Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

The Boston Tea Party: Costume Optional?

Created September 23, 2010

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Broadside on the Boston Tea Party

A Broadside on the Boston Tea Party

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory

In an 1884 article reprint of an earlier newspaper story about the Boston Tea Party, an editor at The Bay State Monthly remarked, "This account of the Boston Tea-Party … taken, verbatim, from The Boston Evening Post, Monday, December 20, 1773 … adds another link in the chain of evidence to prove that the Patriots were disguised as Indians." Why did the editor feel there needed to be a "chain of evidence" about that point? Was there ever any doubt that the Patriots were disguised as Indians? What really happened at the Boston Tea Party? What sources can help us find out?

Note: Learn about other famous tea parties held to protest British taxes in the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Revolutionary Tea Parties and the Reasons for Revolution

Guiding Questions

  • What really happened at the Boston Tea Party? How can we "know" what happened at an historical event of the distant past?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • Retell the events of the Boston Tea Party.
  • List some types of sources historians use to reconstruct what happened in the past.

Preparation Instructions

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. First-hand accounts of the Boston Tea Party

Introduce students to the quote from The Bay State Monthly and brief discussion about it included in the Introduction. Discuss with students the ways we can know what happened more than 200 years ago. Create a list on chart paper or the blackboard of what the students already know about the Boston Tea Party, including the reasons behind the protest.

Next, break the class into small groups with each assigned to read and analyze one of the following first-hand accounts of the Boston Tea Party. (NOTE: Another option would be for each group to read and respond to more than one-or all-of the accounts.) Download, copy and distribute a set of Questions about the accounts, available here as a PDF document, and have students answer as many of the questions as possible. Let students know that not all questions will relate to all accounts, and they should answer only those questions relevant to their account.

  • "The Boston Tea-Party" (The Bay State Monthly. Volume 1, Issue 4. April, 1884.), available via a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. The article starts near the top of page 261 and continues on the succeeding two pages; use "Next Page" and "Previous Page" to navigate as desired. (NOTE: This account, taken verbatim from the December 20, 1773, article in the Boston Evening Post, is the lengthiest and most difficult of all the first-hand accounts cited here. Assign it accordingly or not at all if there is no appropriate group.)
  • Camps and Firesides of the Revolution. Hart, Albert Bushnell with Mabel Hill: "The Boston Tea Party from the MASSACHUSETTS GAZETTE (1773)", available via a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library.Though this brief account is told in straightforward language, help your students understand the meanings of these words, as used in the document:
    • Repaired: went
    • Stove: broke
    • Purloined: stolen
  • Camps and Firesides of the Revolution. Hart, Albert Bushnell with Mabel Hill: "Another Account of the Tea Party BY JOHN ANDREWS (1773)", also available via a link from Internet Public Library. The account runs from page 164 to page 166 (use the "find" feature in your browser to locate page 164). In the original document, page 165 had an illustration; as the illustration is not present online, the page is blank. This brief account is told in straightforward language, but make sure your students understand that the word "actors," as used here, refers to those taking action, rather than to thespians.
  • "A Shoemaker and the Tea Party" by George Robert Twelve Hewes, on the EDSITEment resource History Matters. This account, more detailed and somewhat more difficult to read than the previous two, is quite colorful.
  • Broadside: Boston, December 20, on Tuesday last, from American Memory. In this modern typeset version, read only the section for December 20. Also available is a digitized copy of the original.
Activity 2. Sources historians use to reconstruct what happened

After the groups have completed their work, discuss the different types of resources used-newspaper accounts, broadsides written for publicity purposes, reminiscences, letters, and so on. In what way would each of the accounts tend to be biased or limited in its ability to tell the whole story? Could an author's point of view explain any information lacking or even exaggerated? For example, why would certain documents written at the time of the Boston Tea Party avoid including participants' names?

Have students share the answers they gave to the questions. Use the Boston Tea Party Fact Chart, available here as a PDF document, to make a list of (1) facts that all of the accounts had in common, (2) facts that appeared in only some accounts but that were not contradicted in others, and (3) facts that were contradicted among the various accounts.

Now have students read a secondary account of the Boston Tea Party, such as the essay The Boston Tea Party, available via a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters. Either individually or as a class, answer the same questions previously answered for the first-hand accounts. What facts in this article, if any, are contradicted by one or more of the first-hand accounts? Do the students agree that the version in this secondary account is as accurate as possible, given any contradictions and the passage of time, or would the students make some changes? Can we say with confidence that the story of the Boston Tea Party we tell today is accurate?

Activity 3. Getting get an accurate idea of what happened two centuries ago

Students are now ready to work in their groups to create a newspaper article, letter, broadside, or factual report of their own featuring the facts they believe to be the correct story of the Boston Tea Party.

To conclude, go back briefly to the chart of what students "knew" about the Boston Tea Party at the beginning of the lesson. How did their knowledge compare with the first- and second-hand accounts studied in this lesson? Would their list be different now? The class has done some real research using primary sources. Do the students now believe it is or is not possible to get an accurate idea of what happened two centuries ago?

Extending The Lesson

  • Learn about other famous tea parties held to protest British taxes in the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Revolutionary Tea Parties and the Reasons for Revolution
  • Students interested in learning more about the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party can start with these EDSITEment resources:
  • Students can analyze political cartoons from the years of protest that preceded the Revolutionary War, such as these from the Tax History Project, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters. If desired, use the Cartoon Analysis Form available on the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom.
    • The Repeal or the Funeral Procession of Miss Americ-Stamp: A satiric cartoon commemorating repeal of the Stamp Act, c. 1766
    • The Bostonians paying the excise-man or tarring & feathering, 1774
    • Cartoon depicting the rough treatment of a barber's customer once his identity as a British officer was revealed, 1775
    • An allegorical depiction of the Coercive Acts, specifically the closing of Boston Harbor by the British (by Paul Revere)
  • Students can read the following poems about the Boston Tea Party, written during the 19th century. How accurate are the accounts? What attitudes about our nation's formative years do they express?
  • Students can also read more by and about Ralph Waldo Emerson, who coined the phrase "The shot heard 'round the world," and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. A Biography of Emerson and Biography of Holmes are available on From Revolution to Reconstruction, a link from the EDSITEment resource History Matters.
  • The Boston Tea Party was a grand example of street theater protest, something we often associate now with the 1960s. For more about that era of protest, look at the online exhibit The Psychedelic Sixties: Literary Tradition and Social Change from the Special Collections Department of the University of Virginia Library, available through a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Center for the Liberal Arts. Students can expand their knowledge of the protest movements of the sixties by interviewing eyewitnesses. They can also conduct a poll about attitudes today toward those protests of the past. Students can conclude their study by making comparisons between the two eras of protests.
  • Consider using two related EDSITEment lessons—Colonial Broadsides and the American Revolution and Colonial Broadsides: A Student-Created Play.
Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S.
Skills
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Using archival documents