John Lamb speaking at the Sons of Liberty Meeting at New York City Hall. The meeting's agenda addressed concerns about British tea being imported to the city. 

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The Dartmouth Sails In

On Nov. 27, 1773, a ship named the Dartmouth sailed into Boston Harbor. Two days later, a group of patriots that called itself the "Body of the People" convened at the Old South Meeting House to discuss what it could do about the tea on that ship. The meeting was to be held at the now-famous Faneuil Hall, but it proved too small a venue. So, the crowd moved to the Old South Meeting House, the biggest building in Boston at the time [source: The Old South Meeting House].

Over at the Old South Meeting House, the group of patriots decided that it would not allow the ship to unload its cargo and that they would not pay any duties, or taxes, on it. Instead, they demanded that the ship return the tea to England. They reached similar decisions about two other ships that would soon arrive, also carrying loads of tea. The protesters were so adamant about not letting the ships unload the tea that they assigned 25 civilians to guard the docks and sent out messages to neighboring towns. The townspeople -- or patriots as anti-British rebels eventually called themselves -- opposed allowing the tea to be unloaded because if that happened, they would still owe a duty even if the tea wasn't sold.

The Royal British governor, Thomas Hutchinson, responded by attempting to keep the ships in the harbor so that the tea could eventually be unloaded. Governor Hutchinson instructed his military commanders to prepare to use force to stop the ships from leaving without unloading the tea. He also requested that members of the Sons of Liberty, a group behind the protest, should be arrested and charged.

On Nov. 30, 1773, several thousand colonists met once again at the Old South Meeting House to discuss the developing crisis. One man offered a compromise from the local merchants. The merchants said that they would receive the tea but not sell it, while they waited to hear more from the British government. The assembled colonists refused. Any offloading of the tea meant paying the tax -- the colonists' main grievance. At the meeting's end, the colonists resolved that "tea should never be landed in this province" [source: The Old South Meeting House].

Meanwhile, two other ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, were sailing towards Boston loaded with tea. The Eleanor arrived on Dec. 2, and the Beaver followed five days later. The arrival of both ships raised the tensions in Boston. Between Nov. 30 and the final, decisive meeting on Dec. 16, many more meetings took place at the Old South Meeting House as the protesters debated a plan of action.