The Body of the People

faneuil hall 1775
Faneuil Hall in 1775. Hall, Charles Bryan, b. 1840 (engraver). Boston Public Library.

November 29, 1773: “The Body of the People”

Following the arrival of the Dartmouth, the first large-scale organized meeting to discuss the “tea crisis” occurred on Monday, November 29, 1773 at Faneuil Hall. By this time, Boston had become a hotbed of dissent and radicalism, and thousands of men, women, and children gathered from Boston and surrounding towns to meet at Faneuil Hall. The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty organized the meeting, both of whom were under the leadership of Samuel Adams. The gathering attracted so many of the concerned citizenry that the meeting had to be quickly relocated to the Old South Meeting House because Faneuil Hall could not accommodate the masses of people. Old South Meeting House was the largest public building in Boston at the time and thus became the central meeting place of the Patriot movement.

boston tea party minutes
Boston Tea Party meeting minutes, 29-30 November 1773. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Meeting Attendance

Samuel Adams recorded the number of people present at the meeting, “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”. Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson described the people gathered at the meeting as, “principally of the lower ranks of the people and even journeymen tradesmen were brought in to increase the number, and the rabble were not excluded.”

samuel adams engraving
Samuel Adams. Engraving by Alonzo Chappel. 1858. National Archives.

The Decision

The meeting came to a conclusion when Samuel Adams resolved, “Whether it is the firm resolution of this body that the tea shall not only be sent back but that no duty shall be paid thereon!” He was met with affirming nods, pounding fists, tapping canes, and cheers to support his motion not to pay the tax on the shipment of British East India Company tea. The decision was made to have twenty-five Sons of Liberty stand guard at Griffin’s Wharf to barricade and prevent the British East India Company tea from being unloaded from the Dartmouth.

john singleton copley portrait
Portrait of John Singleton Copley. Oil on canvas, 1780-1784. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

John Singleton Copley’s Involvement

The meeting regathered at the Old South Meeting House on Tuesday, November 30 to give the tea consignees the opportunity to respond. The husband of one of the tea consignees’ daughters, the portrait artist John Singleton Copley, read the proposal the tea consignees put together in response to the previous night’s meeting. The tea consignees proposed to store the British East India Company Tea tea, and that it could be inspected by the Sons of Liberty until they received further instructions from London. The proposal was booed and rejected by the thousands gathered at the meeting because agreeing to the tea consignees’ proposal meant paying the tax because the tea would have to be unloaded from the Dartmouth. Before a compromise could be made between the Patriots and the tea consignees, the meeting was interrupted when it received a proclamation from Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson. The proclamation stated, “To disperse and to surcease all further unlawful proceedings at your utmost peril.” Hutchinson’s order and warning was not headed, and the meeting responded with the following signed “The People”, “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.”

“The Tea that bainfull weed is arrived. Great and effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it. To the publick papers I must refer you for perticuliars. You will there find that the proceedings of our citizens have been united, spirited and firm. The flame is kindled and like lightening it catches from soul to soul. Great will be the devastation if not timely quenched or allayed by some more lenient measures.”
~ Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, December 5, 1773