What was The Boston Tea Party?
Did you know that The Boston Tea Party was one of the sparks that led to the American Revolutionary War? Not only is it significant to the history of the United States, but also the history of Tea as a whole! Indeed, the world of Tea might today look very different had this momentous event not taken place.
The Boston Tea Party happened on December 16, 1773. It was a political protest that marked the beginning of the end for British rule over the thirteen American colonies. The impact of this iconic act is still felt today. The United States of America now considered the most influential country in the world. Who would have thought it all started with everyone’s favourite cuppa?
But what was The Boston Tea Party, exactly? Why did it happen? Whom did it involve? In this article, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company will shed light on this remarkable moment in history while showcasing its importance to the Tea Industry to this day.
What Happened Before The Boston Tea Party?
During the last Ice Age some 30,000 years ago, people arrived in the Americas via a land bridge that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska. Rising sea levels led to the land bridge disappearing, leaving its settlers isolated on the continent for thousands of years.
Europeans didn’t arrive in America until 1492. There, they discovered not only its bountiful lands but also the native people who had long inhabited it. This proved a tumultuous time for the indigenous population who found themselves subjected to the brutal methods of colonisation.
The first successful English settlement in America began in 1607. Over the next 150 years, the English spread throughout much of the continent. This includes what would become the city of Boston in the present-day state of Massachusetts.
By the 18th Century, Britain was the most powerful country in the world. The French and Indian War (1754-1763) had seen Britain win dominance over the American continent. Meaning it could enforce its culture and laws unto the colonists with little resistance.
Boston Tea Party Background
Winning The French and Indian War came at a sizable economic cost for Britain. The British Treasury had spent £70,000,000 on the war, which doubled its national debt to £140,000,000. In desperation, London’s Parliament decided to impose a series of taxes on the colonists. The government believing it fair that the Americans pay for the war fought on their behalf.
The first major tax was the 1765 Stamp Act. This involved taxes on almost every piece of paper from newspapers to playing cards. Frustration grew throughout the thirteen American colonies in part because its people had no representation in the British Parliament. Colonists had no say over the taxes imposed on them, nor how they were governed as a whole.
Frustration turned to anger when, in 1767, the British went further still with the Townshend Acts. This led to the taxation of paint, paper, glass, lead and Tea. “No taxation without representation” became a rallying cry amongst the 16,000 colonists who inhabited Boston. The British, fearing a rebellion, poured more than 2,000 soldiers into the city to enforce the tax laws.
Over the next few years, a series of protests brought about an escalation of tensions. On March 5, 1770, an altercation between British soldier Private Hugh White and an angry mob sparked what later became known as the Boston Massacre. Five Bostonians were killed, only further fueling anti-British sentiment throughout the increasingly restless colonies.
The Main Cause of The Boston Tea Party
By 1773, annual tax revenue on the nearly 1.2 million pounds of Tea drunk by American colonists had saved Britain from economic disaster. However, it would eventually cost the British Empire more than it bargained for. Though Britain had repealed other unpopular taxes, it maintained the Tea tax. This eventually gave rise to a large-scale boycott of any Tea sold by the British East India Company.
Smuggling in Dutch Tea became a viable alternative, as well as brewing Herbal Tea from ingredients readily available in America. This kind of disobedience only infuriated the British government while leaving the British East India Company facing bankruptcy. In May that year, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which saw the price of Tea lowered slightly. However, this didn’t influence the tax itself.
In fact, Tea smuggling only increased. Such acts of defiance inspired many Americans, including two Tea smugglers called John Hancock and Samuel Adams. These Patriots, who later became part of a secret organisation known as The Sons of Liberty, played a significant role in The Boston Tea Party.
Hours Before The Boston Tea Party
The Sons of Liberty, made up of a group of disgruntled colonial merchants and tradesmen, held meetings to protest British tyranny over the colonies. Other members of this organisation included Paul Revere, Patrick Henry and Benedict Arnold. Together, they planned a demonstration against the Griffin’s Wharf arrival of Dartmouth, a vessel belonging to the British East India Company.
By December 16, 1773, Dartmouth had joined her sister ships, Beaver and Eleanor, in the Boston harbour loaded with Tea from China. That morning, swathes of colonists gathered at the wharf, refusing to pay any taxes on the shipments. Governor Thomas Hutchison made a few attempts to appease the crowds, to little success.
The Events of The Boston Tea Party
By nightfall, The Sons of Liberty had called for action. Many of its members, accompanied by other rebellious colonists. Disguised themselves as Native Americans and clambered onto the Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor. Once aboard, they dumped 342 chests of Tea including Gunpowder Tea and other Green Teas and other types. A shipment weighing 45 tonnes and worth around £800,000 today ended up in the Boston Harbour.
One participant named James Hawkes later said: “We immediately proceeded to execute [our commander’s] orders. First cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.”
The British watched on in horror. Though wishing to intervene, they chose not to for fear of an escalation. Admiral Montagu, whose squadron of warships floated a mere quarter of a mile away, wrote: “I could easily have prevented the execution of this plan. But must have endangered the lives of many innocent people by firing upon the town.”
The next morning, John Adams, who would later become the second President of The United States, expressed his support for the three-hour operation. He recorded in his diary: “There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this the last effect of the Patriots, that I greatly admire.” The incident, referred to at the time by John Adams as “The Destruction of the Tea”, would not become known as The Boston Tea Party for another fifty years.
The Aftermath Of The Boston Tea Party
Despite John Adams’ enthusiasm, other American Founding Fathers were not as happy with the news. George Washington, who would later become the first US President, as well as Benjamin Franklin disapproved greatly of The Boston Tea Party. In fact, the latter went as far as to suggest that the colonists should reimburse the British East India Company!
Back in Britain, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts (later known as the Intolerable Acts). In essence, punished the colonists for their rebelliousness. It demanded the closure of the Boston Harbour until the lost Leaf Tea had been paid for, ended free elections of Boston officials. In many respects, imposed martial law in Massachusetts.
Instead of squelching rebellion, the Coercive Acts inspired further resistance. A second Boston Tea Party took place in March 1774. Followed by similar acts in Maryland, New York and South Carolina. By September that year, elected representatives from all thirteen colonies except Georgia met in Philadelphia for what would become the first Continental Congress.
After much discussion, the Congress issued a Declaration of Rights, which affirmed its loyalty to the British Crown while disputing the British Parliament’s right to tax it. Should Britain fail to address concerns, the Congress declared, then it would reconvene in 1775 with the aim of ceasing exports to Britain. Before that could happen, however, skirmishes between local militia and British soldiers in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, saw the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War.
What Was The Effect?
The Boston Tea Party was one of the defining moments that led to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, militia forces besieged Boston, forcing a British evacuation of the city in March 1776. Months later, on July 4, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, effectively starting the process that would establish The United States of America.
In 1781, the British surrendered to American forces, allied with France, during the Siege of Yorktown. Two years later, on September 3, 1783, Britain signed the Treaty of Paris in which it agreed to recognise the sovereignty of the United States and formally end the war. Without the courage and defiance shown at The Boston Tea Party, events might well have differed dramatically.
Today, Americans use Tea less for sparking revolution and more for drinking! In 2018, Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of Tea, or more than 3.8 billion gallons. Statistics suggest that 84% of the Tea consumed in America is Black Tea and 15% Green Tea. The remaining 1% is made up of Differnet Types of Tea, including White and Oolong. Some of this indeed comes from The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where we pack everything fresh to order.