The Boston Tea Party, a euphemistic name for a dangerous escalation of hostilities between colonists and the crown, erupted on the Massachusetts coast on this day in history, Dec. 16, 1773. 

“The die is cast,” Massachusetts rebel leader and future U.S. president John Adams wrote to friend and fellow revolutionary James Warren the day after the protest. 

“The people have passed the river and cut away the bridge. Last night three cargoes of tea were emptied into the harbor. This is the grandest event which has ever yet happened since the controversy with Britain opened.”

He added, “The Sublimity of it, charms me!”

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“The die is cast” was a reference to classical antiquity — the phrase reportedly uttered by Julius Caesar in 49 BC when he led his army across the Rubicon River and marched on Rome in defiance of the Senate. 

It references a point of no return.

Indeed, colonial anger with England erupted into rebellion, open warfare and bloodshed 16 months after the Boston Tea Party at the Battles of Lexington and Concord — just a few miles west of the frigid 1773 protest.

The Boston Tea Party unfolded in the wake of the latest in a long list of punitive measures taken by Parliament against the colonies, and against pugnacious tinderbox of rebellion Boston in particular.

“Parliament authorized the Tea Act on 10 May 1773,” reports the Massachusetts Historical Society.

“Tea sold in America would carry no duty for the East India Company; instead, the tea would be taxed at the point of entry in colonial ports. Consignees, or special agents, were appointed in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Charleston to receive and sell the tea.”

Massachusetts colonists, with the memory of the 1770 Boston Massacre still fresh in their minds, recoiled in anger at the measure. 

Their anger turned to action when two British ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston packed with tea on December 15. 

The Dartmouth, also laden with tea, had landed at the wharf at the end of November. 

The following day, “as thousands of colonists convened at the wharf and its surrounding streets, a meeting was held at the Old South Meeting House where a large group of colonists voted to refuse to pay taxes on the tea or allow the tea to be unloaded, stored, sold or used,” writes History.com.

“That night, a large group of men — many reportedly members of the Sons of Liberty — disguised themselves in Native American garb, boarded the docked ships and threw 342 chests of tea into the water.”

The protest is recreated each year, with a march from the Old South Meeting House in downtown Boston to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, on wharves surrounded by modern high-rises today. 

The protesters “were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard,” protester George Hewes said of the act of rebellion.

“We immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water. We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.”

It took about 100 men nearly three hours to dump 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor, according to History.com. 

The cargo was worth about $1 million in today’s dollars.

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Britain responded in March with its most punitive measures yet, the Coercive Acts. 

They closed the port of Boston and ruthlessly ended Massachusetts’ long tradition of open town meetings. 

The match of revolution had been lit. The people of Massachusetts stood their ground in Lexington in April 1775 and re-took their rights from the British Empire by force. 

The British fled Boston on March 17, 1776, ending the first phase of the revolution in victory for Massachusetts, four months before the Declaration of Independence and the continuation of hostilities in the other colonies. 

The Boston Tea Party not only led directly to the American Revolution, it also inspired a revolution in our national dietary habits. 

Americans today prefer coffee over tea by a wide margin, contradicting global drinking trends, especially those in Britain.

“Coffee’s popularity in the states can be traced back to the Revolutionary War,” writes Royal Cup Coffee and Tea of Alabama.

“John Adams, our second president, even went as far as to declare tea a ‘traitor’s drink,’ and Americans everywhere united and vowed to only serve coffee in their homes. In their minds, tea = British, and drinking it was seen as a betrayal to the colonies!”

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The company adds, “In all likelihood, we’d be a tea-drinking nation had John Adams not started a movement to ban the beverage.” 

Adams called the protest an “exertion of popular power.”

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