In Historic Boston and Its Neighborhood, Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) wrote that almost everyone in Boston was complicit in the effort to destroy the East India Company tea, but only a select group actually carried out the deed.
So far as anyone knows, they never did mention it. Of which this curious consequence has come into history, that if, within the last seventy-five years, any old gentleman has said that he was of the Boston Tea-Party, it is perfectly sure that he was not one of the party of men who really did throw the tea into the harbor. If, on the other hand, any nice old gentleman, asked by his grandchildren if he were of the Tea Party, smiled and put off the subject and began talking about General Washington or General Gage, it is well-nigh certain that he was one of that confederation.That's a delightful picture, idealized but nonetheless getting at the challenge of identifying exactly who destroyed the tea. The Revolutionary generation tended not to boast of their collective activities, at least not for many years.
However, the Tea Party was so lionized in the 1830s that past that date many men and families claimed to have a connection to the event. Some of those claims were outright frauds. Some are impossible to confirm or deny. And a few almost certainly were true, given the men's records as Whig activists and how early the first claims on their behalf appeared.
The first list of men involved in the Tea Party was published in an appendix to Traits of the Tea-Party (1835), written anonymously by Benjamin Bussey Thatcher and based primarily on the memories of participant George R. T. Hewes. Thatcher described that appendix as “A list which has been furnished to us by an aged Bostonian”—someone other than Hewes. All subsequent lists, including the overly long and frequently reprinted one in Francis S. Drake's Tea Leaves, start with this list:
George R. T. HewesTOMORROW: On the actual anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston 1775 analysis of this list. How accurate is it? What are its biases? And which “aged Bostonian” might have compiled it?
Jonah [later identified as Josiah] Wheeler
Isaac [later identified as Benjamin] Simpson
S. [Samuel?] Howard
Edward C. How
—— [Ebenezer?] McIntosh
Dr. [Thomas] Young
—— [Joshua?] Wyeth
Richard Hunnewell, Jr.