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Database: Boston Tea Party

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Date: December 16, 1773

This was one of the key events leading up to the American Revolution. Protesters (some dressed in faux-Native garb) boarded 3 ships docked in Boston Harbour and threw their cargoes of tea overboard to protest British taxes. Throwing tea into a harbour probably broke a world record for making the biggest cup of tea ever, though if there is one statement guaranteed to rile a Briton, it is the unnecessary waste of perfectly good tea.

So - simple enough, but the lead up is a bit more complex. The East India Company actually wanted to sell the tea to all of the colonies at a cut-rate to boost its flagging profits. However, taxes on the tea would have to be paid to the British the instant the tea was unloaded in Boston harbour. And the Colonies had a long-standing problem with paying taxes to Britain when they had no representatives in British parliament. Offering discount tea while still collecting the tax on it was viewed by the Colonists as a trick to get them to agree to parliament's authority over them.

Protesters turned back ships carrying tea to New York and Philadelphia, and if that had happened in Boston, the problem would have been solved. Unfortunately, the governor of Boston wouldn't let the tea ships leave once they were in the harbour. I guess he figured the public would come 'round eventually and just pay the tax - because everyone likes a bargain - but that never happened. In fact, protests got bigger and bigger until a meeting at the Old South Meeting House. A mob broke away from the crowd there and dumped the tea, solving the impasse, and wasting the tea.

(I shuddered as I wrote that)

The British reacted to the protest by sending British troops under Thomas Gage to occupy the town. They also closed the Boston Harbour, part of several laws they created to punish the Colonists that were dubbed the "Coercive Acts". Of course, these laws didn't gain them any sympathy with the Colonists - and led fairly directly to the outbreak of the Revolution.

Tea is important business.

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