Boston Tea Party, in United States history, the dumping of three cargoes of tea in Massachusetts Bay on December 16, 1773, shortly before the American Revolution. A party of Bostonians disguised as Indians boarded three British ships and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor in protest against "taxation without representation." The bold defiance and daring of the Boston Tea Party showed the spirit of the coming revolution.
When Lord North, the British prime minister, had most of the Townshend Acts repealed, the tax on tea was kept at the request of George III. The purpose was to show the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies. The colonists ignored this tax for a time, buying most of their tea from Dutch smugglers.
By 1773, the East India Company had its warehouses in England filled with unsold tea. To avoid a financial disaster, the British government allowed a "drawback," an agreement to refund a sum that would permit the British tea owner to undersell the Dutch in spite of the tax. The colonists, however, considered this cheap tea to be a bribe offered the people in return for their consent to be taxed.
Cargoes of tea had been sent to several American ports. Ships reaching New York and Philadelphia were sent back with their tea unloaded. At Charleston, South Carolina, the tea was held until it spoiled in the chests. Three tea ships appeared at Boston. The British insisted that they be permitted to land the tea.
On the evening of December 16, several thousand people gathered in and around the Old South Meeting House to listen to Samuel Adams and other determined colonists. Finally Adams closed his remarks with a previously planned signal, saying "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." On hearing these words, a group of men disguised as Mohawk Indians let out a war whoop and rushed for the wharves, followed by several hundred spectators.
The "Indians," who were probably members of the Sons of Liberty, boarded the three ships, chopped open the tea chests with hatchets, and threw some $15,000 worth of tea into the water. No other property was touched.
Parliament replied by passing the five Intolerable Acts in 1774. One of these was the Boston Port Act, which ordered the port closed until payment was made for the tea.