In March of 1772 the Gaspee, a British armed schooner appeared in the waters of Narraganset Bay. The ship was sent to American waters by the commissioners of customs at Boston to bring to a stop the illicit trade which was being carried on by the colonials at Newport and Providence, Rhode Island. The people of that colony were incensed at the blockading of their ports by the British ship and in their behalf the deputy-governor wrote to Governor Joseph Wanton at Newport expressing his opinion that Lieutenant Duddington, commander of the Gaspee, had no legal warrant for his actions. Governor Wanton, in sympathy with the people, sent a request for Duddington to deliver up his commission to him. Instead of replying to the governor, Duddington sent Wanton's letter to Admiral Montague at Boston, who, in turn, sent a message to the governor that he had no right to question the actions or intentions of the king's navy.
On the 9th of June the packet, Hannah, commanded by Captain Lindsey left Newport headed for Providence. The Gaspee fired upon the Hannah and attempted to force her to halt and give an account of her intended purpose in sailing from Newport's harbor. The Hannah kept her colors flying and continued on her course. The Gaspee gave chase. Captain Lindsey knew the lay of the waters and zig-zagged through the bay, passing the slightly submerged sandbar known then as Namquit Point. The Gaspee was not so lucky and became hopelessly grounded on the bar. Captain Lindsey continued on to, and arrived at Providence just before sunset, where he reported the chase he had been given. With the knowledge that the Gaspee could not hope to get free until the high tide after midnight, Mr. John Brown, a leading merchant of that city saw a chance to rid Rhode Island of this pest. Town criers were sent out to call the residents of Providence to gather at the house of Welcome Arnold at Fenner's Wharf. A plan to board and take control of the Gaspee was laid out by Brown. Abraham Whipple was chosen to lead eight longboats carrying sixty-four armed men to make the raid on the grounded ship. Between one and two o'clock in the morning the longboats pulled up alongside the Gaspee. A sentinel on board hailed them, but hearing no return, he summoned Duddington. The British commander appeared on the starboard gunwale, ordered them to leave, and then fired a pistol over their heads. Duddington's fire was answered by a musket fired from one of the boats which hit him in the groin. The colonials boarded the ship and forced the crew belowdecks with handspikes. Duddington's wound was dressed and he was taken ashore as the rest of the British seamen were tied up and taken off the ship. The Gaspee was finally set afire aand blew up as dawn broke.
A commission of Inquiry was set up by London in January of the following year, and an investigation party was sent to the colony. The colonials agreed among themselves to give out no information that would lead to the arrest of any fellow American. As a result, the Commission was disbanded in June, 1773 without being able to charge anyone with the crime.
Another important event took place in the year 1772: the formation of the Committees of Correspondence. In the year 1768 an order had been issued which set forth that the salary of Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts would be paid from the customs revenues rather than by the colonials themselves. That order was followed two in years later by a ssimilar one which stated thatthe salaries of the lieutenant governor and chief justice of the colony would also be paid in that maner. Then in 1772 the order came that now the salaries of all superior court justices of the colony were to be added to the special payroll. This might, at first glance appear as a benefit to the people of the colony, but the way they saw it was that they were effectively being cut out of having any control over those governing bodies. The only effective way to control public officials was to hold their pursestrings, so these measures took that control away from the people. A town meeting held in Boston on 28 October, 1772 was attended by Samuel Adams, a one-time tax collector who had become quite vocal about resisting Parliament's current tax policies. The assembled citizens voted to request that Governor Hutchinson inform them if any additional provisions of the salary bill were henceforth to come from London. Hutchinson responded by stating that he was responsible to London and not to Boston and furthermore, he planned to move the seat of government of the colony from Boston to Cambridge. A second town meeting was called on the 2 of November, at which Adams whipped the people into a frenzy that culminated in the decision that a committee of twenty-one men of the town of Boston would circulate a letter requesting all of the estimated 240 towns in the province to join in their protest of the policies. James Otis, Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren headed up the committee and drafted a letter that became known as the Boston Pamphlet. Six hundred copies of the letter were printed and distributed throughout the Massachusetts as well as the other colonies. Eventually all of the other colonies formed their own committees of correspondence and the "underground" communication network took on a life of its own. If one particular thing could be pointed to as helping to bring the separate colonies together it was the Committees of Correspondence.
