The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 angered colonists regarding British decisions on taxing the colonies despite a lack of representation in the Westminster Parliament. One of the protesters was John Hancock. In 1768, Hancock's ship Liberty was seized by customs officials, and he was charged with smuggling. He was defended by John Adams, and the charges were eventually dropped.
Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000 pounds (145,000 kg) to 520 pounds (240 kg). By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers, such as Hancock, were importing tea from Holland without paying import taxes. The British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly and without "payment of any customs or duties whatsoever" in Britain, instead paying the much lower American duty. This tax break allowed the East India Company to sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in England, enabling them to undercut the prices offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.
American colonists, particularly the wealthy smugglers, resented this favored treatment of a major company, which employed lobbyists and wielded great influence in Parliament. Protests resulted in both Philadelphia and New York, but it was those in Boston that made their mark in history. Still reeling from the Hutchinson letters, Bostonians suspected the removal of the Tea Tax was simply another attempt by the British parliament to squash American freedom. Samuel Adams, wealthy smugglers, and others who had profited from the smuggled tea called for agents and consignees of the East India Company tea to abandon their positions; consignees who hesitated were terrorized through attacks on their warehouses and even their homes.
The first of many ships which arrived at the Boston harbor carrying the East India Company tea was Dartmouth arriving in late November 1773.The owner of the Dartmouth and its captain agreed that the tea would be returned to England and similar promises were obtained from the owners of two more vessels en route, the Eleanor and the Beaver. However, Governor Hutchinson ordered the harbor to be blocked and he would not allow any tea-bearing vessels to leave until they had been unloaded.
On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was due to be landed, Captain Rotch appealed to Governor Hutchinson to allow his ship to leave without unloading its tea. When Roach returned and reported Hutchinson's refusal to a massive protest meeting, Samuel Adams said to the assembly "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country". As though on cue, the Sons of Liberty thinly disguised as Narragansett Indians and armed with small hatchets and clubs, headed toward Griffin's Wharf, where lay Dartmouth and the newly arrived Beaver and Eleanour. Swiftly and efficiently, casks of tea were brought up from the hold to the deck, reasonable proof that some of the "Indians" were, in fact, longshoremen. The casks were opened and the tea dumped overboard; the work, lasting well into the night, was quick, thorough, and efficient. By dawn, over 342 casks or 90,000 lbs (45 tons) of tea worth an estimated £10,000 had been consigned to waters of Boston harbor.
The Boston Tea Party was an act of direct action by the American colonists against Great Britain and has been seen as helping to spark the American Revolution.