|Q: “Why don’t the British pronounce their Ts?”
A: “Because the Americans threw it in the ocean.”
So goes a joke relayed to me, accent and all (Bri-ish”), by my middle son recently. Being reminded of this sensational event prompted some deep research on the history of the Boston Tea Party. The number of stereotypes that needed unlearning and fresh knowledge absorbed could have easily filled the Boston Harbor. The biggie: Though the rebellious colonialists were revolting against the Tea Act of 1773, they were not dumping King George’s prized tea. Rather, it was the private property of the East India Company, which was hemorrhaging cash and weighed down by an overabundance of 544,000 pounds of old tea. The British government had seen fit to bail out the prized trading firm by allowing it to dump the tea onto the Americans at a bargain basement price.
The problem was the Sons of Liberty were themselves merchants, and in some cases, tea smugglers. The British had extended the powers of the 1767 Townshend Act, which upped taxes on UK imports, to include blanket search warrants to enter suspected smugglers’ homes. The most famous was John Hancock, who turned to Samuel Adams’ cousin, prominent attorney, and fellow Sons of Liberty member John Adams, who successfully defended Hancock against the charges. Loads of history predates 1773’s passage of the Tea Act including a British massacre of Bostonians that ignited one Paul Revere to become a key source of propaganda to fuel the masses hatred. The monopolizing of the East India Company to sell duty-free tea at the expense of colonial tea importers was future U.S. patriots’ bridge too far.
On the night of December 16, 1773, some 60 Sons of Liberty boarded three trade ships in Griffin’s Wharf — the Beaver, the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, all of which were built and owned by Americans. Over the course of the next three hours, they emptied 342 chests of tea into the harbor worth more than $2 million in today’s dollars. To tragically, and at the same time ironically, signify their unbowed defiant sense of rootedness in their new home and to future show their rejection of being branded British subjects, they donned traditional Mohawk garments.
Though there were ten other similar attacks on ships carrying duty-free British tea up and down the Eastern seaboard, Parliament’s fierce retribution was directed specifically at the Massachusetts Colony. The Intolerable Acts of 1774, meant to teach a lesson not soon forgotten, closed the Boston Harbor, replaced Boston’s elected leaders with Crown appointees and coerced the quartering of British troops in private homes.
This proved to be one overstep too many by the imperialists, prompting one outraged but articulate Thomas Jefferson to write “A Summary of the Rights of the British America.” With this document as a rally call, the party of those 60 men in Griffin’s Wharf began to grow in number. The Boston Tea Party did, after all, refer to a political party from Day One, not to a festive gathering. To this day, it goes down as one of the least violent call to arms in world history.