Case Study



Boston Tea Party Historical Society

Organized Smuggling in Colonial Boston

Boston Tea Party wasn't about taxes, rather than the fact that the British East India Company found a way of importing tea cheaper than John Hancock could smuggle it in to Boston and it was ruining John Hancock's smuggling business.

So how was a typical smuggling operation organized in those times? If you think of a ship secretly docking at a remote harbor in the middle of a stormy night, think again. In reality there were much simpler ways to smuggle goods without paying taxes.

The ships came loaded with cloths, silks, hardware, utensils, wines, liquors, and all the miscellaneous articles needed by the Bostonians. A trade room was fitted up on the ship with shelves, counters, etc., like a country store, and the goods displayed to the best advantage. The arrival of a ship always excited the greatest interest, lining the roads with people coming to inspect the goods and to make purchases, and with cattle and carts laden with hides and tallow for the ship. Smuggling was extensively carried on. Most of the merchants engaged in the practice of evading the customs dues.

This elegant dandy nearly single-handedly bankrolled the early protests in Boston.

The method pursued by the customs officials made smuggling easy. Boston was made sole port of entry. If a vessel on any pretext entered any other port, a guard was placed on board and she was ordered to depart with the shortest possible delay for Boston. On arrival at that port she was visited by the collector who was received on board with all due ceremony. The event was usually made one of social entertainment and the merchants and prominent residents of the town were invited to accompany the customs officials. In the cabin would be laid out refreshments, solid and liquid, in the greatest variety and abundance, and after feasting and the drinking of numerous healths and toasts, the collector would proceed to inspect the cargo and fix the amount of duty to be paid.

A favorite method of smuggling was for a vessel to land the more valuable portion of her cargo on some lonely part of the coast or island and re-load after passing the custom house inspection.

So openly was smuggling conducted that the officials could hardly be ignorant of its extent. The duties were about one hundred per cent, and, it was argued, if the traders were obliged to pay the whole tax, instead of about one-quarter of it the goods would have to be sold at so high a price the people would be unable to buy them, thus the trade would be destroyed, the people suffer, and the government receive no benefit.

Another practice was to exhibit a fictitious invoice and pay, say ten thousand dollars on a cargo worth forty thousand dollars. The trader considered that there was nothing particularly wrong about this, as the invoice did not have to be sworn to. The merchants and owners engaged in smuggling were just as much respected as any one else in the community.

Finally, sometimes whole cargoes would be transferred at sea to other vessels already having the custom's permit.



Numbers and Facts


Student Essays

The Location

The Ships

Origin of the Tea


Printable Poster

Samuel Adams Biography

Picture Galleries


Top 10 preceding historic events

Triangular trade in the colonies

Tea Party reenactment script

The Tea Act of 1773

Debate Arguments for the British

The Actual Tea Chest

The Ballad

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