Boston Tea Party in Simple Terms
The “Boston Tea Party,” in simple terms, was an event that took place in Boston, Massachusetts on December 16, 1773, when American colonists destroyed tea owned by the British East India Company. Roughly 100 men and boys boarded three ships carrying tea, dragged the chests out of the cargo holds of the ships, smashed them open, and dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. The destruction of the tea was in protest over the British government passing the Tea Act, which gave the British East India Company control over selling tea in the colonies.
Boston Tea Party Dates and Facts
- Also Known As: The Boston Tea Party is also called “The Destruction of the Tea.”
- Date Started: The Boston Tea Party started on December 16, 1773.
- Date Ended: The Tea Party also ended on December 16, 1773.
- Location: The Tea Party took place at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts.
- English Monarch: George III was the King of England when the Tea Party took place.
- Governor of Massachusetts: The Governor of Massachusetts was Thomas Hutchinson.
- Outcome: Britain punished Boston for the destruction of private property by passing the Coercive Acts.
This illustration from Currier & Ives depicts the destruction of the tea at Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. Image Source: Library of Congress.
Boston Tea Party Facts, Causes, and Historical Context
Great Britain Starts Taxing the Colonies
Key Fact — Parliament passed laws to raise money from the colonies, which led to resistance and the slogan “No Taxation Without Representation.”
The history of the Boston Tea Party started soon after the French and Indian War when Parliament decided to pass laws that levied taxes on the colonies in order to raise revenue. The first laws were the Sugar Act, Currency Act, and Stamp Act, which were met with political, social, and economic resistance throughout the colonies.
The political reaction was led by men like James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Joseph Warren, who played a key role in developing the concepts of the American Revolution. The outrage over the Stamp Act was especially violent and contributed to the formation and rise of the Sons of Liberty.
Although the Stamp Act was repealed, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which essentially granted it the right to pass laws to govern the colonies as it saw fit. Soon after, Parliament passed a new set of laws, known as the Townshend Acts.
Townshend Acts in Massachusetts
Key Fact — The Townshend Acts were met with protests in the colonies, especially in Massachusetts, which led to British troops being sent to Boston to occupy the city.
In 1767 and 1768, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts to raise revenue from the colonies and to force the colonies to comply.
The colonies responded with protests and a boycott on buying and selling British products.
The Massachusetts Assembly sent a letter to the other colonial legislatures and called for the colonies to unite in resistance to Parliament’s attempts to levy taxes on them.
British officials ordered the Assembly to rescind the letter but the Assembly refused.
Governor Thomas Hutchinson responded by dissolving the legislature and British troops were sent to occupy Boston and to make sure the town complied with the Townshend Acts.
British troops arrived in Boston in September and October of 1768.
British troops were already stationed in New York City.
Battle of Golden Hill and the Boston Massacre
Key Fact — The presence of Redcoats in New York and Boston led to the Battle of Golden Hill, the Death of Christopher Seider, and the Boston Massacre.
The presence of the soldiers led to conflicts between colonists and Redcoats in New York and Boston.
In January 1770, a riot took place in New York and a mob clashed with British troops. The incident is known as the Battle of Golden Hill.
On February 22, 1770, a riot broke out in Boston when a mob attacked the home of a Loyalist named Ebeneezer Richardson. Richardson grabbed a gun and fired into the crowd, killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider.
On March 5, 1770, a street fight in Boston ended with British soldiers firing into a crowd, killing five people. Soon after, Samuel Adams referred to it as the Boston Massacre.
Repeal of Townshend Acts and Increase in Smuggling Tea
Key Fact — Americans refused to buy tea from the British East India Company, which nearly put the company out of business.
As a result of colonial protests and the violence, Parliament repealed the Townshend duties, except for the tax on tea.
Parliament retained the duty on tea to maintain the principle that the British government had the authority to tax the colonies.
The colonists responded to the remaining duty on tea by boycotting English tea and drinking smuggled tea.
By 1773, the British East India Company was in financial distress due in part to the colonial boycotts.
Parliament Passes the Tea Act
Key Fact — The Tea Act lowered the tax on tea, but Americans were upset the British East India Company was given a monopoly on selling tea in the colonies.
In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which granted the British East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea into the colonies.
The monopoly enabled the British East India Company to sell tea at a lower price than smuggled tea, and at a lower price than it sold in England.
Even though the Tea Act lowered the price of tea, colonists resented the act because it maintained the British position that Britain could tax the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament.
In the fall of 1773, the tea was shipped to the major port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Colonial Response to the Tea Act
Key Fact — The Sons of Liberty organized resistance in major ports and resolved to reject the tea ships.
On October 15, in New York City, a meeting was held where it was agreed the tea would be rejected and sent back to London.
On October 16, a meeting was held in Philadelphia, and it was agreed to send the tea back.
On November 5, a meeting was held in Boston where it was resolved that anyone “unloading receiving or vending the tea is an enemy to America.”
Facts About the Shipments of Tea to Boston
1. The “Tea Ships” Were American Ships, Not British
Four ships sailed to Boston with tea in their cargo holds, and they were referred to as the “tea ships.” At least three of the ships were owned by American merchants.
- Beaver was an American ship, owned by Joseph Rotch, who operated out of Nantucket.
- Dartmouth was also owned by Rotch and also an American ship.
- Eleanor was an American ship, owned by John Rowe, a prominent Boston merchant, smuggler, and Selectman.
- William was the final ship, and very little is known about it.
