The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Boston Tea Party

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Boston Tea Party
Edition of 1920. See also Boston Tea Party on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BOSTON TEA PARTY, 16 Dec. 1773. Till shortly before the Revolution, imported teas paid a shilling a pound duty at English ports, but the merchants received a drawback of three-fifths on exports to the colonies, who were charged the remaining 445d. in the selling price. As they obtained it more cheaply by smuggling from Holland, there was no English tea trade. In 1767, as part of a series of duties to raise revenues for paying the colonial executives and judiciary, to make them independent of popular control, this duty was reduced to 3d., but to be collected at American ports. This was done with the threefold object of aiding the straitened East India Company to market its tea, substituting a small collectible duty for a larger uncollectible one and helping to break up the illicit free-trade which was the life of the colonies. The political purposes made Americans invincibly hostile to it. Associations were formed to abstain from the tea, merchants who handled it lost custom and the Dutch smuggling went on. In 1770 the other new duties were repealed but that on tea remained. In 1773 the East India Company, with 17,000,000 pounds of unsalable tea stored in London warehouses because of this non-importation and in imminent danger of a failure most disastrous to English financial and political interests, asked Parliament for a colonial drawback of the entire shilling, to undersell the Dutch. This was granted 10 May; tea ships were sent to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston and consignees or “tea commissioners” appointed in each place. But the colonies were now resolved that no taxes, external or internal, should be paid except under their own control, and set themselves to prevent the collection of the duty. In the cities other than Boston this was done by forcing the consignees to resign and in New York and Philadelphia the ships were sent back without unloading. In Charleston the duty was left unpaid for 20 days, when by law the customs officers seized it and offered it for sale to pay the charges, but as no one dared buy it, it spoiled unused. In Boston the tax was defeated by the refusal of the consignees — two sons of Governor Hutchinson and three loyalist friends of his — to resign. On Sunday, 28 November, the Dartmouth, under Captain Hall and owned by the Quaker, Francis Rotch, arrived with 114 chests of tea and was moored at Griffin's wharf. The Committee of Correspondence, which really governed the province, induced Rotch to defer its entry until Tuesday and on Monday morning called a great mass meeting at the Old South Church, which resolved that Rotch would enter the tea at his peril. The captain was cautioned to let none be landed and a watch of 25 men was stationed at the wharf. The consignees, asked to send the tea back, replied that it was not in their power but they would store it till they could hear from their constituents. Tuesday afternoon, however, Rotch and Hall agreed to return it without its touching land or paying duty, and the owners of two other ships which arrived shortly after, the Eleanor and Beaver, made the same promise. These ships were moored at the same wharf, so that one guard might serve for all. But by law the ships could not be cleared till the cargo was discharged, and Hutchinson refused to give the owners permits to pass the Castle, had the guns loaded and Admiral Montagu guarded the mouth of the harbor with two war-ships, though curiously neither of them put a guard on the tea ships. At midnight on the 16th, the Dartmouth's 20 days would expire and the American victory be practically won by the seizure of the tea for unpaid duty, since none of it would come on the market. But the object of the Boston leaders was not merely to prevent the English exchequer profiting but to commit the colony to open disobedience of English orders and have some issue to unite upon with the other colonies. On the 14th Rotch was again ordered by a meeting at the Old South to apply for a clearance, and several leading patriots escorted him to the custom-house to see that he did so. The collector refused to give an answer till the next day, when, upon a final visit from Rotch and his volunteer bodyguard, he definitely refused unless the teas were discharged. At 10 the next morning Rotch appeared before another huge meeting at the Old South and reported the refusal. He was directed to protest against it at once and apply to Governor Hutchinson for a permit to pass the Castle. Hutchinson was at his house on Milton Hill, some eight miles out, and it was 6 P.M. before Rotch returned with the news that the governor also refused. Meantime some 7,000 people had gathered in and about the Old South, probably half of them from neighboring towns; addresses were made by Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy and several other leaders, and it was unanimously resolved that the tea should not be permitted to land. Hutchinson's refusal had been discounted, and 40 or 50 men, disguised as Indians, with paint and gear, had gathered in the back room of a printing office nearby, waiting for an agreed signal, and the meeting continued in session till long after dark, awaiting Rotch's report. On receiving it Samuel Adams gave the appointed signal, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” and a shout from the porch was answered by a war-hoop from the “Mohawks,” who at once rushed to the wharf followed by a thousand or so of others and with perhaps a hundred of them boarded the ships, and for three hours worked steadily with hatchets, breaking open the chests and throwing the tea into the harbor. The entire 342 chests on the three ships, valued at about £18,000, were destroyed, without a sound from the mob, which then dispersed. Meantime a fourth tea ship was wrecked off Cape Cod. The immediate result of this was the Boston Port Bill (q.v.); but, as the Bostonians had expected, the whole country rallied to their support.