I love history. Not what you find in most movies and even most text books, but the real stuff. When I worked in Boston, I learned the “real story” about the Boston Tea Party. It’s not quite what you think or may have heard. Did you know wealthy smugglers set the whole thing up?
Let’s start with the 1765 Stamp Act. It cost the old country, Britain, lots of money to defend us over here, they wanted us to help pay for that protection. They issued a law that products such as documents, printed materials, goods and other stuff would require tax stamps so as to raise money. Needless to say, this caused quite and uproar in the colonies. The colonists, like people today, would rather not pay more taxes regardless of the results. The colonists decided to show the British their unhappiness in the form of mobs tarring and feathering government officials, burning them in effigy, burning their homes and possessions and other acts of “terrorism.” The less than pleased and apparently horrified British gave up on the Stamp Act.
The Brits next tried the Townshend Act in 1767, which imposed customs duties hoping the colonists wouldn’t notice. Tea was one of the import items taxed. Of course, colonists really liked tea. However, Britain didn’t have the manpower to police the entire coastline, which opened the door for Dutch smugglers. They snuck boatloads of tea past those busy customs officials. Ahah! thought some clever colonial businessmen. Let’s buy and distribute that smuggled tea! They associated their tea sales with rebellion and an act against Britain. It worked. Colonists bought the smuggled tea boycotted the legal imported stuff and sometimes, refused to let it even be unloaded from ships.
The British knew the Townshend Act wasn’t working but they kept it in place to show the folks in the new country who was boss. The British East India Tea Company, the company holding the monopoly on that imported tea, was losing all kinds of money. Meanwhile, back in England, Parliament passed the 1773 Tea Act, relaxing customs duties allowing B.E.I.T.C. to bypass costly London middlemen and unload lots and lots of tea, while hopefully making nice with the tax-hating group back here.
In November 1773, three British ships were in Boston harbor with those first loads of tea. The smugglers, mentioned above, were quite upset because they stood to lose all kinds of money, and got mobs together that prevented that tea from being unloaded. But, by December 16 of that year, it became clear those ships planned to unload their tea the next day.
One group of protestors fortified themselves with lots of liquor, dressed up in Indian costumes for some reason not quite clear, and proceeded to march on down to the docks in a rage. The men, the ones who didn’t fall into the water along the way, boarded the British ships and dragged cargo up from the holds. The mob cracked open some of the cases of tea and dumped it into the water. By the end of the night, about 45 tons of tea had been dumped into Boston harbor, presumably to steep. Tea leaves washed up on shores for weeks after. After their triumph, the partiers wandered home proud of what they accomplished. Similar “parties” occurred elsewhere in other ports. As in Boston, these parties were successful in that they were able to maintain the healthy business climate of the smugglers. Patriots, smugglers or entrepreneurs? You decide.
Sources: Armchair Reader, The Book of Myths and Misconceptions. Past books with forgotten titles and those folks in Boston whose names I have misplaced.
About the AuthorNorman lives in Pittsfield and always seems to get a bad shopping cart. If you’d like to contact him, send us an e-mail to email@example.com and we will pass it along for you.
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