J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Charles Bahne on “the Consequences of Such an Insurrection”

Many histories of the Revolution report that on the night of 16 Dec 1773, Bostonians destroyed 342 chests of tea by throwing it in Boston harbor. On this anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, I’ve invited Charles Bahne, who literally wrote the book on Boston’s Freedom Trail, to add more detail about that tea and why it meant so much.

After the Boston Tea Party, the East India Company went to the Parliament in London with a petition that itemized the damages that the Company had suffered from the “violent and illegal Proceedings” in Boston, and sought indemnification for its losses.

After explaining how the company had shipped its tea under the new Tea Act to Boston, as well as other American ports, the petition concludes:

[The] lawless Rabble went on board on the Arrival thereof, and stoved & threw into the Harbour the whole of the said Cargoes of Tea, after forcing the Officers of the Customs on board of the said Ships to quit the same & go on Shore, whilst they perpetrated their violent and illegal Proceedings.

That the East India Company’s Loss on this account, together with the Freight which they are obliged to pay, will amount, according to the said annexed account, to the Sum of Nine Thousand Six Hundred Fifty Nine Pounds Six Shillings and four Pence, and as it was not in your Memorialists’ power, who were carrying on a fair & legal Trade, to prevent the Consequences of such an Insurrection,

Your Memorialists, on behalf of their Constituents, beg leave to request of Your Lordship to lay their Case before His Majesty, & that His Majesty will be graciously pleased to pursue such Measures, or give such Directions, for the Indemnity of the East India Company, respecting their said Loss, as to His Majesty, in His great Equity and Wisdom, shall seem meet.

East India House
London 16th Febry 1774.
I found this document reproduced in a booklet which I purchased many years ago at the Boston Tea Party Ship when it was berthed in Fort Point Channel. The booklet, Catalyst for Revolution: The Boston Tea Party, 1773, was written by Benjamin W. Labaree, who was also the author of the classic scholarly volume The Boston Tea Party (1964). The smaller booklet was originally issued in 1973 by the Massachusetts Bicentennial Commission, although my copy appears to be a later reprint.

Along with its petition, the East India Company included an “annexed account” which contains in one place answers to several questions not generally found in most popular—or scholarly—studies about the Tea Party:
  • How big was a chest of tea?
  • What was the total weight of tea leaves consigned to the fishes?
  • And how much was it worth altogether?
TOMORROW: Charlie starts to lay out those vital statistics.

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