Case Study



Boston Tea Party Historical Society

The Full Description of the Events

Patriots alert the population about the arrival of tea

On Monday morning, the 29th of November, 1773, a handbill was posted all over Boston, containing the following words: "Friends! Brethren! Countrymen!--That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor; the hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face. Every friend to his country, to himself and to posterity, is now called upon to meet at Faneuil Hall, at nine o'clock THIS DAY (at which time the bells will ring), to make united and successful resistance to this last, worst, and most destructive measure of administration."

The ship Dartmouth, from London, with a cargo of tea, had anchored off the castle the day before. By invitation of the Boston Committee of Correspondence those of Roxbury, Cambridge, Dorchester and Brookline assembled in the room of the selectmen, while crowds of citizens were pouring into Faneuil Hall, and resolved, by unanimous vote, to use their joint influence to prevent the landing of the tea. It was also resolved to invite all the town-committees in the province to co-operate with them.

The crowd soon became so great that the Hall could not contain them, and the meeting was adjourned to the Old South Meeting-house. There the people resolved that the tea should not be landed; that no duty should be paid; and that it should be sent back in the same bottom. They also voted that Francis Rotch, the owner of the vessel, should be directed not to enter the tea, at his peril, and that the captain of the Dartmouth should also be warned not to suffer the tea to be landed. Orders were given for the ship to be moored at Griffin's Wharf, and twenty citizens were appointed a guard to watch her.

A letter came to the meeting from the consignees, offering to store the tea until they could write to England and receive instructions. "Not a pound of it shall be landed," said the meeting. They also resolved that two other tea-ships, then hourly expected, should, on their arrival, be moored alongside the Dartmouth, in charge of the same volunteer guard. The meeting quietly adjourned, and the movements of the people were governed by the Committee of Correspondence. They appointed a number of post-riders to carry news to the other towns, in case there should be an attempt to land the tea by force.

The rumors are spreading around Boston

On the 14th of December, another meeting was held in the Old South, when it was resolved to order Mr. Rotch to immediately apply for a clearance for his ship and send her to sea, for his cargo had all been landed excepting the chests of tea. In the meantime, the governor had taken measures to prevent her sailing out of the harbor before the tea should be landed; and he wrote to the ministry, advising the prosecution of some of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, for high crimes and misdemeanors. He ordered Admiral Montagu to place two armed ships at the entrance to Boston harbor, to prevent the egress of vessels; and he directed Colonel Leslie, who was in command of the Castle, not to allow any vessel to pass out from the range of his great guns, without a permit signed by himself.

The excitement of the people was now at fever heat. The issues of every future hour were looked for with great anxiety. The air was full of rumors--some true, some false--and on the 16th of December (1773), the day to which the meeting was adjourned, the largest assembly then ever seen in Boston were gathered in the Old South Meeting House, and its vicinity. Samuel P. Savage, of Weston, presided. Full two thousand men from the neighboring towns were there. Seven thousand men soon filled the great fane and overflowed into the street.

It was reported that the Custom-house officers had refused to give Mr. Rotch a clearance for his vessel before the tea--the whole cargo--should be landed. "No vessel can pass the Castle without my permission, and I will not give it," thought the governor, as he rode out to his country-seat at Milton; and he believed he had secured a victory. Not so thought the people. When the great assembly heard of the refusal of the Custom-house officers to grant a clearance, they said to Mr. Rotch: "Go to the governor; protest against their action, and ask him for a permit for your vessel to sail." He hastened to the governor in the country, and the meeting adjourned until three o'clock.

The final meeting took place at the Old South Meeting House

When they reassembled the merchant had not returned, and the question was put to the meeting: "In case the governor shall refuse his permission, will you abide by your former resolutions with respect to not suffering the tea to be landed?" Earnest men spoke to the question. Among the most earnest was young Josiah Quincy, a rising lawyer. He harangued the crowd with prophetic words eloquently spoken. "It is not," he said, "the spirit that reposes within these walls that must stand us in stead. The exertions of this day will call forth events which will make a very different spirit necessary for our salvation. Let us consider the issue. Let us look to the end. Let us weigh and consider, before we advance to those measures which must bring on the most trying and terrible struggle this country ever saw."