In the year 1773 the East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The London Exchange saw the company's shares drop from 280 to 160 over the last year or so. One might presume that this shouldn't have made much of a difference to anyone but the shareholders. The fact that the company possessed a surplus of nearly 17 million pounds of tea in its warehouses in England also might not have bothered anyone except for the company's auditors. The one thing that the company did have, that was of interest to the British government, was a strategic grasp on the India subcontinent. The East India Company beseeched Parliament to help it find some way to get rid of the surplus tea so that the company could get back on its feet.
On 27 April, 1773 the Commons passed a bill that would become known in England as well as in the colonies as the Tea Act. This Act, to take effect 10 May, 1773, would waive all duties on teas exported to the colonies. That would make it feasible (and inexpensive) to get rid of the surplus. On the other end of the exchange, in the American colonies, the import tax of 3d per lb was to be retained. The Tea Act went one step further; it permitted the company to sell its tea directly to chosen agents, or rather consignees, in the colonies. Prior to that time certain goods, including tea, was required to be sold at public auction. With the passage of the Tea Act, the East India Company could undersell even the colonial smugglers. In September, the company prepared to send nearly a half of a million pounds of the tea to consignees it had carefully chosen in the colonial cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. Those carefully chosen consignees included two sons and a nephew of Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts.
The American colonists were, understandabbly, upset with the Tea Act because of the fact that the import tax was still retained while the export tax was waived. It must be remembered that when any emigrant arrived to the shores of the American colonies, they were required to swear an oath of allegiance and fidelity to the King of Great Britain. If they refused to do so, they were denied entry and were transported back to their country of origin. Therefore, although not all of the people in the American colonies were natural born in the British Isles, they were obliged to become British subjects and to pledge their loyalty to that king and government. The main argument that the colonists had with the mother country was that, as British citizens, they should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as all other British citizens.
The selective nature of the Tea Act infuriated the colonists who had just, a few years previously, experienced the restrictive and discriminatory measures of the Stamp and Townshend Acts. Going hand in hand with the problem that the colonists' perception of discrimination was the fact that the Tea Act was primarily a means to relieve the financial problems of a business by creating a monopoly for it. Whether it was right or wrong, the smuggling activities, (or more gently stated, the privateering activities) of the New England merchants was helping their colonies to survive.
The Tea Act, which virtually placed the price of tea, a commodity in high dedmand, in the hands of the East India Company, threatened to destroy the economy of the northern colonies. Neither the shareholders of the East India Company nor the Parliament were longsighted enough to realize that if they destroyed the economy of the colonies, their own economic system might be in danger. The colonies provided a major market for British goods, not necessarily because they were coerced into that market, but because of the continually increasing population in the new world colonies. The city of Philadelphia, alone, had a population of nearly 30,000 as the 1770s began. That was nearly double what it had been just a decade previous.
The East India Company engaged several ships to transport the tea to the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. The reaction of the colonists at those locations varied, but they all agreed that the tea should not be allowed to be landed. The history of this situation, as taught in public schools, tends to revolve around the incident at Boston which would forever be known as the Boston Tea Party. One would come to believe that the tea was delivered only to that city. What most people do not know is that the first group to react strongly against the circumstances being thrust upon them were the Philadelphians. They met in a town meeting on 16 October, 1773 to discuss the Tea Act. The outcome of their meeting was that they condemned the Act and called for the resignation of the consignees from their agreements with the East India Company. Having agreed to cooperate with the citizens' request, the consignees refused to accept the shipment. In the month of December, 1773 two brigs carrying their cargo of tea came sailing up the Delaware. They got no further than Gloucester Point when they were ordered to halt and anchor. The captain of the ship, Polly, was invited to disembark and accompany a party into the city so that he could better make the decision if his ship should attempt to proceed further, or if it should return to England. Nearly eight thousand Philadelphians were congregated in the State House yard to greet him with their opinion. Needless to say, the Polly's captain made the decision to weigh anchor and head back across the ocean. The other ship decided to follow the Polly's example and left also.
