Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country

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Witness to History

Compiled by Rodney Castleden

The Boston Tea Party
“Let every man do his duty, and be true to his country.”
Witnessed by George Robert Twelves Hewes

The expectation that the American colonies would pay for their defense was reasonable, but the British government was inept in the way that it imposed its taxes. When the colonists claimed they should not have to pay taxation without representation, the government retracted all but the tax on tea. The arrival of three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, in Boston harbor triggered a strong reaction. On 16 December 1773, 7,000 Bostonians gathered on the wharf and decided that the tea ships must leave with any duty being paid. This message was conveyed to the collector of customs, but he refused to let the ships leave until the duty was paid. Then 200 Bostonians disguised as Indians boarded the three ships and threw 342 crates of tea into the harbor.

The Witness

George Robert Twelves Hewes was a Boston shoemaker who took part in several of the key events in the American Revolution. It was not until fifty years later that he told James Hawkes about his involvement in the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Hawkes published Hewes’ reminiscence in 1834.

Hewes wore his Indian disguise to ensure his anonymity among his fellow Bostonians.
The Witness’s Account

The tea destroyed was contained in three ships, lying near each other at what was called at that time Griffin’s wharf, and were surrounded by armed ships of war, the commanders of which had publicly declared that if the rebels, as they were pleased to style the Bostonians, should not withdraw their opposition to the landing of the tea before a certain day, the 17th day of December, 1773, they should on that day force it on shore, under the cover of their cannon’s mouth.

On the day preceding the seventeenth, 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 request him to inform them whether he would take any measures to satisfy the people on the subject of the meeting.

To the first application of this committee, the Governor told them he would give them a definite answer by five o’clock in the afternoon. At the hour appointed, the committee again repaired to the Governor’s house, and on inquiry found he had gone to his country seat at Milton, a distance of about six miles. 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 huzza1 for Griffin’s wharf.

It was now evening, and I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin’s wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me and marched in order to the place of our destination.

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 ships which contained the tea at the same time. The name of him who commanded the division to which I was assigned was Leonard Pitt. The names of the other commanders I never knew. 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 on board the ship, appointed me boatswain, and ordered me to go to the 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 to do no damage to the ship. 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 in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way. We were surrounded by British armed ships, but no attempt was made to resist us.

We then quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates; nor do I recollect of our having had knowledge of the name of a single individual concerned in that affair, except that of Leonard Pitt, the commander of my division, whom I have mentioned. There appeared to be an understanding that each individual should volunteer his service, keep his own secret, and risk the consequence for himself. No disorder took place during that transaction, and it was observed at that time that the stillest night ensued that Boston had enjoyed for many months.

During the time we were throwing the tea overboard, there were several attempts made by some of the citizens of Boston and its vicinity to carry off small quantities of it for their family use. They would watch their opportunity to snatch up a handful from the deck and put it into their pockets.

One Captain O’Connor, whom I well knew, came on board for that purpose, and when he supposed he was not noticed, filled his pockets, and also the lining of his coat. But I had detected him and gave information to the captain of what he was doing. We were ordered to take him into custody, and just as he was stepping from the vessel, I seized him by the skirt of his coat, and in attempting to pull him back, I tore it off; but, springing forward, by a rapid effort he made his escape. He had, however, to run a gauntlet through the crows upon the wharf nine each one, as he passed, giving him a kick or a stroke.

The next morning, after we had cleared the ships of tea, it was discovered that considerable quantities of it were floating upon the surface of the water; and to prevent the possibility of any of it being saved for use, a number of small boats were manned by sailors and citizens, who rowed them into those parts of harbor wherever the tea was visible, and by beating it with oars and paddles so thoroughly drenched it as the render its entire destruction inevitable.

1 A sailor’s cheer, pronounced ‘her-zah’, similar to ‘hurrah’

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