By Stephanie Hanson
Part 1: Why American Patriots Revolted Over a Tax on Tea and Why it Was Such a Big Deal
Every American school child knows the story of the Boston Tea Party. Mean old King George had put a tax on tea, and so the heroes of the tale, those patriotic Sons of Liberty, dressed up in feathers and war paint, stealing under cover of darkness to throw hundreds of chests of tea into Boston Harbor. What many school children do not realize is that the Boston Tea Party did not occur as an isolated event. Similar “tea parties” took place throughout the colonies as angry colonists reacted to the tax on their favorite beverage. These same children also have no idea how much it costs these same patriots to give up tea in the name of liberty. Today, the United States runs on coffee. But this was not always the case.
We must look back, back to the decades before the American Revolution, if we are to understand the events of that cold Boston night in December 1773. The Chinese had known of tea for thousands of years, but it had only become a European beverage in the 17th century, when it was a luxury. By the early 18th century, England imported a million pounds of tea annually. And with tea’s new popularity came taxes. These taxes created highly inflated prices, leading to smuggled tea that cost less than legally purchased tea. By the end of the eighteenth century, smugglers provided as much as two-thirds of the tea consumed in England. Even the clergy stored the contraband leaves.
In the North American colonies, the provincial subjects of the British Crown were just as addicted as the citizens of the Mother Country, if not more so. The Dutch, heavy tea importers, were importing tea to New Amsterdam long before the British became addicted to their cuppa. According to Beatrice Hohenegger, author of Liquid Jade, “Americans were frenetic tea drinkers and, by some accounts, even more so than their relatives across the ocean.”
And then came the Tea Act of 1773.
You can find more interesting tea articles at Stephanie’s blog, The Tea Scoop!