When Lord North, the British prime minister, had most of the Townshend Acts repealed, the tax on tea was kept at the request of George III.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.