summary of boston tea party essay

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Boston Tea Party

By: Editors

Updated: December 6, 2023 | Original: October 27, 2009

HISTORY: The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that occurred on December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. American colonists, frustrated and angry at Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of tea, imported by the British East India Company into the harbor. The event was the first major act of defiance to British rule over the colonists. It showed Great Britain that Americans would not tolerate taxation and tyranny sitting down, and rallied American patriots across the 13 colonies to fight for independence.

Why Did the Boston Tea Party Happen?

In the 1760s, Britain was deep in debt, so British Parliament imposed a series of taxes on American colonists to help pay those debts.

The Stamp Act of 1765 taxed colonists on virtually every piece of printed paper they used, from playing cards and business licenses to newspapers and legal documents. The Townshend Acts of 1767 went a step further, taxing essentials such as paint, paper, glass, lead and tea.

The British government felt the taxes were fair since much of its debt was earned fighting wars on the colonists’ behalf.  The colonists, however, disagreed. They were furious at being taxed without having any representation in Parliament, and felt it was wrong for Britain to impose taxes on them to gain revenue.

Boston Massacre Enrages Colonists

On March 5, 1770, a street brawl happened in Boston between American colonists and British soldiers.

Later known as the Boston Massacre , the fight began after an unruly group of colonists—frustrated with the presence of British soldiers in their streets— flung snowballs , ice and oyster shells at a British sentinel guarding the Boston Customs House.

Reinforcements arrived and opened fire on the mob, killing five colonists and wounding six. The Boston Massacre and its fallout further incited the colonists’ rage towards Britain.

Tea Act Imposed

Britain eventually repealed the taxes it had imposed on the colonists except the tea tax. It wasn’t about to give up tax revenue on the nearly 1.2 million pounds of tea the colonists drank each year.

In protest, the colonists boycotted tea sold by British East India Company and smuggled in Dutch tea, leaving British East India Company with millions of pounds of surplus tea and facing bankruptcy.

In May 1773, British Parliament passed the Tea Act which allowed British East India Company to sell tea to the colonies duty-free and much cheaper than other tea companies—but still tax the tea when it reached colonial ports.

Tea smuggling in the colonies increased, although the cost of the smuggled tea soon surpassed that of tea from British East India Company with the added tea tax.

Still, with the help of prominent tea smugglers such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams —who protested taxation without representation but also wanted to protect their tea smuggling operations—colonists continued to rail against the tea tax and Britain’s control over their interests.

Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty were a group of colonial merchants and tradesmen founded to protest the Stamp Act and other forms of taxation. The group of revolutionists included prominent patriots such as Benedict Arnold , Patrick Henry and Paul Revere , as well as Adams and Hancock.

Led by Adams, the Sons of Liberty held meetings rallying against British Parliament and protested the Griffin’s Wharf arrival of Dartmouth , a British East India Company ship carrying tea. By December 16, 1773, Dartmouth had been joined by her sister ships, Beaver and Eleanor ; all three ships loaded with tea from China.

That morning, as thousands of colonists convened at the wharf and its surrounding streets, a meeting was held at the Old South Meeting House where a large group of colonists voted to refuse to pay taxes on the tea or allow the tea to be unloaded, stored, sold or used. (Ironically, the ships were built in America and owned by Americans.)

Governor Thomas Hutchison refused to allow the ships to return to Britain and ordered the tea tariff be paid and the tea unloaded. The colonists refused, and Hutchison never offered a satisfactory compromise.

Facts: What Happened at the Boston Tea Party

That night, a large group of men—many reportedly members of the Sons of Liberty— disguised themselves in Native American garb, boarded the docked ships and threw 342 chests of tea into the water.

Said participant George Hewes, “We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water.”

Hewes also noted that “We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.”

Did you know? It took nearly three hours for more than 100 colonists to empty the tea into Boston Harbor. The chests held more than 90,000 lbs. (45 tons) of tea, which would cost nearly $1,000,000 dollars today.

Boston Tea Party Aftermath

While some important colonist leaders such as John Adams were thrilled to learn Boston Harbor was covered in tea leaves, others were not.

In June of 1774, George Washington wrote: “the cause of Boston…ever will be considered as the cause of America.” But his personal views of the event were far different. He voiced strong disapproval of “their conduct in destroying the Tea” and claimed Bostonians “were mad.” Washington, like many other elites, held private property to be sacrosanct. 

Benjamin Franklin insisted the British East India Company be reimbursed for the lost tea and even offered to pay for it himself.

No one was hurt, and aside from the destruction of the tea and a padlock, no property was damaged or looted during the Boston Tea Party. The participants reportedly swept the ships’ decks clean before they left.

Who Organized the Boston Tea Party?  

Though led by Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty and organized by John Hancock, the names of many of those involved in the Boston Tea Party remain unknown. Thanks to their Native American costumes, only one of the tea party culprits, Francis Akeley, was arrested and imprisoned.

Even after American independence, participants refused to reveal their identities, fearing they could still face civil and criminal charges as well as condemnation from elites for the destruction of private property. Most participants in the Boston Tea Party were under the age of 40 and 16 of them were teenagers . 

Coercive Acts

But despite the lack of violence, the Boston Tea Party didn’t go unanswered by King George III and British Parliament.

In retribution, they passed the Coercive Acts (later known as the Intolerable Acts) which:

  • Closed Boston Harbor until the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party was paid for
  • Ended the Massachusetts Constitution and ended free elections of town officials
  • Moved judicial authority to Britain and British judges, basically creating martial law in Massachusetts
  • Required colonists to quarter British troops on demand
  • Extended freedom of worship to French-Canadian Catholics under British rule, which angered the mostly Protestant colonists

Britain hoped the Coercive Acts would squelch rebellion in New England and keep the remaining colonies from uniting, but the opposite happened: All the colonies viewed the punitive laws as further evidence of Britain’s tyranny and rallied to Massachusetts’ aid, sending supplies and plotting further resistance.

Second Boston Tea Party

A second Boston Tea Party took place in March 1774, when around 60 Bostonians boarded the ship Fortune and dumped nearly 30 chests of tea into the harbor.

The event didn’t earn nearly as much notoriety as the first Boston Tea Party, but it did encourage other tea-dumping demonstrations in Maryland , New York and South Carolina .

First Continental Congress Is Convened

Many colonists felt Britain’s Coercive Acts went too far. On September 5, 1774, elected delegates from all 13 American colonies except Georgia met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress to figure out how to resist British oppression.

The delegates were divided on how to move forward but the Boston Tea Party had united them in their fervor to gain independence. By the time they adjourned in October 1774, they’d written The Declaration and Resolves which:

  • Censured Britain for passing the Coercive Acts and called for their repeal
  • Established a boycott of British goods
  • Declared the colonies had the right to govern independently
  • Rallied colonists to form and train a colonial militia

Britain didn’t capitulate and within months, the “ shot heard round the world ,” rang out in Concord, Massachusetts , sparking the start of the American Revolutionary War .

A Tea Party Timeline: 1773-1775. Old South Meeting House. The Boston Tea Party. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts Historical Society. The Boston Tea Party, 1773. The Intolerable Acts.

summary of boston tea party essay

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Course: US history   >   Unit 3

  • The Seven Years' War: background and combatants
  • The Seven Years' War: battles and legacy
  • Seven Years' War: lesson overview
  • Seven Years' War
  • Pontiac's uprising
  • Uproar over the Stamp Act
  • The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence
  • The Boston Massacre
  • Prelude to revolution

The Boston Tea Party

  • The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
  • Lexington and Concord
  • The Second Continental Congress
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Women in the American Revolution
  • The American Revolution
  • The Boston Tea Party , which involved the willful destruction of 342 crates of British tea, proved a significant development on the path to the American Revolution.
  • The Boston Tea Party, which occurred on December 16, 1773 and was known to contemporaries as the Destruction of the Tea, was a direct response to British taxation policies in the North American colonies.
  • The British response to the Boston Tea Party was to impose even more stringent policies on the Massachusetts colony. The Coercive Acts levied fines for the destroyed tea, sent British troops to Boston, and rewrote the colonial charter of Massachusetts, giving broadly expanded powers to the royally appointed governor.

British taxation policies

The british empire strikes back, what do you think.

  • For more on the Seven Years’ War, see Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (New York: Vintage Books, 2001).
  • Robert J. Allison, The American Revolution: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 16.
  • For more on the Sons of Liberty, see Les Standiford, Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War (New York: Harper Collins, 2012).
  • Allison, The American Revolution, 17.
  • For more, see Richard Archer, As If an Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

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Good Answer

American History Central

Boston Tea Party

December 16, 1773

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that took place on the night of December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. A mob organized by the Sons of Liberty raided three ships and threw all of the tea they were carrying into Boston Harbor. Parliament responded to the incident by passing the Coercive Acts, which led to the colonies holding the First Continental Congress.

Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party Summary

In 1773, the British East India Company was in serious financial trouble, and almost bankrupt. Parliament decided to allow the company’s inventory of tea to be sold in the American Colonies at a discounted price and passed the Tea Act (1773).

The Tea Act gave the British East India Company a monopoly on the distribution and sale of tea in the colonies and allowed the company to ship the tea without paying taxes. Further, the company was allowed to choose the merchants who would sell the tea for them.

Not only would the British East India Company, but so would select merchants — all of whom would likely be friends and supporters of British officials.

The tea was shipped to the colonies in the fall of 1773 and headed to the major port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

When the news reached New York on October 15, a meeting was held where it was agreed the tea would be rejected and sent back to London. On October 16, a similar meeting was held in Philadelphia, and it was agreed to send the tea back to London. On November 5, a town meeting was held in Boston where it was resolved that anyone “unloading receiving or vending the tea is an enemy to America.”

John Lamb Speaking to New York Sons of Liberty

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that took place on the night of December 16, 1773, at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. A mob of colonists, which had been organized by the Sons of Liberty , boarded three ships that were carrying tea owned by the East India Company. They smashed open more than 300 chests of tea and then dumped the tea into Boston Harbor.

The tea was rejected because people were sure the lower price of tea was nothing more than a trick to entice them to accept legislation passed by Parliament. Americans had been fighting against taxes and the enforcement of laws that they thought were violating their rights as Englishmen since the end of the French and Indian War.

Boston Tea Party Background and Causes

The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of a series of events that started in 1763 and continued until 1773.

End of the French and Indian War

At the end of the French and Indian War , Parliament was faced with two major issues. First, it was deep in debt and needed to find ways to raise money to pay off the debt. Second, as a result of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Britain gained a significant amount of land in North America and needed to find a way to defend the new territory.

Navigation Acts and the Sugar Act

Parliament decided to help pay down the debt by enforcing old trade laws known as the Navigation Acts and passing new legislation, which started with the Sugar Act in 1764.  Before then, colonists had ignored most of the regulations of the Navigation Acts, or avoided them by smuggling and bribing customs officials. Unfortunately, the enforcement of the laws reinforced Britain’s old economic system that was based on Mercantilism , which created tension between Britain and the colonies.

