Revolution, 1753-1783

Author: Thomas Hutchinson  | Date: 1773

Show Summary

The Boston Tea Party

THE assembly being prorogued, there was again room to hope for a few months of freedom from civil contention. The complaint against the Governor was gone to England; the salaries of the judges were suspended for the consideration of the next session: these were the two subjects of controversy peculiar to Massachusetts colony. Not more than two or three months had passed before a new subject was brought on, which had its effect in all the colonies, but greater in Massachusetts than in any other.

When the affairs of the East India Company were under the consideration of Parliament, to facilitate the consumption of tea, a vast quantity whereof then lay in the warehouses, it was determined to export a part of it, on account of the company, to the colonies, there to be sold by factors at a much lower price than it could be afforded by particular merchants who purchased it in England. When the intelligence first came to Boston, it caused no alarm. The threepenny duty had been paid the last two years without any stir, and some of the great friends to liberty had been importers of tea. The body of the people were pleased with the prospect of drinking tea at less expense than ever. The only apparent discontent was among the importers of tea, as well those who had been legal importers from England, as others who had illegally imported from Holland; and the complaint was against the East India Company for monopolizing a branch of commerce which had been beneficial to a great number of particular merchants. And the first suggestion of a design in the ministry to enlarge the revenue, and to habituate the colonies to parliamentary taxes, was made from England; and opposition to the measure was recommended, with an intimation that it was expected that the tea would not be suffered to be landed. The committees of correspondence in the several colonies soon availed themselves of so favorable an opportunity for promoting their great purpose. It soon appeared to be their general determination that, at all events, the tea should be sent back to England in the ships which brought it. The first motions were at Philadelphia where, at a meeting of the people, every man who should be concerned in unlading, receiving, or vending the tea was pronounced an enemy to his country.

The example was soon followed at Boston. The people were summoned, by notifications posted in different quarters, to meet at the tree of liberty, to hear the resignation of the consignees of the tea, which was then daily expected. The consignees also, by a letter left at one of their houses, were required to attend at the same time at their peril. The people met, but, the consignees not appearing, a committee was appointed to acquaint them at one of their warehouses where they had met that, as they had neglected to attend, the people thought themselves warranted to consider them as their enemies….

Three vessels were expected every hour with the teas. The consignees were afraid of exposing themselves and their bondsmen to damages, which might arise from a refusal or neglect to execute their trust; on the other hand, they were anxiously concerned for their personal safety, and made their application to the Governor. He foresaw that this would prove a more difficult affair than any which had preceded it since he had been in the chair. The controversies with the council and house had a tendency to deprive him of the esteem and favor of the people; but he had not been apprehensive of injury to his person. He was now to encounter with bodies of the people collected together, and a great proportion of them the lowest part of the people, from whom, when there is no power to restrain them, acts of violence are to be expected. He knew that the council would give him no aid…. He considered that, if the ships came into the harbor above the castle, they could not pass by it again without a permit under his hand, and that his granting such permit would be more than he should be able to justify. He therefore advised to their anchoring without the castle, and their waiting for orders; and this advice was approved of by the consignees, and by the owner of the ship first expected, if not by the owners of the other ships; and orders were given to the pilots accordingly….

On Sunday one of the ships with the tea arrived, and anchored below the castle. Notification in a form proper to inflame the people was posted up, calling upon them to assemble; and while the Governor and council were sitting on the Monday in the council chamber, and known to be consulting upon means for preserving the peace of the town, several thousands, inhabitants of Boston and other towns, were assembled in a public meeting-house at a small distance, in direct opposition and defiance….

The people assembled in Boston took the name of "the body" instead of a "legal town meeting," and began with that spirit with which all established powers ought to act in the exercise of their legal constitutional authority. They resolved that, "at all events," the tea arrived in [in the ship commanded by] Captain Hall should be returned to the place from whence it came, and that no duty should be paid upon it. They then adjourned to the afternoon, to give time for the consignees to deliberate. As soon as they reassembled, they resolved that the tea should be sent back in the same bottom in which it came. To this resolve the owner of the vessel, who was present in the meeting, said he must enter a protest. It was thereupon resolved that Mr. Rotch, the owner, be directed not to enter the tea, and Captain Hall, the master, not to suffer any of it to be landed, at their peril. They did not stop at mere declaratory acts or naked resolves. This, they knew, would render future acts and resolves contemptible. They established a watch of twenty-five inhabitants for securing the ship and cargo, and appointed a captain for the night….

The consignees, in a letter to the selectmen of Boston, which was read to the meeting, signified that it was utterly out of their power to send the tea back to England, but they would engage to keep it in a store until they could receive further directions from England, to which they afterwards added that they would be content to have it under the constant inspection of a committee, to be appointed by the town. But all was declared not in the least degree satisfactory, and that nothing short of sending back the tea would be so. The owner and master of the ship were directed to attend the "body"; and a vote passed, while they were present, without a negative, "that it is the firm resolution of the body that the owner shall return the tea in the same vessel in which it came, and that they now require it of him." The owner promised to comply, but intimated that it was by compulsion, and that he should be obliged to protest, to save himself from damage. The master also promised to carry it back….

