The Boston Tea Party was just one of several colonial uprisings before the shot was heard ‘round the world on April 19, 1775. Anger toward the British had been growing throughout New England — and not just about tea.
The Tea Party itself wasn’t a protest against taxes. It was a protest against a corporate tax break – to the East India Company. The giant corporation was near financial collapse, though it had an abundance of unsold tea. Parliament agreed to bail out the company. The Tea Act of May 10, 1773 exempted the East India Company from the tea tax, making it easier to sell in the colonies. The Act also allowed the company to sell directly through agents, bypassing the colonial middlemen.
The East India Company was in effect granted a monopoly that allowed it to sell cheaper tea, threatening independent colonial merchants. The Tea Act also set a precedent of Parliament taxing the colonies without the colonies having a say in the matter.
Not for the last time did a corporate bailout anger Americans. An embargo was declared on tea, and on Dec. 16, 1773, 60 men dressed as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Thought it was the best known of the colonial uprisings, it wasn’t the only one inspired by British exploitation. Throughout 1774, protests of the Tea Act spread to New York, Annapolis, Charleston, S.C., Greenwich, N.J., and York, Maine.
The British also angered colonists with aggressive enforcement of customs, disputed rulings over land claims and confiscation of pine trees for the Royal Navy. They caused the Pine Tree Riot in New Hampshire, the Gaspee Affair in Rhode Island and the rise of the Green Mountain Boys in Vermont.
Here are six colonial uprisings that occurred in each of six New England states before the Revolution.
Colonial Uprisings in Vermont
Since New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth began selling grants to lands west of the Connecticut River in 1749, Vermont was disputed territory. New Yorkers – called ‘Yorkers’ — claimed the lands were theirs. Settlers holding the New Hampshire grants disagreed. The competing claims landed in court.
In 1764, King George III decreed the land belonged to New York. Settlers on land with overlapping claims had to pay a second time for their grants. The situation deteriorated and surveyors were threatened with violence. In 1770, Ethan Allen formed the Green Mountain Boys during a meeting at the Catamount Tavern in Old Bennington.
The Green Mountain Boys drove off surveyors and New Yorkers, occasionally destroying property and manhandling tenants. New York’s royal governor, Thomas Tryon, cracked down on the Green Mountain Boys with a law that imposed the death penalty for interfering with a magistrate and criminalized meeting of more than three people for unlawful purposes in the New Hampshire Grants.
On March 13, 1775, several men took possession of the courthouse in Westminster to prevent the next day’s session. The court officers attacked, killing two men. Allen and a group of Green Mountain Boys met in Westminster to prepare a petition to the King.
A month later, the American Revolution broke out. Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, along with Benedict Arnold and members of the Connecticut militia, captured Fort Ticonderoga.
Allen planned both the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the Battle of Bennington at the Catamount Tavern. Today the site of the Catamount Tavern is marked by a granite and copper statue on Monument Avenue.
New Hampshire Pine Tree Riot
On April 13, 1772, Ebenezer Mudgett was arrested by the sheriff and his deputy for unlawful possession of pine logs reserved for the King’s Royal Navy.
A surveyor had found illicit white pine logs at Mudgett’s sawmill in Weare, N.H. Other loggers and mill owners nearby had been discovered with the King’s trees. They agreed to pay a fine. Mudgett refused. Upon his arrest, though, he agreed to come up with the money on the next day. The sheriff and his deputy let him go and spent the night in Quimby’s Inn.
The next morning, Mudgett and 20 men with soot-blackened faces burst into the sheriff’s room and began beating him to their heart’s content. They removed the floorboards above the deputy’s room and beat him with poles. Then they cropped the ears of the officials’ horses and sheared their manes. The sheriff and his deputy left town to jeers and catcalls.
Eight rioters were identified and charged with rioting and assault. The judge let them off with a light fine.
A millstone marks the site of the Pine Tree Riot where Quimby’s Inn once stood on Rte. 114, South John Stark Byway near the Avon store on Eastman Hill.
On June 9, 1772, the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee ran aground in Narragansett Bay while chasing a local vessel, the Hannah. Rhode Islanders had long endured the Gaspee’s harassment of local shipping and its arrogant captain, William Dudingston.
