Seven Things You Didn’t Know (But Want To) About the Boston Tea Party


John Andrews wrote to his brother in law about the dramatic events of the Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party

  1. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t about excessive taxation. It was about a corporate bailout that threatened small merchants in Boston. For years the East India Company had to ship its tea to Britain and pay a commission, or tax, before selling it in the other colonies. In exchange, Parliament gave it a monopoly on tea. The tax paid by the East India Company in Britain made its tea more expensive in America than tea smuggled in from Dutch traders. When the East India Company ran into financial trouble, Parliament gave it a special deal. The company was allowed to keep its monopoly and export tea directly to America without paying the tax in Britain. That made East India tea cheaper in America than Dutch imported tea. It also made small, independent tea merchants less competitive than the East India Company. And even though Parliament’s action reduced the price of tea, it established the principle that America was subject to British taxes. Hence the Boston Tea Party.
  2. John Singleton Copley, detail from self portrait

    John Singleton Copley, detail from self portrait

    John Singleton Copley, the artist who painted so many of the important people of the late 18th century, tried to work out a compromise with the Sons of Liberty. His father-in-law was an East India merchant who needed the tea. At the Old South Meetinghouse on Nov. 30, 1773, Copley argued the tea should be unloaded and kept in a warehouse while the colonists pressed their case with the governor and the Crown. He didn’t win his argument.

  3. A year before the Boston Tea Party, Rhode Island staged its own maritime protest against import taxes in the Gaspee Affair. The crew of the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee was aggressively boarding American ships in Narragansett Bay. They were searching for smuggled rum so they could collect the Sugar Tax. When the Gaspee ran aground, colonists led by John Brown and Abraham Whipple mustered 100 men to board longboats at night, capture the crew and burn the ship to the waterline.
  4. East India tea was carried to Boston in a fourth ship in addition to the Eleanor, the Beaver and the Dartmouth. The vessel was shipwrecked on Cape Cod and the patriots, again dressed as Indians, destroyed as much of the tea as they could.
  5. Benjamin Edes, printer of the Boston Gazette, was considered the father of the Boston Tea Party. He went to his grave without revealing who participated. He kept a list of participants locked in his desk drawer all his life. After he died, his widow gave the list to a Boston selectman named Benjamin Austin. According to his son Peter, the list was never seen again.

    Burning of the Gaspee

    Burning of the Gaspee

  6. His son, Peter Edes, was imprisoned for 3-1/2 months by the British – but not because of the Boston Tea Party. (He did serve punch to the Tea Partiers, who gathered at his father’s house on the night they dumped the tea in the harbor. It was the eve of his 17th birthday.) The British noticed young Edes on Copps Hill cheering the patriots during the Battle of Bunker Hill. British regulars arrested him after searching his house and finding illegal firearms. He was probably punished for the sins of his father. Peter Edes later became a printer himself, publishing the first newspaper in eastern Maine.
  7. There was still another Boston Tea Party – a rock and roll club in Boston’s South End from 1967-70. It was the Velvet Underground’s favorite venue, the first place B.B. King and Muddy Waters ever played to a white audience, the birthplace of Led Zeppelin’s performing style. The Grateful Dead spiked a bottle of wine with LSD backstage, and Little Richard almost broke the piano. On Jan. 24, 2007, with a gathering of 100 Boston music people, the Bostonian Society unveiled a small marker next to the 7-Eleven that occupies the ground floor. (The rest of the building is now condominiums.) How did The Boston Tea Party fans persuade the staid historical society to put up a marker? The building had originally been a Unitarian church dedicated to the memory of Theodore Parker. They argued the kind of people who hung out at the Tea Party in the Sixties were for civil rights and women’s rights and against the Vietnam War, so Theodore Parker’s spirit was very much alive at the Tea Party.




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