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Boston Tea Party

On December 16, 1773, three companies of 50 men each, dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded three vessels of the East Indian Company docked in Boston Harbor and dumped all the tea, some 342 chests valued at more than 10,000 pounds, into the sea. This was the the most dramatic in a series of colony-wide boycotts and protests against British monopolization and the undercutting of American merchants in the lucrative tea trade. [more>>]

History of the Boston Tea Party

In 1773, Britain's East India Company was sitting on large stocks of tea that it could not sell in England. In an effort to avoid bankruptcy, the government passed the Tea Act of 1773, giving the company the right to export tea directly to the colonies without paying any of the regular taxes imposed on colonial merchants. The company could now undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade. The act proved inflammatory for several reasons. First, it angered influential colonial merchants, who feared being replaced and bankrupted by a powerful monopoly. Second,the decision to grant franchises to certain favored American merchants created further resentments among those excluded from this lucrative trade. More important, however, the Tea Act revived American passions about the issue of taxation without representation. The assumption that most colonists would welcome the new law because it would reduce the price of tea by removing the middlemen was met, instead, by boycotts by large segments of the population, linking the colonies together in a common experience of mass popular protest. Particularly important to the movement were the activities of colonial women, who were one of the principal consumers of tea and now became the leaders of the boycott.

Various colonies made plans to prevent the East India Company from landing its cargoes in colonial ports. In ports other than Boston, agents of the company were "persuaded" to resign, and new shipments of tea were either returned to England or warehoused. In Boston, the agents refused to resign and, with the support of the royal governor, preparations were made to land incoming cargoes regardless of opposition. After failing to turn back the three ships in the harbor, locals led by Samuel Adams staged a spectacular drama. On the evening of December 16, 1773, three companies of fifty men each, masquerading as Mohawk Indians, passed through a tremendous crowd of spectators, went aboard the three ships, broke open the tea chests, and heaved them into the harbor.As the electrifying news of the Boston "tea party" spread, other seaports followed the example and staged similar acts of resistance of their own.

When the Bostonians refused to pay for the property they had destroyed, George III and Lord North passed the Coercive Acts of 1774. These acts, directed specifically against the Massachusetts Bay Colony, closed the port of Boston, drastically reduced the powers of self government, permitted royal officers accused of crimes to be tried outside of the colony and provided for the quartering of troops in the colonists' barns and empty houses, sparking new resistance up and down the coast.

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