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“Boston Harbor A Tea-pot This Night!” 

February 2024
1min read

The Sons of Liberty must have known that Governor Thomas Hutchinson would never let the ships head back to London with the tea still aboard. So they gathered some reliable men, prepared disguises, and waited.

On December 16, 1773, at a crowded meeting in the largest church in Boston, the leather-dresser Adam Collson supposedly shouted, “Boston Harbor a tea-pot this night!” 

Collson then marched down to the water’s edge at Griffin’s Wharf to make his metaphor come true. If “a tempest in a teapot” describes a big disturbance about a small matter, Boston — in the midst of a turbulent political crisis over the authority of the British Empire — was in this moment a “teapot in a tempest.” Collson and his companions staged an act of rebellion that would have worldwide significance.

About a hundred men boarded the three trading ships that were riding at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston harbor. They hoisted 340 chests onto the decks. These chests contained more than 46 tons of tea. The men smashed open the chests, releasing the leaves’ bittersweet aroma into the air. It was the intoxicating smell of exotic luxury, and a couple of men were so unable to resist it that they stuffed some of the leaves in their pockets. The rest of the men remembered that there were principles at stake. They dumped the tea into the saltwater below. 

The ships, which had arrived in the previous weeks from London, were named the Dartmouth, for an aspiring port town, the Eleanor, for a woman, and the Beaver, in homage to New England’s industrious work ethic.

The tea destroyers hailed from all walks of life. Men with strong backs and hard Yankee accents, they were a mix of young merchants, craftsmen, apprentices, and workers. They believed in a wrathful God, and they feared that the temptations of tea would turn them into tools of a corrupt, tyrannical empire. The grown men among them believed they were embarked on a noble deed of patriotic virtue. The younger boys thrilled to the idea of an evening spent wreaking chaos and destruction. The men and boys had names like Thomas Melvin, Joshua Wyeth, and — improbably — George Robert Twelves Hewes. 

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