Women’s Involvement in the Boston Tea Party

When we recount the tales of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the narrative is often dominated by the daring actions of men who stood against the British imposition. Amidst the crowds of disguised Sons of Liberty, hidden in the shadows of this historic event are the untold stories of women who played a crucial role in the revolutionary movement. This article sheds light on the history of women’s involvement in the Boston Tea Party, recognizing their contributions and the impact they had.

Their involvement wasn’t confined to silent support. From boycotting British tea to disseminating revolutionary pamphlets, women like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, and Deborah Sampson were vocal and active participants in the fight for American independence. They understood the economic burden imposed by British taxes, the erosion of their political voice, and the threat to their freedom and autonomy.

Women Behind the Scenes of the Boston Tea Party

Tea was a staple in most households, and the increased cost put a strain on their already tight budgets. They weren’t just consumers; they were the ones managing household finances, making them acutely aware of the economic injustice.

So, they decided to fight back.

At the forefront of resistance were the Daughters of Liberty, an influential group of women who organized boycotts against British goods, including tea.

Abigail Adams, wife of future President John Adams, famously organized boycotts of British goods, urging women to refuse to purchase imported tea and instead brew herbal alternatives. This “tea party” movement spread like wildfire, with women across the colonies pledging their support.

They even held “spinning bees,” gathering to spin their own yarn and cloth, further reducing their dependence on British imports. Meanwhile, Mercy Otis Warren, a gifted writer and poet, used her pen as a weapon. She penned scathing poems and political essays condemning British policies and rallying support for the colonial cause.

Spinning bees; gather to spin yarn and cloth

Her work circulated in newspapers and pamphlets, igniting the flames of resistance in the hearts of both men and women. But their contributions went beyond passive resistance. Deborah Sampson, disguised as a man named Robert Shurtliff, even enlisted in the Continental Army, enduring the harsh realities of war alongside her male comrades.

Her story, though largely unknown, serves as a powerful testament to the unwavering spirit of women during this pivotal period.

The Boston Tea Party itself, while led by the Sons of Liberty, wouldn’t have been possible without the unwavering support of women. They helped gather intelligence, spread the word, and even provided disguises for the participants. The spirit of resistance wasn’t confined to the harbor that night; it simmered in the kitchens, parlors, and spinning bees where women strategized and fueled the revolutionary fervor.

The Boston Tea Party marked a turning point in the struggle for American independence. It showcased the colonists’ resolve to challenge British authority and ignited a movement that would culminate in the American Revolution. And within this monumental event, the quiet but powerful voices of women resonated throughout, reminding us that the fight for freedom is rarely a solitary endeavor.

Boston Tea Party: The Background

In 1769, 900,000 pounds of English tea was consumed in the Colonies. But by 1773, that had dropped considerably. Life in the colonies was very different from life in England. Colonists were not only from England. This, combined with the problems caused by Parliament passing the Tea Act of 1773, helped to bring about the changes necessary for the United States to be the country it is today.

The decrease in consumption was hard on the East India Company. In an effort to save the company from bankruptcy, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. This did not have the intended effect, however. Colonists instead began to boycott English tea.

Colonists and even the American Indians had a passion for tea. The drink was quickly becoming even more popular even in the backwoods sections of America. Some enjoyed the drink that could be used to celebrate without causing intoxication. Parliament seems to have been under the erroneous assumption that the colonists would meekly accept a three-penny tax on tea that was only levied against the American colonists.

When looking back over history, it would appear that perhaps England did not take the colonists as seriously as they should have. This tax was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The colonists may not have been as organized as many would have thought necessary to fulfill the destiny that they had coming to them. This lack of organization made it even easier for England not to take the colonists seriously.

During this period in history, women were not often considered suitable to be involved in political matters. When a group of female colonists banded together and signed a pledge to boycott tea in an effort to show their support of the colonists, they were depicted by a British cartoonist as the Edenton Ladies Tea Party.

Now, this may seem like a bit of insignificant information, but this pledge was the forerunner of the independence that women have today in the United States. Tea was a very popular drink amongst the colonist women, so this was a show of their belief in the colonist’s fight against taxation without representation.

On November 17, 1773, the Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor. The colonists decided that the tea would be shipped back to England without payment of the duty. Customs regulations gave a 20-day waiting period before the tea would have become liable for seizure due to nonpayment of the duty.

On December 16, 1773, 8000 colonists met to discuss the situation with the tea. The son of the owner of one of the ships came to the meeting and verified to Sam Adams that the ships would not be allowed to return to England without the duty being paid. Mr. Adams then gave the signal that a group of men had been waiting. It was time to take action.

The men were members of the Sons of Liberty. The 50 men were not an unruly mob set out on destruction. They were very disciplined in their actions. They boarded the three tea ships that waited in the harbor at Griffin’s Wharf. The ships were the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver. Between the three ships, there were 342 crates of tea.

Throughout the night, the men worked diligently and carefully. They dumped the tea into the harbor but did not cause any other destruction on the ships. This act of defiance is well known as the Boston Tea Party.

This single act was not the only act of defiance. Within the next few months, similar actions occurred up and down the coast. The colonists were beginning to show that they were not to be ignored or taken lightly. They also did not stop with just dumping tea into the harbors.

The boycott of tea spread over the colonies. The colonists resigned to give up tea. Even taverns boycotted the tea and instead offered the visitors coffee. To many of the colonists, coffee became the champion of liberty.

Although the women at this time were beginning to open the doors to the future women’s independence, the fight for independence that is well known today was for the country. The women helped in many ways, many of which will probably never be remembered.

But on the night of December 16, 1773, one of the most famous tea parties of all was held, not by a group of women sitting around getting to know each other, but by a well-disciplined and organized group of men. A group of men from the Sons of Liberty that were ready to say enough is enough. It’s time that England took us seriously.

The Legacy of Women in the Boston Tea Party

The aftermath of the Boston Tea Party saw increased tension and more rigorous resistance efforts. Women’s participation didn’t stop at the Tea Party; they continued to play a vital role in the revolutionary cause.

From managing farms and businesses in the absence of their husbands to serve as messengers, nurses, and even spies, women’s contributions were diverse and impactful. Their involvement was a testament to their resilience and commitment to the cause of liberty.

The involvement of women in the Boston Tea Party and the broader revolutionary movement is a narrative of courage, resilience, and patriotism. Their actions, though not always recorded in history books, have left an indelible mark on the fight for American independence. Recognizing the contributions of these unsung heroines offers a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the events that shaped the nation and highlighted the critical role of women in shaping history.

This great nation, which is now known as the United States, was formed in part due to a lack of respect for others who lived far away. Part of the reason we have the freedoms and treasures we have today is due to that group of men who had the courage to tell the British Parliament that enough is enough.

Although I feel blessed to live in such a wonderful country, I sometimes wonder if the colonial merchant, John Rowe, ever got the answer to his question, ‘Who knows how tea will mix with salt water?’

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