Although considered heroic and brave by many, the names of participants in the Boston Tea Party remained a secret for years in order to protect them from persecution by the British government.
Destroying the tea was considered an act of treason by the British government and was punishable by death so it is not surprising they tried to hide their identities.
Theses rebellious tea party participants were mostly members of the Sons of Liberty, but some were random citizens who had joined the group en route to the harbor while others were men from distinguished families who did not want their names to be publicly associated with such illegal activity.
To protect their identities, the participants disguised themselves as Native Americans complete with ragged clothes, makeup and mohawks and refrained from acknowledging each other during the act.
How Many People Participated in the Boston Tea Party?
Through oral tradition, old family stories and some documentation, an incomplete list of 175 names was pieced together and published in a book titled, Tea Leaves, by Francis Drake in 1884 as well as in the 1973 Boston Globe 200th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Special Section:
Francis Akeley (or Eckley)
Adam Beals Jr.
Seth Ingersoll Browne
James Foster Condy
Thomas Dana, Jr.
John Dyar, Jr.
Nathaniel Frothingham, Jr.
George Robert Twelves Hewes
Edward Compton Howe
Richard Hunnewell, Jr.
Martin, probably Wm.
Mead, probably John
Aaron John Miller
Joseph Pearse Palmer
Rev. John Prince
Jonathan Dorby Robins
Peter Slater, Jr.
Benjamin Tucker Jr.
Other people have also been suspected of taking part in the Boston Tea Party but have never been officially listed, such as my ancestor Captain Edward Burbeck, brother of Henry Burbeck.
Numerous documents list Burbeck as a possible participant of the event and suggest that he had to flee Boston to avoid persecution from the British government who had placed a price on his head. The author of the History of Plymouth, New Hampshire states:
“Edward Burbeck, son of Col. William and Abigail (Tuttle) Burbeck…He was a wood carver in Boston, a captain of artillery, 1775, and, by tradition, one of the ‘Boston Tea Party.”
A book written by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1896 also states Edward Burbeck was:
“suspected of being a member of the Boston tea party. When Boston was in the hands of the British, Edward managed to send his family from the city and then escaped himself, disguised as a fisherman. He was reunited to his family at Newburyport.”
Historians are not sure why the tea participants chose Native American disguises but Daughter of Liberty leader Sarah Bradlee Fulton, who has since been nicknamed the “Mother of the Tea Party,” has since been credited with coming up with the idea of the disguises and many historians speculate it is probably because “playing Indian” was a popular American tradition back then just as it is now.
Due to the secrecy, most of the tea party participants escaped punishment, except for Francis Akeley who was the only person imprisoned for his role in the tea party.
Year Book of the Wisconsin Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. Swain & Tate Company, 1896
Stearns, Ezra Scollay and Moses Thurston Runnels. History of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Vol. I, University Press, 1906
“Frequently Asked Questions About the Boston Tea Party.” Old South Meeting House, n.d., osmh1.drupalgardens.com/history/boston-tea-party/frequently-asked-questions-about-boston-tea-party
“Complete List of Participants.” Boston Tea Party Historical Society, n.d., www.boston-tea-party.org/participants/participants.html