Date of the Boston Tea Party
Three ships loaded with tea sat anchored in Boston harbor. The Patriots were determined to prevent the tea on these ships from being landed on American soil, because if it were, a tax would be due upon it. Parliament had passed a new law, the Tea Act of 1773, which kept a small tax of three pence on all English tea brought into the American colonies. This shipment of tea was from the East India Company, and it would be consigned, or sold, only to seven Boston merchants selected by the East India Company. They were all loyal to the British government.
On Sunday, November 28, 1773, the Dartmouth was the first of the Tea Party ships to arrive at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. The tax on the tea had to be paid within twenty days, an absolute deadline of December 17.
Colonial Boston had become a hotbed of dissent and radicalism and thousands of people gathered from Boston and surrounding towns to discuss the "tea crisis". On Monday November 29 a meeting was called at Faneuil Hall, the usual meeting place for town meetings. But so many people showed up - nearly 4, 000 - that the meeting was moved to Old South Meeting House, the largest building in all of colonial Boston and the site of the town's largest revolutionary protests.
Samuel Adams described the meeting in a letter to a friend:
"…the people met in Faneuil hall, without observing the rules prescribed by law for calling them together…they were soon obliged for the want of room to adjourn to the Old South Meeting House; where were assembled upon this important occasion 5000, some say 6000 men, consisting of the respectable inhabitants of this and the adjacent towns. The business of the meeting was conducted with decency, unanimity, and spirit."
The resolves from the meeting were signed “The People” and the meeting became known as “The Body of the People.” The customary age and property requirements for regular town meetings were dropped at this and the following meetings about the tea. The massive crowd at Old South Meeting House included those not normally allowed at official town meetings, such as men from surrounding towns and those without voting privileges. No other political meeting in Boston had been attended by such a mix of social classes. Merchants, professionals and master artisans were joined by journeymen, seamen laborers and apprentices. (For more information on the Meetings of "The Body of the People, " please see Revolution 1773.)
Royal Governor Hutchinson described these meetings as including “the lower ranks of the people…and the rabble were not excluded.” These meetings were truly unprecedented. Unlike any other meetings held in neighboring communities, these meetings at Old South Meeting House were the most inclusive and democratic meetings that the colony had seen. The resolves from the meetings were signed, simply, “The People.”
The meeting voted to put a guard of 25 men on the tea ship Dartmouth to ensure that the tea would not be landed. The meeting adjourned until the following day to allow the tea consignees time to make a proposal.
On Tuesday, November 30, thousands of colonists again crowded into Old South Meeting House. Famed painter John Singleton Copley, married to one of the tea consignee’s daughters, tried to help reach an agreement with the tea consignees on behalf of the meeting. He delivered their response: the consignees offered to store the tea subject to inspection until they received further instructions from London. But this was not acceptable to the meeting since it meant that the tea would be landed.
Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf interrupted the meeting with a proclamation from Governor Hutchinson demanding the assembly “to disperse and to surcease all further unlawful proceedings at your utmost peril.” The meeting resoundingly refused to comply.
"It was solemnly voted by the body of the people of this and the neighboring towns assembled at the Old South meeting-house on Tuesday, the 30th day of November that the said tea never should be landed in this province … [Signed] The people."
Mounting Tensions over Tea
The second tea ship, the Eleanor, arrived in Boston on December 2 and the last tea ship, the Beaver, arrived December 7. Resistance to the tea was mounting in Boston. On December 8 Governor Hutchinson ordered Admiral Montagu not to let any vessel leave the harbor without a pass.
For almost three weeks, "The Body of the People" met at Old South Meeting House to try to find a way to prevent the tea from being unloaded. Francis Rotch, a Quaker who owned the Dartmouth, was under great pressure by both the Patriots and Governor Hutchinson. The Patriots wanted Rotch to turn his ship around and sail it back to England with the tea still on board. Hutchinson, on the other hand, wanted that tea unloaded and the tax paid. The deadline was fast approaching.
On the morning of December 14 a handbill was plastered throughout Boston:
"Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! The perfidious act of your reckless enemies to render ineffectual the late resolves of the body of the people, demands your assembling at the Old South Meeting House, precisely at ten o’clock this day, at which time the bells will ring."
Samuel Savage, a former Boston selectman now living in Weston, was chosen as moderator of this mass meeting at the Old South Meeting House, perhaps to show that those in the countryside were in agreement with the colonists in town. Samuel Adams called on the Committees of Correspondence from surrounding towns to “be in readiness in the most resolute manner to assist this Town in their efforts for saving this oppressed country.” All neighboring towns sent resolutions of support to Boston.