On the evening of Dec. 16, 1773, a crowd of armed men, some allegedly wearing costumes meant to disguise them as Native American warriors, boarded three ships docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. In the vessels’ holds were 340 chests containing 92,000 pounds of tea, the most popular drink in America. With support from the patriot group known as the Sons of Liberty, the intruders methodically searched the ships and dumped their tea into Boston Harbor.
According to the British East India Company, whose proprietors owned the destroyed cargo, losses totaled more than a million dollars in today’s currency.
The “destruction of the tea” – as the Boston Tea Party was originally called – was the pivotal event in the coming of the American Revolution. Before Dec. 16, a peaceful resolution to American objections to Parliament’s repeated attempts to tax the Colonies without their consent seemed possible. Afterward, both British and American Colonial positions hardened. Within a year, Britain and America were at war.
An attack on private property
Because it was an attack on private property, the Tea Party offended many patriots in America. When George Washington learned what had happened, he made clear he disapproved of “destroying the tea.”
Benjamin Franklin so disliked the action that he offered to pay for the East India Company’s losses himself. Samuel Adams, assumed by both his peers and modern historians to be one of the Tea Party’s organizers, never admitted to being involved.