Most people don’t know that John Hancock was a seasoned smuggler and merchant! In April 1768, his ship the Liberty arrived carrying wine and other taxable goods. He ordered his crew to unload the cargo under the cover of nightfall. When the customs officials saw this, they boarded the ship and saw that the cargo hold was only half full. They noticed that no taxes had been paid on these goods. So Hancock locked the customs officials in the captain’s cabin!
A portrait of John Hancock
The Gaspée was a British customs schooner that had been enforcing trade regulations that were unpopular and hated by the American colonists. This ship would often patrol the coastline looking for smugglers. Luckily in 1772, the smugglers won! They caught the HMS Gaspée and set it ablaze. The ship was burned to the waterline… and the colonists got their tax free tea!
A painting depicting the burning of the HMS Gaspée.
The colonists were obsessed with tea and they even felt that it was a necessity in the household. So they certainly didn’t want to pay a tax for it. They began to find ways to smuggle in better tasting and cheaper tea from other parts of the world. The colonists’ favorite smuggled tea was from Holland, so by 1773 more than 75% of the tea the colonists were drinking was smuggled from Holland.
The Boston colonists loved their tea!
Making tea was hard work. Workers in China would work for hours under the hot sun picking leaves and then they would dry the leaves. The leaves would then be transported to Canton, China to be prepared for their sea voyage to England. It would take six months for tea to be shipped from Canton, China to London, and even more to reach the American colonies.
The green leaves are what tea leaves look like when they are first harvested. The dried leaves below the green leaves is tea when it’s been dried!
Wanting to make even more money, the English government and the East India Company noticed that the American colonies were not paying a tax on tea, even though English residents were paying a tax on all the tea they drank. So beginning in 1721, colonists couldn’t buy their tea from anyone from the East India Company. In fact, it was rendered illegal to purchased tea from anywhere else!
Did you know that tea was first introduced to England in 1661? And by 1770, everyone in the British colonies was drinking tea. Among the common kinds of tea were singlo, hyson, bohea, congou, and souchong. This tea was so cheap that anyone in England could afford to drink it. The culture and trinkets associated with tea were also very important… the kinds of teacups and teapots were often shown off. So much so that colonists and the English would often throw tea parties to show off their tea-ware.
A colonial teapot! Many Bostonians would have had teapots like this.
Most tea that colonists and the English drank was grown in China. The East India Company would pick up the tea from Canton, China and ship it to London to be auctioned. The tradition of tea auctioning involved a candle. The auctioneer would light an inch-tall candle and the auction would go on until the candle burned out. The highest bidder at the time the candle burned out received the tea. Tea made the East India Company very profitable.
What’s your favorite kind of tea? Green? Earl Grey? Oolong?
After repealing the Stamp Act, Parliament wanted to make sure the colonists knew that they were still beholden to the British government. So they passed the Declaratory Act in 1966. This Act stated that Parliament would always have the right to tax the American colonists without their consent. The Patriots were even more outraged at this Act than the Stamp Act!
A political satire cartoon of the Patriots responses to the Taxing Acts.
The Bostonians were very angry at the passing of the Stamp Acts. So in August of 1765, the colonists began to riot. Loyalists and Andrew Oliver, the Stamp Master, and Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, had their houses torn down by angry colonists. The English government was so shocked by this that they repealed the Stamp Act in 1766!
A portrait of Loyalist and governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson.
Yes! The American colonists fought alongside the English in the French and Indian War, against the French and the Native Americans. Because the colonists fought for England, they believed that they had earned the British government’s respect and a say in their own government. Unfortunately, they were in for a rude awakening because a mere 8 months after the end of the French and Indian War, King George III passed the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade the migration of settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains.
A painting of the French and Indian War