In December of 1773, three ships the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver sailed into Boston harbor. The three ships owned by the East India company were loaded with tea. As the ships docked waiting for its duty to be paid and its cargo unloaded a storm of controversy was brewing on shore.
The American colonists, fed up by a series of taxes levied by their mother country saw these three ships as the last straw in what had become a series of disputes over taxes with Britain. Taking their lead from the colonists in New York and Philadelphia who had turned back East India ships with their cargoes still aboard, the colonist of Boston sent a message to the customs house stating the ships must be turned back still carrying its cargo.
The Customs House official on duty refused. Stating he would turn back the ships but only after the duty had been paid.
The colonist knew that paying the duty would be an admission that Britain had the right to tax them without representation. They had two choices, simply leave the ships sitting in port, or make a stand. They chose to make a stand.
In the early evening hours of December 16th approximately 200 colonists many dressed as Native Americans with soot smeared on their faces carrying tomahawks, knifes, and other weapons headed towards the harbor. With whoops and cries rending the air the disguised colonists boarded the ships docked in the harbor while the captains and crews stood helplessly by the colonist made their way to the ships cargo holds. Their orders were to destroy every last case of tea but to leave the ships unharmed.
What a sight that must have been! Colonists breaking open case after case of tea and then dumping them into the water.. Their goal was to insure that there was not one speck of tea that would be salvageable.
The next morning, boxes of tea were seen to be floating about the harbor, several colonists rowed out and using oars beat the remaining boxes, demolishing them. Finally, their efforts were accomplished. All the tea aboard the three ships were destroyed.
With no cargo for duty to be collected upon the ships were released to sail back to England. The colonists had made their point clear. They were no longer going to allow Britain to rule them without them being represented in Parliament.
While many in the colonies applauded the actions of the Boston colonists, Britain’s reaction was swift and decisive. It passed what was known as the intolerable acts and closed the Port of Boston further angering the colonists and lighting a fuse which led directly to war. The War for Independence.