Today in NYC History: New York Tea Party (1774)

Alex Wright's Lost Tea Party at Burning Man. (Photo by Scott London.) There are sadly no images of New York's second string Tea Party.

Alex Wright’s Lost Tea Party at Burning Man. (Photo by Scott London.) There are sadly no images of New York’s second-string Tea Party.

Before the term was hijacked by right-wing crazies, the Boston Tea Party was beloved as one of the iconic events in American history. Even at the time, it was so inspiring that New York got in on the act, one of the few times the City has ever taken its cue from Boston. On April 22, 1774, New York rebels dumped 18 chests of tea into the Hudson River, pushing the country ever closer to revolution.

One of the main issues sparking the tea party rebellion and the American Revolution itself was the Townshend Acts, a series of laws passed during the 1760s by the British Parliament to raise revenues and instill obedience in the colonies. (“Taxation without representation.”) These measures were deeply unpopular, and by 1770 Parliament had the wisdom to repeal them. In 1773, however, they passed the Tea Act. Though designed as a corporate bailout for the British East India Tea Company (giving them tax-free access to American markets) that didn’t actually raise the cost of tea, colonists were suspicious.

On December 14, 1773, a group of Bostonians clad in Mohawk attire boarded three ships anchored in the Boston Harbor, including The Dartmouth, and dumped 342 chests of tea into the ocean. This enraged British officials, who demanded that colonists pay for destroyed goods. Obviously that never happened. News of the Boston Tea Party was delivered to New Yorkers by none other than Paul Revere!

Sons of Liberty memo calling on New Yorkers to boycott British East India tea.

Sons of Liberty memo calling on New Yorkers to boycott British East India tea.

A few months later, on April 18, 1774, The Nancy anchored in Long Island, with a huge consignment of tea (698 chests, double the amount destroyed in Boston) bound for sale in New York. The New York chapter of the Sons of Liberty sent the captain a note that they would not let him land and “expose so considerable property to inevitable destruction,” counseling him instead, “for the safety of your cargo, your vessel, and your persons, it will be most prudent for you to return.” The captain agreed, and set a course for England a few days later.

The captain of The London was not so lucky. After docking in New York Harbor on April 22, the ship was boarded by angry New Yorkers hunting for tea. The ship actually wasn’t peddling tea, but the captain was carrying 18 chests on board, his private stash. When the chests were found, the Sons of Liberty were on the docks, preparing their Mohawk garbs, but the riled up crowds would not wait. New Yorkers stormed the ship, dumped the tea into bay, and brought the chests back to shore, where they became fuel for bonfires. The London set sail for home soon afterwards.

The next morning, New Yorkers were treated to the blaring trumpet of a messenger from Massachusetts riding down the Bowery. He announced that the Battle of Lexington had just taken place, resulting in the death of eight colonists. New Yorkers responded by storming the arsenal on Wall Street and Broad Street and seizing 600 guns. New York was ready for revolution.

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