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
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to
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.
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?
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?
3 class periods