Previous in series: Tuesdays With Norwood: Taxation Without Representation – Part 2
No! Ne’er was mingled such a draught
In palace, hall or arbor,
As freemen brewed and tyrants quaffed
That night in Boston Harbor.
–Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94),
Ballad of the Boston Tea Party
Having appointed agents in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, the Company sent its first tea consignments on their way in the autumn of 1773, despite a warning from the New York consignee that “there will be no such thing as selling it, as the people would rather buy so much poison.” In fact, at mass meetings, first in Philadelphia, then in New York and Boston, the people resolved not even to let it land. The first of three ships bringing the tea to Boston made port on 28 November. The citizenry allowed the captain to unload everything except the tea and kept watch around the clock to make sure he did not. According to law, the cargo would be subject to seizure and sale by the customs for unpaid duty at the end of twenty days after entering port. This was what the consignees confidently waited for, since the customs men would be backed by British troops. On 16 December, the day before the scheduled seizure and landing, all business was suspended in Boston and people by the hundreds flocked in from surrounding towns. It was the greatest gathering the city had ever seen. Speeches were given and negotiations were carried on with the ship’s captain, the customs men, and the governor, but by nightfall no progress had been made, “Who knows,” a prominent merchant named John Rowe asked just before the meeting adjourned, “how tea will mix with salt water?”
Whether this was a prearranged signal or not, it was answered by war whoops from a party of men, variously estimated from twenty to ninety, disguised as Mohawk Indians. Followed by throngs of patirots, they proceeded with businesslike directness to the ship, warned the customs officers and crew to keep out of their way, brought the chests of tea on deck, and emptied them over the side. They repeated this process on two other ships that had arrived carrying tea. The account of this action in the Massachusettes Gazette of 23 December 1773 concludes:
They applied themselves so dexterously to the destruction of this commodity, that in the space of three hours they broke up three hundred and forty-two chests, which was the whole number in these vessels, and discharged their contents into the dock. When the tide rose it floated the broken chests and tea insomuch that the surface of the water was filled therewith a considerable way from the south part of the town to Dorchester Neck, and lodged on the shores.
Continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: Colonial Tea Parties – Part 2