The Boston Tea Party: Tempest in a Tea Pot

Richard Bell
Richard Bell
University of Maryland

Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. Professor Bell is author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.

Overview

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The Boston Tea Party was a response to the 1773 Tea Act, the latest of a series of parliamentary directives stretching back to the 1765 Stamp Act. Only the Tea Act was never intended to be so provocative. It was devised to reduce tea smuggling within the British Empire and boost the sales of tea legally imported to the American colonies by the East India Company: a mega corporation with an all-too-cozy relationship to the British Government.

But it backfired spectacularly, antagonizing Boston merchants and driving them to the newspapers to denounce the Tea Act as tyrannical and monopolistic–and as a threat to free trade and colonial liberty. When three ships arrived in Boston harbor in December 1773, laden with East India Company tea, one hundred local men took their protests to the streets, boarding the ships, tossing the cargo overboard, and turning that harbor into one giant, swirling tea pot.

In this program, University of Maryland historian Richard Bell explores the 1773 Boston Tea Party in local, but also global, perspective. Bell argues that the Tea Party marks the first major protest in America against corporate greed and the effects of globalization. It was also an unprecedented act of domestic terrorism that brought on dramatic consequences for relations between Crown and colonies and set the stage for the American Revolution.

 

Discussion Questions: 

1. Why does the British government pass the 1773 Tea Act and how is it similar or different to all the other new laws about taxation the colonists have confronted since 1765?

2. Why do the colonists who board the ships that fateful night disguise themselves as Native Americans?

3. How does setting the Boston Tea Party in a global context change our understanding of what happened that night?

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