The Boston Tea Party took place on this very day, December 16, two hundred and thirty six years ago. Today I’ll be wrapping up my series on the tea tax and the Tea Party by providing grade school teachers with a few valuable tools: a sampling of local press coverage in the days following the “destruction of the tea”; and an opportunity for your students to “listen to” the news as it was presented in the London papers. This chance to “listen to” the news is possible through the first in a series of primary source audio podcasts – something that will be a regular feature of this blog in the year ahead. This initial audio podcast (see link below) is a reading of an article that appeared in London’s Gentleman’s Magazine in January 1774 with coverage of the events that took place in Boston on December 16, 1773. When your students listen to this, have them imagine how the people in London would have reacted to the news of the destruction of the East India Company tea. How do they think King George III might have reacted personally! With regard to local press coverage – most of the newspapers in Boston were printed weekly, either on Mondays or Thursdays, and since the Tea Party occurred on a Thursday evening, the papers printed on a Monday would be first to carry the news. These were the Boston Gazette, printed by Benjamin Edes and John Gill; and the Boston Evening Post, printed by Thomas and John Fleet. Both featured extensive coverage. A copy of the Boston Gazette was apparently taken by sailing ship to London, as one of the articles in it is exactly the same as the piece that appeared in the January 1774 issue of London’s Gentleman’s Magazine – the audio podcast you can listen to.
The Boston Evening Post issue for Monday, December 20 contains more coverage than the Gazette, including all the details of the meeting at Old South Meeting House (see PDF files below). The Boston Gazette issue for December 20 did not contain this, with the printers noting the reason – “The particular account of the proceedings of the people at their meeting on Tuesday and Thursday last, are omitted this week for want of room.” The Thursday, December 23 issue of the Massachusetts Spy, printed by Isaiah Thomas, did contain all the details of the meeting at Old South but nothing about the destruction of the tea. Of all the accounts I have been able to research, perhaps my favorite appeared in the December 23, 1773 issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Newsletter. All the other papers mentioned above were produced by patriot printers but this one was printed by Richard Draper, a Loyalist. The fact that he sided with the King does not affect the coverage. I like it because it includes details not found in other press accounts. The complete article appears below:
Just before the dissolution of the meeting, a number of brave and resolute men, dressed in the Indian manner, approached near the door of the Assembly, gave the war whoop, which rang through the house and was answered by some in the galleries, but silence being commanded, and a peaceable deportment was again enjoined til the dissolution. The Indians, as they were then called, repaired to the wharf where the ships lay that had the tea on board, and were followed by hundreds of people to see the event of the transactions of those who made so grotesque an appearance.
They, the Indians, immediately repaired on board Captain Hall’s ship, where they hoisted out the chests of tea, and when upon deck stove the chests and emptied the tea overboard; having cleared this ship they proceeded to Captain Bruce’s and then to Captain Coffin’s brig. They applied themselves so dexterously to the destruction of this commodity that in the space of three hours they broke up 342 chests, which was the whole number in those vessels, and discharged the contents into the dock. When the tide rose it floated the broken chests and the tea isomuch that the surface of the water was filled therewith a considerable way from the south part of the town to Dorchester Neck, and lodged on the shores. There was the greatest care taken to prevent the tea from being purloined by the populace. One or two, being detected in endeavoring to pocket a small quantity, were stripped of their acquisitions and very roughly handled.
It is worthy of remark that although a considerable quantity of goods were still remaining on board the vessels, no injury was sustained. Such attention to private property was observed that a small padlock belonging to the captain of one of the ships being broke, another was procured and sent to him. The town was very quiet during the whole evening and night following. Those persons who were from the country returned with a merry heart; and the next day joy appeared in almost every countenance, some on occasion of the destruction of the tea, others on the account of the quietness with which it was effected. One of the Monday’s papers says that the masters and owners are well pleased that their ships are thus cleared.
