Did you know that 2023 marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party? We’re here to give you the rundown on everything you might not know about the most famous event in tea history!
Dutch traders had been importing tea into Europe since the early 17th century, but by the 1760s, most of the tea was imported by the British owned East India Company, which, along with England itself, was deeply in debt. As a remedy, the British Parliament imposed a series of taxes on a previously untapped market: the North American colonists. The first of these orders, the Stamp Act, placed duties on goods such as paper, paint, glass, and, of course, tea. Colonists were enraged, and the Boston Massacre in 1770 only furthered frustrations.
The Stamp Act was soon repealed with the exception of the taxes placed on tea. At the time, colonists were consuming roughly 1.2 million pounds of tea each year, and the revenue was essential to the continuation of the East India Company, which also functioned as England’s connection to the profitable East Indies. In protest, colonists consumed smuggled Dutch tea, paving the way for the 1773 Tea Act. This allowed the East India Company the sole right to sell tea to the colonies duty-free, effectively lowering the cost of legally imported tea and forcing out wealthy smugglers such as John Hancock. It is a common misconception that the colonists were protesting a tax on tea, when in reality they were against a corporate tax break gifted to the East India Company.
Enter the Sons of Liberty, a group of colonists who gathered with the common goal of protesting the Stamp Act and other acts of taxation without representation in British Parliament. Led by famous names such as Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, colonists gathered in the Boston harbor on the night of December 16, 1773 to throw over 90,000 pounds of tea from the decks of three ships into the water below. The event took nearly three hours, but they received no resistance. The aftermath included praise and disgust at the event, including an offer from Benjamin Franklin to reimburse the East India Company for the lost product. No one was hurt, and aside from the tea, no property was damaged. It’s even said that the protestors swept the decks clean before heading home.
Across the sea, King George III and the British Parliament responded with resounding acts. The Intolerable Acts closed the harbor until the tea was paid for, ended free elections of town officials in Massachusetts, created martial law in the colony, and required colonists to quarter British troops. As you’re likely aware, unrest only grew, leading to other tea party displays over the next few months throughout several colonies, and eventually the American Revolution as a whole.
As we remember this iconic event in American history, brew yourself a cup of tea, settle in, and think about how your tea bag is just one of what would’ve been enough to fill some 18.5 million teabags tossed into Boston Harbor that night in 1773!
Boston Tea Party Fun Facts:
- The first time the words “Boston Tea Party” appeared in print wasn’t until 1825. Prior to this, the event was simply referred to as “the destruction of the tea.”
- Much of the tea dumped into the harbor was green, and most of it was obtained in China, not India.
- The Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor were all American ships, not British. They were built and owned by Americans, but the tea onboard was owned by the East India Company, not King George III.
- A second Boston Tea Party took place three months later in March 1774, but only 30 chests of tea were sent overboard.
- George Washington himself condemned the event, disapproving of “their conduct in destroying the tea.” He strongly believed that the East India Company should be compensated for the damages.
Image: Nathaniel Currier, “Tea Sabotage in Boston Port”, 1846.