The Marketplace of Revolution Chapter 8: Bonfires of Tea
The final chapter of Breen’s tale takes us from May, 1773, when Parliament passed the Tea Act, through the convening of the First Continental Congress in September, 1774.
Breen provides a curious statistic on colonial tea consumption: between 1770 and 1773, the Townshend tea duty still in effect, colonists consumed 300,000 pounds a year. In other words, for those three years, colonists were more than happy to pay a tax on tea.
The Tea Act, consequently, seemed to be a completely legitimate method of aiding the ailing East India Tea Company, by allowing them to sell their excess tea directly to the Americans, avoiding duties and wholesalers who raised prices. However, colonial reaction was vehemently anti-Tea Act. When the tea arrived, in most port cities it was either turned back, or confiscated by officials who placed it in storage to prevent its sale. In Boston, however, the Sons of Liberty, who controlled the docks, refused to unload it, and crown officials and tea agents refused to send it back. So it sat untouched until December 16, when colonists spent the day throwing it into the sea.
Tea non-importation agreements were made. Subscription lists were created and signed. Tea was confiscated and brought to common areas to be burned in enormous bonfires.
In spring of 1774, Parliament passed the Boston Port Act, which closed the Boston Harbor until the city reimbursed the East India Tea Company for the loss of its property.
Then, in September, The First Continental Congress convened, and on October 1st, reached an agreement on certain resolutions: Importation of all English goods would cease as of December 1. Consumption of all English goods would cease as of March 1. Exportation of all goods to England would cease September 1. And of, course, to ensure the execution of these provisions, the Congress created a Continental Association, whose responsibilities included monitoring the economic behavior of the colonists, coercing and punishing those who broke the agreement.
The rest, actually, is history.