The End of Salutary Neglect

Before the passage of the Sugar Act, Britain had an unofficial policy in place where Customs Officials were encouraged to neglect the enforcement of the Navigation Acts. Because of this policy — known as Salutary Neglect — American merchants became used to conducting business primarily as they saw fit, and with whomever they wanted.

Robert Walpole, Painting

Enforcement of Trade Laws

To raise revenue from the Navigation Acts and Sugar Act, Britain had to strictly enforce the regulations. Customs Officials were required to enforce the laws, which ended Salutary Neglect.

Colonial Reaction to Enforcement of Trade Laws

The enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the Sugar Act did not go over well with the colonists. Many people, including James Otis , Samuel Adams , and Stephen Hopkins , took notice of how the laws were passed and implemented and felt that they infringed on their rights as Englishmen. There was a sense that Parliament did not consider the citizenship of colonists living in the American Colonies as equal to that of people living in England. American merchants, including John Hancock , responded by finding loopholes in the laws and they increased smuggling.

Standing Army in North America

To defend the new western frontier of the existing American Colonies, Parliament decided to raise a new army for North America. Most of the army would be stationed in New York. At first, most of the soldiers were sent to forts on the frontier where they protected colonists from attacks by Native Tribes.

Quartering Act of 1765

Parliament did not have the money to cover all of the expenses of the new army, so it decided to have the colonies contribute. On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act , which required the colonial legislatures to raise funds to pay for the expenses of the army, including housing and food.

Colonial Reaction to the Standing Army

At first, colonial legislatures refused to comply with the Quartering Act and to provide funds for the soldiers. Many Americans believed there were enough soldiers stationed in New York and throughout the colonies, and more was not necessary. The feeling among the colonists was the soldiers were not there to protect them, but rather to force them to submit to unpopular laws.

Stamp Act and Rise of the Sons of Liberty

The Stamp Act was passed on March 22, 1765. It required many legal documents and other printed materials, like newspapers, to be printed on special paper that had a stamp printed on it. The act was supposed to go into effect on November 1, 1765.

Throughout the summer and early fall of 1765, opposition to the Stamp Act grew throughout the colonies. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty formed and were partially responsible for a riot that occurred in August, which targeted Andrew Oliver, the Stamp Distributor for Massachusetts. In New York, the Sons of Liberty forced Stamp Distributors to resign and implemented a boycott of British goods, which was implemented by many of the other colonies.

Ultimately, Parliament was unable to enforce the Stamp Act. It also received pressure from British merchants who were feeling the effects of the boycott. Parliament decided to repeal the Stamp Act but found another way to frustrate colonists. On the same day the Stamp Act was repealed, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act . The Declaratory Act stated that Parliament had the right to pass laws to govern the colonies.

Townshend Acts

In 1767 and 1768, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts , which added taxes to glass, lead, paint, paper, and one very popular product in the colonies — tea.

Once again, the colonies responded with protests and a boycott of buying and selling British products. However, the Massachusetts Assembly took things further and sent a letter to the other colonial legislatures. The letter called for the colonies to unite to resist the continued attempts by Parliament to levy taxes on them.

The Assembly was ordered to rescind the letter but refused to do so. Governor Thomas Hutchinson responded by dissolving the legislature. British troops were sent to occupy Boston and to make sure the town complied with the laws.

Violence in New York and Boston

The presence of the soldiers was unwelcome and led to serious conflicts between colonists and soldiers. Many Americans were concerned it was only a matter of time before the British officials and soldiers resorted to using violence against them. Those concerns came to fruition in 1770.

In January 1770, a massive riot in New York occurred, where a mob clashed with British troops. The incident is known as the Battle of Golden Hill .

On February 22, 1770, a riot broke out in Boston. A mob attacked the home of a Loyalist named Ebeneezer Richardson. Richardson grabbed a gun and fired into the crowd, killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider.

On March 5, 1770, a street fight in Boston ended with British soldiers firing into a crowd, killing five people. Soon after, the Sons of Liberty referred to it as the Boston Massacre .

The Boston Tea Party Overview and History

Sons of liberty protest the tea act.

In 1773, Parliament relented and rescinded all of the Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea, and passed the Tea Act . The Tea Act actually made the price of tea less expensive, but it also forced people to buy it through the British East India Company. The Sons of Liberty were skeptical that the cheaper tea was nothing more than a trick to get Americans to accept paying taxes levied by Parliament.

Tea is Shipped to the Colonies

By October 9, seven ships were on their way to the colonies, carrying East India Company tea in their holds. Four ships were headed to Boston, one to New York, one to Philadelphia, and one to Charleston.

The colonists referred to them as “tea ships” and the four ships headed to Boston were the Beaver , Dartmouth , Eleanor , and William .

The Beaver and Dartmouth were owned by Joseph Rotch, who operated out of Nantucket. Both ships had gone to London to deliver shipments of whale oil and the captains agreed to carry the tea back to Boston with them, unaware of the controversy it would cause.

The Eleanor was owned by John Rowe, a prominent Boston merchant, smuggler, and Selectman. He also owned warehouses and a wharf.

Very little is known about the William  other than it was carrying tea to Boston.

Once the tea ships entered Boston Harbor, they had 20 days to offload their cargo. If they failed to do so, then the cargo would be seized by British Customs Officials and auctioned off to pay the Customs Duties. Further, the ships could not leave the harbor with the cargo, unless they had special permission from Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

If any ship dared try to leave the harbor without permission, they would have to deal with men-of-war from the Royal Navy, the Active, and the Kingfisher . The harbor was also guarded by Castle William, which stood on an island at the mouth of the harbor and was heavily armed with cannons.

The situation for the merchants who owned the ships was made more difficult by the Patriots in Boston. When the ships arrived, they were greeted by armed groups of men who prevented the crews from unloading the cargo.

November 28, 1773 — The First Shipment of Tea Arrives

The Dartmouth, under the command of Captain James Hall, arrived in Boston Harbor, carrying a shipment that included 114 chests of British East India Company tea. Hall tried to dock at Rowe’s Wharf, but John Rowe redirected the Dartmouth to Griffin’s Wharf.

November 29–30, 1773 — Boston Town Meeting Held

The day after the Dartmouth arrived, a meeting to discuss the “tea crisis” was held at Faneuil Hall. The meeting was organized by members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence and Sons of Liberty. Thousands of people gathered, and the meeting had to be moved to Old South Meeting House to accommodate all the people.

At the meeting, Samuel Adams said, “Whether it is the firm resolution of this body that the tea shall not only be sent back but that no duty shall be paid thereon!” This was met with the approval of the crowd.

A resolution was passed and it was decided that 25 members of the Sons of Liberty would stand watch on the dock to make sure the tea was not unloaded.

It was also decided to give the British East India Company’s tea agents an opportunity to respond to the meeting.

Thomas Hutchinson, Portrait

The meeting reconvened on December 30. The tea agents gave their proposal to John Singleton Copley, and he read it to the crowd. The agents proposed to unload the tea, so the ships could go about their business, and let the Sons of Liberty inspect the chests. The crowd roared its contempt because if the tea was unloaded the taxes would have to be paid on the shipment. The people were adamantly against it.

The meeting was interrupted by a message from Governor Hutchinson. Hutchinson ordered the people, “To disperse and to surcease all further unlawful proceedings at your utmost peril.” The warning was ignored and the people agreed to a resolution that “the said tea never should be landed in this province.”

December 2 — Second Shipment of Tea Arrives

The Eleanor , under the command of Captain Roy Bruce, arrived in Boston Harbor, carrying a shipment that included 114 chests of British East India Company tea. Captain Bruce was asked by the people to leave, and he said, “I am loath to stand the shot of 32 pounders from the Castle.”

December 5, 1773 — Abigail Adams Letter

On December 5, 1773, Abigail Adams wrote to Mercy Otis Warren and said, “The Tea that bainfull weed is arrived. Great and effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it. To the publick papers I must refer you for perticuliars. You will there find that the proceedings of our citizens have been united, spirited and firm. The flame is kindled and like lightening it catches from soul to soul. Great will be the devastation if not timely quenched or allayed by some more lenient measures.”

December 10 — The William Runs Aground

The William , carrying a shipment of tea headed to Boston, ran aground off Cape Cod during a storm. The ship was abandoned, but more than 50 chests of tea were salvaged.

December 15 — Final Shipment of Tea Arrives

The Beaver , under the command of Captain Hezekiah Coffin, arrived at Griffin’s Wharf, carrying a shipment that included 112 chests of British East India Company tea. The Beaver had been delayed by a smallpox outbreak and was quarantined for two weeks in the outer part of Boston Harbor before it was cleared to proceed.

December 16, 1773 — Town Meeting at the Old South Meeting House

Around 10:00 in the morning, a meeting was held at the Old South Meeting House to discuss what to do with the tea. It is estimated that around 5,000 people attended the meeting, and possibly as many as 7,000. It was not only attended by citizens of Boston, but also by people who came in from the neighboring towns.

Samuel Adams, Painting, Copley

Francis Rotch was summoned and the people of Boston ordered him to petition Governor Hutchinson to allow the ships to leave the harbor and take the tea back to London. He told the people, “Gentlemen, I cannot. It is wholly impractical. It would cause my ruin.” Despite his objection, he decided it was in his best interest to meet with Hutchinson. As expected, Hutchinson denied the request.

Rotch returned to Old South and informed the meeting of the Governor’s reply. With the deadline looming for the Dartmouth to offload the cargo, the people asked him if he intended to offload the tea in Boston. He replied that he had “ business doing so, but if I were called upon to do so by the proper persons, I would try to land it for my own security’s sake.”

People in attendance started shouting phrases that may have been signals for the Sons of Liberty to carry out a plan to destroy the tea, now that all legal avenues had been exhausted.

One yelled, “Who knows how tea will mingle with sea water!?”

John Rowe, the owner of Eleanor , is suspected of shouting, “Boston Harbor, a teapot tonight!” However, he may have covered up his involvement in the Tea Party by falsifying the entries in his diary.

And, finally, Samuel Adams gave one final signal when he said, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!”

The Sons of Liberty who were in attendance left Old South and made their way toward Griffin’s Wharf. They were joined along the way by other members, who had been preparing themselves in their homes and taverns.

December 16, 1773 — Boston Tea Party

Somewhere between 60 to 90 men in disguise went to Griffin’s Wharf. The disguises were not elaborate — they blackened their faces and wore blankets or coats — but enough to hide their identities. The disguises were meant to mimic the appearance of Native American Indians.

Thousands of people watched the entire scene unfold, which started early in the evening, around 7:00. Everyone expected the Royal Navy to attack at any moment, but they did not intervene. In fact, Admiral John Montagu watched it all from a house near Griffin’s Wharf.

Captain Coffin of the Beaver was worried about the rest of his cargo, which was stacked on top of the tea chests. He was told that if he went to his cabin, quietly, without raising the alarm, the rest of the cargo would be safe. He did as he was told, and the mob left the rest of his cargo alone.

