Sunday, August 9, 2009

Philadelphia Tea Party - December 25, 1773

Contemporary Americans are familiar with the Boston Tea Party but are not aware of Philadelphia Tea Party which occurred in late 1773.

Both the Philadelphia Tea Party and the Boston Tea Party were the result of American colonists who were upset about Great Britain’s policies of taxation in the colonies.

The tax on tea infuriated American colonists; so English tea was boycotted for years throughout the colonies. Merchants throughout the colonies smuggled tea from the Netherlands.

The British East India Company appealed to the British government for financial relief. As a consequence, the Tea Act was passed on May 10, 1773. This act of Parliament allowed the East India Company to sell tea directly to the colonists without “payment of any customs or duties whatsoever” in England. Hence the much lower tax in the colonies would be paid.

Therefore, the East India Company could sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in Great Britain. The Tea Act enabled the East India Company to undercut the prices of the smugglers and merchants throughout the American colonies.

Although the tea tax of the Revenue Act of 1767 was not official repealed; the Tea Act was designed to lower the price of tea. Consequently, the colonists were infuriated. Benjamin Franklin expressed the sentiments of American colonial leaders who believed the British were attempting to use cheap inexpensive tea to “overcome all the patriotism of an American.”

By September word was received throughout the colonies that shipments of East India Company tea would arrive on the east coast. Dr. Benjamin Rush, Colonel William Bradford, Thomas Mifflin, and Dr. Thomas Cadwalader and other leaders of Philadelphia, organized a town meeting which occurred on October 16th in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). Eight resolutions were adopted by the Philadelphians. One of the resolutions declared: “That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.”

“That the resolution lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to American subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.”


The eight resolutions are enumerated in David Ramsey’s work History of the United States, 1816

The citizens of Philadelphia adopted eight resolutions on October 18, 1773:

1.That the disposal of their own property is the inherent right of freemen; that there can be no property in that which another can, of right, take from us without our consent; that the claim of parliament to tax America, is, in other words, a claim of right to levy contributions on us at pleasure.

2.That the duty, imposed by parliament upon tea landed in America, is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them, without their consent.

3.That the express purpose, for which the tax is levied on the Americans, namely, for the support of government, administration of justice, and defense of his majesty’s dominions in America, has a direct tendency to render assemblies useless, and to introduce arbitrary government and slavery.

4.That a virtuous and steady opposition, to this ministerial plan of governing America, is absolutely necessary, to preserve even the shadow of liberty; and is a duty which every freeman in America owes to his country, to himself, and to his posterity.

5.That the resolution, lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to America, subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce this ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.

6.That it is the duty of every American to oppose this attempt.

7.That whoever shall, directly or indirectly, countenance this attempt, or, in any wise, aid or abet in unloading, receiving, or vending the tea sent out by the East India company, while it remains subject to the payment of a duty here, is an enemy to his country.

8.That a committee be immediately chosen, to wait on those gentlemen, who, it is reported, are appointed by the East India Company, to receive and sell said tea, and request them, from a regard to their own character and the peace and good order of the city and province, immediately to resign their appointment.


The Pennsylvania Gazette printed the declarations which became the first public protest against the importation of taxed tea from England. Three weeks later a town meeting in Faneuil Hall, Boston declared, “That the sense of this town cannot be better expressed than in the words of certain judicious resolves, lately entered into by our worthy brethren, the citizens of Philadelphia.” Consequently, the Bostonians adopted the same resolutions the Philadelphians promulgated earlier in the year. Within a few weeks; the Boston Tea Party became an event in American history.

The British ship Polly sailed up the Delaware River and reached Chester, Pennsylvania on December 25, 1773. Captain Ayers’ ship Polly carried 697 wooden chests of tea which were consigned to the Quaker firm of James & Drinker of Philadelphia. The Polly was intercepted by large number of gentlemen of Philadelphia who escorted Captain Ayers into the city. Two days later, 6,000 Philadelphians met at the State House to address the situation. This was the largest mass meeting of American colonists which were assembled up to that point in American history. The first resolution of a number of resolutions adopted declared “that the tea shall not be landed.” Furthermore, the tea would be refused and the Polly must make its way out of the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay without delay.

