Case Study



Boston Tea Party Historical Society

Did Sam Adams Orchestrate the Boston Tea Party?

A popular point of view on the role that Sam Adams played in the Boston Tea Party is that this spontaneous protest was carried out by angry colonists and was indirectly inspired by his revolutionary propaganda. But is there more to this story?

According to many researchers, it was anything but a spontaneous protest. On the contrary the event was so well planned that it is even considered to be best planned and executed act of resistance before the Revolutionary War. There is lot of evidence to support this statement.

When John Adams heard the news in Braintree, he wrote in his diary: "This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire." Obviously this is not something a person would write about a spontaneous protest, where the most likely reaction would have been the outrage with British actions.

sam adams

Another evidence of planning is the timing which could not have been better. The 10:00 AM morning town meeting where Bostonians gathered to decide what to do with tea on the ships was the biggest assembly of colonists. Over 5000 peopled gathered which at that time was a third of Boston's population.

But who personally masterminded the protest? Adams was definitely the prime suspect. But finding a real proof of his participation is a real challenge. Despite being the most outspoken patriot at the time when the Tea Party occurred SA had to avoid being directly implicated in anti-British acts. This was because a specially passed law allowed British authorities to arrest and extradite to Britain colonists who were found guilty of treason.

Examining who carried out the protest may provide a clue on who planned it. In 1774 Sons of liberty were famous for their dramatic acts of protest. Many of such acts did little to scare or influence the British authorities into changing their policies in colonies, even though most people thought was the purpose. The true purpose was to make a great headline. Being a political writer SA knew how to use press in creating anti British sentiments. Here are just a few of such acts.

- Ripping out heart of a portrait of Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard
- Nightly training drills of armed militia at Boston Common
- Ceremonial burning and hangings of effigies of British officials
- Arson of builds that belong to British authorities.

Adams was the leader of the New England Sons of Liberty organization.

There were other clues. Allegedly during the meeting SA had a signal for the Sons of Liberty to start the attack on the ships. The phrase was "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!". In another description of the meeting the exact signal was "Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight"

Adams was the person who initiated the two town meetings to discuss the options left to Bostonians after the governor refused to honor the resolution passed at a previous town meeting that called the tea to be sent back to England.

But not everyone is convinced that the most famous patriot was a major figure in planning and execution of the Boston Tea Party. For starters, SA was not on any of the known lists of BTP participants. But this fact is also disputed by George Hewe's version of the event which states that John Hancock and SA were personally involved in actually destroying the tea.

Who are the other suspects? According to 'The Builders' by Joseph Fort Newton, the Tea Party was planned, and executed by Masons disguised as Mohawk Indians -- not by the Lodge as such, but by a club formed within the Lodge, calling itself the Caucus Pro Bono Publico. The biography of Thomas Crafts, a B.T.P participant written by his grandsons, mentions a meeting of the North End Caucus that occurred on Oct 23, few weeks before the Boston Tea Party. In this meeting the members voted that they would oppose with their lives and fortunes the vending of any tea that might be sent to the town for sale by the East India Company. "We were so careful," says Paul Revere, "that our meetings should be kept secret, that every time we met, every person swore upon the Bible not to discover any of our transactions but to Hancock, Warren, or Church, or one or two more leaders." But Adams himself has not been a mason, at least not officially. On the contrary on several occasions he distanced himself from this organization.

Of course Freemasons is not the only organization that could have been responsible for masterminding the Tea Party. Another active group of revolutionary Patriots was the famous Sons of Liberty lead by Sam Adams.

John Hancock could also be a major suspect because his tea smuggling business directly benefited from the East India Tea Company's stock being destroyed. Even Paul Revere is sometimes mentioned as the organizer of the BTP.

With so much contradicting evidence the ultimate proof of SA's participation would have been his own words or a testimony of a credible witness, but such proof if exists is yet to be discovered.



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Triangular trade in the colonies

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