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Colonies and Empires
"Boston Tea Party" (1773)
Almost at the same time as the Boston Massacre, the Townsend Duties on all goods, except tea, were repealed. The colonists were huge consumers of tea, drinking two million cups a day. To avoid paying this last import duty on tea, Americans drank smuggled Dutch tea. Their refusal to touch the tea shipped by Britain's East India Company contributed to the decline of this important chartered trading company. To try to save the company, the government gave it special permission to ship tea directly to America from India, cutting out the "middlemen" in Britain. The price of tea dropped by half as a result. East Indian tea, although still taxed, was now cheaper than Dutch tea.
"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor", lithograph by Nathaniel Currier 1773
Not all Americans were happy about the cheap, but still taxed, tea. Propaganda encouraged the colonists to stop drinking it since it destroyed their liberty and made them "weak and effeminate". One Massachusetts's man who had a large tea supply was asked to surrender it or be handed over "to female Patriots for punishment". He parted with it.
In the Autumn of 1773, a flotilla of seven ships, loaded with East Indian tea, approached American ports. The merchants to whom the tea was destined decided to cancel their orders and, in some ports, the tea was simply locked away in warehouses until the controversy died down.
At Boston, the Patriots' leader, Sam Adams, demanded that three of the ships be sent back to sea, but the Governor of Massachusetts refused. He claimed that once a ship had entered the harbour the tea duty had to be paid.
On 16th December 1773, a crowd of men wearing blankets, and with their faces blacked with soot, pretending they were Mohawk Indians, climbed onto the ships. Cheered on by a crowd of five thousand which watched from the wharves, they threw more than £10000 worth of tea into the harbour water. Nobody knows who exactly made up the members of the "Boston Tea Party", but some highly placed gentlemen in Boston were probably involved. George Hewes, a participant, later said that John Hancock, (who would be the first to sign the Declaration of Independence and who was the richest man in Boston), had helped him throw a chest of tea overboard. He had recognised Hancock by the fancy shirt ruffles beneath his Indian blanket and had exchanged the password with him: "Ugh. Me know you.".
This challenge to British rule could no longer be ignored. "We must master them," said George III,"or totally leave them to themselves and treat them as aliens." In 1774, the government closed the port of Boston until the city had paid for the tea which had been destroyed. The charter of the colony was also removed. This abolished the assembly, so that the colony could be ruled directly from London
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