Press Coverage from the December 20, 1773 issue from the Boston Evening Post appears below:
The original article from London’s Gentleman’s Magazine – January 1774
Audio Podcast of the article in London’s Gentleman’s Magazine from January 1774
Last Sunday I attended the annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party at Old South Meeting House celebrating the 236th Anniversary of the event. I decided to cover it using some of the latest technology available to any 21st century correspondent these days – with mobile device in hand (in my case an iPhone) I would be sending tweets on Twitter using TweetDeck as the events unfolded. My Twitter handle @bostonhistory seemed appropriate for the assignment. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to step back in time and discuss these modern communication tools with patriot printers like Benjamin Edes and Isaiah Thomas. I’m sure they would both think I had taken leave of my senses and ask me to follow them back to their respective print shops – the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy – so I might help set type by hand so everyone could learn the news “as quickly as possible” about the events that took place in Boston on December 16, 1773. Well, I digress…back to the present day. It was a rainy night in Boston on Sunday but that didn’t prevent a large crowd from gathering at Old South. This “meeting of the people of Boston and the neighboring towns” was completely Sold Out with over 600 in attendance including some 70 reenactors. (At the original meeting over 5,000 people, 1/3 of Boston’s population, gathered both inside Old South and in the area surrounding the building.) The performance by Old South’s Tea Party Players was outstanding. The reenactors, dressed in correct period attire, were mixed in with audience members throughout the meeting house and each and every one had a particular role to play.
The reenactment of the meeting was called to order by Mr. Samuel Savage, a gentleman of the Town of Weston, who was chosen as moderator. The first of the three tea ships, the Dartmouth, had been in Boston since late November and its cargo still remained on board. A tax had to be paid the moment the tea was landed and if the duty was not paid within 20 days of the ship’s arrival, it would be seized by British customs officials. For weeks, the colonists held mass meetings and tried to prevent the tea from being unloaded, even stationing guards around the ships. They sought a peaceful resolution – have the tea ships return to England with their cargo. Up to this point, all their requests had been denied. The meeting’s moderator asked Mr. Francis Rotch, owner of the Dartmouth, to seek a pass from Governor Hutchinson so his ship might return to England with its cargo. Mr. Rotch left for Governor Hutchinson’s country home in Milton and as the crowd awaited his return and the governor’s reply, a debate ensued and I began my work as a Twitter correspondent.
Audience members were given the opportunity to participate in the debate. In the program for the evening, everyone received a slip of paper, color-coded for either a patriot or a loyalist, and containing words that people attending the original meeting and supporting that particular side of the debate might have spoken. People of all ages stepped up to microphones placed throughout the hall as Mr. Samuel Savage moderated the debate. Here are a few of the 24 tweets I sent during the event: “Doctor Joseph Warren speaks out against the tea tax.”; “Loyalists speak out – 3 pence a pound is a paltry sum to pay.”; “William Health says patriots are traitors to the crown.”; “Patriot – the tea tax is an insult to the citizens of Boston.”; “Loyalist – we must pay for the French and Indian War debt.”; “Patriot – I will continue to wear only homespun clothes and drink Liberty tea, huzzah!”; “Loyalist – we might be speaking French if not for the King. Fi!”; “Patriot – we should have the right to tax ourselves and keep it in the colonies.” A motion was made from the chair that the tea not be landed and a short time later, Mr. Francis Rotch returned with Governor Hutchinson’s answer. The Governor would not grant a pass for the Dartmouth, the tea must be landed and the tax paid. At that very moment, patriot leader Samuel Adams stood up and said “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” It was a secret signal for the Sons of Liberty to act.
The lights dimmed in Old South Meeting House and the “destruction of the tea” was played out in fine theatrical fashion. Men thinly disguised as “Mohawks” or “Indians” resembled their period counterparts who at the actual event were covered with blankets or ragged clothing with their faces smeared with lampblack or soot. The reenactors depicted how the tea was dumped into the sea, while a narrator filled the audience in on all the details including an interesting tale of an individual who tried to pocket some of the loose tea and how he was dealt with by the patriots. On the evening of December 16, 1773, in less than four hours, a party of patriots dumped 342 chest of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor in a protest against British taxation that John Adams called “so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it an Epocha in History.” As the lights came back up in the Old South Meeting House and the audience expressed its appreciation for a wonderful production, I thought of one individual likely in attendance at the original meeting 236 years ago – my ancestor Alexander Edwards a member of the Sons of Liberty. Old South’s Tea Party Players truly helped me picture what his experience might have been like.
The 236th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Annual Reenactment was sponsored by Salada Tea – offering some exciting new flavors of green tea – and The Liberty Hotel located in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. Teachers: Visit the Old South Meeting House website to learn more about the Boston Tea Party and their great school programs including the very popular Tea is Brewing.
