Boston Tea Party Timeline

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The Boston Tea Party was a protest that took place in Boston during the American Revolution. The protest was against the Tea Act of 1773. It was a significant event in the American Revolution and is considered a contributing factor in the buildup to the Revolutionary War.

It is important to know the timeline of the Boston Tea Party because it gives you a better understanding of why and how it happened and what led up to it.

The following is a timeline of the Boston Tea Party:

1767:

On June 29, Parliament passes the Townshend Acts which places an import tax on British goods sold in the colonies, such as lead, paper, paint, glass and tea.

1770:

On April 12, Parliament repeals most of the clauses in the Townshend Acts except for the tax on tea.

1772:

In December, Benjamin Franklin is residing in London as an agent for the House of Representatives of Massachusetts and receives a package from an anonymous sender that contains letters written by Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver to British authorities. The letters recommend that the British government handle the colonial revolts against taxes by making the colonial government independent from provincial assemblies and by gradually reducing the colonist’s civil liberties. Franklin sends the letters to Samuel Adams and allows Adams to show them to the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence.

1773:

On April 27, Parliament passes the Tea Act which allows for tea to be shipped by British companies duty-free to the North American colonies, thus allowing the companies to sell it for a cheaper price, but the tax on the tea still remained.

On May 10, the Tea Act receives the royal assent (formal approval from the ruling Monarch.)

On June 2, Thomas Cushing presents the leaked Hutchinson and Oliver letters to the First Continental Congress, who decide to petition the British crown to have Hutchinson and Oliver removed.

In mid-June, the leaked letters are published in the Boston Gazette which causes a stir in the city.

In early October, colonial newspaper report that the East India Company is sending 600 chests of British tea each to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

On November 3, the Sons of Liberty hold a public meeting at noon under the Liberty Tree to order the local consignees (special agents who had been appointed by the British government to receive and sell the tea) to send away the British tea when it arrives in Boston port. Around 500 people attend the meeting, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Joseph Warren, but the consignees refuse to comply.

On November 5, another meeting is held on the matter in Faneuil Hall but the consignees still refuse to comply.

On November 18, another meeting is held at Faneuil Hall during which the consignees still refuse to comply and they then flee to Castle William (Fort Independence) for protection.

On November 28, the Dartmouth, a merchant ship carrying 114 chests of British tea, arrives in Boston harbor but the colonists refuse to let it dock at Griffin’s wharf due to the tea tax.

Boston tea party, Illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne circa 1895
Boston Tea Party, Illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne circa 1895

On November 29, colonists schedule a meeting about the ship at Faneuil Hall but it is moved to the Old South Meeting House to accommodate the large crowd of attendees. At the meeting, the colonists agree that the tea tax shall not be paid and they assign 25 men to guard the docks and prevent the ships from docking.

On November 30, the colonists meet at the Old South Meeting House again to listen to a message from the East India Company. The company suggests storing the tea in warehouse until further instructions from Parliament arrive but the colonists reject this idea because it means the tax would have to be paid once the tea landed. Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf delivers a proclamation from Governor Hutchinson declaring the meeting illegal and orders the crowd to disperse.

On December 1, another cargo ship, the Eleanor, arrives carrying a cargo of British tea followed by another cargo ship, the Beaver, a few days later. The three ships are carrying a total of 342 chests of tea.

On December 8, Governor Hutchinson takes measures to prevent the ships from leaving port without his permission by stationing two armed vessels at the entrance to the harbor and ordering Colonel Leslie, commander of Castle William, to load the fort’s cannons and not to let any vessels leave the harbor without his permission.

On December 14, another meeting is held at the Old South Meeting House at 2pm during which Francis Rotch, son of the owner of the Dartmouth and the Beaver, is ordered to ask the customs collector for clearance to send his ships back to England with the tea. The meeting is adjourned until December 16 to wait for an answer.

On the morning of December 16, Rotch is denied permission from the customs collector to send his ships back to England. A meeting is held that morning at Old South Meeting House and over 5,000 people attend. Rotch is ordered to ask Governor Hutchinson for clearance to send his ship back to England. The meeting is adjourned until 3pm to wait for an answer.

