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 Some background: On March 5, 1770 Parliament repealed all elements of the hated Townshend Acts, except for the three pence per pound tax on tea imported into the colonies.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.
Picture what it would be like if you could teach Colonial American history by transporting your students back in time so they might experience a particular event with all of their senses precisely as it takes place. If this were possible, one of the first locations and dates I would select would be: Boston, Massachusetts – July 18, 1776. On this Back to the Future field trip of sorts, the students and I would land our DeLorean in Dock Square near Faneuil Hall. From there we’d walk down the cobblestone streets of Shrimpton’s Lane to King Street and join a large crowd gathered near the Town House (today’s Old State House). We would speak to people to get their thoughts on what we were about to witness. My students would utilize all of their senses to process and learn from the experience. Some would be moved by what they see; others would be affected by what they hear; while the remainder might mention how they were impacted by a broadside they held in their grasp that connected them to the event. Then, as our history lesson continued, from the second floor of the Town House a door would swing open and we would see Colonel Thomas Crafts step out onto the balcony. With a voice strong and loud we’d hear him say:
“Fellow citizens of Boston, I now read the recent declaration adopted by Congress in Philadelphia, July 4, 1776.” Over the cheers of the crowd he’d continue, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America – When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…” We’d soon hear “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Now THAT would be a remarkable way to teach history – but perhaps a little tough to get parents to sign permission slips for! So, how can you bring history to life for your students and ensure that no matter what their primary learning style, they are fully engaged? Field trips might seem like an obvious answer – but when was the last time you felt a field trip was successful for ALL of your students? I recommend that teachers look for field trips that offer added value like guides with a personal connection to or real passion for the history; free MP3 audio or CDs that support what the students will learn; and access to original primary sources. For the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in grade schools throughout New England during my Boston field trips and school author visits. As a fellow educator, I am keenly aware that children learn in different ways – some are auditory learners (hearing and speaking); some are visual learners (seeing and perceiving); and some are kinesthetic learners (touch and movement). When you plug into a student’s primary learning style the light bulb goes on, things become clear, learning becomes fun, and the odds are greater that they will retain the material being presented to them. I accomplish that through storytelling (including tales from my ancestors); free downloadable MP3 audio of my children’s book One April in Boston; and allowing students to hold history in their hands by sharing historically relevant items from my collection of original colonial newspapers (PDF).
Students can hold and read these historic newspapers without fear of damaging them as they are protected in rigid acid free holders. Teachers enjoy reading them too! Let me share three of these papers with you now. The first item is a copy of the August 3, 1776 issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. It contains a historic single line report (pictured in this post) from Massachusetts about the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston. For auditory style learners (like me), there is a brief MP3 audio featuring this report at the end of the post. I share this paper with the students as we stand overlooking the spot where the Declaration was read on July 18, 1776. The second item is a copy of the Massachusetts Centinel from June 13, 1787. It contains an ad by Paul Revere announcing the relocation of his hardware store and silversmith shop and listing the items he made at his new location. What makes this item fun for the students is they read it in the exact spot where Revere’s shop once stood – marked today by this often overlooked plaque. The third item is a copy of the April 10, 1775 issue of the Boston Gazette – the second to last issue printed by Edes and Gill before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The masthead was engraved by Paul Revere. I share this paper near the site of the print shop of Benjamin Edes and John Gill which also served as a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty. In the Gazette office on December 16, 1773, Benjamin Edes and several other members of the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians before helping dump 342 chests of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.