• Why An Economic Shutdown And Accusations Of Insurrection Followed The Boston Tea Party

    December 15, 2022

    How did the king respond to the Boston Tea Party 249 years ago on December 16, 1773?

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    Tea-Stained Harbor, adapted from Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War.

    John Andrews 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 thousands of Bostonians assembled at the Old South Meeting House. They unanimously demanded that 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 Governor Hutchinson had rejected the town’s request to get the ships and their chests 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,” 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 protesters dumped nearly 350 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.

    On Dec. 16, 2022, the 249th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, what is most significant, given recent events in America, is how King George III responded to the protesters and their concerns. Suggesting that the people were insurrectionists, he convinced Congress to pass new legislation that effectively shut down the economy.

    The new act said the Boston tea protest was the result of “dangerous commotions and insurrections” by “diverse ill-affected persons.”

    Rather than addressing their grievances, King George responded by increasing his oppression and tyranny.

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    In April 1774, Parliament passed a law that shut down the economy in Boston by prohibiting anyone from loading or unloading ships in and out of Boston except for the British military.

    “An act to discontinue the landing and discharging, lading or shipping of goods, wares, and merchandise at the town and within the harbor of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay in North America,” the Connecticut Journal reported of the new legislation in May of 1774.  

    British authorities could seize anyone's ship, remove its cargo, and take the person's weapons on board. They did not need a warrant to do so.

    Sailing ships and selling cargo were essential to the colonists’ way of life in Massachusetts. They depended on the goods produced in other colonies and essential products, such as clothing, that were made in England. Surviving without the shipping trade seemed impossible.

    The king also responded to the Boston Tea Party by implementing martial law. He replaced Governor Hutchinson with a military general, Thomas Gage.

    In other words, the English tyrant responded to the people's grievances with increased tyranny.


    God, help me to remember that you are the Great Witness, the One who knows when I wear a mask, the One who is aware of all I do and aware of what my leaders do.



    Jane Hampton Cook

    Jane Hampton Cook is a presidential historian, former White House staffer and author of 10 books, including Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. Janecook.com.

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