On Dec. 16, 1773, dozens of colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 crates of tea overboard. Later known as the Boston Tea Party, this act of political protest has been retold many times, but how much do you really know?
The Boston Tea Party protesters were railing about the 1773 Tea Act, which actually reduced the total tax on tea sold in America by the East India Company – making tea cheaper for the colonists. However, the Act did leave in place the hated three-pence-per-pound duty enacted by The Townshend Acts in 1767, and it annoyed colonists that here was another event of taxation legislation being passed by Parliament without their input and consent. It was the principle of self-governance, not higher taxes, that motivated political opposition to the Tea Act.
History.com shares that this action was not universally applauded. George Washington, and many Americans, condemned the protest as an act of vandalism by radicals. It was the response of the British in how they punished Boston that rallied the colonies to the cause of independence. Passed by the British government in 1774, and referred to by the colonists as the “Intolerable Acts”, the legislation closed the port of Boston until damages were paid, annulled colonial self-government in Massachusetts and expanded the Quartering Act. This led to the formation of the first Continental Congress.
The event wasn’t known as the Boston Tea Party until 1825 – over 50 years later. The Journal of the American Revolution reports that the earliest mention “comes from a newspaper story on December 30, 1825. At a dinner celebrating the landing of the Pilgrims, W. P. Hawes offered the following toast: “The Boston Tea-party—May tyrants and oppressors throughout the world be speedily invited to a like entertainment.”
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum (which has a countdown clock to their 224th reenactment event – sign up here if you’re interested) provides numerous fun facts, including how “there was a strict code of secrecy surrounding the events of the Boston Tea Party and as a result, no one ever identified who the participants were. One person was named in an anonymous tip, and he was stripped, tarred and feathered. After and since, no one else ever came forward with any information.”
Why does the Boston Tea Party continue to resonate today? Was this a lawful protest? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.