Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Meeting Notes: January 18, 2024

The January 18, 2024 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond was a Zoom meeting and held with the participation of the University of Richmond’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Over one hundred participants logged into the meeting.

Dr. Benjamin Carp presented the evening’s program and spoke on "The Boston Tea Party and Its Legacy at 250." Dr. Carp is the Daniel M. Lyons Professor of American History at Brooklyn College and teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution (Yale University Press, 2023) and Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (Yale University Press, 2010); and Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2007). He also has written for scholarly journals and popular publications. He received his B.A. from Yale University, his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and he previously taught at the University of Edinburgh and Tufts University. []

 Griffin’s Wharf. Not many have heard the name but most students are taught about the event which happened there on the night of December 16, 1773. The wharf, located on the east end of Boston Harbor, is where a party of Bostonians boarded three British merchant vessels docked there, awaiting customs processing, and dumped three hundred forty-two chests of yet untaxed tea into Boston Harbor. The tea belonged to the East India Company (a joint-stock company with investors), and, importantly, not property of the English Crown. Many citizens wanted the tea sent back to England without the payment of any taxes. The event later became known as the Boston Tea Party. Dr. Carp, in a fast-paced presentation, spoke to the events and people that motivated the citizens of Boston to openly defy Acts of England’s Parliament, which eventually resulted in widespread revolution and independence of the American colonies.

Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, (and fearing trouble) had moved to his summer home in Milton and Admiral John Montagu, the English military commander, was at a house on the dock and watched the event. Each were aware of the extensive legal wrangling of what to do with the tea [Samuel Adams Documents] and did nothing to protect English tea. Each adhered to the British legal system, in which the military would not act without a civilian government request, and the civilian government would not call on the military until a crime was under way or had taken place. Consequently, Bostonians were not prevented from removing and dumping overboard the contents of tea chests into Boston Harbor nor was the large crowd of supporters dispersed during the “party.” No harm was made to the colonial-owned ships or their crews as destruction of the tea was the only object for destruction that day [The Ships].

Joshua Wyeth, a 16 year-old, was part of the crowd who met that day at the Old South Meeting House and left en mass to resolve the tea storm. Wyeth joined others and disguised himself as an “Indian” and boarded one of the ships. Wyeth is the only participant to publicly tell the story of that day’s events but not until 53 years after the fact [Joshua Wyeth's account].

The leadup to the “party” was the Tea Act of 1773. America seemed an obvious and politically expedient place to unload an overabundance of tea inventory in England warehouses. The Tea Act lowered the duty the East India Company paid on “legal” tea to the British government but gave the Company a monopoly on the American tea trade (cutting out the Dutch) and would save the East India Company from bankruptcy and financial losses by its English investors. The previous Townshend Act duty on tea was left in place except the duty was rescinded on tea entering England but left in place on tea that entered the colonies. The unequal treatment angered colonists and strengthened their belief that the colonies were being subjected to “taxation without representation.” This famous slogan was applied to English Parliamentary Acts that were passed to raise revenues after the British government was deep in debt following the Seven Years’ War. Legal tea, smuggled tea, Sons of Liberty agitations, rituals of Boston ladies that included highly prized sugar flavored with licorice to sweeten their tea, merchants and ship owners being at odds, customs officers without the authority to defuse conflicts, corrupt public officials being bankrolled by tax schemes were some of the circumstances that galvanized Bostonians. As colonials, they were Englishmen believing they had the same rights as Englishmen in England, and to have their own elected representatives in Parliament having connections to their own constituencies, when this seemed impossible their only recourse was acts of rebellion.

Fueling colonist dissatisfaction with British rule, the Townshend Acts (1767) were a series of British Acts that introduced a series of taxes and regulations to fund civil and military administration of the British colonies in America predating the Intolerable Acts. They were, also considered, by colonists, as an attempt to assert what Parliament considered to be its historic right to exert authority over the colonies. This form of revenue generation was Great Britian's response to the failure of the Stamp Act 1765, which had provided the first form of direct taxation placed upon the colonies. The import duties proved to be similarly controversial and lead to widespread protests in the form of boycotts of English goods, especially among merchants in Boston and other east coast ports. Examples of these Acts follow:

 1. The Suspending Act - also known The New York Restraining Act, gave the Royal Governor of New York the authority to suspend the colony's legislature until it complied with the Quartering Act of 1765 and provided funds for the soldiers stationed in New York City.

