You write about how the actual term “Tea Party” only came into use in the 1820s and 30s, when a former blacksmith’s apprentice revealed he was among the Party that ransacked those ships. Fifty years on, why was there still such a code of secrecy among those who took part?
I don’t have a definite answer. In 1773, these were mostly young men, the majority between 18 and 29, mostly craftsmen and artisans, and many of them had significant political experience either in previous street actions or organizations in Boston. They wouldn’t have been afraid of treason charges after 1783. i think they were worried about the civil liability of the East India Company still suing the tea destroyers for its losses.
How important is it now for the myth of the Boston Tea Party that it’s remembered as a kind of collective, anonymous act?
The important story to be told about the American Revolution is the way in which ordinary people can become mobilized in a volatile political situation. The Boston Tea Party is a key example of that: secret, anonymous actions will always seem romantic and almost mythic. It also seems just fun — it speaks to the impulse of every seven-year-old boy to put on a costume and go destroy something. Because we don’t know who was there or how many people took part, it presents a problem for historians, but the mystery is always going to be very appealing.
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