On This Day: December 16, 1773: “This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, and inflexible, and it must have important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an Epocha in History.” – John Adams


On November 28, 1773, the Dartmouth sailed into Boston’s port. The ship was full of tea. There had already been trouble in Philadelphia when the ship had tried to unload its cargo. A ship had been blown away from the port in New York by a storm. A confrontation was imminent.

Late November, early December, 1773, broadsides were distributed throughout Boston:

Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! The worst of plagues, the detested TEA … is now arrived in this harbor. The hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face. Every friend to his country, to himself and posterity … is now called upon … to make a united and successful resistance to this last, worst, and most destructive measure of administration.

Samuel Adams spearheaded the campaign to fire up the populace. The Sons of Liberty posted armed guards around the wharf, to make sure that that tea was not unloaded.

Abigail Adams wrote to Mercy Warren on December 5:

The Tea that bainfull weed is arrived. Great and I hope effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it. The proceedings of our Citizens have been united spirited and firm. The flame is kindled and like lightning it catches from Soul to Soul. I tremble when I think what must be the direfull consequences. And in this Town must the Scene of action lay, my Heart beats at every Whistle I hear, and I dare not openly express half my fears.

On December 16, 1773, Samuel Adams called a town meeting at the Old South Meeting House. The three tea ships sat in the harbor, full of cargo, not allowed to unload, not allowed to leave. A message was sent to Thomas Hutchinson, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, who had continuously refused to let the ships leave the harbor until they had unloaded, or until the duties were paid. The town meeting raged on about “that bainfull weed” sitting there in the harbor. A messenger returned with word from Hutchinson:

Clearance for the tea ships is refused.

Catherine Drinker-Bowen describes in her wonderful book John Adams and the American Revolution what happened next:

Sam Adams read the message, then addressed the people briefly: “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” he said. The words were a signal to the crowd outside. Instantly a warwhoop was heard, and the general shout, “To the docks!” Several hundred men, most of them disguised by prearrangement in Indian paint and feathers, headed north for Griffin’s wharf, boarded the three ships and dumped three hundred and forty-two chests of tea into the Harbor.

Not a life was lost, not a man hurt, no drop of blood was shed. In the moonlight a vast crowd assembled on the dock, watched almost in silence while the “Mohawks” did their work. The stillness was extraordinary; the crash of hatchets could plainly be heard across the line of water, and occasional perspiring grunts as men tipped the heavy boxes over the bulwarks. Admiral Montagu’s two frigates lay in the outer Harbor, but the tide was on the ebb and they did not try to approach. None of the “Mohawks” kept so much as a fistful of tea to himself; one or two who tried it were quickly and summarily dissuaded. When morning came, tea marked the edge of high tide on beaches as far south as Nantasket … One Mohawk, it was true, found his shoes full of tea when he got home; he put a little of it in a jar as a souvenir.

John Adams wrote in his diary on December 17, 1773:

Last Night 3 cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails. This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered – something notable and striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, and inflexible, and it must have important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an Epocha in History… Many persons wish that as many dead carcasses were floating in the harbor, as there are chests of tea. What measures will the ministry take? Will they punish us? How? By quartering troops upon us? by annulling our charter? by laying on more duties? by restraining our trade? By sacrifice of individuals? or how?

Alexander Hamilton (John Adams’s future nemesis) had just begun school at King’s College in New York (a British-sympathizing stronghold). The Boston Tea Party galvanized him. He was opposed to mob rule in principle (he had a dread of riots and anarchy), but he thought that the tea party was a splendid symbolic gesture. Robert Troup, Hamilton’s good friend in college, later remembered, “The first political piece which [Hamilton] wrote was on the destruction of the tea at Boston in which he aimed to show that the destruction was both necessary and politic.”

Almost a year to the day after the Tea Party itself, Hamilton published his first major political work on December 15, 1774: “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress.” It is a blistering and brilliant response to the grumblings about the “traitors” who had met in Philadelphia that fall. Hamilton is still a teenager at this point, unbelievably, not even 20 years old yet. He referenced the Tea Party in this 35-page attack:

But some people try to make you believe, we are disputing about the foolish trifle of three pence duty upon tea. They may as well tell you, that black is white. Surely you can judge for yourselves. Is a dispute, whether the Parliament of Great-Britain shall make what laws, and impose what taxes they please upon us, or not; I say, is this a dispute about three pence duty upon tea? The man that affirms it, deserves to be laughed at.

It is true, we are denying to pay the duty upon tea; but it is not for the value of the thing itself. It is because we cannot submit to that, without acknowledging the principle upon which it is founded, and that principle is a right to tax us in all cases whatsoever.

But being ruined by taxes is not the worst you have to fear. What security would you have for your lives? How can any of you be sure you would have the free enjoyment of your religion long? would you put your religion in the power of any set of men living? Remember civil and religious liberty always go together, if the foundation of the one be sapped, the other will fall of course.

