Boston rebels dump tea into the sea
Britain and its American colonies come to blows over a controversial tax
Itwas dark in Boston when the Tea Party began. After years of rising tension between Britain and its American colonies, attention had become focused on the Tea Act of 1773, which reaffirmed the controversial tax on imported tea. At the end of November, the first tea ship, the Dartmouth, had arrived in Boston, but local activists demanded that it return home without paying the import duty.
The last day before the deadline for the Dartmouth to pay up was 16 December. The mood was edgy; at the Old South Meeting House, not far from the harbour, thousands of agitators rallied against the tea tax. Chief among them was local politician Samuel Adams, a longstanding opponent of British authority, and future founding father of the United States.
With passions running high, the crowd was soon surging towards the harbour. That evening, dozens of men, some of them disguised as Native Americans, boarded the Dartmouth and two other tea ships, unloaded hundreds of chests of tea and dumped them into Boston harbour. It was an act of pure vandalism, and back in Britain, the authorities were appalled.
To some observers in Massachusetts, however, the Tea Party seemed a rousing call to arms. “There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this last effort of the patriots, that I greatly admire. The people should never rise without doing something to be remembered: something notable and striking,” the future president John Adams wrote in his diary. “This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an epocha in history.”