Boston Tea Party

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"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor." 1773

The Boston Tea Party was an event which took place on December 16, 1773, when a group of Bostonians boarded ships of British East India Company and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor, becoming one of several major incidents which led to the American Revolution two years later.



Bostonians and other colonists had been subjected to a tax on tea as well as paint, paper, and glass with the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767. Protests and non-importation movements by the colonists led the repeal of the Townshend duties in 1770, with the exception of the duty on tea. The British Parliament had retained the tea tax, partly as a symbol of its right to tax the colonies, and partly to aid the financially embarrassed East India Company.[1] In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act which allowed the struggling East India Tea Company to sell a half million pounds of tea in the colonies while bypassing the importation taxes normally paid under the British Navigation Acts.

For all practical purposes, the 1773 Tea Act gave the East India Tea Company a monopoly by allowing them to charge less than other merchants. Despite the fact they were now paying less for tea, American colonists held protests against the act. The colonists tried to prevent the consignees from accepting taxed tea and were successful in New York and Philadelphia. At Charleston the tea was landed but was held in government warehouses. At Boston, three tea ships arrived and remained unloaded but Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson became determined to force the colonists to pay the duties on the tea, and issued orders that no British ship was to leave port without unloading their cargo.

On the evening of December 16, 1773, Boston brewer and patriot Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and other members of the Sons of Liberty, thinly-disguised as Native Americans, boarded the three British East India Company ships moored to the piers and threw the entire cargo of tea into the harbor.


The colonists refused to pay for the lost tea, resulting in an outraged British Parliament passing a series of laws meant to punish Boston and tighten British control in the area. Under the so-called Intolerable Acts, Britain closed the port of Boston, turned private homes into quarters for British soldiers; curtailed the power of the assemblies in Boston and Massachusetts as a whole; and prevented trials against British officials who were charged with crimes. The bitterness and hatred the Intolerable Acts caused mearly hastened the coming revolution; the memory of those acts after the revolution ended led to the incorporation of the first seven amendments to the United States Constitution.


  1. Boston Tea Party,, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008.

Further Reading

  • John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause--1048247 09:59, 26 April 2007 (EDT) (rev.ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, "A Patriot's History of the United States" (Sentinel 2007)

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