On Sunday, November 28th, the ship Dartmouth appeared in Boston harbor with one hundred fourteen chests of the East India Company's tea.. . . Faneuil Hall could not contain the people that poured in on Monday. On the motion of Samuel Adams, who entered fully into the question, the assembly, composed of upward of five thousand persons, resolved unanimously that "the tea should be sent back to the place from whence it came at all events, and that no duty should be paid on it." "The only way to get rid of it," said Young, "is to throw it overboard." The consignees asked for time to prepare their answer; and "out of great tenderness" the body postponed receiving it to the next morning. Meantime the owner and master of the ship were converted and forced to promise not to land the tea. A watch was also proposed. "I," said Hancock,2 "will be one of it, rather than that there should be none," and a party of twenty-five persons, under the orders of Edward Proctor as its captain, was appointed to guard the tea-ship during the night. The next morning the consignees jointly gave as their answer: "It is utterly out of our power to send back the teas; but we now declare to you our readiness to store them until we shall receive further directions from our constituents"; that is, until they could notify the British Government. The wrath of the meeting was kindling, when the sheriff of Suffolk entered with a proclamation from the Governor, "warning, exhorting, and requiring them, and each of them there unlawfully assembled, forthwith to disperse, and to surcease all further unlawful proceedings, at their utmost peril." The words were received with hisses, derision, and a unanimous vote not to disperse. "Will it be safe for the consignees to appear in the meeting?" asked Copley; and all with one voice responded that they might safely come and return; but they refused to appear.
In the afternoon Rotch, the owner, and Hall, the master, of the Dartmouth, yielding to an irresistible impulse, engaged that the tea should return as it came, without touching land or paying a duty. A similar promise was exacted of the owners of the other tea-ships whose arrival was daily expected. In this way "it was thought the matter would have ended." "I should be willing to spend my fortune and life itself in so good a cause," said Hancock, and this sentiment was general; they all voted "to carry their resolutions into effect at the risk of their lives and property."
Every shipowner was forbidden, on pain of being deemed an enemy to the country, to import or bring as freight any tea from Great Britain till the unrighteous act taxing it should be repealed, and this vote was printed and sent to every seaport in the province and to England. . . .
The ships, after landing the rest of their cargo, could neither be cleared in Boston with the tea on board nor be entered in Eng land, and on the twentieth day from their arrival would be liable to seizure. "They find themselves," said Hutchinson,3 "involved in invincible difficulties." Meantime in private letters he advised to separate Boston from the rest of the province; and to begin criminal prosecutions against its patriot sons.
The spirit of the people rose with the emergency. Two more tea-ships which arrived were directed to anchor by the side of the Dartmouth at Griffin's wharf, that one guard might serve for all. . . .
On Saturday, the 11th, Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth, is summoned before the Boston committee with Samuel Adams in the chair, and asked why he has not kept his engagement to take his vessel and the tea back to London within twenty days of its arrival. He pleaded that it was out of his power. "The ship must go," was the answer; "the people of Boston and the neighboring towns absolutely require and expect it"; and they bade him ask for a clearance and pass, with proper witnesses of his demand. "Were it mine," said a leading merchant, "I would certainly send it back." Hutchinson acquainted Admiral Montagu with what was passing; on which the Active and the Kingfisher, tho they had been laid up for the winter, were sent to guard the passages out of the harbor. At the same time orders were given by the Governor to load guns at the Castle, so that no vessel, except coasters, might go to sea without a permit. He had no thought of what was to happen; the wealth of Hancock, Phillips, Rowe, Dennie, and so many other men of property seemed to him a security against violence; and he flattered himself that he had increased the perplexities of the committee.
The line of policy adopted was, if possible, to get the tea carried back to London uninjured in the vessel in which it came. A meeting of the people on Tuesday afternoon directed and, as it were, "compelled" Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth, to apply for a clearance. At ten o'clock on the 15th Rotch was escorted by his witnesses to the custom-house, where the collector and comptroller unequivocally and finally refused to grant his ship a clearance till it should be discharged of the teas.
Hutchinson began to clutch at victory; "for," said he, "it is notorious the ship can not pass the Castle without a permit from me, and that I shall refuse." . . .
The morning of Thursday, December 16, 1773, dawned upon Boston, a day by far the most momentous in its annals. Beware, little town; count the cost, and know well, if you dare defy the wrath of Great Britain, and if you love exile and poverty and death rather than submission. The town of Portsmouth held its meeting on that morning, and, with six only protesting, its people adopted the principles of Philadelphia, appointed their committee of correspondence, and resolved to make common cause with the colonies. At ten o'clock the people of Boston, with at least two thousand men from the country, assembled in the Old South. A report was made that Rotch had been refused a clearance from the collector. "Then," said they to him, "protest immediately against the customhouse, and apply to the Governor for his pass, so that your vessel may this very day proceed on her voyage for London."
The Governor had stolen away to his country house at Milton. Bidding Rotch make all haste, the meeting adjourned to three in the afternoon. At that hour Rotch had not returned. It was incidentally voted, as other towns had already done, to abstain totally from the use of tea; and every town was advised to appoint its committee of inspection, to prevent the detested tea from coming within any of them. . . . The whole assembly of seven thousand voted unanimously that the tea should not be landed.
It had been dark for more than an hour. The church in which they met was dimly lighted, when at a quarter before six Rotch appeared, and satisfied the people by relating that the Governor had refused him a pass, because his ship was not properly cleared. As soon as he had finished his report, Samuel Adams rose and gave the word: "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." On the instant a shout was heard at the porch; the war-whoop resounded; a body of men, forty or fifty in number, disguised as Indians, passed by the door, and, encouraged by Samuel Adams, Hancock, and others, repaired to Griffin's wharf posted guards to prevent the intrusion of spies took possession of the three tea-ships, and in about three hours three hundred forty chests of tea, being the whole quantity that had been imported, were emptied into the bay without the least injury to other property. "All things were conducted with great order, decency, and perfect submission to Government." The people around, as they looked on, were so still that the noise of breaking open the tea-chests was plainly heard. A delay of a few hours would have placed the tea under the protection of the Admiral at the Castle. After the work was done the town became as still and calm as if it had been holy time. The men from the country that very night carried back the great news to their villages.
The next morning the committee of correspondence appointed Samuel Adams and four others to draw up a declaration of what had been done. They sent Paul Revere as express with the information to New York and Philadelphia.
The height of joy that sparkled in the eyes and animated the countenances and the hearts of the patriots as they met one another is unimaginable. The Governor, meantime, was consulting his books and his lawyers to make out that the resolves of the meeting were treasonable. Threats were muttered of arrests, of executions, of transportation of the accused to England; while the committee of correspondence pledged themselves to support and vindicate each other and all persons who had shared in their effort. The country was united with the town, and the colonies with one another more firmly than ever. . . .
1From Bancroft's "History of the United States." Published by D. Appleton & Co.
2John Hancock, afterward President of the Continental Congress.
33 Hutchinson was the Royal Governor of Massachusetts Province.