Joseph Dyar Speaks Too Freely of the Boston Tea Party

After heaving 340 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 found, Joseph Dyar long said he belonged to them. He also said his wife helped make the copper coloring that the patriots used to disguise themselves as Indians.

Joseph Dyar, Blabbermouth

Unfortunately for Dyar he made his claims too close to the ears of British soldiers. Dyar, a seafaring man from the North End of Boston, made ready to set sail in early 1774. The British, however, 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 did something quite different. He 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 taking him to England.

John Andrews was a Boston merchant who kept his relatives in Philadelphia informed of the goings on in Boston, He told them Dyar explained that his original statements about the Tea Party could be chalked up as his “being an artful fellow.” He also pretended “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 no one tried to frame him.

Not the Expected Outcome

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. He mistakenly thought they had participated in his arrest.

First Dyar tried to shoot them. Then he tried to attack them with a cutlass that he wrestled from one of them.

As Andrews recounted the fight, “Captain Montresor ran behind a cart to escape his fury.” (Montresor’s daughter would marry Ethan Allen.) Dyar then flung the pistols at him and run off flourishing the colonel’s cutlass, Andrews wrote. He then proceeded directly to Cambridge and went into the room where the Provincial Congress were sitting. “[He] told them he had got one of the swords that Lord North had sent over to kill them with,” wrote Andrews.


John Singleton Copley painted this portrait of John Hancock around 1771. Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Provincial Congress denied Dyar the justice he sought. “When they came to know what he had been doing, they immediately sent for an officer and committed him,” wrote Andrews.

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. He died in 1783 from the effects of beatings administered by his British captors.

This story last updated in 2021.

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