16 December 1773: The Boston Tea Party protest

Few people would have guessed that throwing crates of tea off a ship would lead to one of the biggest revolutions in history. Yet, on this day in 1773 a group calling itself the Sons of Liberty carried out the Boston Tea Party protest and paved the way for the American Revolution.

The group, dressed as Native Americans and led by Samuel Adams, an unsuccessful businessman and tax collector, boarded the ship and destroyed 2,000 chests, containing 600,000lb of tea, by throwing them into the sea. The tea belonged to the powerful and influential East India Company.

The spark for the protest was the Tea Act of May 1773. The new law forced the 13 American colonies to buy their tea from the East India Company. The Company was in dire financial straits and had much more tea stored in its British warehouses than it was able to sell.

Techincally, the Tea Act was not a tax. But it did give the East India Company such a total monopoly that many, including Adams and the Sons of Liberty, viewed it as one.

Their slogan was ‘no taxation without representation’.

The Tea Party was a spark for revolution, and the British provided most of the fuel. Their response was harsh. Parliament in London passed laws in 1774 known as the Coercive Acts that ended local self-rule in Massachusetts and entirely closed the Port of Boston.

As a result of the Coercive Acts, more and more acts of defiance sprang up across the 13 colonies. The cycle of escalation continued until both sides were at war. By 1778 the situation had got so out of hand that parliament passed the Taxation of the Colonies Act 1778, which repelled the Tea Tax as well as others.

But it was all too little too late. Ten years after the Boston Tea Party protest, in 1783, the guns of war fell silent and the colonies became fully independent. Samuel Adams became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.