The people of Boston received word of the Philadelphia resolves against the Act and held their own town meeting during the first week of November. A hand-bill was distributed which announced the following:
"To the Freemen of this and the neighboring Towns. Gentlemen - You are deナred to meet at the Liberty Tree this day at twelve o'clock at noon, then and there to hear the perバns to whom the TEA ドipped by the Eaフ India Company is conナgned, make a public reナgnation of their offices as conナgnees, upon oath; and to ヘear that they will reドip any teas that may be conナgned to them by the ヂid company, by the firフ veピel ヂiling to London." Boフon, November 3, 1773. O.C., Sec'y.
At that meeting, they likewise agreed with the way that their neighbors to the south had decided to handle the situation by calling for the consignees to resign their commissions. The only problem was that when they called for that city's consignees to resign, they would not agree to do so. The citizens of Boston spent a few weeks deciding what they should do next.
In the meantime, the people of New York City endorsed and issued a broadside on 10 November which warned the harbor pilots not to guide and assist any ship laden with tea into the port. The Sons of Liberty issued their own edict on 29 November that branded any and all tea importers as enemies of America. They promised also to stage a boycott of tea should that become necessary. The result was that the New York consignees acquiesced to their demands and resigned from their commissions. A short time later Captain Lockyier arrived with his ship, the Nancy. As soon as it reached Sandy Hook a harbor pilot met with the captain and escorted him from his ship to the town, where he was met by a delegation of townspeople much like the Philadelphia reception. He also agreed that the most sensible course of action was to return to England without unloading his cargo. But at about the same time a merchant vessel commanded by Captain Chambers arrived in the port with eighteen chests of tea hidden among the other cargo. A search of the vessel by the Sons of Liberty revealed the hidden tea. They dumped the tea overboard, albeit without the clamor and fanfare that would take place at Boston. And Captains Lockyier and Chambers returned to England as soon as possible.
On the second day of December the ship, London, arrived in the harbor of Charleston. The people of the town met during the next day and resolved that the tea could be landed but that a general boycott should be placed upon the sale of it. After a 20-day wait the customs officials allowed the tea to be unloaded and then had it stored in a wharf warehouse. The townspeople did not make any move against the action. There it lay and rotted, not a single pence having been paid for it. One source claims that the tea did not rot, but rather that it was confiscated by the Patriots after the war started and that it was auctioned to raise funds for the Patriot cause in July of 1776. Either way, the East India Company received no payment for the cargo.
Back in Boston, on the 18th of November a second town meeting was held, at which a committee was appointed to again attempt to convince that town's consignees to refuse to accept the tea that was soon expected. The reply was an even more emphatic "no". In response, a mob attacked the house of one of the consignees, Richard Clarke. A pistol was fired by either Clarke or one of his sons from an upstairs window into the crowd, and they replied to that by breaking all of the house's windows. The consignees' next move was to petition the governor to take the commissions out of their hands and transfer them to the Council so that any action taken by the citizens of the city would be interpreted as an action against the colony. The Council refused to be drawn into the affair.
