Not Ordinary Mohawks

Boston Tea Party painting

On the evening of December 16th, 1773, three English ships waited to be unloaded at Griffin's Wharf. They carried a special cargo of East Indian Company tea, which had been granted a royal monopoly in America, and carried with it a special tax. Revolutionaries had prevented the boats from being unloaded, but Governor Thomas Hutchinson kept them in port waiting.

This standoff was broken when a group of up to sixty revolutionaries disguised as Mohawks stormed Griffin's Wharf in Boston. They announced their intention to unload the ships into the harbor, and enlisted the cooperation of the ships crew. This was no riot or act of terror, the party attempted to prevent damage to the ships. They even replaced a padlock they had to break to get access to cargo. Over they next two hours, they would unload 90,000 pounds of tea into the ocean and set in to motion the events of America's revolution.

"The grandest event, which has ever yet happened!"

The normally deliberative John Adams rejoiced at the success of the raid, and that the action had taken place "under perfect submission to government." He hoped this would be a turning point from which the other colonies would definitively depart from English rule. He described it as "The grandest event, which has ever yet happened."

England's response was swift, and fulfilled the fears of tyrannical government, which revolutionaries had warned was inherent to British rule. The parliament passed a series of measures known as the Coercive Acts, which collectively punished Boston economically, restricted self-government, and provided for quartering a vastly increased military presence in private buildings and homes.

All trade through Boston's port was closed, which created immediate high levels of unemployment and financial losses to citizens. The Governor was empowered to appoint the previously legislatively elected Governor's Council. The Governor's Sheriffs would appoint all juries and royal officials would be immune from trial except in England.

Rather than influencing other colonies to comply with England's taxes, these acts served as a warning which pulled the colonies together in resistance. The closure of Boston's port had created such economic hardship that it felt as if the town was already at war.

England's General Thomas Gage, who knew how to command an occupying force, soon replaced Governor Hutchinson. John Adams was right when he wrote, "The Dye is cast: The People have passed the river and cut away the bridge." The rebellious destruction of tea over several hours in 1773, set into motion the far greater events leading to war with England and revolution in America.

Illustration note: This painting by Robert Reid, 1904, hangs in Nurses Hall in the State House.