Definition of the Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act is defined as the first of four laws that were passed by Parliament in 1774 to punish Boston and Massachusetts for resistance to British policies and the destruction of property that took place during the Boston Tea Party.
The Boston Port Act — Quick Facts
- Date Introduced: The Boston Port Act was introduced in Parliament on March 18, 1774.
- Introduced By: The law was introduced by Prime Minister Frederick North, Lord North.
- Date Passed: The British Parliament passed the Boston Port Act on March 25, 1774.
- Royal Assent: King George III pronounced Royal Assent of the Boston Port Act on March 31, 1774.
- Purpose: The purpose of the Boston Port Act was to punish the people of Boston for the Boston Tea Party and force them to pay for the tea.
- Part Of: The Boston Port Act was the first of the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts.
- When did Enforcement of the Act Start: The Boston Port Act went into effect on June 1, 1774.
The Boston Port Act — Interesting Facts
Official Name of the Boston Port Act
The official name of the Boston Port Act was:
“An act to discontinue, in such manner, and for such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, shipping of goods, wares, and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbour, of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America.”
The Boston Port Act was the First Coercive Act
The Boston Port Act was the first Coercive Act passed by Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The other Coercive Acts were aimed at punishing Boston were:
One other law was passed that is often included in the Coercive Acts because it gave favor to the Province of Quebec and restricted the westward expansion of the American Colonies was the Quebec Act.
Cause of the Boston Port Act — The Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party
The strongest opposition to British legislation in colonial America came from Boston, Massachusetts. The British government and King George III saw Boston as the source of the unrest throughout the colonies.
After the French and Indian War, Parliament started to pass laws that levied taxes on the colonies. Men like James Otis and Samuel Adams, who lived in Boston, were openly critical of the laws and believed Parliament did not have the right to levy taxes on the colonies. Their main argument was Parliament was levying taxes against the colonies, but the colonies had no representatives in Parliament. Their rallying cry was “no taxation without representation.”
Despite the resistance, Parliament continued to pass laws that levied taxes and further encroached on the rights of the colonists. In 1773, the Tea Act was passed, which gave preferential treatment to the East India Company and threatened merchants in the colonies who sold tea.
On December 16, 1773, a group of men staged a protest in Boston by boarding ships docked in Boston Harbor. Once they were on board, they dragged chests of tea from the hold, broke them open, and dumped the contents in the harbor. The event became known as the Boston Tea Party.
The ships, the Beaver, the Eleanor, and the Dartmouth were all privately owned. The East India Company did not own them, it only owned the chests of tea.
At that point, the British government had had enough with the troublemakers in Boston and decided to crack down on the unrest.
The solution was the Coercive Acts, including the Boston Port Act.
Punishments the Boston Port Act Gave the City of Boston
- It closed Boston Harbor.
- It moved all customs officials out of Boston and up to Marblehead, at the Port of Salem.
- It gave authority to British officials to use whatever means to remove ships from the harbor. If a ship was asked to leave the harbor and did not comply within six hours, the ship could be seized and the entire contents were forfeited.
- Ships transporting food, fuel, and anything to be used by the British into Boston were allowed, but only if they had a pass, had been searched by customs officers at Marblehead, in the port of Salem, and if a customs officer accompanied the ship from Marblehead to Boston. The customs officer was authorized to bring as many armed men with him as he felt were necessary for his safety.
- Any ship that was in the harbor on June 1 was given 14 days to depart.
- After June 1, any contracts that were agreed to for shipping in and out of the harbor were null and void.
Restrictions the Boston Port Act Put on People of Boston and Massachusetts
The Boston Port Act prevented products and goods from being shipped in and out of Boston Harbor. It applied to products and goods for the entire Province of Massachusetts Bay, and not just Boston.
It also kept the people of Boston from sailing to islands in Boston Harbor, where livestock was kept and crops were grown.
Enforcement of the Boston Port Act
The British enforced the Boston Port Act by using the Navy to set up a blockade of Boston Harbor and troops were troops were placed onshore to patrol the area. The provisions were enforced in the waters and shore around Boston Harbor, including the islands in the harbor. The act specifically banned ships from loading and unloading goods in:
“…any quay, wharf, or other place, within the said town of Boston, or in or upon any part of the shore of the bay, commonly called The Harbour of Boston, between a certain headland or point called Nahant Point, on the eastern side of the entrance into the said bay, and a certain other headland or point called Alderton Point, on the western side of the entrance into the said bay, or in or upon any island, creek, landing place, bank, or other place, within the said bay or headlands…”
Punishments for Violating the Boston Port Act
- Any British official caught taking or receiving a bribe was fined 500 pounds for each offense and barred from holding a position in the military or government.
- Anyone caught offering a bribe was fined 50 pounds for each offense.
- Any ship that was caught smuggling products and goods into the harbor could be taken by the British authorities. The owner of the ship would lose it and everything on it, including personal or company property.
- If any ship was able to land and unload its cargo, anyone who was caught transporting the cargo would lose the cargo and anything they used to move it, including wagons, horses, and cattle.
Trials for Violators of the Boston Port Act
All court cases of violators went before the Vice-Admiralty Court, as defined by prior legislation, including the Sugar Act of 1774, and the Navigation Acts.
While most colonies had local Vice-Admiralty Courts, British officials could choose to have their case heard by the Vice-Admiralty Court in Nova Scotia. Some officials would choose the court in Nova Scotia if they thought the local court would rule against them, or if they thought the defendant would fail to appear before the court. If the defendant failed to appear, the court ruled in favor of the British official.