When Mr. Quincy ceased speaking, it was sunset and the church was lighted by candles. The question was put, and the thousands answered in the affirmative. There was a call for Mr. Rotch, but he had not returned. He came soon afterward, and reported that the governor peremptorily refused him permission to send his vessel to sea before the tea should be landed. A murmur ran through the vast assemblage, but the rising excitement was hushed into silence when Samuel Adams arose, and in a clear voice said: "This meeting can do no more to save the country."

The destruction of tea

At that moment a person with painted face and dressed like an Indian gave a war-whoop in the gallery, which was responded to in kind from the door of the meeting-house. Another voice in the gallery shouted: "Boston harbor a teapot to-night! Hurrah for Griffin's Wharf!" The meeting instantly adjourned and the people rushed for the street, and pushed toward Griffin's Wharf, following a number of men disguised as Indians. The populace cheered. Guards were posted to keep order. Among them was John Hancock.

The disguised men and others then went on board the tea-ships moored at Griffin's Wharf, and in the course of three hours they emptied three hundred and forty-two chests of tea into the water of the harbor. The operation was performed in the presence of a multitude who were silent spectators of the scene. It was done at an early hour in the evening--a bright, cold, moonlit evening--and of the sixty men who went on board the tea-ships, only a part of them were disguised as "Mohawks."

It was not a mob that destroyed the tea, but sober citizens. It was not a mob that were spectators of the scene, but a well-behaved audience looking upon a serious and most significant pantomime. It was the work of patriotic men, encouraged by patriotic citizens, who were determined not to be trifled with any longer.

When the work was done--when Boston harbor had been made a vast "teapot"--the streets of the town became as quiet as a Sabbath evening. "All things," wrote John Adams to James Warren, "were conducted with great order, decency, and perfect submission to government."

The aftermath of the Boston Tea Party

Early the next morning the Committee of Correspondence appointed Samuel Adams chairman of a sub-committee to draw up a statement of what had been done with the tea, and then they sent Paul Revere as express to carry the document to the Sons of Liberty in New York and Philadelphia.

Of the immediate actors on board the tea-ships on that eventful night, the names of fifty-nine are known. The last survivor of the band was David Kinnison, who died in Chicago in 1851, at the age of one hundred and fifteen years.

The audacity and firmness of the Bostonians were applauded throughout the colonies. Even in Canada and the British West Indies there were but feeble voices of censure. But among the crown-officers in America and the ministerial party in Great Britain there was fierce wrath. Hutchinson threatened, but so softly, because of his fears, that it barely sufficed to shield him from the frowns of the ministers. The friends of the Americans in the British Parliament were silent for a moment, because they could not justify the destruction of private property; but the assurance sent to the East India Company, that the town of Boston would pay for every pound of tea destroyed on that occasion, loosened their tongues, and they made good use of the freedom for the benefit of the Americans.

The whole dispute still rested upon the original foundation--the denial of the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies without their consent. It was this fact, more than the destruction of the property, that excited the ire of the king and his ministers, and made the House of Lords like a "seething caldron of impotent rage." The honesty of the Americans was overlooked, and the ministry saw nothing in the proceedings at Boston but open rebellion.

The debates in the Parliament and the British response

The news of the "Boston Tea Pparty" reached England in January (1774), but it was not officially announced until early in March. The king had waited for overwhelming evidence of the wickedness of the Americans which he found in letters from Governor Hutchinson and Admiral Montagu, the consignees of the tea, the letters of other royal governors in whose respective colonies there had been serious threatenings, and a large number of inflammatory handbills. All of these were sent by the king to Parliament with a message, in which he asked that body to devise means for the immediate suppression of tumultuous proceedings in the colonies.