On 29 November, 1773 Captain Hall brought the Dartmouth into the harbor. Receiving word of the ship's arrival, a large crowd of Bostonians began to gather at Faneuil Hall. It being too small to accomodate the size of the crowd, the meeting was moved to the Old South Meeting-house. There the citizens resolved that the tea would not be landed and that the ship should be moored under a guard of twenty-five men. The consignees of the tea sent a letter to the meeting asking that the tea be taken off the ship and stored until they could write to England for instructions on how they should proceed. This was rejected by the people. With their business taken care of for the time being, the crowd dispersed. In a few days two more ships, the Beaver and the Eleanor, under the commands of Captains Hezekiah Coffin and James Bruce, arrived in the harbor; they were moored at Griffin's Wharf along with the Dartmouth.
Nothing was done by the citizens of Boston over the next two or three weeks, but likewise nothing was done by the masters of the ships and the governor as they both waited and watched the other. On the 14th of December another meeting was called in which the people resolved to order Mr. Roch, the owner of the Dartmouth, to apply for clearance and take his ship back to England. The Dartmouth, though, could go nowhere even if Mr. Roch had agreed to the people's resolve; Governor Hutchinson had, by that time, ordered Admiral Montague to take two armed vessels out to the mouth of the harbor. Montague was charged with the instructions not to allow any vessel to leave the harbor without the written permission of the governor himself; this would include the Dartmouth.
On the 16th of December, 1773 another meeting was held in the Old South Meeting-house in which Josiah Quincy roused the people with a passionate speech. He exhorted them to maintain their resolve not to allow the ships to land their cargo. While the meeting was being conducted, Mr. Roch had traveled to visit the governor at his country house in the village of Milton to request the required permission to leave the harbor. This the governor refused to grant, and Mr. Roch returned to the assembly in the late afternoon to inform the people of his failure in the mission. At about that time, a man disguised as a Mohawk Indian raised a war-whoop and was answered by many others. They seemed to know what should be done next without having to voice it; perhaps, it has been conjectured, a group had made prior plans outside of the knowledge of the general citizenry. In any case, the crowd moved out into the Boston streets in the growing twilight of the early evening to watch as a group of between fifteen and twenty men made their way by torchlight to Griffin's Wharf. This small group disguised as Indians, and apparently led by Lendell Pitts, were joined by others who realized that all the talking and waiting was about to come to a head. About sixty men boarded the Dartmouth and the other two vessels and proceeded to open the hatches to the cargo holds. The chests of tea were brought up onto the decks and then smashed open. The tea was then strewn onto the surface of the water. It is estimated that nearly one hundred and forty individuals eventually participated in the event. The Beaver and the Eleanor were then boarded and her cargo of tea only likewise destroyed and cast into the harbor water. Within two hours, three hundred and forty-two chests were destroyed.
Although the British troops were near enough to Griffin's Wharf to intercede, and the action took place at a somewhat early hour with a little of natural daylight remaining, they did not make any move. There was no auxiliary rioting or trouble from the people. They were content that the object of their anger the tea had been taken care of, and that the East India Company would receive no tax money from them. It is to their credit also that they can be remembered for not having damaged any of the other cargo carried by the ships.
The last, and least known incidents occasioned by the Tea Act took place in 1774, but should be noted here for the sake of continuity. A few other cargoes of the surplus tea maintained by the East India Company were sent to American ports in attempts by the East India Company to "test the waters" again, so to speak.
On 22 April, 1774 a load of tea was delivered to New York City. The tea was dumped into the harbor as at Boston.
The Peggy Stewart sailed for Annapolis and arrived at that port on 14 October, 1774. The ship was set afire in the harbor and was destroyed along with the tea it was carrying.
The Greyhound, bound for Philadelphia, arrived in November and was landed at Greenwich on the Jersey shore. The cargo was placed secretively in the cellar of a house near the market. The people were not duped so easily by the passage of time; on the evening of November 22 a group of fifty men disguised as Indians broke into the building and took the chests into a nearby field. They were piled up and set afire. This final, defiant action by the colonists apparently convinced the shareholders of the East India Company to keep their hated tea on British shores.