On this day in 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships moored in Boston Harbor and dump 342 chests of tea into the water.
Now known as the “Boston Tea Party,” the midnight raid was a protest of the Tea Act of 1773, a bill enacted by the British parliament to save the faltering British East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the company to sell its tea even more cheaply than that smuggled into America by Dutch traders. Many colonists viewed the act as yet another example of Britain’s taxation tyranny.
In most American ports, the resistance group known as the Sons of Liberty scared off British tea-carrying ships by threatening their captains with tarring, feathering or worse. However, when three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor and the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England, Thomas Hutchinson, the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts, refused to permit the ships to leave. Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the now-famous “tea party” with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty. The British tea dumped into Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was worth more than $700,000 in today’s currency.
Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, called the “Intolerable Acts” by the colonists, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.