 2. The Townshend duties or the Revenue Act 1767 - placed new duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea that were imported into the colonies. These were items that were not produced in North America and that the colonists were only allowed to buy from Great Britain.

 3. The Commissioners of Customs Act 1767 - established the American Board of Customs Commissioners which was viewed as notoriously corrupt. It was at the Board's request that troops were sent to Boston to quell hostilities against it. The Boston Massacre took place before their headquarters.

 4. The Indemnity Act 1767 - reduced taxes on the British East India Company when they imported tea into England. This allowed the Company to avoid bankruptcy and to re-export the tea to the colonies more cheaply and resell it to the colonists at prices below Dutch tea.

The path to liberty was further advanced, in coming years, when the British Parliament passed a series of laws to punish the colonies. These laws became known as the Coercive Acts (also known as the Intolerable Acts): the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Quartering Act, and the Quebec Act.

The destruction of East India Company’s tea brought together a diverse array of people from around the world--from Chinese tea-pickers to English businessmen and soldiers, American merchants, firebrand and behind the scene patriots against loyalists, Native American tribes, sugar plantation slaves, and Boston’s elite tea drinking ladies.

While the destruction of the tea, that day, looked like a triumph for the Bostonians, it was viewed as a significant crime in London deserving severe punishment and marked another step towards open rebellion, and eventually the American colonies’ independence. “Well boys, you have had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven’t you? But mind, you have got to pay the fiddler yet!” Admiral Montague.

 Fred Sorrell



Eighteenth Century Parliamentary Acts and Colonial Actions

Sugar Act (1764) – revised taxes on sugar, coffee, tea, wine and forced shipments to go through Britain first; those found guilty of violating were sent to Vice-Admiralty Courts in Nova Scotia and were denied juries and presumed guilty.

Stamp Act (1765) – tax on all printed documents (deeds, newspapers, marriage licenses, etc.), which was an internal tax (not an external import tax) - opposed heavily, particularly by groups like the Loyal Nine and Sons of Liberty, some tax collectors forced to resign.

Stamp Act Congress (1765) – representatives of nine colonies met in NYC (1st such meeting since Albany in 1754) – planning coordinated protests of the Stamp Act and declared Great Britain lacked authority to tax here, and to deny a person a jury trial.

“No Taxation Without Representation” – best articulated in a Boston town meeting by James Otis.

"Virtual Representation” – counter-argument that states that colonists (as are all British subjects) are represented by all members of the British Parliament (“they do have representation”).

Quartering Act (1765) – British soldiers allowed to quarter in all buildings even if occupied by families and furnish maintenance needs and colonial legislatures had to pay for quartering those soldiers.

Declaratory Act (1766) – Parliament declared sovereignty over the colonies (despite repeal of Stamp Act) “in all cases whatsoever.”

New York Suspending Act – Parliament nullified all laws of an assembly that refuses American Board of Customs Commissioners (1767) – created by Parliament to stop smuggling in violation of the Navigation Acts; Britain paid informers and seized ships of those found guilty; heavy-handed enforcement upset colonists.

Townshend Duties/Revenue Act (1767) – taxed certain goods imported from Britain.

“Letter From a Farmer in Pennsylvania”– written by John Dickenson in 1767 - argued that a tax on imports to raise money (not to protect trade) was unconstitutional unless elected representatives voted for it.

Non-importation, non-consumption – boycotts on imports from Britain, and the consumption of goods from Britain (particularly effective with tea) to force the repeal of the Townshend duties (which were repealed in 1770).

Boston Massacre (1770)

Tea Act (1773) – tax on tea, revenue paid royal governors which took away colonies “power of the purse” and made governors more dependent on and loyal to Britain.

Boston Tea Party (1773)

Coercive/Intolerable Acts (1774) – in response to the Boston Tea Party - closed port of Boston until the tea was paid for, revoked Massachusetts charter (disbanding assembly), and gave power to the governor.

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