The history and facts about the Boston Tea Party are far more complicated than what’s popularly known all over the world. Most Americans say that the Boston Tea Party was the first unofficial declaration of independence when a group of renegades dumped the beloved tea of Britain’s King George into the sea to protest a tax hike. It was an act of defiance that united the colonies to revolt. But the real facts about the Boston Tea Party are largely different than hearsay.
Here’s what happened on the night of 16 December 1773.
1. The Tea was Chinese, not Indian
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Contrary to popular belief, the tea was Chinese and not Indian. The East India Company (EIC) had shipped Chinese tea from Canton to its docks and warehouses in London. The consignment was then transported to New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Boston, all along the Eastern Seaboard. The British tea gardens of India and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) came up nearly a century later.
2. It wasn’t a Tax Protest
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The British government introduced the Tea Act in 1773. The protestors at the Boston harbor rallied against the Act. However, instead of imposing new taxes, the Act actually reduced the price of tea sold in America by the EIC.
But the Act did include the much hated three-pence-per-pound duty introduced by the Townshend Acts (1767). This angered the colonists as they believed that another tax law was passed by Parliament sans their consent. It was not the burden of a higher tax, but a principle of self-governance which motivated the political opposition to the Tea Act.
3. Most colonists didn’t like the Tea Act
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The colonists had three major complaints about the Tea Act. One: the tax itself was unjust. However, buyers may begin to accept the new tea since it was cheaper. Two: the EIC had a monopoly in the tea business along with special privileges, which cut off most of the local traders. Many historians argue that the monopoly issue caused the revolt, which was more important than taxation. Three: The tax was used to pay salaries of civic officials in Massachusetts, which made them less accountable to the people of the state.
4. Concerns about Loss of Business
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While the colonists were firmly against British tea, they were still drinking the beverage. John Adams, during a visit to John Hancock in 1771, recalled that he drank green tea probably from Holland.
Most of the tea consumed in Massachusetts, New York, and Philadelphia at that time was smuggled. It has long been argued that tea merchants, including Hancock, feared that the cheaper tea would push the smuggled variety out of the market. However, the role of smugglers in the Boston incident, as against those in Philadelphia and New York, is highly debated.
5. The Bengal Famine was a Trigger
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The EIC, in all its colonies, enjoyed a royal charter that allowed it to fight wars. The company, in 1757, seized control of Bengal in India after defeating Siraj-ud-Daulah and his French allies in the Battle of Plassey. The EIC then bled Bengal dry with steep taxes. Bengal, by 1770, was under the grip of a severe famine with an estimated three million deaths. Colonists believed that America would suffer the same fate in the hands of the EIC. It was argued that the tea monopoly was part of a larger EIC plan to unleash oppression and cruelty in America.
6. Was planned by the ‘notorious’ Sons of Liberty
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The Sons of Liberty emerged in 1765 to protest against the Stamp Act. The group wasn’t merely limited to Boston, like Benedict Arnold who was one of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty. The Boston group, however, was the most famous. John Hancock and Samuel Adams were the two most prominent members. But both Hancock and Adams were so ‘notorious’ that during the 1775 Siege of Boston, the then British general Thomas Gage pardoned everyone except the two. Gage said that their offenses were too ‘flagitious’ nature. Many researchers believe that the Boston Tea party was organized by Adams along with 60 Sons of Liberty members.
7. The Boston Tea Party date was Random
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It was just a question of time. The then rules stated that a ship must be unloaded within 20 days of docking. Otherwise, the cargo would be seized and auctioned off. The ‘Dartmouth’ arrived at Boston in late November. While the other cargo was unloaded, the tea was left untouched. Boston authorities wanted to return the tea back to Britain. But that was against law. Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to issue a permit. By 16 December, auction of the tea was imminent. A large group of people gathered to hear whether Hutchison would allow the ship to leave. When news arrived that he wouldn’t, people began to leave probably to convene others for the revolt.
8. Was condemned by George Washington
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One of the most interesting Boston Tea Party facts is that George Washington, the most prominent revolutionary figure, condemned the incident. He strongly disapproved of ‘their conduct in destroying the tea’. Washington, like most elites, considered private property sacrosanct. He believed that the perpetrators should make good the damages suffered by the EIC.
9. The Response was Harsh
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The British response to the Boston Tea Party incident was obviously harsh. They punished the protestors by imposing the Coercive Acts (also known as Intolerable Acts). The Boston port was temporarily closed down. Troops were positioned at the homes of the colonists and Massachusetts’s right to self-governance was restricted. Some of the trials were moved out of Massachusetts. These acts led people to side with the Bostonians.
10. Identities were kept Secret
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The identities of the protestors were kept secret. Even after independence, their identities were not disclosed. The Boston Tea Party protestors felt that they may have to stand criminal and civil trials, besides facing social condemnation from the elite class for engaging in mob behavior leading to the destruction of private property. Even today, the names of only a few protestors are known.
Also Read: 13 Causes That Led to the American Civil War
11. ‘Boston Tea Party’ got its name much Later
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One of the strangest facts about Boston Tea Party is that the incident got its name almost five decades later. People in Boston and elsewhere across America referred to the incident simply as ‘destruction of the tea’. The earliest reference to the ‘Boston Tea Party’ was a newspaper story which appeared in 1826. Two books — ‘Traits of the Tea Party’ and ‘A Retrospect of the Tea-Party‘ popularized the moniker and cemented the name in popular culture.
12. Huge Costs of Damage
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The cost of damage to the tea was huge. Around 340 chests, some more than 400 pounds, were smashed open and the tea was dumped into the sea. According to historians, there was 46 tonne of tea worth over £9,659. A ton of tea, at that time, cost the same as a two-story house. According to the Boston Tea Party Museum, the tea dumped into the sea was worth $1.7 million today. The destroyed consignment could have brewed 18,523,000 cups of tea.
13. Second Boston Tea Party
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Boston citizens once again threw tea into the sea in March 1774, when 60 men boarded the ‘Fortune’, holed up the ship’s crew below the deck, and dumped the tea chests into the sea. But the second Boston Tea Party incident wasn’t as impressive as the first one. Only 30 chests of tea were thrown overboard.
14. There were Other Similar Parties
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Joseph Cummins, in 2012, wrote the book ‘Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests that History Forgot‘. Cummins stated that there were at least 10 tea parties that were inspired by the Boston event.
In the Philadelphia Tea Party, held nine days after the Boston incident, no tea was destroyed. The ship’s captain carrying the largest consignment of EIC tea was threatened and he returned the ship to England. In Charleston, a ship arrived in November 1774 carrying tea. The captain, however, swore that he didn’t know of the controversial cargo. Angry citizens blamed local merchants who had ordered the tea and the latter was forced to dump the consignment into the sea.
Also Read: 15 Little Known Facts about US Presidents
15. A Protestor ‘Rose from the Dead’
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Perhaps the strangest of all facts about Boston Tea Party is that one of the protestors, John Crane, ‘rose from the dead’. John was knocked unconscious in the ship’s hold after a tea crate fell on him. He was thought to be dead. His compatriots hid him under a pile of wood at a local carpenter’s shop. Crane woke up a few hours later. While there were no casualties in the incident, he was the only person to be injured in the Boston Tea Party.
The Boston Tea Party incident has often been dubbed as foundational moment in American history. It has become a part of folklore for the last 250 years. But the facts about Boston Tea Party are much different from what is actually believed.