With the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party coming up on December 16 and the annual reenactment at Old South Meeting House scheduled for this Sunday, today I’ll be reviewing the events leading up to “the destruction of the tea” (as it was called back then), with a special focus on the first town meeting that Bostonians held to protest the tea tax. This initial meeting took place at Faneuil Hall on Friday, November 5, 1773. The image of Faneuil Hall in this post shows the building as it appeared at that time – half the size it is today. Some background: On March 5, 1770 Parliament repealed all elements of the hated Townshend Acts, except for the three pence per pound tax on tea imported into the colonies. When Parliament passed the Tea Act on May 10, 1773, it gave the East India Company the right to bypass any middlemen and sell their tea directly to the colonies. The company was in financial trouble and had a large inventory of tea, so this strategy enabled them to sell it at a reduced price (which they felt would be very agreeable to the colonists) and still make a profit. However, the lower priced tea included the three pence per pound tax and the colonists felt that purchasing the tea would signify their willingness to be taxed without their consent. As a result, everyone was up in arms when shipments of East India Company tea made their way to Boston; New York; Philadelphia; and Charlestown, South Carolina in the fall of 1773. Tea agents were given authority to sell the tea but colonists knew they must make every effort to get these men to resign their commissions and also take steps to ensure that the tea not be landed. Under pressure, agents in New York and Philadelphia gave up their commissions quickly but Boston was a different story as some of the agents there were relatives of Governor Hutchinson and more difficult to sway.
Press coverage of the first tea meeting at Faneuil Hall appeared in the November 11, 1773 issue of the Massachusetts Spy. Links to that coverage appear at the end of this post. In addition to the coverage of the meeting, the paper contained an interesting extract of a letter from a gentleman in Philadelphia to his friend in Boston. Here is a portion of that letter:
The adventure of the East India Company is the most obnoxious measure that could have been proposed. I have not met one individual who does not resent the very idea. You may expect that the next account will give you abundant evidence of a universally determined resolution to oppose the scheme. We hope the commissioners appointed for the sales will gratify the public by giving up the commission. But should they not do so, it will only be the means of a little trouble, for the present temper is to compel them not to receive the tea, and to prevent its being landed. We hear this is the spirit of Maryland and New York. There are many fears respecting Boston. Some give out, and assert that you have imported tea without any reserve and paid the duties: You may depend not an ounce has paid duties in this port. – But whatever may have been done, it is to be hoped the town of Boston will appear on the present occasion with their usual spirit.
John Hancock moderated the meeting on November 5 and the town developed several resolutions including: “that the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America, is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent”; “that the resolution lately come into by the East India Company to send out their tea to America, subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America”; “that it is the duty of every American to oppose this attempt”; and “that whoever shall, directly or indirectly, countenance this attempt, or in any wise aid or abet in unloading, receiving or vending the tea sent, or to be sent out by the East India Company, while it remain subject to the payment of a duty here, is an enemy to America.” Finally, they agreed that a committee be chosen to wait on those gentlemen appointed by the East India Company to receive and sell the tea and request that they immediately resign their appointment. The remainder of the meeting, as well as the one on the following day, was focused on the actions of this committee and a second and the responses from the tea agents – which in short order was unanimously voted to be “not satisfactory” to the town.
Original press coverage of the Faneuil Hall tea meetings on November 5 and 6 from the November 11, 1773 issue of the Massachusetts Spy appears below.
I’d like to make teachers aware of an outstanding online resource for information on New England just before, during, and after the Revolutionary War – the Boston 1775 blog. The blog is authored by J.L. Bell, a Massachusetts writer who specializes in the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. J.L. has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. His recent presentation “Gossiping about the Gores”, the story of one family from Colonial Boston, is archived by the WGBH Forum Network.
J.L. Bell is more than a writer who is passionate about history; he’s also a bit of a detective. Since 2006, the content on Boston 1775 has grown to over 1,300 posts, with many being the result of his exhaustive research into primary sources. Educators and all those passionate about history can truly spend hours on this blog learning information that will make them think about historical events in a different way. You’ll find numerous posts on Lexington and Concord, the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill and so much more.
Two posts I found particularly fascinating were on the myths and realities of the Quartering Act. Back in grade school I was taught that the Quartering Act forced Boston families to provide food and shelter for the King’s troops occupying the town. I had pictured colonists being required to open up their homes to soldiers without any payment in return or say in the matter. By reading posts at Boston 1775, I realized this was not the case. The Act only referred to shelter in “unoccupied” buildings and not inhabited ones.
Some Boston families did house British soldiers in their homes before the war but most did so due to economic necessity and were compensated for it in the form of rent. One example of this is the family of Old North Church sexton Robert Newman. Knowledge of the true nature of the Quartering Act came too late for me to catch a small Act related error on page 31 of my children’s book One April in Boston – but I guess that’s what second editions are for! It’s an example of what one can gain from reading Boston 1775, and ensures that today I’m conveying the correct information to the students I work with both on field trips and in the classroom. Thanks J.L. for all the time and effort you’ve invested in creating this important resource for educators and history buffs alike.