A broadside issued by the “Committee for Tarring and Feathering” warning the captain of his fate if the tea were to be unloaded probably influenced Captain Ayers. The handbill dated November 27th declared:

“You are sent out on a diabolical service; and if you are so foolish and obstinate as to complete your voyage by bringing your ship to anchor in this port, you may run such a gauntlet as will induce you in your last moments most heartily to curse those who have made you the dupe of their avarice and ambition. What think you, Captain, of a halter around your neck – ten gallon of liquid tar decanted on your pate – with the feathers of a dozen wild geese laid over that to enliven your appearance? Only think seriously of this and fly to the place from whence you came – fly without hesitation – without the formality of a protest – and above all, Captain Ayres, let us advise you to fly without the wild geese feathers.”


Furthermore, river pilots were warned that they would receive the same treatment if they attempted to bring the Polly into the harbor of Philadelphia. If the consignees of the tea accepted the shipment of tea; they would reap dire consequences. The Polly was refitted with provisions and water and returned to England with their cargo of tea.

The Philadelphia Tea Party was relatively nonviolent. The merchants of Philadelphia experienced no loss nor was the cargo of tea destroyed. Local merchants may have actually helped Captain Ayers with the expenses of returning to England.

The Philadelphia Tea Party was one of the incidents which led to the calling of the 1st Continental Congress the following September at Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia. In 1809, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote the following comments to John Adams:

“I once heard you say [that] the active business of the American Revolution began in Philadelphia in the act of her citizens sending back the tea ship, and that Massachusetts would have received her portion of the tea had not our example encouraged her to expect union and support in destroying…..The flame kindled on that Day [October 16, 1773] soon extended to Boston and gradually spread throughout the whole continent. It was the first throe of that convulsion which delivered Great Britain of the United States.”


The excepts that follow are from Richard Frothingham’s book The Rise of the Republic, 1890.

“The exultation was scarcely less outside of Massachusetts…The Tea Act had the effect to make this question of taxation a living issue…The popular leaders now sought to give direction to a great movement; or to take advantage of a happy disposition in the public mind and extend the organization of committees of correspondence…The popular party, in their several municipalities, proceeded independently in forming committees…”

“The resistance to the ministerial scheme in this way was general, systematic, and thorough. The newspapers contain much matter relative to the reception of the cargoes at the ports to which the tea was consigned. In Philadelphia, at an hour’s notice, five thousand met, and resolved that a cargo should not be landed, but should go back in the same bottom. The captain and the consignees bowed to the popular will, and a vast concourse escorted them to the tea ship and saw her sail.”

“In New York, it was announced in the Tory organ that arrangements were made to have the tea sent back in the same ship, and thus New York be secured ‘a succession of that blessed tranquility which they enjoyed under the present wise and serene administration’. In Charleston a great meeting on the arrival of the cargo appointed a committee, - on which were Christopher Gadsden, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, - to inform the captain that the teas must go back; but the ship was delayed beyond the twenty days, when the collector seized the vessel and stored the tea in a damp cellar, where it was destroyed. There were similar dealings with the teas in other places. The scheme was thoroughly defeated.”

2 comments:

Citoyen david said...

Christmas Day in 1773 was not the 25 of December ...it was the 6th of December. The 25th didn't become Christmas unitl 1870.

Dot said...

This culmination of the dispute in Philadelphia actually occurred on 27 December 1773. The 4th Annual Christmas Tea Party Celebration will be held in Philadelphia:
When: Saturday, December 29, 2012 from 12 Noon-1 PM
Where: Independence Mall, 5th and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia
Featuring: WPHT talk show hosts Dom Giordano as Dr. Benjamin Rush, leader of the December 27, 1773 Philadelphia Tea Party, reciting the original Boston and Philadelphia Tea Party Resolutions; the Honorable Anna Little will sing God Bless America; White Hall Guard Fife and Drum; Commemorative program booklet; hot cider and cookies.

Free and open to the public.

AFTER PARTY from 1:00-3:00PM at the Independence Visitors Center, 1 N. Independence Mall West
Philadelphia - in the past, they have walked to this location led by members of the fife and drum corps

Cost: Adults, $20; College & High School Students, $10; Children under 14, $5.

For more info: Call 215.620.3055 or visit: www.IndependenceHallTeaParty.com.