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8 Myths and Facts About the Boston Tea Party

Satyajeet Vispute Mar 2, 2020
The Boston Tea Party was an important event in American history, but is surrounded by a number of myths and legends. We will examine some of the most popular of these myths, and debunk them.

Did You Know?

The three ships targeted in the Boston Tea Party carried more than 90,000 lb. of tea, which took the 100 odd Bostonians close to three hours to empty into the harbor. Experts estimate that this tea would cost roughly $1,000,000 today.
On December 16, 1773, a group of otherwise conservative colonial merchants, in alliance with the radicals led by Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty, disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, and boarded three ships at the Boston Harbor. They got a hold of the 342 tea crates on-board these vessels, and threw them into the water.
This was meant to be done as a protest against the Tea Act and the monopoly of the East India Company over the Western tea market. Known today as the Boston Tea Party, this series of events is believed to have been the catalyst that let to the main American Revolution.
Though most of us celebrate the Boston Tea Party now, back in the era of the revolution, it wasn't viewed with such favor. Many patriots discredited it as being an act of blatant vandalism, which brought the revolution into disrepute.
Over the years, the story of the actual events that occurred on that eventful night has been represented in a number of different ways. Consequently, several myths and legends have arisen about the Tea Party, that are far from the actual truth.
As such, in the following lines, we present to you some of the most common myths about the Boston Tea Party, along with the actual historic facts behind them.

Boston Tea Party: Myths and Facts

Myth : The Tea Party was a Protest Against Higher Taxes

Fact: Contrary to popular belief, the Boston Tea Party was carried out, not to condemn higher taxes, but instead to protest the tax break that was provided by the British government, which effectively made tea more affordable to the colonists.
This tax break was a part of the government's efforts to bail out the East India Company, which had run into financial troubles when its stocks plummeted after the downfall of the speculative banking schemes throughout Europe. Tons of unsold tea had accumulated in the company's warehouses, which forced its directors to approach the government for help.
European markets were saturated, and the only viable option appeared to be the American colonies, where in theory at least, many tons of tea could be sold if the taxes were reduced. There were 2 taxes that were levied at the time: 1 that was imposed on tea coming from India & via Britain to America & another which was imposed when it reached American ports.
In the Tea Act of 1773, parliament retained American duties, while it exempted the East India Company from having to pay any taxes on the goods that landed in Britain on the way to America. Thanks to this, the East India Company was able to reduce its prices significantly, ensuring that it would have the monopoly of the American tea market.

Myth : The Tea Act Taxed the American Colonists

Fact: As described above, the Tea Act didn't impose a tax on the American colonists. In fact, it didn't tax anyone. Rather, it was passed to lower the taxation on tea shipped in by the East India Company to America, which, in addition to the special privileges granted to the company, would have made the purchase of tea more affordable for the Western colonists.
Under the Revenue Act of 1767, Americans had to pay a three-pennies-per-pound tax on legally imported tea. With the tax break for the East India Company, the Sons of Liberty believed that, the cheaper tea would entice the colonies into purchasing more, and they would thus end up paying the government more.

Myth : Bostonians Dumped Full Crates of Tea

Fact: Over the years, several artistic recreations of the events of the Tea Party have been put on display. Many of them depict Bostonians throwing entire crates of tea into the water.
However, the fact is that, most of the tea crates weighed too much, and therefore, were chopped open, and their content (tea) was spilled into the water. Another common misconception is that, the boxes thrown overboard contained tea bricks, when in fact they contained loose tea leaves.

Myth : Americans Targeted British Vessels and Dumped the King's Tea into the Harbor

Fact: Many people believe that, three ships―the Dartmouth, the Beaver, and the Eleanor―that were boarded by the Americans, were British ships. However, the fact is that, these ships were actually privately owned, with some American colonists being partial owners too.
Also, the tea that these ships carried didn't belong to the king, but rather to the East India Company. Thus, unlike popular perception, Bostonians didn't target the British state, but actually destroyed private property on-board these ships.

Myth : It was Always Known as the Boston Tea Party

Fact: For the initial fifty years or so, the events of December 16, 1773 were known as the 'Destruction of Tea in the Boston Harbor', or something similar. The term Boston Tea Party was first used on December 30, 1825, in a newspaper story.
Following that, there were a few other incidences of the use of this phrase, which made it a part of popular vocabulary.
The term 'party', in this phrase, must have initially been a reference to the group of men responsible for the events, and not to the actual events. This is indicated by the obituary of Nicholas Campbell, which mentions that he 'was one at the ever memorable Boston Tea Party'.

Myth : The Boston Tea Party was Non-violent

Fact: While it is true that for most part, the Boston Tea Party comprised property destruction, as opposed to harming individuals, it wasn't entirely non-violent.
Prior to the eventful night, Bostonians carried out various acts of intimidation and vandalism against the loyalists. These included threatening importers and custom officers, pelting stones and shattering windows, giving out death threats to tea consignees, surrounding their homes and business places, not allowing the governor to offer protection to them.
One example is of Charles Conner, who was found by the tea destroyers as he was pocketing tea on-board the Beaver on the night of December 16. He was covered in mud and beaten till he fled Griffin's Wharf. Bostonians did try to keep their activities limited to the destruction of tea. However, their actions cannot be termed as being entirely non-violent.

Myth : The American Fondness for Coffee Has its Roots in the Boston Tea Party

Fact: As a matter of fact, Americans did boycott tea after the 'Tea Party'. However, their resolution did not last long, as most of them could not resist the temptation of consuming one of their favorite beverages.
American fondness for coffee likely resulted from its easy availability. Historically, coffee from Brazil and the Caribbean has been much easier to obtain, and has been cheaper as compared to the tea imported from the East. Thus, it was easy availability, and not the Boston Tea Party that inspired the love of coffee amongst Americans.

Myth : The Tea Party United the Patriots

Fact: Among most of the patriots, the Tea Party had exactly the opposite effect that was originally intended. While a few of them did celebrate this event as being the first direct revolt against the British government, most condemned it as being an act of vandalism.
George Washington rebuked the tea destroyers for their conduct, while Benjamin Franklin expressed that the East India Company should be compensated for the loss it had incurred. In the months that followed, the British government imposed a series of punitive laws under the Coercive Act.
It involved closure of the Boston port, and revoking of the Massachusetts Charter, which denied the colonists the rights that they had enjoyed for over a century and a half.
It was this Coercive Act, and not the Boston Tea Party, which ultimately caused the 13 Colonies to unite against the tyrannical British rule.