The Boston Tea Party

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 12925

When you think of a tea party, do you think of Alice in Wonderland? Instead of the Mad Hatter, imagine inviting a lot of mad colonists who will throw out the tea and cause a riot! It happened in 1773!

categories

United States

subject
History
learning style
Visual
personality style
Otter
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Have you ever had a cup of tea? Did you like it? How much is a simple cup of tea worth to you?

Many Americans think of the Boston Tea Party as a necessary act of rebellion against British greed and control.

Yet, the circumstances surrounding the event on that mid-December night are far more complicated, and it wasn't as simple as losing access to an optional beverage due to a price increase.

At the time, having tea was a shared experience that celebrated family togetherness. Poor families, middle-class families, and wealthy families all drank tea. Colonists wanted to show that they were just as trendy and as well-mannered as the British. But all of this was about to change!

The British-owned East India Company was in financial trouble, and they needed to do something fast. They were losing tea sales in the American Colonies to Dutch tea smugglers and other sources, and they did not like that for many reasons, the first being their own loss of business. The second reason was their loss of control over the colonies. British Prime Minster Lord Charles North gathered Parliament to discuss the issue.

The Tea Act

On May 10, 1773, British Parliament, led by Prime Minister North, passed the Tea Act, that granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the American Colonies. This means that the British tea company was the only company permitted to sell tea to the colonists. They decided that, to appeal to the colonists, they would lower the price of the tea and the tax imposed, making the cost comparable to that of the Dutch merchants'. This gave Britain the perfect opportunity to show its power over the colonies and make extra money. How, you may wonder? Holding the monopoly on tea sales and keeping a tax on the tea not only brought in money for Britain; it also showed the colonists that Britain had the authority and control to make them purchase tea from them and pay a tax.

This did not go over well with the colonists who, at the time, were making every effort to break free of England and the strict central governing power. Despite the colonists' boycotts (refusals to buy) and several demands to remove the tax on tea, the British government was still determined to sell their tea to the colonists, tax and all. The dockworkers eventually rebelled and refused to unload the tea from ships. The governor of Massachusetts demanded that the tea be unloaded, and that the people pay the taxes and duty on tea. On December 16, 1773, a fleet of three ships — the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver — arrived in Boston Harbor carrying 342 cases (about 92,000 pounds) of tea, worth $18,000 in colonial times.

The revolt

Meanwhile, a man named Samuel Adams, leader of a group of Patriots who called themselves "The Sons of Liberty," was hatching a plan. On that December night, Adams and about 60 Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded the three ships. A British admiral watched from a third-story window as the men dumped all 92,000 pounds of tea (valued at approximately $1 million by today's standards) into Boston Harbor.

The consequences

Now, you might think that many colonists applauded this act of rebellion toward the British, but in fact, the majority of the colonists, including George Washington, were very much opposed. The Sons of Liberty hid their identity for several years (although many knew who was involved), and Adams was quoted as saying the event was "an act of protest, and not the actions of an angry mob."

One important fact that needs to be understood is that this revolt was not because of the cost of the tea; it was due to the British imposing a tax ("No Taxation Without Representation!") on the colonists without the colonists having a fair say in the matter. The colonists felt that if they were to be taxed by Britain, they should have representation at Parliament.

As a result of the late-night tea gathering, the British sent additional soldiers to Boston and shut down the harbor as a ransom until the cost of the tea was paid in full.

Although the colonists knew the act was wrong, they were opposed to Britain's reaction and continuing to dominate the newly-formed country. A decision was made that it was time America needed to be free, once and for all, from the hand of King George III.

The beginning of freedom

In September of 1774, a group of colonial leaders gathered in Philadelphia to form the first Continental Congress. Their goal was to fight against British oppression by any means necessary. The efforts of the Continental Congress eventually sparked the Revolutionary War, which began in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775.

To learn more, start by reading the Boston Non-Importation Agreement, courtesy of Historic Tours of America®, Inc., and explore the website to learn more about the colonist connection to tea, and how they used this connection to further revolt against the British.

You can also read the Protest and Revolt in Boston Harbor, at Kids Discover. This site requires a free login, so ask your parent or teacher before entering any personal information on the website.

So, what do you think?

  • Was it fair for the British to impose the tax on tea sent to the colonists?
  • What do you think about the colonists' reaction?
  • Did they make a rational decision?
  • What sort of message do you think they sent to the British?
  • Why do you think the British reacted the way they did?

Record your answers in your notebook or on a sheet of paper, then share your ideas with your parent or teacher.

Next, continue on to the Got It? section for some interactive quizzing.

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