Boston Tea Party, Engraving

The men were armed with hatchets and axes, which they used to open the chests of tea. Once they were open, they threw the tea into the water. By the time it was over, they had around 340 chests of tea, weighing roughly 92,000 pounds, into the harbor.

As the tide went out, the tea rose up above the shallow water. Young boys went into the harbor and spread the piles of tea out so that it would be carried away by the rising tide in the morning, which ensured none of the tea could be salvaged.

It took about three hours for the men to carry out their mission. The men shook the tea out of their shoes and swept the tea off the decks of the ships. Then they made the first mate for each ship swear the only cargo that had been damaged was the tea.

As the mob left, it marched past the house where Admiral Montague was. Someone played a fife as they went along. Montagu yelled “Well boys, you have had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven’t you? But mind, you have got to pay the fiddler yet!”

Boston Tea Party Aftermath

There was no harm done to any member of the crew of any of the ships, and none of the rest of the cargo was damaged. The only damage done to the ships during the whole affair happened on the Beaver when a padlock owned by Captain Coffin was broken. The padlock was replaced with a new one the next day.

On December 18, 1773, Boston merchant John Andrews wrote, “ten thousand pounds sterling of the East India Company’s tea was destroyed…the evening before last…” The British East India Company reported damages of 9,649 pounds.

Tea Parties in the Colonies

More tea parties, or similar events, occurred along the East Coast, including a second tea party in Boston. In March 1774, 60 men boarded the Fortune in Boston Harbor and threw the contents of 30 chests of tea overboard. Demonstrations against the Tea Act also occurred in:

  • Philadelphia
  • Chestertown, Maryland
  • Annapolis, Maryland
  • York, Maine
  • Edenton, North Carolina
  • Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Greenwich, New Jersey

Britain Responds with the Coercive Acts

Parliament responded to the Tea Party by passing several acts, known as the Coercive Acts , that were aimed at punishing the town of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts. One of the acts was the Boston Port Act , which closed the harbor and the port until the tea was paid for. Despite the hardship that it caused the people, they refused to pay for the tea.

Boston sent a letter to the other colonies to inform them about the Boston Port Act. Many of the other colonies responded by sending food and supplies to Boston overland.

Benjamin Franklin offered to pay for the tea but wanted Boston Harbor to be opened first. His offer was refused and the harbor remained closed.

The Fate of the Ships that Carried the Tea

The William was wrecked. Samuel Adams wrote, “The only remaining vessel which was expected with this detested article, is by the act of righteous heaven cast on shore on the back of Cape Cod, which has often been the sad fate of many a more valuable cargo.”

Francis Rotch set sail for London on board the Dartmouth on January 9, 1774. When the ship arrived in London, Rotch, Captain Hall, and others were summoned by Lord Dartmouth to give their testimony of what they had witnessed on December 16. The Dartmouth foundered on the trip back to Boston, but the crew was rescued and they returned to Boston in November 1774.

The Beaver returned to London, but Captain Coffin died there and the ship was sold.

The fate of the Eleanor is unknown.

Origin of the Name Boston Tea Party

For many years, the event was referred to as “the destruction of the tea.” It was not until after 1820 that it was called the Boston Tea Party.

Eyewitness Account of the Boston Tea Party

In 1835, a book was published called, “Traits of the Tea Party: Being a Memoir of George R.T. Hewes.” Hewes participated in the Boston Tea Party, and provided this account:

“The commander of the division to which I belonged… ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied, and delivered the articles; but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging. We then were ordered by our commanders to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water. In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us… During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets. One Captain O’Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off; but, springing forward, by a rapid effort he made his escape. He had, however, to run a gauntlet through the crowd upon the wharf, each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke. Another attempt was made to save a little tea from the ruins of the cargo by a tall, aged man who wore a large cocked hat and white wig, which was fashionable at that time. He had sleightly slipped a little into his pockets, but being detected, they seized him and, taking his hat and wig from his head, threw them, together with the tea, of which they had emptied his pockets into the water. In consideration of his advanced age, he was permitted to escape, with now and then a slight kick…”

Boston Tea Party Participants

In his memoir, Hewes identified many participants in the Tea Party. One of the prominent names listed is that of Paul Revere .

Sarah Bradlee Fulton — Legendary Mother of the Boston Tea Party

Sarah Bradlee Fulton was a prominent member of the Daughters of Liberty, a group of Patriot women who boycotted British goods. However, legend has it that she is the one who suggested the men disguise themselves when they raided the ships. Sarah’s future husband, John Fulton, and her three brothers, David, Josiah, and Nathaniel, all participated in the Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party Significance

The Boston Tea Party was significant because it showed the American Colonists were willing to take action. After a decade of trying to convince Parliament that they simply wanted to be represented in Parliament and afforded the same rights as other Englishmen, the people of Boston resorted to the destruction of the tea. Parliament responded by passing the Coercive Acts, which inflicted significant economic harm on Boston. However, the colonies rallied around the plight of Boston and called for the First Continental Congress .

Boston Tea Party APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the American Revolution, Massachusetts Bay Colony,  and Samuel Adams for AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam .

Boston Tea Party Definition

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that took place in Boston, Massachusetts on December 16, 1773. It was a response to the British government’s decision to tax tea imported into the colonies. The incident involved a group of colonists disguising themselves as Native Americans and dumping a large shipment of tea into the Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party is often seen as one of the key events leading up to the American Revolution because Parliament responded with the Intolerable Acts.

Boston Tea Party Video

This video from Daily Bellringer discusses the Boston Tea Party.

  • Written by Randal Rust

summary of boston tea party essay

The Boston Tea Party

summary of boston tea party essay

Written by: Bill of Rights Institute

By the end of this section, you will:.

  • Explain how British colonial policies regarding North America led to the Revolutionary War

Suggested Sequencing

Use this Narrative with the Stamp Act Resistance Narrative and The Boston Massacre Narrative following the Acts of Parliament Lesson to show the growing tensions between England and the colonies.

After a couple of years of relative calm following the repeal of the Townshend Acts, tension between the British and their colonies escalated when Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773. This act, which granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the colonies, was intended to bail out the financially faltering company, whose failure would have upset the entire imperial economy. Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, told Parliament that the goal of this act was as much to retain the power to tax the colonies on British goods as it was to collect revenue from the existing tax on tea.

The colonists resisted the Tea Act more because it violated the constitutional principle of self-government by consent than because they could not afford the tax, which had existed since the passage of the 1767 Townshend Revenue Act. As George Washington explained, “What is it we are contending against? Is it against paying the duty of [three pence per pound] on tea because [it is] burdensome? No, it is the right only . . . that, as Englishmen, we could not be deprived of this essential and valuable part of our constitution.”

In the ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, citizens prevented British tea from being unloaded, threatened tax collectors into resigning, and protested taxation without representation. In Boston, political organizer Samuel Adams oversaw the adoption of resolutions calling on the tea agents to resign, but they refused. On November 28, however, the Dartmouth dropped anchor in Boston Harbor loaded with 114 crates of British tea. Its colonial owner, Francis Rotch of Nantucket Island, had a great deal of money invested in the cargo and wanted it unloaded, but Patriot leaders wanted to use the landing of the tea to galvanize the people against the British. They also feared that if the tea were landed and sold at cheaper prices, people would continue buying it and ruin the boycott.

The following day, a crowd of five or six thousand people warned Rotch that landing the tea would be at his “peril,” posted a guard around the ship, and demanded that it return to England. But Thomas Hutchinson, a staunch Loyalist who now served as royal governor, refused to allow the Dartmouth ‘s departure. With twenty days to either unload the cargo and pay taxes or forfeit both the tea and the ship, Rotch found himself in a terrible position.

Over the next week, two more ships laden with tea berthed beside the Dartmouth at Griffin’s Wharf. Many people predicted imminent violence. As Abigail Adams wrote, “The flame is kindled . . . Great will be the devastation if not timely quenched or allayed by some more lenient measures.” On December 14, thousands again demanded that Rotch seek clearance for a return voyage to England, but Hutchinson again refused the request. Three British warships now stood in the harbor ready to enforce his order. Matters were coming to a head.

On December 16, one day before the deadline for the landing of the tea, more than seven thousand gathered in the Old South Meeting House, Boston’s largest building. When Samuel Adams announced that nothing more could be done to save their country, dozens of colonists, dressed like Indians as a symbol of American freedom and to disguise their identities from British authorities, entered the assembly with piercing war whoops. The crowd went into a frenzy, screaming, “The Mohawks are come!” John Hancock called on his countrymen to do their patriotic duty: “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.” Thousands of citizens spilled into the streets and watched as the band of Mohawk impersonators boarded the three ships and dumped into the harbor ninety thousand pounds of tea worth £10,000 (millions of dollars today). The crowd then slowly dispersed into the night while the disguised participants went home with their identities still concealed.

An image shows the Boston Tea party. Colonists disguised as Indians are shown on a boat, throwing boxes into the harbor while other colonists cheer from the surrounding docks.

To protest the Tea Act of 1773, colonists disguised as Mohawks raided ships and dumped ninety thousand pounds of tea into Boston Harbor. The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor (1846), a lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, includes cheering crowds to emphasize public support for this protest.

Although some colonists saw the Boston Tea Party as a destructive mob action, most praised the protest. “This is the most magnificent movement of all,” John Adams rejoiced. “This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring . . . and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an epoch in history.” He thought the colonists had had no choice: “To let it be landed, would be giving up the principle of taxation by parliamentary authority, against which the continent has struggled for ten years.”

Most members of the British Parliament were furious when they learned of the Boston Tea Party. Their response was swift and harsh. In early 1774, Parliament passed several acts collectively known as the Coercive Acts. The Boston Port Act closed the harbor to trade until restitution was made for the tea. The Massachusetts Government Act banned town meetings and placed the legislature under greater royal control. The Impartial Administration of Justice Act allowed British officials to be tried in England for capital crimes, escaping colonial justice and local juries. The Quartering Act required the housing of troops in unoccupied buildings and homes. Although not officially a Coercive Act, the Quebec Act gave French Canada the land between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, revoking colonists’ claims on the frontier and raising the specter of a Roman Catholic enemy to their west, which many Protestant colonists equated with civil and religious absolutism because it granted freedom of worship to Catholics. Finally, British general Thomas Gage replaced Hutchinson, a Boston-born civilian, as governor of Massachusetts. Gage’s instructions were to enforce the acts and prosecute the leaders of the resistance.

The colonists labeled the new laws the “Intolerable Acts,” for they systematically abridged the liberties they held sacred and inviolable. If the destruction of the tea was against the law, then the individuals responsible should have been brought to trial. Group punishment was unacceptable and completely abhorrent to the rule of law. The Coercive Acts trampled on their economic liberty, their right of self-government by their own consent and elections, their right to a trial by jury, and their right to property. All along, the colonists had insisted on enjoying the full liberties of free English people. Now, however, it seemed they were being ruled, like the Irish, as conquered foreigners.

