Bos­ton rebels dump tea into the sea

Bri­tain and its Amer­i­can colonies come to blows over a con­tro­ver­sial tax

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

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.”

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