The Boston Tea Party
On December 16, 1773, the now-famous "Boston Tea Party" took place, a very important event on the road to American independence. In fact, it can be considered the beginning of the end of the American Colonies, and the birth of the United States.
But why was there a protest? And what led up to this eventful night? And what exactly came of it?
On our own
In 1607 the first English colony in America, Jamestown, was founded in Virginia; thirteen years later Plymouth colony was founded. From there settlements spread out along the Atlantic ocean and inland some.
From the very beginning, the colonies needed to be self-reliant. Ye old pilgrims couldn't simply nip off to London town for supplies. And if there was trouble between them and the local tribes, it was they that had to deal with it by themselves. So while the colonists were British, they also developed their own identities based on the colony in which they lived. Each colony felt they were a sperate people with their own laws and governments.
While on this topic, let's consider how people came to the colonies. At the time, coming to the Americas was a very expensive proposition, too much for many a common person to afford.
At first, investors would invest in the expense of setting up a colony, and in return, the colonists would return a certain amount of goods for a certain number of years. But rarely did the investors ever make their money back this way.
Later the approach was changed to having bond-servants. Bond-servants would sell themselves into being a servant for no more than 7 years, then be free. This was a very attractive plan for many poor people seeking a new life. Besides, once a bondservant was released they could apply for some land of their own. This was true for people from Europe as well as Africa. Many a plantation began this way.
Death and Taxes
In 1754 an incident between the American and French colonies touched off fighting between the two. The French and Indian war. This then became part of a larger war known as the 7 years war. It was huge; the World War I of its day! Part of the British plan was to pay for Prussia, under Frederick the Great, to fight the land battles for them. Made sense, for centuries Prussia was the best army in Europe.
By war's end, England had taken over French Canada but was in serious need of $$$. The solution, special taxes for the colonies. After all, it was their war, right?
Not surprisingly, the colonists did not see things the same way.
It was felt that colonial taxes should come from the local colonial governments, not a government in England that gave them no representation.
The reason for taxing the colonies was a sham. Benjamin Franklin later pointed out that most of the fighting done in the Americas was done by colonial militia and paid by colonial governments. The British army played only a small role in America.
Colonists started boycotting imports from England and tax collectors were harassed. Most of the tax laws were then repealed.
But the matter was not completely closed.
From India with love
Around the same time as Plymouth and Jamestown, Britain also expanded with a trading colony in the East Indies.
The East India Company was formed. It soon had control of all British trade in spices, minerals, and, for our purposes, tea. The owners of this company grew rich and powerful back in England.
At first, the law was that all tea had to be sold directly to London first before it could go anywhere else. This added to the price of tea for the American colonials and so they were unhappy.
Then, in 1773, a law was passed that changed everything. The Tea Act.
Tea could be shipped straight to America. This made tea cheaper, but reduced work for people who brought the tea to America.
Colonists had to pay a tax for bringing the tea into the country.
No, things get not get any better.
Two groups should be mentioned as part of the boycotts. First, a group of merchants called the Sons of Liberty. However, a parallel group of women, the Daughters of Liberty, encouraged women to boycott clothing and other household goods.
This brings us to December 16, 1773. The Dartmouth lay in Boston harbor with a load of tea for the Americas. Some of the residents of Boston spoke with the local tax collector, telling him that because of the boycott they wouldn't be accepting the tea and therefore they shouldn't be required to pay the tea tax. The taxman told them this did not matter, they must pay the tax anyway.
The debate went on for hours without any resolution. Without a satisfactory answer the colonists decided that since they were paying taxes on the tea they weren't drinking anyway, they'd just throw the lot into the bay.
Thus, the Boston Tea Party.
The empire strikes back
Parliament in England took this as a direct attack on them and decided to push back. Hard. They passed laws to punish the Massachusetts colony in the following ways:
Boston harbor, the largest in the colonies, was completely closed.
Anyone charged with anything regarding the Tea Party was not to be given a trial in Massachusetts but needed to be shipped back to England for trial.
A large contingent of soldiers was sent to Massachusetts, and the residents there had to tend to their every need without repayment.
This only fanned already hot flames. So on April 19, 1774, when soldiers were sent to Concord and Lexington to gather civilian weapons and leaders of the Tea Party, actual shooting began in earnest.
The first shot of the American Revolution has been called the "shot heard around the world." True, but that shot came because of a tea party.
Around the web
The story behind the Boston Tea Party
This animated video gives the background and results of the Tea Party.
Pilot episode – Liberty's kids
This series produced by PBS follows the main group of characters throughout the whole revolution. It is very good. Also, the first episode begins at the Boston Tea Party.
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