This month the Tufts Journal ran an article on the university’s early American historian Benjamin Carp (also one of the earliest and most supportive readers of Boston 1775). Ben’s working on a book about the Boston Tea Party.
The article highlights the global reach of that local topic:
While the Tea Party took place in Boston, Carp sees it as a demonstration of how the world was interconnected even several hundred years ago. The tea itself, he points out, was grown in East Asia, sweetened with sugar harvested by Afro-Caribbeans, and poured and savored by East Asians and Europeans.I hadn’t considered this aspect of the tea crisis before hearing Ben talk about it, but Customs records show that in the early 1770s Boston merchants were legally importing, and thus paying the tax on, more tea than their counterparts in Philadelphia and New York.
He also notes the connections between a British company with financial stakes on the other side of the world and the American colonists. The British East India Company was the main purveyor of tea to Europe and to the American colonies. The company did business in Bengal, where it was blamed for making a devastating famine worse by hoarding rice, resulting in price increases.
“The company was getting rich off Bengal and behaving poorly,” Carp says. “Americans knew about this and worried they would be next.”
Many histories of the Revolution present Bostonians as inveterate smugglers; certainly that’s how Loyalists like Peter Oliver described them. In this case, however, the Boston merchants might have been in trouble for not smuggling. In the eyes of Philadelphians and New Yorkers, they were helping the London government raise revenue even as they complained about Parliament’s taxes and where that money was going.
Ben suggests that in 1773 the Boston Whigs felt pressure to make no compromise over refusing to land the tea. Meanwhile, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and the North American Customs Commissioners, based in Boston, were more insistent than the royal authorities elsewhere that the tea must be landed. (Hutchinson also had financial and family interests in the tea business.) That set the stage for a direct, all-or-nothing confrontation in Boston harbor while merchants and officials in other ports found ways around the issue.