Thursday 16th December 1773 was the day colonial America showed they were really getting fed-up with Britain.
At the beginning of this month three ships of the East India Company – the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, all carrying tea for which the company had sole rights of supply, had arrived in Boston harbour. The Bostonians refused to allow the tea to be landed and Thomas Hutchinson, the extremely unpopular British governor, instructed the three ships to stay in the harbour and placed two warships in the harbour to enforce his order.
The result was a stand-off led by Samuel Adams, a man who, nine years previous, had campaigned against the Sugar Tax. On this Thursday afternoon an estimated 2,000 (quoted numbers vary) Americans gathered on the wharf while around 60 (again numbers vary) protestors – some disguised as Mohawk Indians – boarded the three ships and threw 342 cases of tea into Boston harbour.
It has been called ‘The Boston Tea Party’ but it wasn’t a riot, a rampaging mob, but a carefully planned response to what they regarded as unfair taxation. None-the-less Hutchinson responded to the whole situation by closing Boston Harbour which caused considerable hardships to the Bostonian population.
A number of colonists were inspired by the Boston Tea Party to carry out similar acts. One was the burning of the Peggy Stewart, a Maryland cargo vessel burned on October 19, 1774, in Annapolis as a punishment for contravening the boycott on tea imports which had been imposed in retaliation for the British treatment of the people of Boston following the Boston Tea Party. This event became known as the ‘Annapolis Tea Party’.
This whole situation eventually proved to be one of the many reactions that led to the American Revolutionary War. In his diary of 17th December 1773 John Adams -later 2nd President of the United States – wrote:
‘Last Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails. This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered—something notable And striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an Epocha in History.’
There was a repeat performance on 7th March 1774, but it was much less destructive. In February 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution, which ended taxation for any colony that satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of imperial officers. The tax on tea was repealed with the Relaxation of Colonies Act of 1778, part of another Parliamentary attempt at conciliation that failed.
John Adams was a Founding Father, an American patriot, a lawyer, diplomat and statesman who, in 1789, became the first Vice President and in 1797 became the Second President of the United States. He died in 1801.