2. Once the Tea Ships Entered Boston Harbor, They Could Not Leave Without Paying the Taxes
Once the tea ships entered Boston Harbor, they were under specific restrictions:
- They had 20 days to offload their cargo.
- If they failed to offload, the cargo would be seized by British Customs Officials and auctioned off to pay the customs duties — taxes.
- The ships could not leave the harbor with the cargo unless they had special permission from Governor Thomas Hutchinson.
- If a ship tried to leave the harbor without permission, it would be apprehended by one of the man-of-war ships from the Royal Navy, the Active, and the Kingfisher.
- The harbor was also guarded by Castle William, which stood on an island at the mouth of the harbor and was heavily armed with cannons.
3. The Tea Ships Arrived in Boston Harbor in November and December 1773
On November 28, 1773, the Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor.
On December 2, the Eleanor arrived in Boston Harbor.
On December 10, the William ran aground off Cape Cod during a storm. The ship was abandoned but 50 chests of tea were saved.
On December 15, the Beaver arrived in Boston Harbor but was quarantined for two weeks due to a smallpox outbreak.
The Sons of Liberty placed men on the docks to keep the tea from being unloaded.
Governor Hutchinson refused to let the ships leave Boston without paying the tea tax.
Facts About the Events of the Boston Tea Party
Boston Leaders Discuss the Tea Crisis
The day after the Dartmouth arrived in the harbor, members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence and Sons of Liberty organized a meeting to discuss the “tea crisis.”
Samuel Adams said, “Whether it is the firm resolution of this body that the tea shall not only be sent back but that no duty shall be paid thereon!” This was met with the approval of the crowd.
A resolution was passed and it was decided that 25 members of the Sons of Liberty would stand watch on the dock to make sure the tea was not unloaded.
It was also decided to give the British East India Company’s tea agents an opportunity to respond to the meeting.
Boston Tea Agents Respond
The people of Boston gathered again on December 30 where John Singleton Copley read the proposal from the tea agents to the crowd.
The agents proposed to unload the tea, so the ships could leave the harbor, and the agents agreed to let the Sons of Liberty inspect the chests.
The people were against it because if the tea was unloaded the taxes would have to be paid.
The meeting was interrupted by a message from Governor Hutchinson that ordered the people “To disperse and to surcease all further unlawful proceedings at your utmost peril.”
The warning was ignored and the people agreed to a resolution that “the said tea never should be landed in this province.”
Negotiations Between Hutchinson and Boston Leaders Fail
On December 16, 1773, around 10:00 in the morning, the people of Boston and neighboring towns met at Old South Meeting House.
One more attempt was made to petition Hutchinson to allow the ships to leave the harbor and take the tea back to London. A representative, Francis Rotch, was sent to meet with Hutchinson.
Hutchinson refused to allow the ships to leave the harbor and Rotch went back to the meeting and informed the crowd.
Samuel Adams said, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!”
Sons of Liberty Take Action
The Sons of Liberty who were in attendance left Old South and made their way toward Griffin’s Wharf.
They were joined along the way by other members, who had been preparing themselves in their homes and taverns.
They were roughly disguised to mimic the appearance of Native American Indians.
The mob of about 60 to 90 men arrived at Griffin’s Wharf around 7:00 p.m.
The Destruction of the Tea
Thousands of people watched the Sons of Liberty destroy the tea.
British Admiral John Montagu watched it from a house near Griffin’s Wharf.
The men were armed with hatchets and axes, which they used to open the chests of tea.
Once they were open, they threw the tea into the water.
By the time it was over, they had around 340 chests of tea, weighing roughly 92,000 pounds, into the harbor.
As the tide went out, the tea rose up above the shallow water.
Young boys went into the harbor and spread the piles of tea out so that it would be carried away by the rising tide in the morning, which ensured none of the tea could be salvaged.
It took about three hours for the men to carry out their destruction of the tea.
No harm was done to any crewmembers and no other cargo was damaged.
A padlock was broken but was replaced with a new one the next day.
The British East India Company reported damages of 9,649 pounds.
Other port cities in America, outraged by the Intolerable Acts, staged their own tea parties, which resulted in even harsher legislation from Parliament.
Boston Tea Party Statistics
- It took about three hours for the men to carry out their destruction of the tea.
- 340 chests of tea were broken open.
- The tea weighed roughly 92,000 pounds.
- The British East India Company reported damages of 9,649 pounds.
Boston Tea Party Effects
Colonial Reaction to the Destruction of Private Property
The Tea Party was praised in Boston, especially by members of the Sons of Liberty, including John Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams.
In Virginia, George Washington did not like the fact that the mob had destroyed private property.
Benjamin Franklin offered to pay for the tea but wanted Boston Harbor to be opened first. His offer was refused and the harbor remained closed.
Passage of the Coercive Acts
Parliament responded to the Tea Party by passing several acts, known as the Coercive Acts, that were aimed at punishing the town of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts.
One of the acts was the Boston Port Act, which closed the harbor and the port until the tea was paid for. Despite the hardship that it caused the people, they refused to pay for the tea.
Boston Appeals to the Colonies for Help
Boston sent a letter to the other colonies to inform them about the Boston Port Act.
Many of the other colonies responded by sending food and supplies to Boston overland.
Boston asked the colonies to join them in another trade boycott with Britain, which was called the Solemn League and Covenant.
Some of the colonies were hesitant and instead asked for a meeting to be held with representatives from all the colonies to decide what to do.
The meeting was the First Continental Congress.