Tea Destruction 241 Years Ago – Massachusetts State Quarter

Today the Massachusetts State Quarter shares the story of December 16, 1773 from the newspaper, Boston Evening Transcript, published during the centennial year of the tea destruction.


That excellent work, Drake’s “Old Landmarks of Boston,” has one of the best accounts of the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor on the 16th of December, 1773. We copy it as a timely contribution to local history.

Liverpool wharf, then Griffin’s, was the destination of the tea party of December 16, 1773. It was a cold wintry afternoon, when

“Just as glorious Sol was setting, On the wharf a numerous crew, Sons of freedom, fear forgetting, Suddenly appeared in view.”

The three Indiamen, with their high poops and ornamented sterns, were lying quietly moored at the wharf. They had been for some time under guard of a committee of twenty-five from the grenadier company of the Boston Regiment, of which Henry Knox was one. The hatches were closed, and this Vigilance Committee took care no attempt was made to land the cargo. The names of the three ships were the Dartmouth, Captain James Hall, the Eleanor, Captain James Bruce, and brig Beaver, Captain Hezekiah Coffin.

The number of persons disguised as Indians was not more than seventeen, but the accessions from the Old South, and of apprentice lads and idlers, swelled the number to more than a hundred; as many as sixty went on board the ships. Each ship had a detachment allotted to it under a recognized leader; Lendall Pitts was one of these chiefs. Everything was orderly, systematic, and doubtless previously concerted. The leaders demanded of those in charge of the ships the keys to the hatches, candles and matches, which were produced. The Dartmouth was first visited and relieved of her cargo of 114 chests. As the chests were passed on deck, they were smashed, and nervous arms plunged them into the dock. The contents of 342 chests mingled with the waters of the bay, and the work was done.

It was low tide when the ships were boarded, and the apprentice boys, who formed the larger number of those engaged in the affair, jumped upon the flats, and assisted in breaking up and trampling into the mud such of the chests as had escaped the hatchets of those on board the vessels. The tide beginning to flow, the whole mass was soon adrift.

We give the names of the actors in this conversion of Boston Harbor into a teapot, as far as known: Dr. Thomas Young, Paul Revere, Thomas Melvill, Henry Purkett, Captain Henry Prentiss, Samuel Gore, George R. T. Hewes, Joseph Shed, John Crane, Josiah Wheeler, Thomas Urann, Adam Colson, Thomas Chase, S. Cooledge, Joseph, Payson, James Brewer, Thomas Bolter, Edward Proctor, Samuel Sloper, Thomas Gerrish, Nathaniel Green, Edward C. How, Ebenezer Stevens, Nicholas Campbell, John Russell, Thomas Porter, William Hurdley, Benjamin Rice, Nathaniel Frothingham, Moses Grant, Peter Slater, James Starr, Abraham Tower, Isaac Simpson, Joseph Eavres, Joseph Lee, William Molineux, John Spurr, Thomas Moore, S. Howard, Matthew Loring, Thomas Spear, Daniel Ingollson, Jonathan Hunnewell, John Hooten, Richard Hunnewell, William Pierce, William Russell, T. Gammell, Mr. McIntosh, Mr. Wyeth, Edward Dolbler, Mr. Martin, Samuel Peck, Lendall Pitts, Samuel Sprague, Benjamin Clarke, John Prince, Richard Hunnewell, Jr., David Kennison, John Truman, Henry Bass.

There are authorities who give Dr. Warren as a member of the Mohawk band; there is little doubt that the enterprise well suited his ardent and adventurous disposition. Many incidents are related of this event. It is said that, on their return from the wharf, the band passed a house where Admiral Montague of the fleet happened to be, and that he raised the window and cried out, “Well, boys, you’ve had a fine pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven’t you? But mind you have got to pay the fiddler yet!” O, never mind!” shouted Pitts, the leader; “never mind, squire! Just come out here, if you please, and we’ll settle the bill in two minutes.” The populace raised a shout, the fifer struck up a lively air, and the admiral shut the window in a hurry. A powerful fleet lay in the roads; the troops were at the Castle, yet not a move was made to arrest the work of destruction.

Thomas Melvill, in after times a distinguished citizen of Boston, was of the party. On his return home his wife collected a little of the tea from his shoes, which was put into a bottle with a memorandum written on parchment, and kept as a precious relic in the family. Many came to see the famous herb, until at last it was found necessary to seal it, to preserve it from vandal hands. This bottle of tea is now in the possession of Lemuel Shaw of this city, son of the late Judge Shaw.

John Crane, another of the party, while busily employed in the hold of one of the ships, was knocked down by a chest of tea falling from the deck upon him. He was taken up for dead and concealed in a neighboring carpenter’s shop under a pile of shavings. After the party had finished they returned and found Crane living.

Several persons who were detected in the act of secreting the fragrant plant were roughly handled.

“One Captain O’Connor,” says Hewes, “whom I well knew, came on board for this purpose, and, when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him, and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel I seized him by the skirt of his coat and, in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off; but, springing forward by a rapid effort, he made his escape. He had, however, to run the gauntlet of the crowd upon the wharf, each one as he passed giving him a kick or a stroke. The next day we nailed the skirt of his coat, which I had pulled off, to the whipping post in Charlestown (the place of his residence), with a label upon it.”

The names of others of the tea party will be recognized as those of families distinguished for their patriotism, benevolence and public spirit for several generations. They will always be honorably identified with the history of Boston and Massachusetts.


The Massachusetts State Quarter shows against an artist’s rendering of The Destruction of Tea in Boston Harbor.

Massachusetts State Quarter Coin