During the French and Indian War (1756-1763) and Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1766), England’s national debt skyrocketed—in part, from the high cost of supplying its military to the American colonies to fight these two wars. After these wars ended, England recognized a need for the continued defense of its colony and kept an army on American soil.
Faced with paying for an astronomical national debt as well as the cost of keeping an army in America, Parliament needed to raise income. Because the British government believed the colonists should shoulder a considerable amount of the cost of their defense, Parliament created revenue-raising taxes for the American colonies. Lacking representation, the American colonists had no say in the taxes that Britain forced on them.
In June 1767, the British imposed the Townshend Revenue Acts on the colonies. These Acts imposed taxes for necessities such as glass, lead (used in bullet-making), paper, and tea. Unfortunately, the colonies were experiencing economic hardships as a result of the two recent wars, and these new taxes did not sit well with the Americans.
Provoked colonists began purchasing imported tea from sources other than England’s East India Company. The ripple effect was that East India Company’s tea sales plummeted, and the company asked the British government for help.
The British government’s response was the establishment of the Tea Act of 1773. This Act did not raise taxes on the colonists, but gave the East India Company a monopoly to trade tea in the American colonies and prevented other tea importers from doing business in the colonies. It also allowed East India Company agents to sell directly to the American colonies which meant that tea sales bypassed Colonial merchants and caused them severe financial distress.
The colonists saw this Act as yet another means of England trying to control the American colonies. The result was that colonists refused to unload tea from East India Company ships in the harbors of New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Colonists in Boston took things one step further. On December 16, 1773, Patriots boarded the East India Company’s ships anchored in Boston Harbor and threw thousands of pounds of tea—costing about $1,000,000 in today’s money—into the water. We know this action as “The Boston Tea Party.”
Outraged at The Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 which were specifically designed to punish the citizens of Massachusetts for their role in ruining the tea in Boston Harbor. Incensed, the Americans renamed these “The Intolerable Acts.” These Intolerable Coercive Acts removed Massachusetts’ self-governing rights, prompting the start of a colony-wide revolt that began the American Revolutionary War.
After refreshing my memory with the role tea played in our country’s history, I’ll never again be able to enjoy this beverage without acknowledging its part in my American citizenship. What about you?
Cynthia Howerter is a descendant of Colonel John Kelly, an American Patriot. Kelly fought in a Pennsylvania militia unit at the 1776 and 1777 Battles of Trenton and the 1777 Battle of Princeton. Promoted from Major to Colonel after the Princeton battle, Kelly returned home to Northumberland County, Pennsylvania where he led a Militia in the defense of Pennsylvania’s frontier.
Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter