The Boston Tea Party

Tea was a daily staple in 18th century colonial America, and the colonists had developed a thriving black market tea trade to circumvent English taxes. This situation eventually culmintated in the Boston Tea Party - one of the decisive events leading up to the American Revolution.

The Dutch were among the first Europeans to integrate tea into their daily diet. Holland controlled lucrative trade routes to China and was the major European tea importer at the beginning of the 17th century.

Naturally the habit of tea drinking passed to the Dutch colonies in the New World, and the citizens of New Amsterdam (later named New York) constituted a significant portion of the overall tea trade. Tea consumption in New Amsterdam was such that by the time the English assumed control of the region in 1664 they found that the settlement consumed more tea than all the rest of England combined.

The popularity of tea spread to the remaining New World colonies and by 1720 tea had been established as a dietary staple. The tea trade was now controlled by the East India Company of England, and tea was heavily taxed. This encouraged the rise of black market trading which cut into the profits of the East India Company.

By 1773 the situation had reached a critical point. The East India Company had large stockpiles of tea that it was unable to sell and was facing bankruptcy. The British government responded by passing the Tea Act of 1773 The Boston Tea Partywhich gave the Company the right to sell tea in the colonies without the usual colonial tax. This would have given the Company a virtual monopoly on the tea trade as they would be able to undercut the smugglers as well as the local tea merchants.

The British government was expecting the colonists to willingly accept this situation since they would be able to buy tea more cheaply than before. However, the Tea Act threatened the livelihoods of several influential citizens who were able to stir up resentment towards the British concerning the issue of taxation without representation.

The result was a tea boycott that had wide support and brought the colonies together in a common cause. The East India Company was prevented from landing its tea at several ports and in Charleston the tea was simply warehoused and allowed to rot.

Port officials in Boston, however, were pro-British and gave permission for three ships to land their cargo. As the ships lay in harbor, approximately 150 men disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded them and dumped all the tea into the water. This event, known to history as the Boston Tea Party, occurred on December 16, 1773.

The British retaliated by passing several decrees that closed the port of Boston and restricted powers of self-government. All of these actions had the effect of uniting the 13 colonies in their resentment against British rule, and were significant factors leading up to the American Revolution.