1 June 1774: Britain closes the US port of Boston

Satirical cartoon lampooning the Boston Port Act © Getty Images
“America swallowing the bitter draught”: 1774 cartoon criticising the Boston Port Act

The sight of 340 chests of tea bobbing up and down in the water is enough to make a Briton cry. But not only was it a shocking waste of a cuppa, it was also darn expensive. By the British East India Company’s reckoning, the 92,000 pounds of tea that was tipped over board in December 1773 cost them £9,659. That’s almost £1.5m in today’s money.

The British government was furious. The destruction of the tea meant a serious loss of tax revenue. But for the perpetrators, the rebellious Sons of Liberty, it had never been about the tax. When the 13 colonies eventually became independent from Britain in 1784, the newly created United States government also taxed tea. Rather it was the lack of political representation in parliament.

Back in London, the Boston Tea Party, as the incident later on become known, provoked howls of protest. Lord North’s government was determined to make Boston pay back every last penny for the tea that was lost. And until it had done so, the city wasn’t allowed to enjoy its port, which was one of the most important in North America.

In March 1774, the Trade Act, better known as the Boston Port Act, passed through parliament. It stipulated that from 1 June that year, the port would be blockaded, and closed to all shipping. No goods could be landed, and no cargo loaded.

The problem was, the act lumped all the Bostonians together. It wasn’t just the rebels who were being punished, everybody was. Even those colonists who were favourably disposed towards the mother country felt hard done by.

It’s for that reason the Boston Port Act formed one of the so-called ‘intolerable acts’ that led to open rebellion and the American War of Independence two years later.