From New England to the lower South, the Coercive Acts galvanized colonists against a common foe. As Washington asserted, “the cause of Boston . . . now is and ever will be considered as the cause of America.” The members of the Virginia House of Burgesses concurred. Despite their Williamsburg assembly being dissolved by their royal governor, Lord Dunmore, they reconvened down the street at Raleigh Tavern, declaring themselves the people’s representatives and announcing that “an attack, made on one of our sister colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack made on all British America, and threatens ruin to the rights of all.” They called for a boycott on British imports and asked the other colonies to send delegates to a Continental Congress. Representatives from twelve colonies met at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia that autumn to declare their rights and refuse British trade.

Review Questions

1. All the following constitutional principles directly prompted the colonists to participate in the Boston Tea Party except

  • self-government
  • republicanism
  • consent of the governed

2. Which of the following best explains the justification for Parliament to pass the Intolerable Acts, or Coercive Acts?

  • Parliament was seeking financial retribution for the Seven Years’ War and the damages done to the colonies.
  • The laws would ensure that customs officials would be treated with respect and deference.
  • Parliament claimed the laws were necessary to punish the city for mob action and loss of property as a warning to other cities that Parliament would not be resisted.
  • Parliament wanted to model proper British taxation laws and practices that the colonies would, in turn, adopt themselves.

3. Which of the following was the colonists’ primary reason for protesting the Tea Act?

  • Taxes were so high they couldn’t afford to buy tea.
  • They felt the act violated the concept of representative government.
  • Patriots desired to prove their strength and unity throughout the colonies.
  • Colonists wanted to prevent American Indians from assimilating to city life.

4. Which of the following best describes a significant change in British North America after the Boston Tea Party and retaliatory Coercive Acts?

  • Loyalists began leaving the colonies, fleeing to safety in Canada.
  • Patriots coordinated intercolonial bodies and began articulating an American identity and cause.
  • American Indians allied with the colonists in protest of Britain’s taxes and forceful presence.
  • Parliament realized the taxes were unfair and repealed the majority of them.

5. Which of the following acts of legislation was not part of the Coercive Acts?

  • The Quartering Act, which required colonists to house and provide for British troops
  • The Quebec Act, which allowed freedom of religion to newly British French-Canadian colonists
  • The Declaratory Act, which asserted the British right to govern the colonists in any way they saw fit
  • The Boston Port Act, which required the harbor to close until the cost of the destroyed tea was reimbursed

6. Which of the following best describes Patriotic upheaval in Boston?

  • Despite the swell of protest, Boston’s population was primarily merchants who relied on Great Britain for trade and, therefore, remained loyal to the crown.
  • The increased tension in the city resulted in ordinary citizens and charismatic leaders erupting in protest.
  • An influx of American Indians undermined the order established in the city by dumping tea into the harbor, which escalated the situation.
  • Outspoken women published pamphlets in support of the crown, urging their husbands and brothers to prevent further violence and conflict.

Free Response Questions

  • Were the protests in Boston an expression of popular sentiment or caused by the leadership of the elites? Explain your answer.
  • Explain how the colonists’ belief in individual and political rights and liberties influenced their resistance to the Coercive Acts. What was the British response?

AP Practice Questions

“But let us coolly enquire, what is the reason of this unheard of innovation [the Coercive Acts]. Is it to make them peaceable? My lords, it will make them mad. Will they be better governed if we introduce this change? Will they be more our friends? The least that such a measure can do, is to make them hate us. And would to God, my lords, we had governed ourselves with as much economy, integrity and prudence, as they have done. Let them continue to enjoy the liberty our fathers gave them. Gave them, did I say? They are co-heirs of liberty with ourselves; and their portion of the inheritance has been much better looked after than ours. . . . Instead of hoping that their constitution may receive improvement from our skill in government, the most useful wish I can form in their favor, is that Heaven may long preserve them from our vices and our politics.”

Speech of the Bishop of St. Asaph (Jonathan Shipley), September 1774

1. Which group would most likely agree with the sentiments expressed in the excerpt provided?

  • Loyalists who supported the Crown and respected its authority
  • Patriots who believed their local governments should have jurisdiction over them
  • Quakers who were adamant Pacifists
  • Those who were neutral and unwilling to take a side in the debates

2. The Bishop of St. Asaph, Jonathan Shipley, would support which of the following statements?

  • Liberty is a natural right.
  • Liberty is a right provided by government.
  • The British government should better regulate the colonies for economic gain.
  • The colonists’ experience in self-government has been a failure.
“I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. . . . We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time. . . . We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water. In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded [by] British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us. We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates. . . . No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.”

George Hewes, eyewitness account of the Boston Tea Party, 1773

3. Which of the following best describes the reason for the colonists to dress as American Indians for this protest?

  • Bostonians dressed like American Indians because of fashion trends celebrating the exotic.
  • Citizens wanted to protect their identity because their actions were treasonous and punishable by the British.
  • Colonists actually allied with American Indians to create a diverse group of protestors carefully targeting unfair taxes from which both groups suffered.
  • Women were not allowed to voice their opinions in public, let alone act in public protests, so the costume was an effort to shield them from punishment.

4. The sentiments that inspired the act of protest described in the passage provided are best reflected in which of the following events in U.S. history?

  • Bacon’s Rebellion, in which former indentured servants and slaves allied to defend themselves from American Indians and protest for the government’s protection
  • Shays’ Rebellion, in which American citizens protested high state taxes by forcibly closing courts and protesting in town squares
  • Stono Rebellion, in which enslaved people violently attacked their owners, demanded and achieved freedom, but were ultimately caught and punished for the actions
  • Pontiac’s Rebellion, in which an allied group of American Indians resisted the encroachment of their land by using offensive attacks on British frontier posts

5. A direct result of the actions described in the excerpt provided was

  • the decision to write the Declaration of Independence and sever all ties with Great Britain
  • legislation passed by the British to punish the citizens of Boston and make an example of them
  • an Olive Branch Petition sent to the king asking for forgiveness and a return to peaceful relations
  • the monthly arrival of tea rations the citizens of Boston were forced to purchase while paying the tax

Primary Sources

Able Doctor , or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught [political cartoon]. London: London Magazine , May and June 1774. .

Suggested Resources

Carp, Benjamin L. Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America . New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Labaree, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party . Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1979.

McCullough, David. John Adams . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Unger, Harlow Giles. American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution . New York: DaCapo, 2011.

Young, Alfred F. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party . Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.

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Boston 1773: The Destruction of the Tea

Inquiry Question 1: How did social, economic, and political factors contribute to the events of the Boston Tea Party?

Inquiry Question 2: How did the reactions to the Boston Tea Party demonstrate the growing divisions between the various interested parties in the political and economic future of the American colonies?

Background reading for students

View a detailed timeline of the Boston Tea Party (Google Slides).

December 16, 1773: The Destruction of the Tea

black-and-white engraving of children and adults sitting on a dock in the foreground watching people aboard a ship dump tea into the water in the background. A caption written in German is at the bottom

Though several armed British soldiers witnessed the scene, they made no attempt to arrest the patriots.  No shots were fired, but the event became one of the most significant of the American Revolution.

What led to this event? In 1770, the British eliminated taxes on everything but tea.  Parliament retained the tea tax to show the colonists that England had the right to tax them.  Colonists began a boycott of English tea, and some colonists stopped drinking tea altogether.  Consumption of tea in the colonies fell from 900,000 pounds of tea in 1769 to 237,000 pounds of tea in 1772.  English tea stacked up in warehouses and the East India Tea Company faced financial disaster.

Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, which made the price of English tea lower than the price from other tea merchants.  Colonists still refused to buy English tea because the tax tea still existed. The colonists saw the Tea Act as yet another law passed by King George III designed to increase control over the colonies.

The Boston Tea Party helped unite the colonists and inspired them to push for increased American independence.  King George and Parliament were furious with the colonists and punished them with yet more acts, known together as the Coercive Acts.  The people of Boston did not give in to British pressure.  Instead, the colonies grew even more united in their hatred of the British policies that were imposed upon them.  "NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" became the motto of the colonists.

“Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country!”

See a detailed timeline of the tea crisis (Google Slides)

Download Source Set

For elementary, use this slide deck to explore the sources.

Duty:  a tariff; a payment charged on the import, export, manufacture, or sale of goods. This increases the cost of these items to consumers. In this case, the British government collected the duties charged on certain products and then got to choose how that money was spent. The colonists viewed this as taxation without the political representation to voice how that money was then spent.

Loyalists:  Americans who supported the British government, rather than the Sons of Liberty or other patriots advocating for significant changes in British policies in colonial America.

Nonconsumption:  a form of protest or dissent where certain products or services are not purchased and not used for a specific reason. Today, we call it a 'boycott.'

Nonimportation:  a form of protest or dissent where certain products are not imported into a country either done by a group of merchants / traders (as in the case for the Boston Tea Party), or it can also be done by a country as a whole.

Analyzing Point of View and Purpose

As you read the sources, consider:

Who is telling this account of the events surrounding the Boston Tea Party?

What is the relationship between the source creator and the events at the boston tea party, who is the intended audience of this source .

How does that impact the credibility or reliability of the source?

 What overall message does this source give about the Boston Tea Party?

Created by MHS staff, Abigail Portu, Kate Bowen, and J.L. Bell

Typed document on yellowed paper titled "Addrefs to the LADIES" in bold letters

Read the letters of Mercy Otis Warren and her friend as they discuss the tea crisis over the course of 1773-1774.

Throw aside your Bohea, and your Green Hyson Tea, And all things with a new fashion duty ; Procure a good store of the choice Labradore, For there'll soon be enough here to suit ye.

Printed in 1767, this poem printed in a Boston area newspaper demonstrated early colonist dissent to the duties Parliament was placing on the sale of British goods in the colonies, specifically the Townshend Act taxing glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. Citizens protested these examples of “taxation without representation” through boycotts, or nonconsumption , of British goods. Because women handled many of the family purchases, this verse was geared toward them and encouraged buying colonial-made products and local Labradore herbal tea versus other imported varieties. While Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770, the tax on tea remained. Colonists' protests resulted in increased British military presence in MA, which in turn compelled patriots to push for nonimportation  and place greater economic pressure on Great Britain.

Citation: "Address to the Ladies," Verse from page 3 of The Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser , Number 535, 16 November 1767, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Printed poster titled "Tradesmen's Protest against the Proceedings of the Merchants" in bold letters at the top of the page

Read an excerpt of the broadside.

You are hereby advised and warned by no means to be taken in by the deceitful Bait of those who falsely stile themselves Friends of Liberty.

On 10 May 1773, British Parliament authorized the Tea Act. The duty  on tea would no longer be charged to the East India Company for shipping tea into the colonies, but instead customs officials would tax the tea as it was unloaded from ships at the port. Tea agents, who were given exclusive rights to wholesale the East India Company’s tea in North America, paid the tariff and factored it into their selling prices. Thus, tea would be more expensive for consumers.