The House of Commons proposed an address of thanks to the king, and assurance that he should be sustained in efforts to maintain order in America. This address excited angry debates. The House became "as hot as Faneuil Hall or the Old South Meeting-house in Boston," said Burke. "There is open rebellion in America, and it must be punished," cried the Ministerial party. "Repeal your unjust laws and deal righteously with the Americans, and there will be peace and loyalty there," retorted the Opposition. After a long and stormy debate, the address was adopted by an overwhelming majority.

This vote strengthened Lord North, and stimulated the passions of the monarch. Urged by his sovereign, North submitted a bill, at the middle of March, for the severe punishment of Boston. It provided for the removal of the Custom-house, courts of justice and government offices of all kinds from Boston to Salem, and forbade every kind of shipping business in the harbor of Boston. It also provided that when the rebellious town should fully and humbly submit to royal authority, the king should have the power to open the port and restore the government business.

North justified the harsh measure by asserting that Boston was "the ringleader in every riot, and set always the example which others followed." He believed severe punishment of this rebellious town would strike terror throughout the colonies, and so bring the Americans into subjection to the crown. Many of his supporters in the House used very violent language, calling the Bostonians "mobocrats," and "vile incendiaries;" men who were "never actuated by reason, but chose tarring and feathering as an argument." One member denounced them as utterly unworthy of civilized forbearance. "They ought to have their town knocked about their ears," he said; "and ought to be destroyed." He concluded his unstinted abuse by quoting the factious cry of the old Roman orators against their African enemies--"Delenda est Carthago"--Carthage must be destroyed. Others more just, like Rose Fuller, proposed only a fine, which Barre and other staunch friends of the Americans thought just, as it would affect a single town, and voted for it. For this apparent defection, the portraits of Barre and Conway were removed from Faneuil Hall for a short time.

The voice of reason was not heard in Britain

Edmund Burke took a broader, loftier view of the subject, in a speech of remarkable power. It was the first of that series of splendid orations in Parliament, which made his name immortal. He denounced the whole scheme as unjust, because there was no discrimination. "You wish to condemn the accused without a hearing," he said; "to punish indiscriminately the innocent with the guilty! You will thus irrevocably alienate the hearts of the colonists from the mother country. Before the adoption of so violent a measure, the principal merchants of the kingdom should at least be consulted. The bill is unjust since it bears upon the city of Boston, while it is notorious that all America is in flames; that the cities of Philadelphia, of New York, and all the maritime towns of the continent, have exhibited the same disobedience. You are contending for a matter which the Bostonians will not give up quietly. They cannot, by such means, be made to how to the authority of ministers; on the contrary, you will find their obstinacy confirmed and their fury exasperated. The acts of resistance in their city have not been confined to the populace alone, but men of the first rank and opulent fortune in the place have openly countenanced them. One city in proscription and the rest in rebellion can never be a remedial measure for general disturbances. Have you considered whether you have troops and ships sufficient to reduce the people of the whole American continent to your devotion? It was the duty of your governor, and not of men without arms, to suppress the tumults. If this officer has not demanded the proper assistance from the military commanders, why punish the innocent for the fault and the negligence of the officers of the crown? The resistance is general in all parts of America; you must, therefore, let it govern itself by its own internal policy, or make it subservient to all your laws by an exertion of all the forces of the kingdom. These partial counsels are well suited to irritate, not subjugate."

Other members followed Burke in agreement with his views, but none were so clear and logical in ideas and expression as he. Charles James Fox, who had been dismissed from the Treasury to please the king, made his first speech in Parliament on that occasion, and it was a strange beginning of his brilliant career in the House of Commons. He objected to the power which the bill vestea in the crown to reopen the port of Boston when it should be closed!



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The Location

The Ships

Origin of the Tea


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Samuel Adams Biography

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Top 10 preceding historic events

Triangular trade in the colonies

Tea Party reenactment script

The Tea Act of 1773

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The Actual Tea Chest

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