An eyewitness account of the Boston Tea Party (1773)


George Hewes was a Boston shoemaker, a member of the Sons of Liberty and a participant in the Boston Tea Party. In this account he recalls the events of December 16th 1773:


“The tea destroyed was contained in three ships, lying near each other at what was called at that time Griffin’s wharf… On the day before the 17th there was a meeting of the citizens of the county of Suffolk, convened at one of the churches in Boston, for the purpose of consulting on measures… to prevent the landing of the tea, or secure the people from the collection of the duty… When the committee returned and informed the meeting of the absence of the Governor, there was a confused murmur among the members and the meeting was immediately dissolved, many of them crying out, “Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country”…

It was now evening and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet… after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination.

When we arrived at the wharf, there were three of our number who assumed an authority to direct our operations, to which we readily submitted… We were immediately ordered by the respective commanders to board all the ships at the same time, which we promptly obeyed. The commander of the division to which I belonged, as soon as we were on board the ship, appointed me boatswain and ordered me to go to the captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly replied…

We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water. In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found in the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time. We were surrounded by British armed ships but no attempt was made to resist us…

During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. To effect that object, they would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck, where it became plentifully scattered, and put it into their pockets.

One Captain O’Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets and also the lining of his coat. But I 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… He had to run a gauntlet through the crowd upon the wharf nine each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke…

The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of the tea, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water; and to prevent the possibility of any of its being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of the harbour wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as to render its entire destruction inevitable.”

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