party

On December 16, the eve of the twenty-day deadline, at ten o’clock in the morning, some five thousand of Boston’s fifteen-thousand residents, nearly every male citizen, along with two thousand more from neighboring towns, packed the Old South Meeting House and spilled out into the rainy streets, determined to finally resolve the tea controversy. Francis Rotch was again summoned and ordered by the massive assembly to send the Dartmouth back to London with the tea. He replied, “Gentlemen, I cannot. It is wholly impractical. It would cause my ruin.” He was given until three in the afternoon to obtain a permit from the governor to allow his ship to safely pass under the huge guns of Castle William. The young businessman, anxious to be rid of this offensive cargo and resume his family’s business, complied and rode his horse fifteen miles to meet with Governor Hutchinson who, fearing trouble, had moved from Boston to his summer home in Milton. As expected, the governor refused to grant his permission.

It was dark when Rotch reappeared at the Old South Meeting House, but the meeting was still in progress. Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, Josiah Quincy, and others had made one rousing speech after another all through the day. The intent crowd became silent when the young Mr. Rotch entered the hall and informed the assembly of the governor’s final decision. Rotch was again asked if he would offload the tea in Boston, he replied, “I have no business doing so, but if I were called upon to do so by the proper persons, I would try to land it for my own security’s sake.”

With that, the famous words rang out, “Who knows how tea will mingle with sea water?” Followed by the shout “Boston Harbor, a teapot tonight,” and “The Mohawks are coming.” With that, Sam Adams proclaimed that nothing more could be done to relieve the situation.

Those shouts were a preplanned signal: It is estimated that sixty to ninety unidentified men hastily blackened their faces and donned blankets and headed for Griffin’s Wharf, followed by most of the citizens of Boston. Thinly disguised as lndians to protect their identities, quickly and quietly, under organized leadership, they boarded each of the ships. Armed with axes and hatchets, they systematically destroyed 342 chests of British tea, weighing over 92,000 pounds, worth over a million dollars in today’s money. Thousands of spectators watched in utter silence. Only the sounds of axes splitting wood could be heard from Boston Harbor during the still, cold, December night. At low tide, with only two to three feet of water in the docks, the tea piled up higher than the ships’ bulwarks. Young boys climbed on the piles of tea to push it over, so that by morning the rising salt water would be sure to spoil all of it, and not one ounce of the forty-two tons of tea could be salvaged.

Since the Beaver had been tied up at Griffin’s Wharf the day before, Captain Coffin of the Beaver was concerned about the safety of his other cargo of fine English furniture, which was loaded on top of the tea chests. He was told, “If you go to your cabin quietly, not one item of your goods will be hurt. The tea we want and the tea we’ll have.” True to their word, the patriots carefully removed all of the inoffensive cargo, and a padlock that was broken was replaced the next day.

The patriots worked feverishly, feating an attack by the Royal Navy’s Admiral Montague at any moment. Three hours later, by nine o’clock, the work was finished. Fearing any connection to their treasonous deed, the patriots took off their shoes and shook them out overboard. They swept the ships’ decks clean, and made each ship’s first mate swear that only the tea was damaged.

Admiral Montague watched the whole affair from a house on Griffin’s Wharf, but gave no orders to stop the “Party.” When all was through, the “Mohawks” marched from the wharf, hatchets and axes resting on their shoulders. A fife played as they paraded past the house where British Admiral Montague had been spying on their work. Montague yelled as they passed, “Well boys, you have had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven’t you? But mind, you have got to pay the fiddler yet!”

Subsequently, John Adams wrote in his diary: “This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity in this last Effort of the Patriots that I greatly admire. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, & inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an Epocha in History.”

Governor Hutchinson was shocked, and was correct in his prediction when he said, “This is the boldest stroke which has yet been struck in America …. The body of people had gone too far to recede … and open and general revolt must be the consequence.”

The party was over for Boston, and the path to revolution had begun.

What Became of the Original Boston Tea Party Ships?

In February 1774, the Beaver returned to London with more oil to sell with one of the East India Company’s consignees, Jonathan Clarke, on board. During her stay, her captain, Hezekiah Coffin, died and she was then sold. There are no records about what happened after the sale.

The Dartmouth set sail with Francis Rotch and others who had witnessed the Tea Party with a load of oil for London on January 9, 1774. Rotch, Captain Hall, Clarke, and the other witnesses were summoned to Whitehall by Lord Dartmouth to give testimony regarcting “the late transaction in Boston.” Rotch wished to see how he stood with the East India Company, and did collect his money for the freight. The Dartmouth foundered on the return voyage. The crew was taken off by Timothy Folger or by Shubael Coffin of Nantucket and brought to Boston in November 1774.

There is no record of what became of the Eleanor.

This article was featured in the issue of Historic Nantucket, Winter 2012, Vol. 62, No. 1. Read the full issue here

Leon Poindexter is a master shipwright and marine historic preservationist who builds and restores large wooden sailing vessels, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Mr. Poindexter also served as a historian/consultant and shipwright for the Academy Award-winning film Master and Commander.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.