The Other Tea Party

Vicki here, writing about a crime that happened on this day two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, a notorious event in which the participants (at least three of whom were known to be from Maine) committed vandalism, theft, breaking and entering, destruction of property, misrepresentation, littering, and environmental degradation.

I’m referring to The Boston Tea Party, or, as it was known in these parts back in December of 1773, “the destruction of the tea.” Every New England child learns the story of the Mohawk-costumed colonists, numbering anywhere from 30 to 130, who clambered aboard three ships in Boston harbor and, under cover of darkness, dumped the cargo of 342 chests of tea overboard.

It was a crime, to be sure, and not just because the stuff was steeped in seawater and served without sugar. The demolition of some 90,000 pounds of the East India Company’s property horrified British politicians, even those sympathetic to the colonies. Prudent Benjamin Franklin stated that all the destroyed tea must be repaid, and at least one colonial merchant offered to do just that.

But nearly everyone else on these shores celebrated the brazen misdeed. After all, discontent had been brewing from Charleston to the Charles against the new Tea Act, a three-pence duty on the beverage, and the principle of taxation without representation. Maine historian Pat Higgins says that residents of Falmouth, Gorham, Kittery, York, North Yarmouth and Brunswick rejoiced when they heard the news.

Today we remember the crimes committed in the name of liberty on December 16, 1773., acts that helped pave the way for revolution. Sipping a cup of Twinings Christmas tea as I write this, I wonder: would I have donned a costume and climbed aboard those boats? Would I become a criminal for something I believed in? Would you?


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7 Responses to The Other Tea Party

  1. Great post, Vicki. I’ve just finished With Fire and Sword, by Maine historian (and notorious pirate!) James L. Nelson, which deals with the events leading up to the famous Battle of Bunker (or Breed’s) Hill. Jim does a great job of explaining the events, emotions and political maneuvering on both sides which led up to the first set piece battle of the American Revolution. I’d highly recommend it to history buffs.

    • Vicki Doudera says:

      Sandy — sounds very interesting, thanks for the recommendation.

      One thing that surprised me in reading about the Tea Party was how much smuggling of tea (from Holland) was going on. Some of the folks involved in the Tea Party were motivated by their pocketbooks as they had an interest in seeing non-Dutch tea destroyed.

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Occupy Boston Harbor?

    Must now go make a cup of tea and then get Nelson’s book. Sounds like another great read for that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Not sure I’d have been brave enough to have actually taken part in the first Tea Party .. but since women weren’t invited, no one would have known! I can see myself passing word of the meeting in Revere’s back room, though, and living (and perhaps spying)through the British occupation. Highly recommend Jim Nelson’s series of books on the American Revolution, most of them centered on the American navy. (He also has one on women pirates that is great!) And, as Vicki said, he plays a great Dixie Bull (one of our Maine pirates.)

  4. While *that* tea party receives the most publicity of tea protests during the War of Independence, it wasn’t the only tea party. Here in North Carolina, women held tea parties in Edenton and Wilmington. Neither embodied the massive destruction of the event in Boston Harbor. The women apparently realized that they didn’t have to destroy huge quantities of merchandise to make a statement of protest.

    • Vicki Doudera says:

      Suzanne, I also learned that the blockades south of Boston were effective in turning away the tea ships, while in Massachusetts, the Governor dug in his heels and made sure the tea came into port. (Several of his sons were tea consignees — imagine that?) Hence the destruction.

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