Few uprisings in American History are as well-known as the Boston Tea Party. Aside from popular images of colonists dressed as Indians dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, the Boston Tea Party marks the turning point between the American colonists and the British government. It helped to deepen the divide among the Patriots and the Loyalists, bringing the 13 colonies one step closer to declaring their independence.
Most people know that the Boston Tea Party was somehow related to “taxation without representation.” Following the end of the Seven Years War between the British and the French in 1763, Great Britain found itself mired in debt. This debt, coupled with protecting their newly acquired territory of Quebec with 10,000 soldiers, left the Mother Country scrambling for revenue. During the Seven Years War British officials noted how much more prosperous the American colonists were. With their spacious farms and villages and towns with bustling shops and tradesmen, the colonists had much higher living standards than many people back in Great Britain. British authorities also saw how many colonial merchants ignored trade laws and taxes. And the colonists paid little in taxes, compared to a British citizen, who paid 26 shillings a year in taxes, while colonists paid an average of one shilling per person in taxes. To this end, it seemed completely reasonable to the British government that the colonists pay their fair share in taxes. So in 1767 the government placed new taxes, known as the Townsend Act, on various goods from Great Britain, including paper, lead, glass and tea. Colonists organized boycotts of British goods, and the Townsend Act was repealed, except for the tax on tea. When the Townshend Act went into effect, colonists were drinking roughly 1.2 million pounds of tea a year. The remaining tax on tea made English tea expensive and soon colonists began drinking smuggled tea from the Netherlands. However by 1773 the boycott of British tea began to wane. However the boycott had its intended result. Sales of British tea, especially from the East India Company, dropped drastically and in May 1773 the market for colonial tea was so low that the East India Company on the brink of collapse. There was a great deal of vested interest in the East India Company. Many members of the British Parliament held shares in the East India Company and were not about to let the company to go bankrupt. So they passed the Tea Act which placed special duties on tea. In Boston, East India tea could only be sold by seven designated tea agents, called consignees. The Tea Act allowed the East India Company to skirt any middlemen and undersell their competitors, even undercutting smuggled tea. Parliament would not be able to resist such cheaply priced tea. They soon found out that the colonists were not going to overlook any tax, no matter how small.
Tensions over the tea tax came to head on December 17, 1773. Between fifty and sixty men of all social classes left Old South Meeting House, some (not all) dressed as Mohawk Indians with blankets and headdress. They headed to Griffin’s Wharf, where three ships holding English tea were anchored. The men used hatchets to force open 342 chests of tea (estimated to be around 18.5 million cups of tea) worth £18,000 (about 1 million dollars today) and threw it into the harbor. Crowds gathered on the docks and cheered the men on, calling for more “saltwater tea.” The waters of Boston Harbor turned brown for several days.
Destroying the tea at the Boston Tea Party was a risky business and would be viewed as an act of treason that was punishable by death. One of the participants, called Nathaniel Bradley, had a sister called Sarah Bradley. Sarah Bradley was a prominent member of the Boston Daughters of Liberty and is credited for being the person who came up with the idea of patriots dressing up as Mohawk Indians. Sarah