The Boston Tea Party represents one of the monumental turning points in the history of the United States mainly because it constitutes the first act of sheer defiance of the people towards the government. Allegedly an act that stemmed from the refusal of the common people to accept the ruling of the British empire, there is far more to the mob that dumped over 342 containers of tea in the waters of the Boston Harbor on the night of December 16, 1773. The midnight raiding of the three ships has gone down in history, but many of us are not familiar with all the implications of the brash gesture or the real reasons behind it.
1. There was no tea tax hike, as it is assumed
Many people erroneously believe that the colonists were upset because the government wanted to impose a higher excise on the tea. That is not true, because in fact the “Tea Act” passed by the British authorities would still have allowed them to acquisition it for less than half of what it cost in Britain. The Tea Act was actually reducing the taxes paid by the East India Company, in an attempt to save the giant corporation for bankruptcy. However, the colonists were still not very fond of the earlier Townshend Acts that were passed without their consent. The new law that was approved without the support of the people or the parliament enraged them to the point of revolt.
2. Commercial interests rather than moral principles played a key role
The bailout received by dying the East India Company had another important effect, namely that it also handed them the keys to the monopoly on tea trade in the colonies. In other words, being exempt from taxes meant a huge advantage for EIC and consequentially, a huge blow for the business of colonial merchants and Dutch tea smugglers. And yes, many of the people involved in the midnight raid – including John Hancock – had a direct commercial interest. So much for pure morals!
3. George Washington did not support the actions of the Boston Tea Party
In spite of the fact that George Washington is perceived as the most important revolutionary in the American history, he did not concur with the actions of the Boston Tea Party. However, he did agree that the raid mirrored the public opinion on the British government and that the tea partiers only did what everyone was thinking about. On the other hand, the sanctity of private property was prevalent in those days and that is why Washington stated that the East India Company is entitled to financial compensation from the perpetrators. And, believe it or not, he had a strong support from political elites and the common people on this one.
4. The punitive measures of the British Empire brought the colonists closer together
True, a great percentage of the colonists shared the views of George Washington, as the perception towards the Boston Tea Party at the time was that it was an act of pure, unmitigated vandalism. Unfortunately, not even they believed that the punitive measures of the British government in response to the raid were justified. In essence, in the wake of the incursion, the Brits “went medieval” on the colonists, closing down the harbor, annulling Massachusetts’ right to self govern and expanding the dreaded Quartering act. These actions proved a really bad move from the British Empire, as the colonists catalogued them as intolerable and their comeback was the birth of the original Continental Congress.
5. The real identities of the Boston Tea Party were kept hidden for several decades
As previously mentioned, due to the potential repercussions and the lack of public support, the Boston Tea Party members were not so eager to divulge their implication in the raiding of the EIC ships. Knowing that they could face criminal charges as well as lose the support of the elites, they kept the lid on their identities for many years. In fact, even nowadays we still do not know all the names of the participants to the incursion.
6. The raid only got its famous name fifty years later
Strangely enough, the protestors did not come up with this resounding name, but rather it was awarded to them by a newspaper 53 years later, in 1826. The name caught on only 4 years later, in 1830, when a couple of books on the event and the characteristics of the participants were published. At the moment of the raid, this episode was known simply as the “destruction of tea”.
7. An additional Boston Tea Party occurred three months after the first
Due to the lower magnitude of the second raid – less than 30 tea containers were set afloat this time – history often fails to remember it. The 60 masked men who boarded the ship named “Fortune” three months later have not been identified, although it is widely believed that they are the same actors in the original Boston Tea Party affair.
8. There have been other similar raids in the colonies
To name a few, Annapolis, New York, South Carolina and Charleston were the scene of mirror raids in 1774, following of course the anger generated by the disciplinary measures taken by the British Empire. In several cases, the transport ships were also set ablaze after the contents were dumped in the water.
9. The tea sent afloat was extremely valuable
According to historians, the quantity of tea that was dumped in Boston Harbor exceeded 92,000 lb. This amount represents roughly 18.5 million bags of tea! Translated into the present day worth, the East India Company lost the equivalent of over $1 million on that fateful night.
10. John Crane performed a Jesus-like miracle
No person was actually harmed in the Boston Tea Party raid, other than one of the participants, a fellow by the name of John Crane. After a crate of tea knocked him unconscious, the other conspirators presumed he was dead and concealed his body in a nearby woodshop. He woke up after a couple of hours, having experienced little to no trauma.