Length of Enforcement of the Boston Port Act
The restrictions set out in the Boston Port Act were supposed to last until King George III felt that order had been restored, trade could be safely conducted, and customs officials could collect duties. As part of showing that order had been restored, the people of Boston were responsible for:
- Reimbursing the East India Company for the damages.
- Reimbursing customs officials for revenue they lost due to the “riots and insurrections” that occurred in November and December of 1773, and in January of 1774.
Repeal of the Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act was repealed in 1783. The Prohibitory Act of 1775 was repealed at the same time. The repeal of both acts allowed trade to begin again between Britain, its territories, and the United States.
Facts About the Impact and Reaction to the Boston Port Act
Effect of the Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act had a negative effect on the colonists in Massachusetts by taking away their access to goods and services that they could only acquire through shipping.
Social Impact of the Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act increased distrust in the British government not only in Massachusetts, but also throughout the colonies, and strengthened the resistance to British policies.
On May 13, 1774, the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence sent a letter to the other colonies, informing them of the impending shutdown of the harbor. The letter, which was written by Samuel Adams, warned the other colonies that the same thing could happen to them unless they surrendered their “sacred rights and liberties into the hands of” the British government.
Adams asked the other colonies if they supported Boston and would join the town and Massachusetts in suspending trade with Britain. Adams asked them to send a letter to let Massachusetts know how they stood.
Not only did the other colonies respond with letters affirming their support of Boston and Massachusetts, but they also sent food and supplies to the town.
On August 15, 1774, one of the more well-known acts of support for Boston occurred when Israel Putnam drove a herd of sheep from his farm in Connecticut to the town to help feed the people.
Political Impact of the Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act made it clear to other towns and colonies that the British government could punish them in the same way, at any time, for any reason.
Economic Impact of the Boston Port Act
The first Coercive Act, the Boston Port Act, closed the Port of Boston to most imports, which had a significant impact on the economy of the entire colony. Merchants were not able to stock their shelves with goods and people lost their jobs.
The situation was made worse by the second Coercive Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, which revoked the colony’s charter and placed it under complete control of the British. Under this act, the people lost their right to elect officials that could help them reverse the legislation.
Colonial Reaction to the Boston Port Act — The First Continental Congress
The Committee of Correspondence in Massachusetts responded to the Boston Port Act by sending a circular letter to the other colonies, asking for their support and for a boycott of British goods. While the other colonies were sympathetic to Boston and sent goods and supplies overland to help the people there, they would not able to come to an agreement on a boycott. Some of the colonies called for a Continental Congress, which was agreed to. The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774.
Rights Violated by the Boston Port Act
There was a concern throughout the colonies, especially in Boston and Massachusetts, that the rights of the colonists were violated by the Boston Port Act and the Coercive Acts.
- The right to a trial by jury of peers.
Timeline of the Boston Port Act
News of the Boston Tea Party Arrives in Britain
- January 19, 1774 — A ship arrived and the crew spread the story.
- January 25, 1774 — The Polly arrived at Gravesend, with the shipment of tea that had been rejected by Philadelphia.
- January 27, 1774 — Thomas Hutchinson’s official report on the Boston Tea Party arrived in England.
January 29, 1774 — Benjamin Franklin Questioned by the Privy Council
- Massachusetts had sent requests to the Privy Council to have Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver removed from office.
- The Privy Council ordered Benjamin Franklin, the agent for Massachusetts to appear in their chambers.
- The Lords in Council questioned Franklin for over an hour.
- Alexander Wedderburn, British Solicitor-General, accused Franklin of being a “true incendiary” for obtaining copies of letters written by Hutchinson that suggested Parliament restrict the liberties of the colonies.
January 29, 1774
- The King’s cabinet decided to take action against Boston for the destruction of the tea.
- General Thomas Gage met with King George III and indicated he could restore order to the colonies with roughly 10,000 men.
- Lord Dartmouth looked into punishing the conspirators and the leaders of the Tea Party but the Attorney General and Solicitor General ruled there was not enough evidence to prosecute individuals.
- The cabinet decided the best course of action was to close the port of Boston and to move the government out of the city and the best way to do those things was by an act of Parliament.
Passage of the Boston Port Act
- March 14, 1774 — Lord North announced the government planned to close the port of Boston.
- March 18, 1774 — Lord North introduced the Boston Port Act to the House of Commons.
- March 25, 1774 — House of Commons sent the Boston Port Act to the House of Lords, which approved it on the same day.
Gage Appointed Governor of Massachusetts
- April 2, 1774 — Gage was appointed as Governor of Massachusetts and replaced Thomas Hutchinson. Gage was tasked with enforcing the Coercive Acts, including the Boston Port Act, in Boston and Massachusetts.
Gage and News of the Boston Port Act Arrive
- May 10–11, 1774 — News of the Boston Port Act reached Boston.
- May 13, 1774 — Gage arrived with his commission to replace Hutchinson.
Concerns Over the Boston Port Act Spread
- May 16, 1774 — Text of the Boston Port Act is printed in the Boston Evening Post.
- May 17, 1774 — News of the act is printed in the Connecticut Courant.
June 1, 1774 — Enforcement Begins and Americans Protest
- In Hartford, Connecticut, the church bells rang and shopkeepers covered their windows.
- In New York City, Lord North was burned in effigy.