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Joseph Dyar Speaks Too Freely of the Boston Tea Party

After heaving 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773, the band of patriots who carried out the raid marched past British Admiral John Montagu, who had come ashore to witness the unrest.

joseph-dyarMontagu could have put a stop to the tea party, but had not ordered any British response, he said, for fear of injuring innocents. Still he exchanged taunts with the passing mob – many dressed as Indians – warning that they would have to pay for their deeds.

While the complete list of the Americans who undertook the Boston Tea Party has never been assembled, Joseph Dyar long said he was one of them and that his wife was one of the women who made the copper coloring that the patriots used to disguise themselves as Indians.

Unfortunately for Dyar he made his claims too close to the ears of British soldiers. Dyar was a seafaring man from the North End of Boston, and as he made ready to set sail in early 1774 the British arrested him. The official charge: he had encouraged British soldiers to desert.

Dyar was sent to England aboard a vessel carrying Admiral Montagu. His family knew nothing of his arrest, assuming he had gone to sea as planned. Far from telling all about the Tea Party – if he actually knew it – Dyar swore under oath that a British colonel tried to bribe him to frame John Hancock as the instigator of the Tea Party. He swore also that Admiral Montagu repeated the offer while carrying him to England.

John Andrews, a Boston merchant who kept his relatives in Philadelphia informed of the goings on in Boston, noted in his letters that Dyar explained that his original statements about the tea party could be chalked up as his “being an artful fellow and one who pretends to know everything.”

Persuaded that he knew nothing, the British sent Dyar home in October of 1774. British officials conferred with Hancock and assured him that there had been no attempt to frame him.

Dyar was furious with the outcome. He demanded that the British pay for their efforts to bribe him. When that failed he announced he would restore his honor. Dyar proceeded to the Liberty Tree and confronted two British officers, whom he mistakenly thought were involved in his arrest. First Dyar tried to shoot them and he then tried to attack them with a cutlass that he wrestled from one of the men.

As Andrews recounted the encounter: “Captain Montresor ran behind a cart to escape his fury, upon which he flung the pistols at him and run off flourishing the Colonel's cutlass, and proceeded directly to Cambridge and went into the room where the provincial Congress were sitting, and told them he had got one of the swords that Lord North had sent over to kill them with.”

Dyar was still denied justice by the Provincial Congress: “When they came to know what he had been doing, they immediately sent for an officer and committed him.”

Dyar would go on to serve in the American Revolution, ferrying supplies to Long Island for the Continental Army. He was captured nine times by the British and died in 1783 from the effects of beatings administered by his British captors.

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