Monday, December 16, 2013

Steeped in History: The Tea Tossing Incident!

Today is the 240th anniversary of “the destruction of the tea”, or “The Boston Tea Party” as it has fondly been referred to about 50 years later. On the evening of December 16, 1773, The Sons of Liberty who were a group of colonists, boarded ships docked in Boston Harbor and destroyed all the chests of tea by throwing them overboard into the waters. OMG!! WTF!?!? What were these would-be Americans thinking? This was their way of protesting against the Tea Act, a tax levied on them by the British Government. The colonists were sipping mad about being taxed by the British Government without any discussion or their consent. The tax itself was not the issue (apparently they were actually getting a tax break on the tea), but the fact that it was being passed without their representation. 

Time for a good ol' fashioned tea party!

There is a whole lot more to this incident, but I’m not interested in getting into the details leading up to the event on December 16 or the aftermath. I’m more interested in the precious tea that was put in peril! This is a tea blog after all! There are plenty of websites that provide historical accounts of what happened and can easily be Googled if you want more information. Depending on the site you visit, details, facts, and dates on what occurred may differ. Hey, it’s not like they had video surveillance, digital cameras or Instagram back then!

You might think it was tea from India that was destroyed because it was The East India Company tea that was shipped. However, this incident occurred well before tea was cultivated in India in the 19th century. The tea, in fact, was actually produced in China. The East India Company did have some tea business running in China around that time.

So, what tea in particular was dumped? From my research, I found articles pointing to The Boston Tea Party written by Benjamin Woods Labaree, which states that the ships contained the following:

  • 240 chests of Bohea (boo-hee) black tea 
  • 15 chests of Congou (kung-foo) black tea
  • 10 chests of Souchong black tea
  • 60 chests of Singlo green tea 
  • 17 chests of Hyson green tea

They were all loose leaf teas as the colonists were not into the brick variety and tea bags were not invented until 1908. Apparently, these teas were plucked in 1770 and 1771. They were shipped to London where they were stored in warehouses before finally being transported to the colonies in 1773 awaiting their doom.

The tea chests were distributed on 3 ships: Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor. There was another ship carrying tea as well, William, but it was lost at sea. The Sons of Liberty boarded the 3 ships that arrived in Boston Harbour, and within a few hours, broke apart and emptied all 342 chests of tea into the waters, even returning the next day and using their oars and paddles to beat down any chests that were floating. The cargo was valued at £9,659.00 by The East India Company. It’s estimated that approximately 92,000 pounds of tea turned the waters of Boston Harbour into a giant teapot, enough to make 19 million cups of tea!

What lies beneath.

The Boston Tea Party was a rebellious act that remains an iconic event in American history, one that other political protests to this day often refer to. This incident built-up tension between the British and the colonists leading to further division allowing America to become more independent and a nation of its own in 1776, just a few short years later.

The company whose tea chests were destroyed in this tea tossing event are still in business. Davison, Newman & Co. of London sells a Boston Harbour Tea which you can purchase online. However, this product is a blend of Ceylon and Darjeeling teas. Not at all one of the Chinese teas doomed for destruction. Thank goodness these fine teas did not drown in the waters of Boston! I love Darjeeling!

What's this I see?

If you’re ever in the Boston area, visit the Boston Tea Party Museum. You can view and board restored ships of the Eleanor and the Beaver, participate in re-enactments, see films, and enjoy afternoon tea in a tearoom. As well, the museum has one of two known surviving tea chests from the tea dumping incident included in their permanent collection. Something definitely worth checking-out if I ever make it out to Boston. Hopefully for a marathon!

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