The Boston Tea Party was one of several tipping points. In today’s post I will review the Boston Tea Party facts that are lesser known about an incident that played a role leading into the American Revolutionary War lasting from 1775 to 1783 and sharing first-hand account of that night. These events rallied support to the revolution and independence.
The Boston Tea Party wasn’t a simple matter of a few citizens being angered by the rising of taxes on tea with the Tea Act of 1773. Events and the public anger leading up to the moment were much more complex than what may appear at a first glance. Tea and many other commodities such as oil, glass, paper, and paint were already being taxed with the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767. The Tea Acts didn’t increase the cost of tea for anyone in the American Colonies because Tea had already been taxed for some time; however, what is critical to know is the fact that every commodity being levied through the Townshend Revenue Act had been reversed except for Tea in 1770.
This brought anger to colonists because the continuing tax on tea was a strong message that the British Crown had complete control over the colonies leaving them voiceless. The late Historian and Journalist Nat Hentoff once explained that the Boston Tea party woke up the colonist and voiced their dissent. “I spent a lot of time studying our Founders and people like Samuel Adams and the original Tea Party. What Adams and the Sons of Liberty did in Boston was spread the word about the abuses of the British. They had Committees of Correspondence that got the word out to the colonies…” (Nat Hentoff).
The ships involved in The Boston Tea Party riots were ships were privately owned by the East India Company called Eleanor, Beaver, and Dartmouth. Two of the ships were vessels primarily for whaling but the Captains had decided to take the Tea for their Company as the ships were headed on a return trip back to Boston. The Nantucket Historical Society explain how the two ships came to carry the Tea in 1773 prior to arriving to Boston. “The Ship Dartmouth and the brig Beaver were in London in the late summer of 1773. Having discharged their cargoes of oil and Whale sperm, 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 tea itself was from China because although the East India company exported many of their goods from India the big exception was tea. These would be transported from China to London to be distributed to the British Colonies such as the Americas including a pretty large quantity of Green Tea. The British “Tea Acts” were a huge affront to colonist and dissenters like the Sons of Liberty because they believed that although the cost of Tea was now essentially cheaper to purchase it didn’t negate the fact the tax was a bail out for the East India Company on the part of Britain There was too much tea wasting away being unsold and Britain was trying to unload it on the Colonies for a profit. This is where the Sons of Liberty reach the conclusion to board the ships and dump the tea to send the message that colonist will not accept British Taxation.
Once the ships arrived in the harbor of Boston on November 28th, 1773 the situation begins to escalate. The priority was to unload and sell the goods on board the ships. The Dartmouth had one-hundred-fourteen chest ready to be delivered to the colonies and the other two ships carried two-hundred-twenty-eight chest between the two of them. The profit from these goods was suppose to be great and get the East India Company out of a financial hole; however, the delivery didn’t go according to plan due to the interference of groups such as the Sons of Liberty. The ship’s representatives were urged to leave with the Tea unsold. This was impossible without the expressed written permission of the Governor. The moment the ships had pulled into Boston and passed Castle William towards the south many British Officers boarded before docking meaning that the ships were now at port and under the scrutiny of port officials not the captains.
Weeks would go by as the ships remained docked and unable to unload the cargo while the Captains stayed ashore to deal with the situation. The inability to rid themselves of their cargo really put the shipowner’s in a tricky situation because according to the law they weren’t allowed to leave port with their unloaded cargo. At this point in time British Admiral John Montagu had lead a squadron of warships to keep an eye on anyone thinking about forcing the ships return to the ocean and out of the harbor; furthermore, even if the ships had tried to leave they would have been prevented from doing so by Admiral Montagu because they wouldn’t have had the money gained from selling their cargo to pay the custom fees that by law the captains were obligated to pay because they had legally been at port in the harbor. The stalemate situation led to what is known as the Boston Tea Party when a group of colonist “disguised” as Indians decided to raid the ships and dump all the contents into the sea. Below is a first-hand account of the night.
The night of December 16th, 1773 late into the evening a group of over sixty-men disguised themselves as Indians and boarded the ships to destroy the Cargo and make their statement. These actions that took place lit a fire setting off events that led to the Declaration of Independence and the forming of The United States of America.
The following is a first-hand account from Eyewitness History and the book Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, a Memoir of George R. T. Hewe written by George Hewes himself is very enlightening to what transpired that evening.
“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 by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.
…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.”
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WORK CITED & REFERENCES:
- Poindexter, L. (n.d.). Ships of the Boston Tea Party: Eleanor, Beaver, and Dartmouth. Retrieved from https://nha.org/research/nantucket-history/history-topics/ships-of-the-boston-tea-party-eleanor-beaver-and-dartmouth/
- The Boston Tea Party, 1773. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/teaparty.htm
- Tea Crisis: Boston Tea Party. (2019, November 4). Retrieved from https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/the-final-straw