Boston Harbor, a Teapot Tonight!
There are few things in life better than good tea; a fact recognized in America since the colonies were very young. When the colonies were still in their infancy, the Dutch East India Company introduced tea to the wealthy residents of “New Amsterdam,” later renamed “New York” when the area was surrendered to British governance in 1664. By the early part of the eighteenth century, the heavily taxed tea brought in by England’s East India Company became a fashionable drink that inspired lavish tea gardens similar to those in London. By the latter years of the 1750s, tea was a commonplace drink among all but the most impoverished colonists.
To avoid paying the high import tax levied on English tea, a majority of tea drinkers turned to tea smuggled in by the Dutch, Swedes and French, a circumstance that severely depressed the quantity of English tea flowing into the colonies. In reaction, England’s 1767 Townshend Act imposed a tax on tea so onerous that it ignited a widespread idea of boycotting British imported teas. The colonists were faced with the equally unpalatable choices of buying illegally smuggled tea or paying the excessive tax for British imported tea. With that dilemma, tea became a symbol of great injustice and the notion of boycotting the British tea quickly gained favor.
This obstinate boycott persisted until 1771 when Parliament decided to vigorously enforce the collection of the tea tax. Despite the colonists’ festering and growing anger, the East India Company gained permission to send a sizeable quantity of taxable tea to America. In December of 1773 the berthing of three British tea-laden ships at Griffin’s Wharf served as the catalyst for open rebellion. On December 16, during the largest town meeting in the history of the city, patriotic fervor overflowed and a leather worker named Adam Collson shouted the now famous statement; “Boston Harbor, a teapot tonight!” His cry was followed by the dumping of over 90,000 pounds of loose leaf tea into Boston Harbor at Griffin’s Wharf.
One of the most momentous events in American history, this act of open rebellion foreshadowed the American Revolution and independence for the colonies. As the tea rebellion spread, so too did the colonists’ determination to show their patriotism by shunning tea amid the gathering clouds of war. On the morning of April 19, 1775 shots were fired at Lexington and Concord and the course of tea in America was altered forever.