In our last post we talked about the history of the tea party and how it became a popular way to gather people together, provide opportunities for socializing, and promoted the drinking of tea across classes. For this post, we are going to focus on one of the most important tea parties in American history – The Boston Tea Party – that was actually more of a protest than a party.
Beginning in the early 1700’s, American colonists regularly imported tea from the British East India Company. They sure were importing a lot, too, because by the end of the 18th century it is estimated that colonists drank approximately 1.2 million pounds of tea each year! Clearly, there was an opportunity here for the British Parliament to make some money, so they implemented taxation in the American colonies with a specific focus on tea. In response, American colonial entrepreneurs thought, “Hey! Who says I can’t just get my tea from somewhere else?!” and they started smuggling tea into the colonies from the Dutch and other European markets to avoid the tax. Obviously, the British were not too pleased with this initiative, so in 1767 Parliament passed the Indemnity Act to repeal the tax on tea, making British tea the same price as smuggled tea. This worked for a while, but later that year, the Townshend Revenue Act placed a new tax on tea (along with a bunch of other things like glass, lead, oil, paint and paper, but these were repealed after), and later, they passed the Tea Act in 1773 to further protect the floundering British East India Company. The Tea Act granted the Company a monopoly on tea sales in American colonies and because tea was still taxed under the Townshend Revenue Act, British tea was pretty expensive. The colonists weren’t too happy about the Tea Act, and tea smugglers like Samuel Adams and John Hancock (yes, those guys were in the tea business) were especially displeased with how it was going to affect their businesses. To rally the patriot troops in opposition to the British, Samuel Adams sold the idea that “taxation without representation” was an abolishment of human rights. The colonists argued that Britain was unfairly taxing them to pay off the debt incurred during the French and Indian Wars, and felt that Britian did not have the right to tax American colonies because they were not represented in Parliament.
To demonstrate their discontent and unwillingness to comply with the taxation, on December 16 1773, a group of a hundred or so men, calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, boarded three ships in the Boston Harbour and threw 340 chests of tea overboard. Dressed in contemporary Mohawk Native clothing with their faces covered in dirt, the patriots dumped into the harbour over 92,000 pounds of British East India Company tea, worth today more than 1,700,000 American dollars. Apparently, the destroyed tea could have brewed some 18,523,000 cups!
As tea enthusiasts, I know you’re wondering – “What KIND of tea was it??” Well, the type of tea transported to Boston was not, in fact, from India, but from China. In the 18th century tea trade, the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party was described as “Bohea,” what we commonly refer to now as black tea. Traditionally, Bohea black tea came from the Wuyi Mountains in the Chinese province of Fujian, but during this period the term Bohea was used to refer to all black teas. The teas on the Beaver, Dartmouth and Eleanor (the three ships implicated in the Boston Tea Party), were reportedly of the Bohea, Congou and Souchong varieties, and also included some of the Hyson and Singlo green teas from the Chinese province of Anhui. You can only imagine how the Harbour smelt after 92,000 pounds of tea were dumped into it! As a result, the British shut down the harbour until all 340 chests of British East India Company tea could be paid for, which they ensured would happen by passing another act (the 1774 Intolerable Acts, in case you were wondering). Of course, the Patriots were even more enraged with yet another means of taxation and control, so they united together against British Rule. The rest is history – only one and a half years later the American Revolution began in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.
While for some Americans, their cup of tea may symbolize the fight for freedom from British rule, as a Canadian, I can only appreciate the lengths that people will go to for the right to drink whatever tea they want! Bottoms up!