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The biggest building in all of colonial Boston, Old South Meeting House was the scene of the most dramatic and stirring meetings leading up to the American Revolution, including protests of the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Massacre orations that kept outrage alive from 1772-5 and meetings to protest the impressment of sailors into the British Navy in 1768. Often meetings were called to gather at Faneuil Hall, and when thousands showed up they moved to Old South Meeting House - crowds going right past the Town House (now Old State House), the seat of Royal Government.
A series of massive meetings of "The Body of the People" at Old South Meeting House led to the Boston Tea Party. These meetings included more diverse people from all walks of life than an ordinary meeting. Colonists met to seek a resolution to the tea crisis on November 29 and 30 and on December 14 and one final time on December 16, 1773. Read more about the revolutionary meetings at Old South Meeting House on our History pages.
The massive meetings of thousands of colonists that decided the fate of the tea took place at Old South Meeting House on December 16. 1773. The "destruction of the tea" took place a few blocks away at Griffin's Wharf, where the three tea ships the Brig Beaver, the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, were docked, iimmediately following the meeting at Old South Meeting House. The actual site of Griffin’s Wharf was covered over as part of the 19th century landfill projects that dramatically changed Boston’s wharves and shoreline. Today an historical marker on the corner of Congress and Purchase streets shows where Griffin’s Wharf was located.
Destroying the tea was an act of treason and many of the men who participated dressed as Indians in part to disguise their identity. Eyewitness accounts say that "Indian" dress at the Boston Tea Party consisted of blankets or ragged clothing with and lampblack or soot on faces. Some participants carried hatchets to break open the tea chests, Many images of the Boston Tea Party incorrectly portray colonists dressed in feather headdresses and leather hides as they marched to Griffin’s Wharf to dump the tea into the Harbor, but firsthand accounts make it clear this is incorrect. You can find out more about the history and symbolism of "Resolute men dressed as Mohawks" in this video of historian Benjamin Carp discussing this at Old South Meeting House here.
340 chests of tea were destroyed at the Boston Tea Party. Historians tell us that several varieties of black and green teas were aboard the ships, including Bohea, Congou, Souchong (all black teas), and Singlo, and Hyson (both green teas). The bulk of the destroted tea was "Bohea," a black tea from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province, China. Despite the fact that the English importer of the tea was called the "East India Tea Company," all the tea that was cast overboard in the Boston Tea Party was from China, not from India, as many have mistakenly assumed.Green tea accounted for about 22% of the destroyed tea shipments’ total volume and 30% of the value. In the 18th Century one-third of the tea exported from China was green tea, with spring-picked Hyson being a favorite.
Participants in the tea party destroyed 340 chests of tea on the night of December 16, 1773. This amounted to more than 46 tons of tea leaves. Such an amount could have brewed 18,523,000 cups of tea! The East India Company reported losses of £9,659 after the Boston Tea Party. It is estimated that this would amount to nearly two million dollars in today’s money!
It is well known that patriots Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy and John Hancock were present at the December 16, 1773 meeting at the Old South Meeting House preceding the dumping of the tea. However, the men who actually destroyed the tea at Griffin’s Wharf are less well-known. Most of the estimated 100 to 150 Boston Tea Party participants remained anonymous for many years for fear of punishment. Among the purported participants, the best known are silversmith and patriot Paul Revere and Dr. Thomas Young, John Adams' family physician. George Robert Twelves Hewes, a 31-year-old shoemaker (whose statue stands in the exhibit at Old South Meeting House), told the story of his participation in the Boston Tea Party to a journalist in 1835 when he was in his 90s. His account can be read in Alfred Young’s book The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution.