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This Day in History - 12.16.2011

The Boston Tea Party


By Lee Tran

December 16, 1773, is a day that will never be forgotten in American History. On this date, the Sons of Liberty launched America’s long campaign for independence from the British. During this time period, the people of America suffered under the power of the British Empire, and while they loved their King and what was, for many of the colonists, their old home land, there was only so much oppression that the people of the New World could take. The final straw was the Tea Act of 1773, which further clamped down upon fragile markets and appeared to favor the interests of the East India Trading Company over the needs of the colonists. And so the Americans concocted a plan: to board British trade ships and destroy the tea that the British held so near and dear. Thus the Sons of Liberty, led by Sam Adams—yes, the man we now honor with a beer—performed one of the coolest acts of guerrilla theater ever. Disguised as Native Americans, the rebels dumped 342 chests, estimated at 92,000 pounds, of the East India Trading Company’s tea into Boston Harbor. As Adams and his crew literally drowned the King’s profits, they sang “Rally, Mohawks!  Bring out your axes,/ And tell King George we’ll pay no taxes/ On his foreign tea!” As the tea absorbed Boston Harbor’s waters, it expanded so much that the Harbor was literally choked off with floating islands of ruined tea. Parliament erupted, radical colonists rejoiced, and conservative colonists tried to buy off the King’s anger by paying him back for the ruined cargo—and it was not long before war came to the colonies.

 

The rebels’ song, “Rallying Song of the Tea Party,” is reprinted in The Spirit of ‘Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants, Vol. 1, eds. Henry Steele Commager and Richard Morris (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 3.  On the history of political songs during the American revolution, see Robert James Branham and Stephen John Hartnett, Sweet Freedom’s Song: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and Democracy in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).