1700s · American Colonies · Boston · Revolutionary War · United States

December 16, 1773 – The Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party
Image Source: historicalstockphotos.com

The first thing that I want to say is I am a patriot, I have served and bled for my country. And given the circumstances, I would most likely do the same things that our founders did to win their liberty.

So, here is where I might anger some people.

Tell me if this sounds familiar; A group of men dressed in a manner to disguise their identity, climb aboard a ship in the middle of the night, and purposefully destroy someone else’s property to prove a political point.

Terrorism:the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Only the word Terrorism had not been coined in 1773.

Word Origin and History for terrorism
1795, in specific sense of “government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in France” (March 1793-July 1794), from French terrorisme, from Latin terror

General sense of “systematic use of terror as a policy” is first recorded inEnglish 1798. At one time, a word for a certain kind of mass-destructionterrorism was dynamitism (1883); and during World War I frightfulness(translating German Schrecklichkeit) was used in Britain for “deliberatepolicy of terrorizing enemy non-combatants.”


Yes, I just referred to Samuel Adams and The Sons of Liberty terrorist. That is the beauty of history. What you are called and how people remember you depends on which side of history you fall on.

During World War II as the Allies were destroying German cities with their Strategic Bombing, they referred to it as Morale Bombing. The German civilians in those cities would have called it Terror bombing.

What Caused the Boston Tea Party?

Holy cow, that is not a simple question. Let’s see if I can explain it without writing a novel. England and France had just been at war in the American Colonies. The French and Indian War 1754-1763 and it has cost England a lot of money. And was still costing them dearly in 1773. The American Colonies were the wealthiest of the empires holdings, and since the British troops were there to defend the colonists, Parliament felt they should pay for it. So a series of taxes levied against the American Colonies begun and so did the cry “taxation without representation.” The American Colonies had no seats in Parliament, the colonies felt that Parliament had no write to tax them.

In 1773 it was estimated that the American Colonies were drinking 1.2 million pounds of tea a year. Paliament realized that they could make money off the situation and raised taxes on tea through the roof. This resulted in tea smugglers buying tea from the Dutch which hurt the taxes being collected.

In 1767, Paliament passed the Indemnity Act which basically capped the cost of British tea to the same price as the Dutch. Later in 1767 Parliament passed the Townshend Revenue Act which was designed to raise £40,000 for the administration of the colonies by taxing glass, lead, paint, oil, paper, and tea. In 1770 Paliament repealled the Townshend Revenue Act on everything but tea.

In 1773, Parliament pased the Tea Act which granted the British East India Company –A very shady organization to begin with in my opinion– a monopoly over the importation of tea.

British East India Company Flag
Image Source: Pirates Wikia

With the Townshend Revenue Act still taxing tea, and the Tea Act making it so you could only buy tea from agents of the crown it hurt colonial tea merchants. Parliament reduced the price of the tea so that even with the tax it was the cheapest anyone had paid for tea. Buying tea from the East India Compnay also acknowleged Parliament’s right to tax the colonies. Merchants like Samuel Adams and John Hancock –Names you may have heard of– felt that it was a violation of basic human rights to be taxed without representation.

What Happened?

Three East India company trading ships arrived in Boston harbor to unload their suppy of tea. About 7,000 angry Bostonians –That is never a good sign– arrived on the docks where the three ships were moored. A very large meeting at the Old South Meeting House decided that these ships need to leave Boston without unloading their cargo and without collecting taxes.

A group of men were sent to the Customs House to order the Collector of Customs to send the ships out of the harbor without collection customs duties. The Collector of Customs refused to let the ships leave without paying taxes. The men returned to Old South Meeting House to relay the information.

Around 7pm about 200 armed men disguised as Mowhawk Indians decended upon the three offending ships. Opened the cargo hatches, broke open the crates of tea, and tossed them into the Boston Harbor. No more tea, no taxes.

George Hewes was a member of the band of “Indians” that boarded the tea ships that evening. His recollection of the event was published some years later. We join his story as the group makes its way to the tea-laden ships:

“It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination.

When we arrived at the wharf, there were three of our number who assumed an authority to direct our operations, to which we readily submitted. They divided us into three parties, for the purpose of boarding the three ships which contained the tea at the same time. The name of him who commanded the division to which I was assigned was Leonard Pitt. The names of the other commanders I never knew. We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time, which we promptly obeyed. The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship, appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles; but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging. We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.

In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.

…The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of the tea, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water; and to prevent the possibility of any of its being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of the harbor wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as to render its entire destruction inevitable.”

Eye Witness to History

No one was killed –Which is why I believe that most people do not consider this an act of terrorism– and about 340 crates of tea were dumped into the Boston Harbor.


The East India Company reported a loss of £9,659 worth of tea. About 92,000 pounds of tea rotted and stunck up the Boston Harbor. The Colonist were excited. It was the first act of rebellion against Britian.

Parliament closed the Boston Harbor in march of 1774 with the Intolerable Acts. Parliament saw the intentional destruction of British East India property by a bunch of Boston thugs as unexcusable.

Boston Harbor was closed until the £9659 ($1,700,000 in today’s value) was paid back.

Closing Boston Harbor and demanding repayment for the lost tea was the spark that ignited the powder keg of revolution in the American Colonies.

And because John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Dr. Joseph Warren were on the winning side of history the Boston Tea Party is celebrated as a defiant act of patriotism and not the terrorism that is was at the time.



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