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The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest which took place on December 16th, 1773 when angry American colonists dumped 342 chests of tea imported by the British East India Company into the harbor at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. This was the first major act of defiance against the British rule of the American colonists, and showed Britain that the colonists wouldn’t accept their taxation and tyranny without a fight.

On the night of December 16th, 1773, a group of colonists disguised themselves in Native American costumes and boarded the docked ships. They threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor. It took nearly three hours for the over 100 colonists who participated to throw the tea into Boston Harbor. The chests held 45 tons, or over 90,000 pounds, of tea which would cost roughly one million dollars today.

The Boston Tea Party was organized by John Hancock and led by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. The names of all the colonists who participated are unknown. Even after the Revolutionary War was over and American independence was secured, those who participated refused to reveal themselves, fearing they could face charges for the destruction of property or public backlash.

Britain ultimately repealed all the taxes imposed on the colonists - except the tea tax. The tax revenue they made from the 1.2 million pounds of tea the colonists drank every year was too much for them to give up. However, the colonists protested by boycotting the British East India Company tea and instead drinking Dutch tea they smuggled in. This left the British near bankruptcy with pounds of extra unsold tea. As a result, British Parliament passed the Tea Act in May 1773. This act allowed the British East India Company to sell tea to the colonies at a cheaper price than other tea companies, but the tea was still taxed when it reached colonial ports. Tea smuggling increased as a result.

The Sons of Liberty were colonial merchants and tradesmen who founded the group to protest forms of taxation, particularly the Stamp Act. The Sons of Liberty protested the arrival of a British East India Company ship called the Dartmouth which was carrying tea. By December 1773, two other ships Beaver and Eleanor also arrived at Griffin’s Wharf loaded with tea. The morning of December 16th, 1773, a meeting was held where a group of colonists voted to refuse to pay taxes on the tea, or even allow it to be unloaded, sold, or used. Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson refused to allow the shops to return to Britain, ordering that the tea be unloaded and the tea tariff be paid. The colonists refused.

Even though the Boston Tea Party was non-violent and no one was injured, King George II and British Parliament still punished the colonists. In response, they passed the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts. These acts closed Boston Harbor until the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party was paid for, ended free elections of town officials and ended the Massachusetts Constitution, required colonists to quarter British troops, and essentially enacted martial law in Massachusetts by moving judicial authority to Britain and British judges. These acts were intended to scare the colonists out of further disobedience, but instead they united the colonies and inspired more resistance.

King George II

Britain was in debt in the 1760s, so the British Parliament imposed a series of taxes on American colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a tax on all paper - newspapers, legal documents, licenses, even playing cards. Then, the Townshend Acts of 1767 taxed goods such as paint, lead, glass, and tea. The British felt these taxes were fair since their debt was largely due to the Seven Years’ War (1756 - 1763), a battle between England, France, and Spain over territory in the Americas. Britain believed it was fighting this war on the colonists’ behalf. However, the colonists were frustrated at being taxed when they had no representation in British Parliament. They believed it was wrong to have “taxation without representation” and called the acts unconstitutional.

Political cartoon about the "death" of the Stamp Act.

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5th, 1770 when colonists who were upset with the presence of British soldiers threw snowballs, stones, and ice at a British guard at the Boston Customs House. British reinforcements arrived and shot at the mob, killing five American colonists and wounding six. The Boston Massacre only magnified the colonists’ anger.

The colonists felt the Coercive Acts were strong evidence of British tyranny. On September 5th, 1774, elected delegates from each of the 13 colonies (except Georgia) met in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress to determine how to resist British oppression. They wrote The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, which called for the repeal of the Coercive acts, established a boycott on British goods, declared the colonies’ right to govern independently, and rallied colonists to form and train a militia. Britain didn’t yield to their terms, and months later the Revolutionary War had begun.

History.com Editors. “Boston Tea Party.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009,