Call to mind one of our sister colonies, Boston. Reflect upon the situation of Canada, and then tell me whether you are inclined to place any confidence in the justice and humanity of the parliament. The port of Boston is blocked up, and an army planted in the town. An act has been passed to alter its charter, to prohibit its assemblies, to license the murder of its inhabitants, and to convey them from their own country to Great Britain, and to be tried for their lives. What was all this for? Just because a small number of people, provoked by an open and dangerous attack upon their liberties, destroyed a parcel of Tea belonging to the East India Company. It was not public but private property they destroyed. It was not the act of the whole province, but the act of a part of the citizens; instead of trying to discover the perpetrators, and commencing a legal prosecution against them; the parliament of Great Britain interfered in an unprecedented manner, and inflicted a punishment upon a whole province, “untried, unheard, unconvicted of any crime.” This may be justice, but it looks so much like cruelty, that a man of a humane heart would be more apt to call it by the latter, than the former name.

He signed it “A Friend to America”. The broadside made a huge sensation when it was published in the New York Evening Post.

On December 31, 1773, Samuel Adams wrote to a friend:

You cannot imagine the height of joy that sparkles in the eyes and animates the [faces] as well as the hearts of all [Bostonians].

Admiral John Montagu of the British Navy called out to the “Mohawks” as they did their damage: “Well, boys, you’ve had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper. But mind, he who dances must pay the fiddler.” One of the “Mohawks” shouted back, “Oh, never mind, Admiral. Just come out here, if you please, and we’ll settle the bill in two minutes!”

Following the tea party, a broadside was widely released containing a song/poem written about the tea party. It is speculated that Samuel Adams had a hand in writing it. Sounds like his high-energy blazing style.

That has flood forth —- fair LIBERTY to hold;
Though you were INDIANS, come from distant shores,
Like MEN you acted — not like savage Moors.
Our LIBERTY, and LIFE is now invaded,
And FREEDOM’s brightest CHARMS are darkly shaded:
But we will STAND — and think it noble mirth,
To DART the man that dare oppress the Earth.
Bostonian’s SONS keep up your Courage good,
Or Dye, like Martyrs, in fair Free-born Blood.

How grand the Scene! — (No Tyrant shall oppose)
The TEA is sunk in spite of all our foes.
A NOBLE SIGHT — to see th’ accursed TEA
Mingled with MUD — and ever for to be;
For KING and PRINCE shall know that we are FREE.
Bostonian’s SONS keep up your Courage good,
Or Dye, like Martyrs, in fair Free-born Blood.

Must we be still — and live on Blood-bought Ground,
And not oppose the Tyrants cursed found?
We Scorn the thought — our views are well refin’d
We Scorn those slavish shackles of the Mind,
“We’ve Souls that were not made to be confin’d.”
Bostonian’s SONS keep up your Courage good,
Or Dye, like Martyrs, in fair Free-born Blood.

Could our Fore-fathers rise from their cold Graves,
And view their Land, with all their Children SLAVES;
What would they say! how would their Spirits rend,
And, Thunder-strucken, to their Graves descend.
Bostonian’s SONS keep up your Courage good,
Or Dye, like Martyrs, in fair Free-born Blood.

Let us with hearts of steel now stand the task.
Throw off all darksome ways, nor wear a Mask.
Oh! may our noble Zeal support our frame,
And brand all Tyrants with eternal SHAME.
Bostonian’s SONS keep up your Courage good,
And sink all Tyrants in their GUILTY BLOOD.

On December 31, 1773, the Boston Gazette printed a message for the New Year from Samuel Adams:

To all Nations under Heaven, know ye, that the PEOPLE of the AMERICAN WORLD are Millions strong – countless Legions compose their ARMY OF FREEMEN … AMERICA now stands with the Scale of JUSTICE in one Hand, and the Sword of VENGEANCE in the other … Let the Britons fear to do any more so wickedly as they have done, for the HERCULEAN ARM of this NEW WORLD is lifted up – and Woe be to them on whom it falls! — At the Beat of the Drum, she can call five Hundred thousand of her SONS to ARMS … Therefore, ye that are wise, make Peace with her, take Shelter under her Wings, that ye may shine by the Reflection of her Glory.

May the NEW YEAR shine propitious on the NEW WORLD – and VIRTUE and LIBERTY reign here without a Foe, until rolling Years shall measure Time no more.

Boston 1775 has lots of great content about the Boston Tea Party.



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2 Responses to On This Day: December 16, 1773: “This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, and inflexible, and it must have important Consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it as an Epocha in History.” – John Adams

  1. Sharon Ferguson says:

    Ooooo…*my Dead Boyfriend didn’t like hearing about the Tea party at ALL…guess our double date is out of the question? But then it might be fun to sit back and watch ol’ Georgie and Alex duke it out…

  2. sheila says:

    We can order another round of cocktails and laugh at them. Lovingly, of course.

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