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A Shoemaker Describes His Role in the Boston Tea Party

In 1773, the British parliament passed the Tea Act, which gave the British East India Company a monopoly on tea imports into the colonies. Angry colonists responded by refusing to allow ships carrying the tea to land or unload their cargo. In Boston, on the night of December 16, 1773, a group of Patriot leaders and workingmen boarded three such ships and dumped their tea into the harbor. George Robert Twelves Hewes, a poor shoemaker, was among them.

On the day preceding the seventeenth [of December], 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 what measures might be considered expedient to prevent the landing of the tea, or secure the people from the collection of the duty. At that meeting a committee was appointed to wait on Governor Hutchinson, and [to ask] whether he would take any measures to satisfy the people on the object of the meeting. . . . 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”; and there was a general huzza for Griffin’s wharf. . . .

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. They divided us into three parties, for the purpose of boarding the three [tea] ships. . . . 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 aboard the ship, appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go the [ship’s] captain and demand of him the keys to the hatches and a dozen candles. I made the demand accordingly, and the captain promptly . . . delivered the articles; but requested me at the same time to do no damage to the ship or rigging. 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 on 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.  

Source | James Hawkes, A Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party (1834), from History Matters, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5825.
Interviewer | James Hawkes
Interviewee | George Robert Twelve Hewes
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | “A Shoemaker Describes His Role in the Boston Tea Party,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/997.

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