Boston Tea Party

The Tea Act

In the early 1770s, Parliament was trying to solve several problems in regards to their Colonial efforts around the globe.

Parliament attempted to solve these three problems with the Tea Act of 1773. This act undercut the costs of smuggled tea, with the goal to encourage colonists to purchase tea from the British East India Company, and by purchasing from them, pay the duties on the tea, and thus accept taxation by Parliament. 

The People of Boston Respond

In response, organizations like the Sons of Liberty and Daughters of Liberty arranged some of the same protest methods they used during the protests of the Stamp Act of 1765. In November and December of 1773, members of both organizations met in various locations such as the Green Dragon Tavern, Faneuil Hall, and the Old South Meeting House to plan a demonstration to clearly demonstrate their opposition to this law.

November 29-30, 1773

Thousands of men, women, and children gathered at Faneuil Hall in a meeting organized by both the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Committee of Correspondence. So many people showed up that the gathering moved to the nearby Old South Meeting House. As a group they agreed that they would not pay the tax on the tea, and that they would station men to guard the docks and prevent the tea from being unloaded (which would trigger the law’s taxes coming due).

Two more ships arrived in December, and Patriots planned another meeting for December 14 at the Old South Meeting House, where the Sons of Liberty had taken to meeting since the crisis began. They hoped that it could be resolved through negotiations, but if not, they constructed a plan to carry out.

The ship owners were caught between two unyielding forces – the Sons of Liberty, who wanted the tea to return to England, and Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchingson, who wanted the tea unloaded, and refused to grant the ships permission to leave until this was completed.

Sarah Bradley Fulton was one of the leading ladies of the Daughters of Liberty, and suggested that during this demonstration, they disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians, thus concealing their true identity. Her role in planning this event earned her the nickname “Mother of the Tea Party.” She was not the only woman involved, other women participated, helping create costuming and painting the men to disguise them, and aid them in removing disguises once they returned. 

Sarah Bradlee Fulton
Sarah Bradlee was born on 24 Dec 1740 in Dorchester, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, North America to Constable Samuel Bradlee (1707 - 1768) and Mary Andrus (1705 - 1796) and died on 9 Nov 1835 in Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA.

On the night of December 16th, members of the Sons of Liberty, in their disguises, snuck on board three ships owned by the British East India Company anchored at Griffin’s Wharf. In the course of a few hours, these patriots smashed and threw more than 300 chests of tea over the sides of the Beaver, the Dartmouth, and the Eleanor, into the waters of Boston Harbor. Many images of the tea party show white colonists with skin darkened, however, there is evidence that participants came from all walks of life and included not just men of English descent, but from other parts of Europe and the British Isles as well as men of African descent. Participants ranged in age from teens to over forty, and were tightly disciplined. Only the tea was to be damaged and dumped, with no damage done to the ships or harm to any crew members.

Great Britain’s Response to the “Tea Party”

Needless to say, King George III and Parliament were furious that a fortunes worth of tea had been dumped into the harbor. Parliament thus passed what they termed the Coercive Acts, which here in the Colonies was called the Intolerable Acts.  These acts closed the Port of Boston until the tea was paid, revoked the independent Charter for Massachusetts, replacing their elected government with a Governor appointed by the crown (General Thomas Gage), and limited town meetings to a yearly event without permission, allowed the governor to try officials in Britain or elsewhere rather than Massachusetts courts, and the Quartering Act, allowing soldiers to be billeted in private property. Colonists also objected to the Quebec Act as they felt it favored Catholic Quebequois over Protestant Colonists. 

 Rather than establishing order, the Intolerable Acts increased tensions between the Colonists and the government in Great Britain.  Throughout the original 13 colonies, many felt that their freedoms and natural rights as declared in the Magna Carta were in peril of disappearing altogether. Despite the fact that they were British Citizens, they lacked the representation and power in Parliament to have much of a say on their governance. 

In that regard, it fostered a sense of unity among independence-minded colonists. Protests spread throughout the colonies, and in the Fall of 1774, leadership in the colonies organized the First Continental Congress. This Congress adopted what came to be known as The Suffolk Resolves. According to this decision, Massachusetts would protest the Intolerable Acts by gathering weapons and munitions, organizing an independent Colonial government, and renouncing allegiance to a King who denied colonists representation. This was a course of action that led directly to the confrontations at Lexington and Concord. 

These tensions were made worse when Parliament passed the Restraining Act of 1775 on March 30th, just a few weeks before the outbreak of hostilities in Lexington. This Act prevented New England Colonies from trading with anyone but Britain in an attempt to break the boycott of British goods. Additionally, it closed off New England waters for fishing, reducing food sources for Patriots. Later, in an attempt to end the war, Parliament would pass the Taxation of Colonies Act of 1778 which repealed the highly unpopular Tea Tax, however, it was a case of too little action, too late to create peace.

Check for Comprehension !

Why was it called the Tea Party?
Given the consequences of the Tea Party, do you think that the Sons of Liberty achieved their goal?
If you were in Parliament, what response do you think you would have had to this protest?
Why was Sarah Fulton called the Mother of the Tea Party?