Commemorate the 240th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

It might seem unusual to invite a quintessential southern gentleman, one as comfortable talking Kentucky bourbon as tea, to come to Boston to speak about colonial tea history. If that speaker, however, is renowned tea expert and Tea Master of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, Bruce Richardson, the choice makes perfect sense.

In the run-up to today’s 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Richardson was invited to speak at Boston’s historic Old South Meeting House and at a quaint new tearoom in Walpole, Mass. called Fancy That to share stories about tea culture during the period leading up to the Revolutionary War. The talks coincided with the release of his new book, “A Social History of Tea,” written with Jane Pettigrew. The publication, an expansion of a text previously released by Pettigrew, chronicles the British and American tea movements.

Because the Boston Tea Party (or the “tea rebellion” as it was known until the term “tea party” was coined in a death notice in 1829) is covered in nearly every American history textbook, we may think we already know the whole story. Here are five tea tidbits that may convince you otherwise:

  • It took 2-1/2 hours for the rebels to toss the 340 chests of tea into the harbor. Each chest weighed 350 pounds.
  • It was low tide so as the chests went overboard, the tea stacked up like hay. Men had to use rakes and boats to move it out into the sea.
  • Nearly a quarter of the tea on the ships was green tea, either hyson or singlo.
  • The customs man who was first faced with the decision about whether or not to accept the tea shipment was Sam Adams.
  • Shipments of tea were also heading to other cities. A boat destined for New York was blown off course and ended up in Florida. It didn’t reach its destination until the spring of 1774.

So today [Monday, December 16, 2013] raise a cup of tea to those brave folks in Boston and around the colonies. And ponder for a moment one of Richardson’s other contemplations. “If it had been bourbon on that ship, we’d still be under the Union Jack, because no one would have ever thrown it overboard.”

A Social History of Tea: Tea’s Influence on Commerce, Culture & Community” is a publication of Benjamin Press. It is available through Richardson’s company Elmwood Inn (, as well as from retailers and booksellers across the U.S. and U.K. You can read more of Richardson’s writing about colonial tea history on his Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum Tea Master’s blog (

Follow this video link to watch the annual re-enactment:

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