In November 1773, colonists knew tea was on its way and Boston patriots called a “tea meeting,” and demanded that the tea agents (including Governor Hutchinson's two sons) attend and publicly resign from their commissions. This November 1773 broadside supported the rights of merchants in colonial America to import British tea and pay the tariff, despite the calls for nonimportation . Signed by the “True Sons of Liberty,” this broadside did little to stop growing frustrations in Boston, or the mobs that would soon begin storming tea agent firms and organizing the Boston Tea Party.

Citation: Tradesmen Protest the Tea Meetings, Broadside , 3 November 1773, Boston: printed by E. Russell, 1773, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Glass bottle full of dry tea leaves positioned on its side so the handwritten label is visible

Read more about these two Tea Party artifacts.

Tea that was gathered up on the shore of Dorchester Neck on the morning after the destruction of the three cargos at Boston December 17, 1773

Tea culture played an important role in colonial society. Colonists of all classes consumed tea daily, including at meals. The majority of tea was imported from China by the East India Company, and many colonists also bought porcelain tea sets imported from China, further demonstrating the global reach of the British Empire. A porcelain punch bowl owned by the Edes family (a patriot and newspaper publisher) was used in a gathering in the hours before they went down to Griffin’s Wharf to dump the tea into Boston Harbor . The small glass bottle filled with tea leaves was collected on the shore of Dorchester Neck (on Boston Harbor) on 17 December 1773, the morning after the Boston Tea Party, by a citizen who wanted a souvenir of the event.

Citation: "Tea leaves in glass bottle collected on the shore of Dorchester Neck the morning of 17 December 1773," Glass bottle containing tea, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Etched portrait of John Rowe (bust). His name is handwritten underneath the portrait with a typed caption.

they Opend the Hatches hoisted Out the Tea & flung it Overboard - this might I beleive have been prevented I am sincerely sorry for the Event

John Rowe was a British-born merchant well-known and well-connected in colonial Boston. He co-owned the Eleanor, one of the ships whose tea was thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party. Though he had no financial interest in the tea itself, he did not want his ship itself to be damaged or confiscated. Many witnesses attested to seeing Rowe at Old South Meeting House on 16 December 1773 and he is recorded to have said to the crowd, “Perhaps salt water and tea will mix tonight!” However, Rowe was a “trimmer” who metaphorically adjusted his sails to whatever was popular or to his advantage. His diary does not reflect the same sentiment as his verbal comments earlier in the night.

Citation: John Rowe diary 10, 16 December 1773, page 1727, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Handwritten diary page dated 1773

Read a transcript with vocabulary supports. 

This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.  

John Adams, a well-respected attorney, was not in Boston the night of the Boston Tea Party, but wrote about the events in his diary the next day. Adams was a Patriot, but he advised Loyalists and Sons of Liberty alike. He had even defended the British soldiers the Boston Massacre trial three years prior. Francis Rotch, owner of the ships Dartmouth and Eleanor , also sought Adams’s advice in trying to determine his rights and responsibilities in the prickly case of returning the Dartmouth to London. Nonetheless, while Adams knew Parliament would have a swift response to the destruction of the tea, he celebrated the protestors’ actions.

Citation: John Adams diary 19, page 28, 16 December 1772 - 18 December 1773, Massachusetts Historical Society,

Newspaper article detailing the results of the town meeting

The late Measures and Pro-ceedings in the Town of Boston, in the Detention and Destruction of the Teas belonging to the East-India Company, were illegal and unjust and of a dangerous Tendency.

Local reactions to the Boston Tea Party were mixed. While there was strong support for resistance to British oppression in Boston itself, elsewhere the Tea Party was divisive due to its more radical nature. Rural areas tended to be more neutral, while other areas, like Marshfield, were politically dominated by Loyalists . On 31 January 1774, Marshfield townspeople formally expressed their disapproval of the Tea Party during their town meeting. This account was published in the Massachusetts Gazette , a Loyalist newspaper.

In 1775, Marshfield would be the one town in Massachusetts (outside of Boston) where General Thomas Gage stationed troops and imagined forming a local pro-Crown militia.

Citation: "At a Town-Meeting held in Marshfield ..." Article from pages 1-2 of The Massachusetts Gazette; and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser , Number 859, 31 January - 7 February 1774, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Etched cartoon depicting a man forcing tea down the throat of a partially draped Native female figure.

The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught  

This 1774 political cartoon represents the political aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. Lord North, with the "Boston Port Bill" (the first of the Coercive Acts) sticking out of his pocket, is depicted forcing tea down the throat of a partially clothed Indigenous American female figure, while two other members of Parliament, Lord Mansfield and Lord Sandwich, assist in the assault. The government officials are backed by the power of the military. In British political cartoons, the American colonies were often represented by Indigenous people, marking them as different from and weaker than other Britons, despite their being British citizens. Published in Britain, this cartoon shows that people beyond a small group of radical patriots thought Parliament’s reaction to the Tea Party was severe.

Citation: "The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught," engraving by unidentified British artist, 1774, Massachusetts Historical Society, . 

Newspaper article detailing parliament's decision

Read excerpts of the Coercive Acts that directly targeted Massachusetts.

WHEREAS in His Majesty's Province of Massachusetts-Bay, in New-Eng-land, an Attempt hath lately been made to throw off the Authority of the Parliament of Great-Britain over the said Province; and an actual and avowed Resistance, by open Force, to the Execution of certain Acts of Parliament, hath been suffered to take place, uncontrouled and unpunished… be it enacted…

The Intolerable Acts, known as the “Coercive Acts” in their time, were a series of four acts passed by Parliament in reaction to the Boston Tea Party. The first was the Boston Port Bill , followed by the Massachusetts Government Act and Administration of Justice Act, and finally a Quartering Act. Collectively, these policies closed the port of Boston to trade until the city paid for all the destroyed tea, put the entire colony under more direct control by the Crown and limited local self-government, required all British soldiers and officials to be sent back to Britain for any trials they were involved in within Massachusetts, and put royal governors across all the colonies in charge of finding housing for British soldiers instead of colonial legislatures. While the first two acts were geared directly at regaining control and punishing Massachusetts, the impact of the final two were felt by all of the American colonies.

Citation: "The following extraordinary Bills now pending in Parliament ..." Broadside, Boston: printed by Edes and Gill, 1774, Massachusetts Historical Society, .

Destruction of the Tea: Historical Context essay

Timeline of the Tea Crisis: Causes and Consequences  (Google Slides)

Download Source Set (Grades 8-12)

Damages of the Destruction of the Tea (Grades 3-5) Google Slides

Download Source Set (Grades 3-5)

The Destruction of the Tea

The destruction of the tea: historical context essay.

After the Seven Years’ War, the British government in London sought to have subjects in North America and the Caribbean pay more of the costs of running the empire. Parliament first tried the Stamp Act in 1765 , which provoked so much resistance that the government collected almost no money from the mainland colonies. The debate over that law instead produced a new slogan for what people argued was a fundamental principle of British government: “No taxation without representation.”

In Britain, that principle was widely accepted to mean that only the elected House of Commons could determine how the British people were taxed. North Americans interpreted the same principle to mean that only the legislatures they elected within their colonies could lay taxes on them. Parliament disagreed, arguing that as the supreme legislature of the empire it had sovereign power everywhere. ( Representation was quite limited already. In both Britain and the colonies, only white men with property were allowed to vote at all; they made the choices for women, children, the poor, and the enslaved .)

In 1767, the government in London decided that the most acceptable way to collect more revenue from North America was to tax certain goods shipped there from Britain. That form of tax was called “tariffs” or “duties.” Under the new Townshend Act , officials in the customs department collected tariffs from merchants importing paper, glass, painters’ colors and lead, and tea. That money was to go toward paying salaries for the governors, judges, customs officers, and other officials administering the colonies—almost all appointed directly or indirectly by the government in London, not elected. Royal salaries insulated those officials from the people they governed. Once again, the colonists showed their objections to this new arrangement through petitions , boycotts , and occasional riots.

In 1770, a new British prime minister, Lord North, led Parliament in repealing most of the Townshend Act tariffs, leaving only the tax on tea—the tax that brought in most of the revenue. That money was still going to pay royal appointees in North America. Activists urged their fellow colonists to keep boycotting tea— particularly women   (Source 1) , who usually handled buying food for their households—but those calls had little effect.

The Tea Act of 1773

In 1773, Lord North turned to a new problem. The large and politically well-connected British East India Company was in financial trouble. That mercantile enterprise had been set up in the 1600s to trade with the countries of South Asia (modern India, Ceylon, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), which in turn traded with East Asia (particularly China). The company was so big that its failure could damage Britain’s economy and world standing. Lord North designed a new law that lowered the tariffs that the East India Company paid to bring tea into Great Britain and also for the first time let the company sell tea in North America.

That law would have additional benefits, Lord North thought. It made the tea tariff easier to collect since the East India Company would pay that tax in London as soon as it learned the cargos had landed in North America. Because the company’s agents would sell its tea, instead of working through a chain of middlemen, the price that American consumers paid would probably be lower than before. That price might even be so low that colonists would stop buying tea smuggled in from Dutch territories, keeping their money within the British economy.

In September 1773, the provisions of the Tea Act were published in North American newspapers. (It usually took six weeks for news to cross the Atlantic.) Then more details arrived, including the names of the merchants selected as the East India Company’s sales agents in the four largest ports: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Instead of accepting the new law, most North American politicians objected to it just as strongly as they had objected to the previous revenue laws. This was just another form of taxation without representation, newspaper writers said . Furthermore, if the government in London could decide that one company had special rights to sell tea in North America, and that company could select just a handful of merchants in each major port as its agents, what would stop Parliament from other ways of restricting how colonists did business? However, American activists also knew that once tea arrived in shops, it was very difficult to keep up a boycott against it.

In Massachusetts, complaints about the new Tea Act were especially strong because the colony’s legislature already distrusted the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson. The year before, some private letters that Hutchinson and his political allies had sent to England had been leaked to the Massachusetts legislature. As Samuel Adams and other activists interpreted those letters, they showed Hutchinson and his friends conspiring to change the colony’s constitution and take away people’s political rights. Now the Tea Act appeared to benefit Hutchinson in two ways. First, some revenue from the tariff would go to him as a salary. Second, Hutchinson’s sons were among the handful of merchants appointed to sell the East India Company’s tea in Boston.

The Boston activists’ first tactic was to put pressure on the East India Company’s agents, demanding they meet under Liberty Tree and promise not to accept the tea. Those men ignored the summons   (Source 2) . On November 3, a crowd, riled up by fervent leaders like the merchant William Molineux, attacked the warehouse of the Clarke family, one of the firms designated to handle the tea. No one was hurt, but both sides saw the possibility of more violence.

Town leaders, wanting to appear to be the more reasonable side, started to rein in the crowd. On November 5, Boston had a town meeting to formally object to the Tea Act with John Hancock presiding. More meetings followed, so large that they moved from Faneuil Hall to the Old South Meetinghouse, the town’s largest church. Those “Meetings of the Body of the People” were open to anyone regardless of whether they owned enough property to vote or even lived in Boston. (Almost all of the attendees were still probably white men, though.)

