Pictured: 1774 Political cartoon showing Lord North pouring tea down the throat of America. Britannia (behind) refuses to see and foreign agents (left) contemplate how British troubles will benefit them.
On this very day, 250 years ago . . .
Troubles brewed as the British Parliament moved closer to passing a Tea Act. Though Parliament had repealed four of the five unpopular Townshend Acts in 1770, the tax on tea remained. Some American colonists refused to drink tea on principle and others simply shunned British tea. Oh, they were drinking tea—one million colonists reportedly enjoyed the fashionable beverage twice a day—but much was smuggled into casually guarded ports by the Dutch and others. Port officials generally looked the other way when merchant smugglers paid them more than did their King.
These and other troubles heaped on Britain’s struggling East India Company. With seventeen million pounds of unsold tea rotting in their warehouses, Company merchants looked to powerful connections in Parliament for relief. They got it. The May 10 Tea Act granted the East India Company exclusive tax breaks, direct tea sales to the American colonies, and reduced trade obligations. In short, it was a government sanctioned monopoly expected to drive American consumption of British tea, like it or not.
The “mischievous” Act only accelerated simmering colonial discontent and invigorated public protest. Yes, British tea might now cost less than smuggled tea, but the Townshend tax persisted. If colonists submitted to the new attractive tea price and paid the tax, they compromised hard-won advances against taxation without representation. Just as today, politicians and editors on both sides of the Atlantic wrangled over rights, revenues, and “liberties inviolate.:
Many colonists simply would not abide this imposition of British power and colonial merchants resented being undercut or completely set aside. Plans evolved to refuse delivery of the “detestable” tea; some promised to let it rot on the dock before bowing to the British. By year’s end the Bostonians found an extraordinary way to contend with East India Company tea. And on the Shore? The tea issue steeped and would soon enough come to its own unique boil.
On July 4, 2026, our nation will commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Everyone is invited to be part of the great Semiquincentennial (half of five hundred) no matter their ancestry, no matter their American story. The commemoration gives us an extraordinary chance to honor the countless Shore folks–men and women, enslaved and free, indigenous or “strangers,” Patriots and Tories, freedom fighters, abolitionists, and others —whose decisions helped form the nation we share and the Shore we love.
Join WESR on the 4th of each month to learn more about Virginia and the Shore’s role in the War for Independence. Get ready for the Revolutionary Shore!