As a permit or pass was always required at the castle, for all vessels except small coasters, and there were several men of war in the harbor, which it was supposed would stop the ship from proceeding any other way, the destruction of the tea was considered as necessary to prevent payment of the duty. A demand was made from the collector, in form, of a clearance for the ship, which he could not grant until the goods which were imported, and regularly entered, were landed, and the duties paid, or secured; and the like demand of a permit was made of the naval officer, with whom blank permits were intrusted by the Governor, to be filled up, and delivered to such vessels only as had been cleared at the custom-house, and, therefore, in this case was refused. It was expected that in twenty days after the arrival of the tea a demand of the duty would be made by the collector, and the ship or goods be seized; which would occasion additional difficulties. Another meeting of the body was, therefore, called, in order to inquire the reason of the delay in sending the ship back to England. The people came into Boston from the adjacent towns within twenty miles, from some, more, from others, less, as they were affected; and, as soon as they were assembled, enjoined the owner of the ship, at his peril, to demand of the collector of the customs a clearance for the ship, and appointed ten of their number a committee to accompany him; and adjourned for two days to receive the report. Being reassembled and informed by the owner that a clearance was refused, he was then enjoined immediately to apply to the Governor for a pass by the castle. He made an apology to the Governor for coming upon such an errand, having been compelled to it; and received an answer that no pass ever had been, or lawfully could be, given to any vessel which had not first been cleared at the custom house, and that, upon his producing a clearance, such pass would immediately be given by the naval officer. The Governor inquired of him whether he did not apprehend his ship in danger from the people, and offered him a letter to Admiral Montagu, desiring him to afford all necessary protection. He said he had been advised to remove his vessel under the stern of the admiral’s ship, but, among other reasons for not doing it, mentioned his fears of the rage of the people; that his concern was not for his ship, which he did not believe was in danger, but he could not tell what would be the fate of the tea on board. He declined taking any letter to the admiral, and returned to the people. The Governor was unable to judge what would be the next step. The secretary had informed him that a principal leader of the people had declared, in the hearing of the deputy secretary, that, if the Governor should refuse a pass, he would demand it himself, at the head of one hundred and fifty men, &c.; and he was not without apprehensions of a further application. But he was relieved from his suspense, the same evening, by intelligence from town of the total destruction of the tea.

It was not expected that the Governor would comply with the demand; and, before it was possible for the owner of the ship to return from the country with an answer, about fifty men had prepared themselves, and passed by the house where the people were assembled to the wharf where the vessels lay, being covered with blankets, and making the appearance of Indians. The body of the people remained until they had received the Governor’s answer; and then, after it had been observed to them that, every thing else in their power having been done, it now remained to proceed in the only way left, and that, the owner of the ship having behaved like a man of honor, no injury ought to be offered to his person or property, the meeting was declared to be dissolved, and the body of the people repaired to the wharf, and surrounded the immediate actors, as a guard and security, until they had finished their work. In two or three hours they hoisted out of the holds of the ships three hundred and forty-two chests of tea, and emptied them into the sea….

The Governor was unjustly censured by many people in the province, and much abused by the pamphlet and newspaper writers in England for refusing his pass, which, it was said, would have saved the property thus destroyed; but he would have been justly censured if he had granted it….

Even the declarations of the Governor against the unlawful invasions of the people upon the authority of government were charged against him as officious, unnecessary acts, and were made to serve to inflame the people and increase disorders….

Notwithstanding the forlorn state he was in, he thought it necessary to keep up some show of authority, and caused a council to be summoned to meet at Boston the day after the destruction of the tea, and went to town himself to be present at it; but a quorum did not attend. The people had not fully recovered from the state of mind which they were in the preceding night. Great pains had been taken to persuade them that the obstructions they had met with, which finally brought on the loss of the tea, were owing to his influence; and, being urged to it by his friends, he left the town, and lodged that night at the castle, under pretence of a visit to his sons, who were confined there with the other consignees of the tea. Failing in an attempt for a council the next day at Milton, he met them, three days after, at Cambridge, where they were much divided in their opinion. One of them declared against any step whatever. The people, he said, had taken the powers of government into their hands,—any attempt to restrain them would only enrage them, and render them more desperate; while another observed that, having done everything else in their power to prevent the tea from being landed, and all to no purpose, they had been driven to the necessity of destroying it, as a less evil than submission to the duty. So many of the actors and abettors were universally known that a proclamation, with a reward for discovery, would have been ridiculed. The attorney-general, therefore, was ordered to lay the matter before the grand jury, who, there was no room to expect, would ever find a bill for what they did not consider as an offence.

This was the boldest stroke which had yet been struck in America. The people in all parts of the province showed more or less concern at the expected consequences. They were, however, at a distance; something might intervene to divert them. Besides, the thing was done: there was no way of nullifying it. Their leaders feared no consequences. To engage the people in some desperate measure had long been their plan. They never discovered more concern than when the people were quiet upon the repeal of an act of Parliament, or upon concessions made, or assurances given; and never more satisfaction than when government had taken any new measures, or appeared to be inclined to them, tending, or which might be improved, to irritate and disturb the people. They had nothing to fear for themselves. They had gone too far to recede. If the colonies were subject to the supreme authority and laws of Great Britain, their offences, long since, had been of the highest nature. Their all depended upon attaining to the object which first engaged them. There was no way of attaining to it but by involving the body of the people in the same circumstances they were in themselves. And it is certain that ever after this time an opinion was easily instilled, and was continually increasing, that the body of the people had also gone too far to recede, and that an open and general revolt must be the consequence; and it was not long before actual preparations were visibly making for it in most parts of the province.


Related Resources

American Revolution

Download Options

Title: Revolution, 1753-1783

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Revolution, 1753-1783

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Thomas Hutchinson, "The Boston Tea Party," Revolution, 1753-1783 in America, Vol.3, P.96 Original Sources, accessed January 26, 2023,

MLA: Hutchinson, Thomas. "The Boston Tea Party." Revolution, 1753-1783, in America, Vol.3, P.96, Original Sources. 26 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Hutchinson, T, 'The Boston Tea Party' in Revolution, 1753-1783. cited in , America, Vol.3, P.96. Original Sources, retrieved 26 January 2023, from