Meanwhile, most of the tea agents and customs house officers moved for safety to Castle William, a fortified island in Boston harbor guarded by the British army. Governor Hutchinson retreated to his country house in Milton. The painter John Singleton Copley tried to be an intermediary between the meetings and his new in-laws, the Clarke family, but got nowhere.

The East India Company had divided its shipment of tea to Boston among four ships: the Dartmouth, Eleanor, William, and Beaver . On November 28, the Dartmouth entered Boston harbor.

Once a ship had officially arrived in a harbor of the British Empire, its captain had twenty days to unload. If the crew did not follow that rule, the customs service could confiscate both the cargo and the ship. Another rule forbade ships from leaving a harbor without unloading; if a captain tried to leave that way, the customs service and the Royal Navy could seize his ship. In Boston harbor, the soldiers at Castle William might even fire cannons at a ship trying to leave. Either way, the ship owners could lose valuable property.

On November 29, the “ Body of the People ” took action to keep the tea on the Dartmouth from being landed, thus preventing the government from collecting the tariff. Men volunteered to patrol the wharf where the tea ships were moored, both to make sure nobody unloaded the tea and to protect those ships from unauthorized damage. They allowed other cargo to be taken off those ships. Among those goods from the Dartmouth were copies of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects , printed in London.

The tea ship London reached Charleston, South Carolina, on December 1. The people there also opposed the landing of the tea. In response, the East India Company’s local agents declined to accept the cargo. Royal officials at that port decided to let that tea be locked in a warehouse, bending the law to say those chests had not legally arrived.

The tea ship Eleanor arrived in Boston on December 2 and was moored beside the Dartmouth near Griffin’s Wharf.

The men who owned those tea ships were anxious to preserve their vessels from being destroyed by the people or confiscated by the royal government. Possibly trying to win over the crowd in Old South, ship owner John Rowe asked aloud “whether a little salt water would not do it [the tea] good.” Eventually one owner, Francis Rotch of Dartmouth (now New Bedford), became the principal go-between, trying to negotiate an end to the stand-off that would preserve his property.

On December 10, the tea ship William wrecked on Cape Cod. Some of its tea chests were salvaged and moved to Castle William. On December 13, the people of rural Lexington burned their supplies of tea in a bonfire to show solidarity with the boycott.

The customs office’s twenty-day clock kept ticking. Bostonians and visitors from neighboring towns continued to hold large meetings in the Old South Meeting House, demanding that the ships leave without unloading any tea.

The Beaver arrived in Boston on December 15.

With one day left before the customs house deadline, Francis Rotch pleaded with those officials to bend their rules and extend the deadline for unloading his ship. They refused. Rotch traveled out to Governor Hutchinson’s house in Milton and asked him to let the ship sail back to Britain. The governor insisted he had to follow the laws to the letter. Rotch came back to the Old South Meeting House and reported that he had failed to get special permission to sail away.

Samuel Adams then announced, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” A preselected group of activists moved to plan B: destroying the tea on all three ships to ensure it could never be officially landed. Adams and almost all the town’s political leaders stayed in Old South, listening to Dr. Thomas Young lecture on the unhealthy effects of drinking tea. (William Molineux was conspicuously absent.) Meanwhile, several dozen men moved to Griffin’s Wharf.

The identities of those men were kept secret at the time and for decades afterward. They must have included the town’s most committed activists, men who could be relied on to carry out risky actions and keep secrets. Because of the physical labor involved in moving and destroying the chests of tea, most were “mechanics,” or men who worked with their hands; only a few were merchants and professionals. With the law requiring most men to train regularly in militia companies, they were used to working together with military discipline.

Knowing they were about to do something illegal, those men had disguised their faces with paint and soot. At the wharf, they met a squad from the town’s militia artillery company, that night’s patrol. Those artillerists joined the activists. Those men split into three groups, one for each ship. Methodically they hoisted out the large wooden chests, most wrapped in canvas and lined with lead to be waterproof. They chopped open those crates and dumped the loose leaves of black and green tea overboard.

Hundreds of witnesses gathered along the waterfront to watch the destruction of the tea. Both the men and the crowd were remarkably silent, people recalled. Occasionally an exuberant apprentice pushed onto one of the ships and insisted on helping. The leaders had those teenagers climb overboard onto the mounds of loose tea piling up in the shallow water and make sure it was all stamped down into the sea.

The men carrying out this operation understood that they had to focus on the tea, doing minimal damage to anything else. They ordered the sailors and customs officers aboard the ships below decks but did not harm them. To get into one of the holds, the party broke open a padlock; the next day, a replacement lock was delivered to that ship. The activists also chased away one man detected sneaking tea away for himself. Newspapers reported those details, emphasizing how the operation had destroyed nothing but the taxable tea for the good of the community.

There were Royal Navy ships in the harbor and an army contingent in the fort on Castle Island, but their commanders did not have the orders or the opportunity to intervene. The operation went smoothly and was over before midnight.

Within days, Bostonians began to speak of all the men who destroyed the tea as " Indians   from Narragansett ” or “Mohawks,” finding a way to discuss the event without admitting local responsibility or knowledge. Gradually those disguises grew in the public memory of the event until artists in the mid-1900s drew men dressed completely as “Indians” with the large feathered headdresses of Plains peoples, bare-chested on a December night in New England.

Governor Hutchinson tried to supply the London government with evidence of who was responsible. None of the witnesses he named turned out to have anything useful to say. The East India Company petitioned the government to be compensated for its loss, amounting to over £9,000.

Meanwhile, the tea ship Polly arrived in the Delaware River below Philadelphia on December 25. Its captain was greeted with printed broadsides warning that he would be tarred and feathered if he did not turn around. Instead of sailing upriver and officially entering the Philadelphia harbor, he took that tea back to Britain.

Lord North and his colleagues decided they had to be stricter. Parliament passed the Boston Port Bill , barring merchant ships from Britain or any other British colony from unloading in Boston harbor until the town repaid the cost of the tea. With trade diverted to other New England ports such as Salem and Newport, the government thought, Bostonians would realize the economic cost of their action.

In order to strengthen the royal government inside Massachusetts, Lord North replaced Governor Hutchinson with General Thomas Gage, already commander of all the British troops in North America. The army moved several regiments back into Boston for the first time since the Massacre of 1770. Parliament strengthened the Quartering Act to make the town provide barracks for those troops. It passed the Administration of Justice in Massachusetts Act to ensure that royal officials carrying out their duties would not be tried in biased local courts. Together these laws were called the Coercive Acts. Americans responded by organizing a gathering of politicians from several colonies, the First Continental Congress. 

The tea ship Nancy had run into storms and did not arrive at New York until April 22. Then locals followed Boston’s example: they boarded the ship and dumped its cargo into the harbor. 

Immediately after the first tea destruction, Bostonians had begun to worry about a royal  government crackdown, which they called “ministerial vengeance.” However, that did not stop them from destroying another set of tea chests that arrived in March 1774 . In fact, this time local newspapers called in advance for “the Sachems [Indian leaders]…to extricate us out of this fresh Difficulty.” Lord North cited that event as proof that the Bostonians were incorrigible.

In May, Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act . Unlike the Boston Port Bill, which was to be reversed as soon as the town paid for the tea, this law made permanent changes to the colony’s constitution. The upper house of the Massachusetts legislature would no longer be elected; instead, the government in London appointed all its members, choosing gentlemen for their loyalty. Towns were barred from having more than one town meeting per year without prior permission from the governor. That law thus severely limited the colony’s long tradition of self-government.

Soon after news of the Massachusetts Government Act arrived in August 1774, people in rural counties rose up in protest. They demanded that local men appointed to the new upper house resign, or chased them out of their homes into Boston. On court days, crowds surrounded the county courthouses and refused to let the magistrates hold sessions. These protests, starting at the western end of the province, effectively shut down the royal government. Governor Gage moved to strengthen his position by consolidating militia gunpowder under his control. That military action, and a wildly exaggerated rumor about it, prompted thousands of Massachusetts men to mobilize in their militia companies on September 2 . Gage realized that his power to enforce Parliament’s laws now stopped at the gates of Boston.

In September 1774, both the Massachusetts resistance leaders and Gage began to seize cannons and other military supplies in case of war. Gage ordered troops in New York and Québec to come to Boston. In October, resistance leaders convened their own legislature, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, meeting outside Boston. Soon local militia companies were volunteering for extra training. By the end of the year, the province was moving toward war.

Close Reading Questions

  • What are the items women are being asked to give up and/or replace in this poem?
  • How is the author trying to make patriotism more appealing to readers?
  • Do you think efforts of nonconsumption, like those referenced in the poem, would be hard or easy for American colonists to engage in? Why?
  • The Boston Tea Party occurred about six years after this was published. How does this poem show the growing economic, social, and/or political tensions that contributed to that event?

View newspaper source.

  • What are the arguments this broadside makes against the “tea meetings?”
  • What phrases from this broadside do you think would best catch the attention of their desired audience?
  • How would you describe the tone of this broadside?
  • The Boston Tea Party occurred just over a month after this was published. How does this broadside show the growing economic, social, and/or political tensions that contributed to that event?

Read an excerpt.

View broadside.

Tea and tea culture were clearly important to colonial Americans. Do you think an event like the Boston Tea Party would still have occurred with a different item that was being taxed, like glass or paper which had also been taxed under the previous Townshend Acts?

What reasons are there for collecting and saving a souvenir? What does that tell us about how colonial Bostonians viewed the Boston Tea Party even in its immediate aftermath?

How does the significance of tea culture connect to the economic and social tensions that contributed to the Boston Tea Party?

View tea leaves.

View punch bowl.

View artifacts of the Boston Tea Party .

  • How might Rowe’s personal connection to the ships have affected his private and public words on the Boston Tea Party differently?
  • Why is it important for us to look at both the diary entry of Rowe and read his quote from Old South Meeting House in order to effectively evaluate the credibility and purposes of these two different sources?

View Rowe’s diary entry .

  • John Adams asked and then answered the following question in his diary: “The Question is whether the Destruction of this Tea was necessary?” How would you summarize his answer?
  • How did Adams view colonial government officials and others who supported the British policies (Governor Hutchinson, the Consignees, Collector and Comptroller, etc)?

View Adams’s diary entry.

  • How did the people in Marshfield view the protest that occurred in Boston? Is this similar or different from other sources and why might that be?
  • Why would the Massachusetts Gazette choose to highlight this Marshfield Town Meeting in the wake of the Boston Tea Party?
  • A note printed immediately after the article said, "Marshfield is in the Country of Plimouth. . . and according to an Account taken in 1764, contains upwards of Fifteen Hundred Inhabitants ; many of whom are said to be very wealthy.” How might the composition of the town have influenced their political leanings?

View newspaper article.

*Trigger Warning: In this cartoon, the behavior of all three British government officials implies violence and sexual assault on 'America,' portrayed as an Indigenous woman. 

