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The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor

Created nearly 75 years after the American Revolution, this source is evidence of the memory of the events that led to the American Revolution

Sarony & Major
1846
Lithograph

The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor. 1773, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This is an image created nearly 75 years after the American Revolution of what came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. The image is part of the myth-making around the revolution. In 1773, members of the Sons of Liberty dressed themselves as Native Americans and threw tea from a British ship overboard to protest taxes on tea. Later generations celebrated this as an important event. What do you see in this image? What does this tell us about the Americans’ perspective of this destruction of property? What emotions do you feel as you look at this image? In reality, the Boston Tea Party occurred in secret at night; however, this image shows the tea being dumped in the daytime, with a crowd in attendance. Why do you think this image represents it as a popular event with many men cheering in support of the Sons of Liberty? According to this image, how did later generations of Americans remember the causes of the American Revolution?

Created nearly 75 years after the American Revolution, this source is evidence of the memory of the events that led to the American Revolution, rather than a historically accurate representation of them. While the Boston Tea Party is often discussed as a factor in the events leading up to the revolution, historians have documented that the event was depicted and celebrated by later generations of Americans as a way that average people expressed political opposition to tyranny. In 1773 the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which gave a monopoly on tea imports to the East India Company, to the exclusion of other distributors, including Boston merchants who sold tea. The landing of the ships bearing the tea outraged the Sons of Liberty and Boston merchants who joined the protest. Teachers may ask students to consider the question, What do you think the British government’s response was to this event? The British responded by passing the Intolerable Acts, which included insisting that colonists board British soldiers in their private homes and also blockading the Boston Harbor to commercial traffic until colonists repaid the cost of the destroyed tea. With the passage of these laws, colonists further united in opposition to the British government. The following question can help students understand the significance of this portrayal as part of the American memory: How did later generations of Americans remember the causes of the American Revolution?


The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor.