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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Sunday, March 07, 2021

“Emptied and threw the Tea into the Water”

On Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, as described yesterday, the brig Fortune carried 28 1/2 chests of tea into Boston harbor, along with “Gun-Powder, Duck and Hemp.”

“The next day,” Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote, “the vessel was haled to the wharffe, where the vessels lay which had the East India Company’s tea.” And we know what had happened to that tea the preceding December.

That same Monday, the Boston Gazette ran this calm and measured item:

Messi’rs Edes & Gill, PUBLISH THIS!

It is said that Capt. [Benjamin] Gorham who is just arrived from London, has brought Forty Chests of that baneful, detested, dutied Article TEA, shipped by the East-India Company, their Brokers or Employers, and consigned to HENRY LLOYD, Esq; of this Town, Merchant.

Justice to ourselves and to AMERICA—Justice even to the other Consignees—A Regard to our own Reputation and Honor—Every Obligation binds us most SOLEMNLY, at once to DETERMINE ABSOLUTELY to oppose its Landing—Experience has fully convinced us that the Governor and the Custom-House Officers concern’d will lay INSUPERABLE Bars in the Way of sending it back to London. The Consent of the Consignee to have it return’d would be to no Purpose, if he be waited upon to request it.

The SACHEMS must have a Talk upon this Matter—Upon THEM we depend to extricate us out of this fresh Difficulty; and to THEIR Decisions all the GOOD People will say, AMEN!
That dispatch got some factual details wrong—namely, the number of tea chests, who had sent them, and who was to receive them.

But the Whig newspaper was accurate in predicting the royal authorities would make no compromises to allow the tea to be returned to Britain.

The owners of the FortuneThomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson—laid out what they were doing that Monday in the next Boston News-Letter. With Lloyd, who had been sent sixteen tea chests; Henry Bromfield, who owned much of the ship’s cargo; and Gorham they “applied to the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs, and unitedly requested a Qualification for the Vessel to return with the Tea.” Because otherwise, they declared, there was “Danger of this Tea’s being destroyed.”

The Customs officers replied:
it was absolutely contrary to their Duty, and therefore could not give any Papers to qualify the Vessel to go back; and that although no Report [legal notice of the arrival] had been then made, yet she could not go away without being liable to be seized, and that even if they should give a Clearance, she would inevitably be stopped by the Officers of the King’s Ships, who were also Custom-House Officers . . . moreover that she could not be reported that Day after two o’Clock, and if not reported within 24 Hours the Capt. as liable to a Penalty of £100 Sterling.
Seeing where his interest lay, Capt. Gorham quickly reported the ship’s arrival and “took out a Permit to unlade the Gun-Powder.” Everyone agreed that was a good idea.

As for further steps, Boston town clerk William Cooper wrote to the Brookline committee of correspondence, seeking to rebuild the united front that had formed the preceding December:
We think it our duty to acquaint you that a Brigantine Benjamin Gorham Master is just arrived from London with a quantity of Tea on board liable to a duty: We ask the favor of your Company at the Selectmens Chamber in Boston toMorrow afternoon 3. OClock in order for a joint consultation, relative to this matter——
As it turned out, that meeting became moot.

Evening fell. Illuminated pictures of the Boston Massacre shone out from the windows of Mary Clapham’s Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street. (That display had been postponed from the 5th because that fell on the eve of the Sabbath.) As I recounted back here, in 1774 there was a new image attacking Gov. Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver.

Bostonians had spent weeks talking about what to do with the first three shiploads of tea. They had no patience left for the Fortune. In the words of a petition from shippers in London:
about Eight o’Clock in the Evening…a great Number of Persons all of whom were unknown to the Captain and many of them disguised and dressed and talking like Indians armed with Axes and Hatchets with Force and violence entered on Board the said Vessel and broke open the Hatches and proceeded to rummage the Hold and hoisted out Twenty eight Chests of Tea…upon the Deck of the said Vessel and there with Hatchets axes and Clubs broke open the said Chests and emptied and threw the Tea into the Water whereby the same was wholly lost and destroyed.
That was the lesser-known second Boston Tea Party on the night of 7 Mar 1774.

COMING UP: John Adams surveys the scene.


Dean Slone said...

Was all the tea thrown into the water of the harbor as reported or was some of it destroyed later by being consumed with hot water?

Dan Mandell said...

Thank you! I've wondered about the story behind the "Boston Harbor Tea" now proudly marketed (in the State House and other Boston tourist places) by Davison, Newman & Co. Every year I amuse my students with the packaging from that tea, which touts that it was tossed into the harbor on March 7, 1774, by "American patriots" as a "prelude to the American War of Independence"--but worry not, as "No duty is payable now."

J. L. Bell said...

The Boston Whigs made a big deal of punishing Charles Conner for trying to steal tea during the first tea destruction in December 1773, so there was peer pressure against doing that.