  • What message is the artist trying to say about Britain’s reaction to the Boston Tea Party and how do you know that from the image?
  • How would you summarize the tone or mood of this political cartoon?
  • Britannia, the white female figure who often represents Britain, is depicted behind “America” and is looking away from what is happening.  By including this element of the cartoon, what is the artist adding to the overall message of the cartoon?
  • Why do you think political cartoons chose to represent the American colonies as an Indigenous woman? In what ways might that be connected to the colonists' decision to costume themselves as Native Americans during the destruction of the tea?

View and zoom in on the political cartoon .

  • One aspect of the new acts ordered that more positions in colonial governments be appointed by the King (or, by people appointed by the King) rather than be elected by the colonists. Why would this have further upset the colonists and possibly led more colonists to support the Sons of Liberty?
  • The Administration of Justice Act called for British soldiers and officials who were charged with crimes while attempting to maintain order in the colonies to be sent to Great Britain for trial rather than being tried in the colony where the crime was committed. This meant they would be far less likely to be found guilty, or would face a milder punishment. Why did colonists give this act the nickname the “Murder Act?”

View Port Bill .

View Administration of Justice Act and MA Government Act printed on a broadside .

View excerpts of these Coercive Acts.

Suggested Activities (Grades 8 - 12)

  • Boston Tea Party Hook Activities

Overview: Three different warm-up activities relate to different aspects of the Tea Party and specific activities suggested below to teach alongside the primary sources in this source set.

  • “Designing a Tea Set” Google Slides

Activity Overview:  After reading the historical context essay and exploring the primary sources in this set, students demonstrate their understanding of the social, political, and economic factors contributing to the tea crisis by designing a tea set to commemorate the protest. Designs include images, symbols, and patterns, and can be done by hand or on the computer.

  • “Who is impacted?” warm-up activity
  • exemplar Google slide

Prior knowledge:

  • Historical Context essay
  • Selection of sources in the “Destruction of the Tea” source set (teacher’s choice)
  • “Interested Parties in the Boston Tea Party” worksheet

Activity Overview: In this 2-part activity, students analyze the range of economic and political interests various groups had in the tea crisis, and the multiple perspectives of individual Bostonians to the Tea Party. After students have read the historical context and spent time analyzing and discussing the primary sources in this set, they will create a web diagram to show the range of economic and political interests different groups of people had in Boston’s tea crisis. Then, to analyze the multiple perspectives of individuals, students will read a series of quotes and contextual information about the historical figures who said them to better understand how a diverse array of people thought about the tea crisis.

  • John Rowe diary entry, 16 December 1773
  • John Adams diary entry, 17 December 1773
  • Diary Entry Analysis Worksheet

Activity Overview:  Working independently or in small groups, students answer critical thinking questions about two diary entries on the Boston Tea Party, and then respond to a series of additional questions to compare the two documents.


  • Marshfield townspeople condemn the destruction of the tea (excerpt)


  • Marshfield townspeople condemn the destruction of the tea (full transcript)
  • Letter to the Editor Worksheet

Activity Overview:  Newspapers were partisan in the revolutionary era. The Massachusetts Gazette was a Loyalist newspaper and the Boston-Gazette and Country-Journal was a Patriot newspaper. In fact, the Boston-Gazette was published by Benjamin Edes, a member of the Sons of Liberty and organizer of the Boston Tea Party. A number of the protestors gathered at Edes’ house drinking a strong punch before heading to the ships anchored at Griffin’s Wharf.

In this creative writing activity, students will take on the perspective of either a Patriot or Loyalist, and write a letter to the editor to the Loyalist Massachusetts Gazette , in response to the article on the Marshfield townspeople’s condemnation of the destruction of the tea.

Extension: Students can browse newspapers from 1773 and 1774 in The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr ( , which is a digital collection of Revolutionary Era newspapers, including the Loyalist Massachusetts Gazette and the Patriot Boston-Gazette . What similarities and differences do students notice between the two newspapers?

  • “Destruction of the Tea” source set (teacher chooses which sources to analyze with class)
  • Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline | Teacher Resource
  • American Activism: From the Boston Tea Party to the Dakota Access Pipeline Worksheet

Activity Overview:  Students consider the role of activism and protest throughout American history by comparing the 1773 Boston Tea Party to the 2015 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. First, as a whole class or in smaller groups, students define activism and protest. Then, students think critically about these terms as they connect to the Boston Tea Party and sources from the text set. Next, students read about the Standing Rock Sioux protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (using resources from the National Museum of the American Indian) and consider how the #NODAPL protests connect to other, modern activism and protest in the United States. Finally, students will compare and contrast these two events and how they connect to American principles around the participatory role of citizens.

Context: Both the Boston Tea Party and #NODAPL protests focused on property owned by private companies (tea owned by the British East India Company and a pipeline owned by Energy Transfer Properties). The British government also had a vested interested in collecting revenue from the tea and the U.S. government is tasked with authorizing pipelines. Colonial protestors were angry over the concept of taxation without representation, whereas modern pipeline protestors argue oil spills harm the environment and health of their communities, and violate treaties between the United States and Indigenous nations. The Sons of Liberty – an all-white group of adult men – organized the Boston Tea Party, disguising their identities. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux –of all ages – and allies publicly organized the #NODAPL protests.

Excerpts of the Coercive Acts (Port Bill, Administration of Justice Act, MA Government Act)

Jigsaw: Understanding the Coercive Acts Teacher Directions and Student Handout

Activity Overview: In groups of three, each group member becomes the expert for one of the Coercive Acts that Parliament issued in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. Students read their assigned Act, meet with other classmates who have read the same Act to discuss the close reading questions, and then return to their groups to teach their group mates about their assigned Act. The worksheet has space for students to take notes on all three Acts.

Elementary Source Set and Suggested Activities (Grades 3-5)

  • Boston Tea Party Elementary Grades Source Set 
  • Boston Tea Party Timeline (Google Slides)
  • Boston Tea Party Damages (Google Slides)

Overview: Although the Boston Tea Party was a single event, there was a long buildup that led to it and the entire colony of Massachusetts (along with the other 12 colonies) faced significant consequences as a result! (Note: In the 1770s, everyone referred to this event as “The Destruction of the Tea.” The term “tea party” did not come into play for more than 50 years after the protest!)

  • The timeline gives a detailed account of the events leading up to the Tea Party; the act of protest on 16 December 1773; and, the results of the protest, including the first Coercive Acts Parliament issued to punish MA and the meeting of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
  • The source set includes essential questions, background teacher reading, primary sources and context, teacher directions for all of the activities and student handouts related to this set, and a list of picture books related to the Boston Tea Party – all aimed at grade 3-5 students. Teachers can choose which sources, activities, and books they want to use in their classrooms.
  • The Boston Tea Party Damages slides focus on the consequences of the Boston Tea Party to help students understand how much damage the protestors did that night, how different people thought about and responded to the tea party, and summarizes the Coercive Acts the King and Parliament issued as punishment for the Tea Party. This slide deck is recommended to be used with the Multiple Perspectives Gallery Walk activity.
  • Boston Tea Party Close Reading and Sequencing Student Handout

Activity Overview: Students read an informational text to learn what happened at the protest known as the Boston Tea Party, and why the protest occurred. Then, students sequence 4 main events related to the Boston Tea Party, by writing or drawing pictures.

  • Boston Tea Party: An Eyewitness Account Handout
  • 3-2-1 Handout
  • Optional: Slides 6 and 7 in Tea Party Damages Google Slides

Activity Overview:   Show students the image on Slide 7 of the Google slides, which is also at the top of the handout. Students analyze an image with a 3-2-1 . Then, they read a quote from a 17-year-old witness to the Tea Party and discuss the ways in which the image (made many years after the protest in 1836) supports and/or differs from the first-person account.

  • Simplified Language  Google Slides
  • If not using the Slides: Multiple Perspectives on the Tea Crisis with quotes worksheet
  • Optional: Tea Party Damages Google Slides

Activity Overview: Teachers print out and place a selection of the posters (Multiple Perspectives slides 3-11)  around the classroom and students do a Gallery Walk where they read quotes from a variety of people who wrote about the Boston Tea Party at the time it happened. (If unable to print out the posters, use the worksheet that has quotes on it and students can work in small groups without moving around the classroom.) For each poster, they rank (on a scale of 1-10) each person’s opinion: 1 = a Loyalist who totally opposed the Tea Party and 10 = a Patriot who fully supported the Tea Party. Then, students use the context about and quote from each person to cite two pieces of evidence in support of their ranking.

Students can work independently or in small groups. Teachers may also choose to have students put their rankings on a sticky note at each poster so that students can see how their peers are ranking. An answer key / additional information for each person can be found on the Google Slides #12-14.

The Tea Party Damages google slides are a helpful frame for this activity, showing students tan eyewitness account of the protest, the extent of property damage the protest caused, and also briefly explain the Coercive Acts that Parliament issued as punishment for the Tea Party.

Teaching Strategy: Read more about facilitating a Gallery Walk .

  • Summarizing and Finding the Main Idea Worksheet
  • Optional: The Letters of Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren

Activity Overview: In the 1770s, friends communicated over distances by writing letters to one another, but today we are able to text our friends over the phone. In this activity, students bridge forms of communication, past and present! Students read quotes from letters between two female patriots between the fall of 1773 and the summer of 1774, in which the two women discuss the Tea Crisis and its consequences. Students put each quote into their own words, and then choose two emojis they would use today to indicate how the letter writer’s friend might have responded to the original quote.

Context: Mercy Otis Warren (a poet, playwright, and historian of the Revolutionary Era) and Hannah Winthrop were both married to men involved in the patriot cause, and in their letters they talk about their families, politics, and the role of women as political actors. Both women shared strong views in favor of the Boston Tea Party, and other protests against what they saw as the tyranny of the British government, and its unjust “taxation without representation.” The quotes from the letters begin with news of the tea as it set sail from London to Boston, include the Tea Party protest, and then discuss the announcement of the Coercive Acts, and growing militarization in Boston and unified action amongst the colonies in response to the Coercive Acts.

Applicable Standards

Skills Standards

  • Demonstrate civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
  • Organize information and data from multiple primary and secondary sources.
  • Analyze the purpose and point of view of each source.
  • Evaluate the credibility, accuracy, and relevance of each.
  • Argue or explain conclusions, using valid reasoning and evidence.

Content Standards

Grade 3. Topic 6, Massachusetts in the 18th century through the American Revolution

Grade 5. Topic 1, Origins of the Revolution and the Constitution

USH1. Unit 1, Topic 1: Origins of the Revolution and the Constitution

ELA Core Reading Anchor Standards

  • Read closely to determine what a text states explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from a text
  • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words
  • Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
  • D2.His.4.3-5. Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives
  • D2.His.10.3-5. Compare information provided by different historical sources about the past.
  • D2.His.14.3-5. Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.

