1773 A rebellion in America over a tax on tea imported from Britain sparked the American War of Independence that led to the United States of America becoming an independent country.
The East India Tea Company had struggled in Britain due to cheaper smuggled imports. As it owed the government £1m, it was given the right to sell tea to America, but with a levy of 3d per lb.
Americans objected to the principle of being taxed by Britain, leading to the phrase “No taxation without representation”. Many Americans were already boycotting taxed goods.
Tax on tea
In 1770 the government repealed all taxes except on tea. It also gave the East India Company sole rights to sell tea to America, using its own agents rather than American firms.
When four ships, the Dartmouth, Eleanor, Beaver and William set sail for Boston harbour, the locals decreed none would be landed and no tax paid. They said anyone who helped unload the tea would be an “enemy of America”.
Customs officials had finished the paperwork so the three ships that finished the journey, could not turn round still loaded. But locals refused to allow them to unload. They stayed locked in the harbour from 28 November 1773 until 16 December when compromises were refused and tempers blew.
Birth of the American Revolution
That evening the rebels, led by Samuel Adams and Tom Quincy, many dressed as native Mowhawk Indians, raided the boats, broke open all 342 crates of tea and emptied them into the harbour.
Similar protests followed at other American ports and the British responded with what became known as the Five Intolerable Acts meant to punish the Bostonians.
In September 1774, the First Continental Congress met, including Boston leader Samuel Adams, to draw up resistance to the British. That led to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, which was signed on 4 July 1776.