Shortly before 6pm on December 16, Rotch returns to the meeting with the news that the governor denied his request. After the governor’s reply is announced, Samuel Adams rises and states “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Suddenly a war whoop is heard and a large group of men dressed as Native-Americans shout “To Griffin’s Wharf! Boston Harbor a tea pot tonight” and leave the meeting house.

From 6pm to 9pm on December 16, several hundred participants row in small boats out to the three cargo ships anchored in Boston Harbor, climb aboard and dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor.

Destruction of Tea in Boston Harbor, illustration published in the Pictorial History of the United States, circa 1877
Destruction of Tea in Boston Harbor, illustration published in the Pictorial History of the United States, circa 1877

On December 17, the Committee of Correspondence write up a report on the events of the night and send Paul Revere to New York and Philadelphia to share the information.

On December 20 & 23, local tea dealers, except for the consignees, hold a meeting and vote not to sell anymore tea after January 20, 1774 and not to purchase any tea before then.

1774:

On January 20, the Committee of Correspondence hold a bonfire on King Street in which they burn seven hundred pounds of tea.

Also on January 20, John Hancock’s ship, the Hayley, reaches London, England carrying news of the Boston Tea Party.

On January 22, several newspapers in London publish news reports on the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party participants disguised as Mohawks, illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne, circa 1895
Boston Tea Party participants disguised as Mohawks, illustration published in the Boston Massacre to the Surrender of Burgoyne, circa 1895

On January 29, Benjamin Franklin meets with the Privy Council in London to explain the Massachusetts Assembly’s complaints against Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver but is berated and blamed by the council for stirring up anger against Hutchinson by sending the leaked Hutchinson letters to Boston. Franklin is dismissed from his duties as deputy postmaster for the American colonies.

On March 8, colonists board the Fortune in Boston, Mass, which is carrying 28 chests of British tea purchased by a private merchant, and dump the tea overboard.

On March 25, Parliament passes the Boston Port Act, which orders that the port of Boston be closed, effective June 1, until the colonists pay the East India Company for the tea they destroyed.

On May 10, news of the Boston Port Act reaches Boston, Mass.

On May 13, General Thomas Gage arrives in Boston and takes over as the new governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

On May 20, Parliament passes the Massachusetts Government Act and the Administration of Justice Act. The Massachusetts Government Act suspends the 1691 charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and gives control of the colony to Governor Thomas Gage. The Administration of Justice Act allows the governor to order trials of accused royal officials to take place elsewhere within the British Empire if he feels that the defendant won’t get a fair trial in Massachusetts.

On May 31, the last day vessels are permitted to leave Boston harbor, former Governor Thomas Hutchinson sails for England with his family.

Tea floating in Boston Harbor, illustration published in "The Boston Tea Party, December 1773," by H.W. McVickar, Josephine Pollard, circa 1882
Tea floating in Boston Harbor, illustration published in “The Boston Tea Party, December 1773,” by H.W. McVickar, Josephine Pollard, circa 1882

On June 2, news arrives in Boston that the 1691 charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay is suspended and the government of the colony is in the hands of General Gage who will appoint all local magistrates and sheriffs. Gage dissolves the Massachusetts assembly.

1775:

On February 27, Parliament passes the Conciliatory Resolution which states that any colony that wants to contribute its share of the “common defense” to Parliament will be exempted from further taxes except for regulation of trade.

1778:

Parliament passes the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778 which declares that Parliament will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment for generating revenue in any of the colonies in British America or the British West Indies.

1861:

Parliament repeals the Tea Act of 1773.

1973:

On July 18, Parliament repeals the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778.

Sources:
Wall, Caleb A. The Historic Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. F.S. Blanchard & Co, 1896.
Allison, Robert J. The Boston Tea Party. Commonwealth Editions, 2007.
“Benjamin Franklin Purloined Some Letters and Practically Gets Someone Killed.” New England Historical Society, newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/benjamin-franklin-steals-letters-practically-gets-someone-killed
Farrand, Max. “The Taxation of Tea, 1767 – 1773.” The American Historical Review, Jan. 1898. Vol 3, No. 2, pp. 266 – 269, jstor.org/stable/pdf/1832503.pdf

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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