There was a boatswain’s whistle, and in silence one group boarded the Dartmouth. The Eleanor and the Beaver had to be warped in to the wharf. Johnny was close to Mr. Revere’s heels. He heard him calling for the captain, promising him, in the jargon everyone talked that night, that not one thing should be damaged on the ship except only the tea, but the captain and all his crew had best stay in the cabin until the work was over.
Captain Hall shrugged and did as he was told, leaving his cabin boy to hand over the keys to the hold. The boy was grinning with pleasure. The ‘tea party’ was not unexpected.
Excerpt from Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
And thus began the most famous Tea Party in American history when the underground resistance group known as the Sons of Liberty dumped 90,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor on the 16th of December, 1773. The group of dissenters, dressed up like Mohawk Indians, were spurred on by Samuel Adams as a protest against the Tea Act of 1773. This law, which was enacted by the British Parliament, gave the East India Tea Company a virtual monoply over tea sales in the colonies.
In the eyes of the Massachusetts colonists, who had already endured one tax after another, this was one tax too many. The efforts of Parliament to recoup monies lost in the French and Indian War had now backfired, as the Colonials believed their rights as British citizens were being lost one by one.
Resistance to the Tea Act was active throughout the colonies but the East India Tea Company proceeded to send 500,000 pounds of tea across the Atlantic in September, 1773. Due to pressure from local patriot groups in the cities of Charleston, New York and Philadelphia, shipments of tea from England were refused by the local merchants. But in Boston, several relatives of the Crown-appointed Governor Hutchinson ruled the marketplace and they did not concede to the local patriots who tried to send the tea back to England. The patriots refused to pay the tax on the cargo. But the Governor in Massachusetts insisted that the taxes be paid and the tea stay put.
The Sons of Liberty decided otherwise as 342 wooden crates holding tea leaves were hatcheted open in front of thousands of silent observers lining Griffin’s Wharf at midnight.
No one was injured in the protest and it is said that the rebels swept up the decks of the ship afterwards. Since the ships were actually owned by Americans, and not the British, the pseudo-Indians had no quarrel with the shipowners.
In The Boston Campaign, April 1775 – March 1776, Victor Brooks writes, “…when the ‘Mohawks’ in Boston responded to this direct challenge by dumping the hated tea in the harbor, each side correctly saw the event as a watershed in the history of Britain’s rule over the colonies and as a clear prelude to military confrontation between parliament and the American provinces.”
It was just a little over a year later (April of 1775) when full-scale war broke out between the colonies and England. It was a conflict that lasted nearly eight years.
The people of Massachusetts and all the colonies soon acquired a taste for coffee.
The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, in celebration of this occasion, allow costumed re-enactors to participate in throwing tea into the sea every year on December 16. Watch their video here.