Two hundred forty-one years ago next week, the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
(The action was in response to an English law that gave the East India Tea Company the right to export its merchandise directly to the colonies without paying the regular taxes imposed on the colonial merchants, who had traditionally served as the middlemen in such transactions. With these privileges, the company could undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade.)
Scarcely more than a week later, an "express" gentleman from Boston arrived on Christmas Eve at the London Coffee-House (Front and High/Market Streets) to read a proposed declaration boycotting tea. In response, "a loud shout of applause was given, and the bells immediately set to ringing" (Pennsylvania Journal).
The Philadelphians' resolve was immediately tested. The next day, "A Teaship, commanded by Captain Ayres, arrived at Chester. A Resolution was passed to prevail upon Captain not to attempt to land the Tea, and to prevent its landing regardless. Captain Ayres agrees (Pennsylvania Packet)."
The tea boycott was widespread. Soon, the Pennsylvania Gazette published "A Lady's Adieu to her Tea-Table", which concluded:
"No more shall I dish out the once-lov'd Liquor,
Though now detestable,
Because I'm taught (and I believe it true)
Its use will fasten slavish Chains upon my Country,
and LIBERTY'S the Goddess I would choose
To reign triumphant in AMERICA."
Several laws intended to penalize the colonies led to the arrival of another express rider, Paul Revere, at the Coffee-House in May 1774. He returned "immediately" to Boston with a letter proposing "that a Congress of the Colonies should be convoked without delay, to direct and determine the measure to be pursued for the relief of the town of Boston, and the redress of all the American grievances (Pennsylvania Packet)."
Parliament only dug in deeper. "The ministers with their leader are violently blowing the Coals into a Flame that will lay waste the whole British Empire," predicted American diplomat William Lee from London in March 1775. "Large numbers of troops & ships of war are now preparing to go to Boston & New York." He added, "America seems firm."
One month later would see the clashes at Lexington and Concord.
Contributor: Carol Moore
Source: This Day in History; American History from Revolution to Reconstruction; Sources Courtesy of the Library of the National Park Service
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The first of two essays in Alfred F. Young's The Shoemaker and the Tea Party shows the contributions of ordinary people to the American Revolution by focusing on the life of George Robert Tweles Hewes. Hewes was an unremarkable shoemaker, save his participation in events like the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. Here is Hewes' recollection of the Tea Party.
"While the crews were throwing the tea overboard, a few other men tried to smuggle off some of the tea scattered on the decks. 'One Captain O'Connor whom I knew well,' said Hewes, 'came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him, and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off.' They scuffled. O'Connor recognized him and 'threatened to complain to the Governor.' 'You had better make your will first,' quoth Hewes, doubling his fist expressively, and O'Connor escaped, running the gauntlet of the crowd on the wharf. 'The next day we nailed the skirt of his coat, which I had pulled off, to the whipping post in Charlestown, the place of his residence, with a label upon it,' to shame O'Connor by 'popular indignation.'"