John Andrews, an elected Boston town leader, nearly spilled his tea over the commotion outside his Boston home.
“Such prodigious shouts were made, that induc’d me, while drinking tea at home, to go out and know the cause of it,” Selectman Andrews wrote his brother about the night of December 16, 1773. The shouts stoked his fears that the pot had boiled over.
Andrews had kept his eye on the brewing situation since ten o’clock that morning, when five thousand Bostonians assembled at the Old South Meeting House. They unanimously demanded the ships carrying the tea should immediately leave Boston Harbor. Until the ship owners paid the tea tax, the customs officers refused to give the ships a pass to leave.
The assembly waited all day to hear from the governor. When Andrews heard those loud shouts that evening, he raced to the meeting house. There he learned that Hutchinson had rejected the town’s request to get the ships (and their cargo of tea) out of the harbor.
“The house was so crowded I could get no farther than ye porch, when I found the moderator was just declaring the meeting to be dissolv’d, which caused another general shout . . . you’d thought that the inhabitants of the infernal regions had broke loose,” Andrews wrote, explaining he went home and finished drinking his own tea.
Then he heard a rumor. Some men were planning to dump the ships’ tea into the harbor. He had to see it for himself.
The situation called for “ocular demonstration,” as Andrews described it.
“They muster’d . . . to the number of about two hundred, and proceeded, two by two, to Griffin’s wharf, where Hall, Bruce, and Coffin [the ship’s captains] lay, each with 114 chests of the ill fated article on board . . . and before nine o’clock in ye evening, every chest from on board the three vessels was knock’d to pieces and flung over ye sides,” he wrote of the overflow.
“They say the actors were Indians from Narragansett. Whether they were or not, to a transient observer they appear’d as such, being cloath’d in blankets with the heads muffled, and copper color’d countenances, being each arm’d with a hatchet or axe, and pair pistols,” reported Andrews.
Andrews’s “ocular demonstration” left behind a firsthand account of the Boston Tea Party, as it was called years later. When it was all over that night, the protestors dumped nearly 342 chests of tea.
One question remains, however: Was Andrews an interested observer of the action, or more? As is often the case, only God and John Andrews know whether Andrews was merely a witness to the event or a participant in the crime.