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For the First Time in 242 Years, British Tea Will Be Dumped Into the Boston Harbor

Drink up, patriots!

This 1789 illustration by W.D. Cooper recreates the protest of December 16, 1773. (Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain)
smithsonian.com

It was the cup of tea heard ‘round the world—a protest so shocking, it heralded a revolution. On December 16, 1773, angry American colonists sent 342 chests of tea into Boston harbor to protest British duties on tea. Now, reports the Associated Press, history will repeat itself: Tomorrow, reenactors will throw British tea into the harbor for the first time in 242 years.

The protest, colloquially called “the Boston Tea Party,” is reenacted every year by members of the Old South Association, the Boston Tea Party Museum and other volunteers. But this year there will be a twist: The AP writes that London’s East India Company, which originally shipped the tea dumped by colonists, will provide 100 pounds of tea for this year’s festivities.

Britain actually passed the inflammatory Tea Act to benefit the East India Company, which was in dire financial straits and had a large surplus of tea on hand in 1773. By taxing tea at its point of entry, writes the Massachusetts Historical Society, the British government could kill three birds with one stone: help the cash-strapped East India Company, squash a growing trade in Dutch tea smuggling and “reassert its authority to levy taxes on the colonies.”

But American colonists wouldn’t let anyone mess with their tea—or force their loyalty to the king—without a fight. On the night of December 16, a group of angry colonists resolved to prevent tea-laden ships from getting their cargo to shore during a rowdy meeting at the Old South Meeting House. Some of them dressed as Indians, they went to the harbor and dumped the tea overboard. Many participants kept their identities secret until the 1850s, and some participants’ names are still unknown.

They were not, however, shy about spreading word about their actions. “How grand the scene!…” wrote the patriots in a pamphlet about the protest:

A noble sight to see the accursed TEA
Mingled with MUD—and ever for to be
For KING and PRINCE shall know that we are FREE.

The British government did not agree. The “Intolerable Acts” that they passed to punish the colonists for their tea party were even more restrictive—and hastened the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Whether you can make it to Boston tomorrow or not, it might be worth grabbing a cup of tea to commemorate that epic party.

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