This mural of the Boston Tea Party is in the U.S. Congress building in Washington, D.C. At the top, you can see the original 13 states.

Starting a Revolution with Tea in Boston

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The Boston Tea Party wasn’t a social event. It was an act of rebellion and it helped start the movement for the U.S.A. to become independent from Britain.

In 1773, Boston was the capital of Massachusetts, one of 13 British colonies in the future United States. For several years, the British government, in financial trouble, had been imposing taxes on the colonists for imported products and legal documents. Some colonists objected, saying that it was wrong to make them pay taxes because they couldn’t vote for representatives to Parliament, which decided the taxes.

No Taxation Without Representation
In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act. This gave the British East India Company a monopoly on selling tea in the American colonies, and imposed tax on the tea. Tea was extremely popular, and the colonists were already furious about taxes.

A reenactment of the Sons of Liberty meeting.

On 16 December, a group called the Sons of Liberty held a public meeting in Boston. It was led by Samuel Adams, who would go on to be one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Three ships had arrived in the harbour carrying tea. The meeting decided to take action. That night, a group of men summarily disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships and threw all the crates of tea into the water: over 300 crates worth close to $2 million in modern money.

A reenactment of the Sons of Liberty throwing tea crates overboard at the Boston Tea Party
A reenactment of the Sons of Liberty throwing tea crates overboard at the Boston Tea Party.

The British Crown retaliated in 1774 with four Acts of Parliament that became known as the Intolerable Acts in the American colonies. They closed Boston’s harbour until compensation was paid for the tea (it never was), imposed greater rule from London on the Massachusetts colony, provided greater protection from prosecution to British officials and imposed billeting of British troops in Massachusetts homes.

These Acts further enraged the colonists, and led to the creation of the first Continental Congress in September 1774. Britain’s King George III declare Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion in February 1775. When British troops tried to capture rebel leaders in April 1775, the first battles of what would be the American Revolution took place at Lexington and Concord.

On 4 July, 1776, the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. From 1778, France, Spain and the Netherlands all provided help to the revolutionaries, with French troops participating in the Battle of Yorktown in 1881, at which the British surrendered. The war was effectively over and the U.S.A. independent, although the peace treaty wasn’t signed until 1883.

Remembering the Tea Party
The citizens of Boston re-enact the Tea Party each December on the restored tea ships which are part of the city’s museums. For the 250th anniversary, they hope for a record number of participants.


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