We are now only open Thursdays thru Sundays. Tours 10a-4p. Gift shop & Tea Room 9:30a-5p.Plan Visit > Masks are mandatory. View Guidelines >
We now offer Virtual Museum Programs. View Virtual Programs >

What Led to the Boston Tea Party

From the “Talking History with Benjamin L. Carp” Video Series – Webisode 3


we get to december 16th the people of boston had really been worked up to a fever pitch. first there had been the arrival of the news of the tea act then there was the news that the tea ships were coming then the tea ships actually arrive you know.

throughout this there’s this dialogue who were supposed to accept the tea there’s dialogue with the owners of the ships with the captains of the ships with government official. and really the bostonians would have been content to send the tea peacefully back to london. that’s really what they wanted.

but under british customs regulations that really wasn’t allowed.
and so the boston tea party or the destruction of the tea in boston harbor is really an act of last resort. bostonians really felt that they had no choice. they didn’t want to see the tea landed.

government officials are not letting them send it back and so the only place for the tea to go was into the drink into boston harbor. we don’t necessarily want to see this as an aggressive move. the bostonians really didn’t see themselves as trying to provoke the king or provoke parliament really or even provoke the east india company.

they they see what they’re doing as reaction as a as the last resort of a wounded and threatened people.

the aftermath of the boston tea party isn’t immediately the apparent on the morning of december 17, 1773. a lot of people were shocked but it had taken place and they weren’t sure what to make of it. even george washington and benjamin franklin are initially like maybe this was going too far. Property destruction is not the kind of thing that we see ourselves as being about.

and so for a number of months the bostonians, people all over America are just watching and waiting to see what happens because of course it’s gonna take many weeks for the news to get back to you england for a decision to come back from England. so they’re watching and waiting nervously to see what the british reaction is going to be and the british reaction is their worst nightmare

by the middle of 1774 it’s clear that parliament is going to come down on boston and on the colony of massachusetts more generally with very severe punishments by the course of acts are also called the intolerable acts

and so that is really going to make clear to the americans that there’s a a severe constitutional threat to their liberties and at that point they begin recommending to local communities well maybe it’s time to arm
yourselves for your defense

and by the time war actually breaks out in the spring of 1775 there had been a lot of dialogue out there and a lot of meetings in local communities that’d put americans in a state of readiness to do something if the british decided that they were going to press the question and and really do something.

Professor Benjamin L. Carp Profile Picture

Professor Benjamin L. Carp

Benjamin L. Carp is an associate professor of early American history at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He has written about firefighters and the American Revolution, nationalism in Revolutionary America and the Civil War South, cities and the American Revolution, and the Boston Tea Party. He grew up in Woodmere, New York....

More about museum contributor


Sign up to receive special offers, discounts and news on upcoming events.