Thursday, December 16, 2010

Trouble Brewing

Magnet # 419:  Classic Boston Ship

Material:  Wood, Fabric, Metal

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

The people of Boston were mad as - well, you know - on this day in 1773, and they weren't going to take it anymore.  Along with the rest of the colonies, they had grown increasingly fed up with Britain's levying taxes on them, in part to pay for their victory in the French and Indian War.  Britain also wanted to reinforce the fact that they were in control of the colonies, as they had been growing more independent, but the move severely backfired.  By passing measures such as the Stamp Act and Townsend Act, the colonists rebelled, resulting in the Boston Massacre and some other revolts that drove home just how serious they were.  Finally, Parliament backed down, taking away nearly all of the taxes.  But they kept one in place, a duty on tea.  As it was almost a necessity in those times, far more so than it is now, the British thought the colonists wouldn't be able to deprive themselves of the pleasure of tea.  They also wanted to help save the East India Company, which was suffering from competition with Dutch merchants, by giving them a monopoly on any tea shipped to the colonies.  And by lowering the price of taxes implemented on tea, those in the Americas would actually pay less for it.  To the British, it seemed like a win-win situation.  Still, the colonists weren't fooled.  They realized that the arrangement might put local merchants out of business.  And if they continued to allow the British to tax them in this matter, they might soon decide to impose more taxes.  All across the Eastern seaboard, as the East India Company's ships arrived carrying tea, the colonists were ready for them.  In New York and Philadelphia, the ships were turned away from port and forced back across the Atlantic.  Charleston's leaders dealt with the matter by stowing the tea in a warehouse for years, only to eventually sell it to raise funds for the American Revolution.  Meanwhile, in Boston, the governor was resisting the colonists' efforts to send back the tea and it was unable to be unloaded or returned.  The situation came to a boiling point on the final day the first ship to arrive, Dartmouth, was allowed to dock without having its contents confiscated.  Thousands of angry citizens convened at the Old South Meeting House and when they learned that the governor had once again prevented the ships from leaving, many of them stormed nearby Griffin's Wharf, some disguised as Indians.  They boarded the three ships with cargoes of tea docked there, destroying it with hatchets and tossing it into the water.  One participant estimated it was over in three hours.  Although they were surrounded by armed British ships, none attempted to stop them.   And the next morning, any tea left floating in the harbor was destroyed by citizens in rowboats.  Britain's response to the outburst, the Intolerable Acts, help incite the American Revolution.

Although no one is sure any longer just where Griffin's Wharf once stood, Boston is now home to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.  It's currently closed for extensive renovations and will reopen next summer.  One of the highlights of its collection is the Robinson Tea Chest, which is one of only two which are known to have remained since the incident.  Considering 342 chests were dumped in the harbor, it's hard to believe nearly all of the them were lost.  Nowadays, any of those sort of items would go for top dollar on Ebay.  This one was kept as a souvenir by John Robinson, who recovered it the morning after the Boston Tea Party and passed it on to relatives.  It certainly would be interesting to have a look at it, and I imagine the museum has some other engaging artifacts.  Maybe I'll get a chance to venture there in the future.  And I think this exceptionally cool magnet may actually be intended to portray the USS Constitution, which had nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party and was later of critical importance when when fought the British in the War of 1812, but I thought it still kind of fit today's post.  Unlike many past events, the Boston Tea Party continues to inspire here in the United States and abroad, whenever injustices are implemented.  The day when all of that cargo was tossed overboard may be over 200 years behind our nation, but its impact will likely be felt as long as the United States stands.

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