As soon as the Hannah’s captain went ashore, he told the news to John Brown, Rhode Island’s wealthiest merchant. Brown realized the Gaspee would be grounded until midnight. He ordered eight longboats, summoned 100 Sons of Liberty and led a raid on the ship.
Brown’s men shot Dudingston, though not fatally, captured the crew and set the Gaspee on fire.
The British considered the Gaspee attack treason and an act of war. But silence surrounded the perpetrators, and a Royal Commission of Inquiry found it was done by persons unknown.
Rhode Islanders, though, were galvanized by British threats to try and to punish the raiders in England. They began to form committees of correspondence, which acted as shadow governments and catalysts for the American Revolution.
Rhode Island celebrates Gaspee Days every year with a parade and a symbolic burning of the ship. Gaspee Point, where the ship ran aground in Warwick, R.I., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is also a plaque in a parking lot on South Main Street in Providence, marking the tavern where the plot was hatched to attack the Gaspee.
2nd Boston Tea Party
On March 7, 1774, three months after the Boston Tea Party, 60 men disguised as Indians boarded the Fortune in Boston Harbor. They forced the crew below deck and dumped 30 chests of tea into the water.
Of the 30 100-pound chests of tea destroyed, 16 were from tea merchants Davison Newman & Co. The company, still in business today, was outraged by the loss of their cargo. They petitioned King George III for compensation. In the document, they described how their tea was destroyed ‘by persons, all unknown to the Captain, armed with axes and with force threw the tea in to the Water whereby the same was wholly lost and destroyed.’
Today the Boston Tea Party Museum features two replica ships, reenactments, a documentary and one of two known tea chests from the original event.
York Tea Party
On September 15, 1774, the sloop Cynthia sailed from Newfoundland into harbor at York, Maine. Her cargo included 150 pounds of tea for its Loyalist owner, local judge Jonathan Sayward. The Sons of Liberty noted the Cynthia’s arrival and called a town meeting on September 23. The meeting voted to seize the tea over the objections of the ship’s captain, James Donnell, who also happened to be Sayward’s nephew. The tea was stored in another merchant’s warehouse.” That night, “a Number of Pickwacket Indians” (so it was said) broke into the storeroom and carried away the tea.
Two days later, the tea mysteriously reappeared in the warehouse. Some speculate the tea was stolen to establish York’s bona fides as patriotic sympathizers. It may have been returned so Judge Sayward could have his tea without paying taxes on it because it was stolen. Maine tea drinkers benefited from the low price of untaxed tea.
Visitors to York (during he summer and fall) will want to include a stop at the Museums of Old York, a collection of notable properties that includes the old jail, that dates to the 1600s, the Perkins House Museum and the site of the patriot John Hancock’s wharf.
New London Cannon Theft
Many Connecticut merchants traded regularly through the Port of Boston and sympathized with Massachusetts when the British closed the port. Many Connecticut towns created committees of correspondence and denounced British actions. Mansfield, Conn., passed its own declaration of independence in October 1774. Anti-Loyalist laws were passed, and some Loyalists like the Rev. Samuel Peters were forced to flee to the protection of British troops.
On Dec. 13, 1774 men from New London removed – the British would say ‘stole’ — cannon from the sole fort guarding Connecticut’s coast lest they fall into British hands. The cannon were ‘removed to the country.’
It was nearly a year after the first Boston Tea Party and one day before the New Hampshire militia raided Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth, taking 100 barrels of gunpowder.
The New London fortification from which the guns were taken was Connecticut’s only defense from the Royal Navy. Gov. Jonathan Trumbull described it as ‘a small battery at New London, consisting of nine guns, built and supported at the colony’s expense.” It was also in ruinous condition.
New London, then one of the world’s busiest whaling ports, was vulnerable to British attack because of its proximity to Long Island Sound and the Thames River.
Trumbull recommended a new fort be built. Fort Trumbull was completed on a rocky point of land jutting into the river; the fort was captured in 1781 by turncoat Benedict Arnold and British forces. Today, Fort Trumbull is open to visitors as party of Fort Trumbull State Park.
Photos: Boston Tea Party Museum, By Tim Pierce – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28919099