People in the 1700s loved tea. A lot. And the best tea was grown in India, which happened to be a British colony.
England set up a company, called the British East India Company, to grow and ship tea to Britain so that taxes could be paid on the tea.
But not all of the tea was consumed in Great Britain – some was shipped to where is was sold and tax paid.
So the tea that was being drunk in the 13 colonies was shipped from India, sold and taxed (in England), then sold and taxed again (in North America) before a colonist could drink it. All of the extra transportation costs, plus the double round of taxes, made the tea expensive.
And so the colonists drank a lot of tea that wasn’t purchased from British – instead, merchants were buying it from the Dutch. And because the Dutch tea wasn’t being double-shipped and taxed, it was cheaper. It wasn’t as good, but it was good enough. But the British didn’t like the fact that the colonists weren’t buying as much English tea as they should be, so they considered the Dutch tea to be “smuggled”.
It’s no wonder that the British were upset – 900,000 pounds of “smuggled” tea was imported into the colonies every year, while only 562,000 pounds of English tea was imported every year. So much tea was “smuggled” in that the British East India Company had huge warehouses full of tea intended for the colonies but they weren’t buying because instead they were buying the cheap stuff.
So the British government passed a law – the Tea Act of 1773. What it did was to allow the British East India Company to ship tea directly to the colonies from India, which would eliminate the middleman and get rid of one layer of taxation, and would thus reduce the cost of English tea to be below even that of the smuggled Dutch tea. So everybody should be happy – the colonists get their favourite tea at a low price, the British East India Company doesn’t have warehouses full of tea that is rotting and they can’t sell, and the British government still gets tax money. Every one wins, right?!?!?!
Wrong. The colonists had long held that they shouldn’t be taxed without representation – it was a matter that had come up again and again as England sought tax money to pay for the stationing of troops in the colonies (which the colonies didn’t want) to help with the protection of them from Native Americans (which the colonists said they didn’t need). England would pass a tax, the colonists would avoid paying or pressure those who collected the tax to resign, and England would repeal the tax.
And so this new scheme – to sell cheap English tea to the colonists, on which tax would still be collected, was too much to bear for some of the colonists – they saw that England would feel that a tax was being collected successfully and might just pass more taxes that way.
To prevent that, protesters targeted the 4 ports the tea arrived in: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In all but Boston, the importers caved to the demands of the protesters, so the tea was either sent back or left to rot on the dock, both with no tax paid. In Boston, the importer refused to heed the protesters’ demands and allowed the ships to dock with the intent of selling it. That’s when the 100 or so protesters, dressed as Mohicans, threw over 500 chests of tea, 90,000 pounds, overboard.
The British government was quite upset that this happened and passed several laws in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, including closing Boston Harbour until the tax was paid, which angered the colonists, and which brought both sides one step closer to the American Revolution.