Primary Source: The Boston Gazette's Coverage of the Boston Tea Party

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 is often seen as a great catalyst for the American Revolution. Bostonians famously raided a ship carrying British tea and dumped it into the harbor rather than pay taxes on it.

Boston Tea Party

Few events resonate in American history like the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the great demonstration against King George III's taxes imposed on the colonies without their consent. Taxation fell everywhere in the British Empire at the time but the American colonies had been forced to pay the price of the debts amassed in the earlier French and Indian War of 1754-1763 (itself part of a far larger Seven Years' War between France and England) despite the fact that they had no representation in Parliament, who levied these taxes. No issue galvanized the American colonies towards independence quite like the issue of taxation without representation.

Tea (as well as cotton, sugar, and other trade goods) represented a profitable exchange for the British Empire: their East India Company operated across every ocean. On May 10th, 1773, King George III subjected the colonies to the Tea Act, which led to a commercial monopoly for the East India on tea throughout North America, and a subsequent rise in taxation. Some colonial leaders called for boycotts, or for home-grown substitutes, but the city of Boston undertook the most drastic demonstration on December 16th of 1773.

Disguised as Native American, to hide their true identities, Bostonians boarded three East India ships and threw the barrels overboard in a symbolic rebellion against King George and Parliament. The widely-publicized act infuriated both George and Parliament, who levied further taxes and punished the city of Boston, ordering them to repay the full costs of the tea. The Tea Party also galvanized anti-British settlement amongst the American colonists, helping to form the Continental Congress, in no small part due to Bostonian intellectuals, lawyers, and leaders like John Adams. One year later, the colony of Massachusetts would be declared 'in open rebellion.'

The Boston Gazette, the largest newspaper in Boston at the time, reported on the event and its aftermath. Let's look over it now.

Text of the Boston Gazette's Coverage of the Boston Tea Party

Boston, December 20

On Tuesday last the body of the people of this and all the adjacent towns, and others from the distance of twenty miles, assembled at the old south meeting-house, to inquire the reason of the delay in sending the ship Dartmouth, with the East-India Tea back to London; and having found that the owner had not taken the necessary steps for that purpose, they enjoin'd him at his peril to demand of the collector of the customs a clearance for the ship, and appointed a committee of ten to see it perform'd; after which they adjourn'd to the Thursday following ten o'clock. They then met and being inform'd by Mr. Rotch, that a clearance was refus'd him, they enjoye'd him immediately to enter a protest and apply to the governor for a pass port by the castle, and adjourn'd again till three o'clock for the same day. At which time they again met and after waiting till near sunset Mr. Rotch came in and inform'd them that he had accordingly enter'd his protest and waited on the governor for a pass, but his excellency told him he could not consistent with his duty grant it until his vessel was qualified. The people finding all their efforts to preserve the property of the East India company and return it safely to London, frustrated by the sea consignees, the collector of the customs and the governor of the province, DISSOLVED their meeting.--But, BEHOLD what followed! A number of brave & resolute men, determined to do all in their power to save their country from the ruin which their enemies had plotted, in less than four hours, emptied every chest of tea on board the three ships commanded by the captains Hall, Bruce, and Coffin, amounting to 342 chests, into the sea!! without the least damage done to the ships or any other property. The matters and owners are well pleas'd that their ships are thus clear'd; and the people are almost universally congratulating each other on this happy event.

The particular Account of the Proceedings of the People at their Meeting on Tuesday and Thursday last, are omitted this Week for want of Room.

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