Myths and Legends of the Boston Tea Party

It’s been a while since I’ve been a student, so I don’t know what the curricula is like these days. But there was a time when anyone who had passed from the hallowed halls of elementary school had a fairly thorough grounding in that famous incident in American history – the Boston Tea Party. You know the story, of course. Colonists dress as what we used to call Indians and storm ships in Boston Harbor, dumping tea into the drink as a protest against unfair taxation and whatnot.

Black teas too good to throw overboard! (ETS image)
Black teas too good to throw overboard! (ETS image)

Or so the story goes. Of course, the popular and commonly accepted versions of history are not always one and the same (George Washington and the cherry tree, anyone?) and apparently that’s the case with the Boston Tea Party. Here are a few of the alleged myths that might need some debunking.

Author Ray Raphael has written a book that claims to debunk various myths about the founding of the United States. He takes on some Boston Tea Party myths here. For starters, he asserts that not all colonists celebrated the event and many actually viewed the dumping of the tea as an unsavory act of vandalism that might hurt their cause. No thoughts on what was made of the wastefulness of 340 chests of tea being dumped into the harbor, but speaking as a modern-day tea drinker I always find that aspect a bit unsettling.

Another myth that most people probably aren’t aware of is that tea taxes had actually been reduced around this time. So the rebellion was not about high taxes but rather the fact that colonists didn’t have any say in taxes that were levied on them. As the author notes, land taxes as well as those on the likes of sugar, molasses, and wine were much more significant. Taxes on tea were comparatively modest, and even if they hadn’t been, there was a brisk smuggling trade for anyone who was out for a bargain.

Some time ago I wrote about the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Which is pretty much what the name suggests. But since this site is devoted to tea I wanted to reiterate, as I mentioned in that article, which types of tea were tossed in the harbor on that fateful day a few centuries ago, “the three tea ships contained 240 chests of Bohea, 15 of Congou, 10 of Souchong (all black teas), 60 of Singlo, and 15 of Hyson (both green teas).”

At the attraction’s very own web site they take on some Boston Tea Party myths as well. Look here for a video in which “noted Revolutionary War scholar” Professor Benjamin L. Carp attempts to straighten a few misconceptions.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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