Grades 9-12

  • D2.His.1. 9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
  • D2.His.4. 9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
  • D2.His.5.9-12. Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
  • D2.His.11. 9-12. Critique the usefulness of historical sources for a specific historical inquiry based on their maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose.
  • D2.His.14. 9-12. Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.

Boston 1773: Destruction of the Tea

Additional resources.

Vuë de Boston : Prospect von Boston gegen der Bucht am Hasen [Vuë de Boston vers le Cale du Port] (

The header used at the top of this source set is a 1770s print showing the harbor in Boston, Massachusetts, two ships at anchor, British soldiers and men working, and merchandise on shore. It presents an idealized view depicting Boston as a typical European city. The European artist had more than likely never visited Boston.

Edes family Tea Party punch bowl (

This porcelain bowl belonged to journalist and publisher Benjamin Edes of Boston. On the afternoon of the Boston Tea Party, some of the conspirators met at Edes's home on Brattle Street and drank punch from this bowl before proceeding to Griffin's Wharf. Learn more about the bowl and the Edes’ family memories of the Boston Tea Party, in addition to tea leaves collected the morning after the tea party: Souvenirs of the Boston Tea Party at the MHS .

Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access Pipeline | Teacher Resource (National Museum of the American Indian – Smithsonian)

Protests against pipelines can be seen as a modern day analogy to the Boston Tea Party. Both are political protests against privately owned property, in which the government holds an interest. Learn more about the 2015 Standing Rock Sioux protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline and consider ways in which it was similar to and different from the 1773 Boston Tea Party that occurred 242 years earlier.

Massachusetts Historical Society | Explore MHS Collections Relating to the Boston Tea Party (

This web feature includes additional primary sources held at the MHS that are related to the Boston Tea Party

From the pens of Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren

Read excerpts of letters between Hannah Winthrop, patriot and wife of a Harvard professor, and the noted Patriot poet and historian Mercy Otis Warren, between November 1773 and September 1774. The letters discuss family matters and politics, and provide the perspective of two women patriots on the build-up to the tea crisis, the destruction of the tea, and the consequences of the Boston Tea Party, including the Coercive Acts, militarization in MA, and political organizing amongst the colonies. These letters – and more – can be read in their entirety at the web feature: Correspondence of Mercy Otis Warren and Hannah Winthrop | Massachusetts Historical Society ( .

Phillis Wheatley’s Connection to the Boston Tea Party

In the fall of 1773, the Black poet Phillis Wheatley returned to Boston from London, England a free woman. Her book of poetry Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was soon to be published in London. The first copies of her book we on board the Dartmouth, along with 114 chests of the East India Company’s tea. Although we do not know what Wheatley thought about the tea crisis, a letter she wrote to David Wooster , a friend in Connecticut, in October 1773, shows how important the sales of her book were to her.

Attributed to Philip Dawe | A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (

A group of well dressed ladies gathered around a table. A baby sits under the table next to a dog.

A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton, North Carolina · HIST 1002 (

This description, from a Harvard history class, of the above political cartoon gives additional context about the women’s protest, and the ways in which the political cartoon undermined – and pointed out hypocrisies in – the women’s efforts.

Women and Nonimportation | Massachusetts Historical Society (

Focused on the 1760s, this primary source set looks at the political decision many Boston women made to boycott imported British goods and work to produce their own, or consume only those made in the colonies – with a focus on homespun fabrics and tea.

Read quotes from Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton to learn how political leaders outside of Massachusetts responded to the Boston Tea Party. All quotes comes from letters digitized on Founders Online , a digitization project of the National Archives.

In the  14 March 1774 issue of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal,   Thomas Walley advertised goods for sale in his store, including "all sorts of groceries as usual --  Except TEA."  Walley's ad, an example of ways in which local patriot shopkeepers responded to the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, can be found in the left-hand column of page 4.

The “Coming of the American Revolution” web feature from the Massachusetts Historical Society provides contextual information alongside primary sources to explore fifteen consequential topics covering the years between 1764 and 1776, during which time the thirteen colonies forged a more united identity. Topics of particular interest for this source set:

  • Boston Tea Party: Coming of the American Revolution: Boston Tea Party (
  • Coercive Acts: Coming of the American Revolution: The Coercive/Intolerable Acts (
  • First Continental Congress: Coming of the American Revolution: First Continental Congress (

From Tea to Shining Sea 

Created in 2004 by Lisa Green,  MHS teacher fellow, this US History unit for high school students utilizes primary sources across several lessons on the Boston Tea Party and politics surrounding it.

The Boston Tea Party | DPLA

This primary source set collection by the Digital Public Library of America includes additional visual and written sources, from the 18th and 19th centuries, on the Boston Tea Party.

"Tea Pot Tempest:" The Power of Place in the Boston Tea Party (

This National Parks Service (NPS) article examines Boston’s location as a port city and the importance of its maritime economy in creating conditions for the Boston Tea Party to take place.

Participants in the Boston Tea Party | Boston Tea Party Participants (

Learn more about the people who participated in the Boston Tea Party protest on the night of 16 December 1773.

Episode 112: Mary Beth Norton, The Tea Crisis of 1773 - Ben Franklin's World (

In this podcast episode of Ben Franklin’s World, Cornell professor Mary Beth Norton discusses what motivated Boston’s protestors to dump the tea overboard.

Episode 160: The Politics of Tea - Ben Franklin's World (

What was so special about tea anyway? In this podcast episode of Ben Franklin’s World, three historians explore the politics of tea in the 1760s and 1770s.

Episode 294: Mary Beth Norton, 1774: The Long Year of American Revolution - Ben Franklin's World (

In this podcast episode of Ben Franklin’s World, Cornell professor Mary Beth Norton discusses the consequences of the Boston Tea Party, and what made the ‘long year’ of 1774 – beginning with the destruction of the tea on 16 December 1773 – so critical to the build-up toward Revolution.

  • America’s Tea Parties: Not One But Four! Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia by Marissa Moss, 2016
  • Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies by Cokie Roberts, 2014
  • Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Wolfe, 2012
  • Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2008
  • Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak: The Outbreak of the Boston Tea Party Told from Multiple Points of View!  by Kay Winters, 2008
  • Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women by Cheryl Harness, 2001
  • Polly Sumner: Witness to the Boston Tea Party by Richard C. Wiggin, 2023 (Told from doll’s point of view)
  • What Was the Boston Tea Party? by Kathleen Krull, 2013
  • The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman, 2012
  • The Boston Tea Party by Steven Kroll, 1998  * 
  • Told using a pattern.. “this is the tea that…”  *

                           * hard to find

Zoom in on map

map of boston harbor depicted in black ink with streets and wharves labeled; around the harbor text reads "dry at low water"

Questions or suggestions? Contact us at [email protected] .

The Boston Tea Party

How it works

It goes without saying that The Boston Tea Party was a pivotal moment in history. The colonist was being oppressed by Britain and was forced obey their command. The crown had begun imposing taxes on the colonist without giving them a choice in the matter. Due to the fact The French and Indian War had ended; it seemed to be a good plan at that time. The distance and lack of communication caused a bit of ignorance on the British side.

They couldn’t see the effects the taxes had on the colonist.

On November 17, 1773 selectmen had signed a petition for the resignation of the tea consignees. The petition stated the East India Company will export the teas to the Boston port. Boston claimed they weren’t fully informed of the terms they would be receiving the tax. The tea was a dangerous and highly alarming problem which existed with the town. The document claims they refused giving satisfaction to the town that requested the resignation. The British had underhandedly gotten the colonist to allow the sale of British tea in the Boston port. By giving them, either the half-truth or purposely leaving information out the British achieved their goal of selling tea in America.

At Faneuil Hall, a meeting was held on November 29, 1773 to discuss the sale of East India Company tea. The Bostonians planned to find a way to keep the tea from being unloaded. They did everything in their power to keep the tea on the ship. Certain people were appointed to watch the ships as they docked. The overseer’s job was to ensure not a single load of tea made it off the ships. In addition to this, the attendees of the meeting sent copies to New York and Philadelphia.

The colonist had a series of unwanted taxes imposed onto them; particularly The Stamp Act of 1765 and The Townshend Acts of 1767. The Stamp Act taxed virtually every piece of paper from playing cards to legal documents. The Townshend Acts went even further by taxing paint, glass, and tea. The taxes were thought to be a good idea because Britain’s debt was earned fighting a war on the colonist behalf. The colonist was infuriated by the Parliament choice to use them as a source of revenue knew something needed to be done.

The Boston Tea Party was a key political protest that sparked an upcoming revolution. The Boston Tea Party was the spark that the colonist needed. The colonist dumped 342 chests of British tea into the Boston Harbor. This made Great Britain see that the colonist wasn’t taking anything sitting down. This protest gave the 13 colonies a reason, and the will to fight for independence.

Lastly The Boston Tea Party was more than the dumping of the tea. There were a plethora of events leading up to The Boston Tea Party. The American colonist even tried to prevent it from happening by holding meetings to keep the tea off American land. From the importing of unwanted tea to the ridiculous taxing; the colonist been through plenty in a short time. The Boston Tea Party went simply how they planned to start the road to the end of an era, and the start of a new day.


Cite this page

The Boston Tea Party. (2019, Jan 22). Retrieved from

"The Boston Tea Party." , 22 Jan 2019, (2019). The Boston Tea Party . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 21 Apr. 2024]

"The Boston Tea Party.", Jan 22, 2019. Accessed April 21, 2024.

"The Boston Tea Party," , 22-Jan-2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 21-Apr-2024] (2019). The Boston Tea Party . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 21-Apr-2024]

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The National Archives Museum depicts our astounding national mosaic and tells the stories of the American journey.

Featured document display: 250th anniversary of the boston tea party.

Colonists throwing tea into Boston Harbor

The Destruction of the Tea

It wouldn’t be known as the “Boston Tea Party” for another 50 years, but the destruction of the tea in 1773 marked a critical turning point in the brewing American Revolution. Boston was not alone in resisting British imperial policies considered oppressive by American colonists. Ports along the eastern seaboard prevented East India Company tea from landing in defiance of the 1773 Tea Act, which imposed no new tax on tea but granted the company a monopoly in colonies. Bostonians resorted to extreme action.

On December 16, 1773, several dozen men crudely disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests of East India Company tea into the sea. The rebels primarily wore disguises to protect their identities and to shield Boston from blame for destroying private property. They only succeeded in the former. Parliament’s punishment of Boston was swift and severe—and ultimately led the colonies one step closer to independence.

You can see this original document by visiting the featured document display at the National Archives Museum. To learn more about the Boston Tea Party online, visit these National Archives links:

  • The Text Message Blog:   Boston Tea Party Etiquette
  • Founders Online:  Poem on the Boston Tea Party
  • Pieces of History:  Boston Tea Party
  • DocsTeach:  Boston Tea Party Image Analysis

Featured Image:  The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor. 1773. Copy of lithograph by Sarony & Major, 1846. Records of Commissions of the Legislative Branch.  View in National Archives Catalog

Colonists throwing tea into Boston Harbor

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Historical Accounts of The Boston Tea Party

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