Huzzah! Each year on December 16th, history enthusiasts of all ages make their way to Boston to relive one of the most famous public protests in American history — the Boston Tea Party of 1773. In 2014, I was one of them. Here’s a look…
Worried about city traffic, I got into Boston early. Very early. Fortunately, much of the city’s holiday cheer takes place in and around the Old South Meeting House where the reenactment kicks off in collaboration with the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, so I headed for the nearby bustling hub of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. There, just about anything your wallet or stomach desires can be found and enjoyed.
During the holiday season, it’s also a twinkling, glittering, blinking beauty that’s not to be missed.
After enjoying the lights and grabbing dinner, I made my way back over to the Old South via the Boston’s most famous city-wide attraction — The Freedom Trail.
On December 16, 1773, more than 5,000 colonists met at the Old South to debate the fate of three shiploads of tea docked in Boston Harbor.
The reenactment begins with a ticketed reenactment of the debate between the colonists (including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere) about the tea tax and their demands for liberty from the British crown. This event is popular, and sells out quickly.
Before the debate begins, however, costumed interpreters from both sides mingle with the crowd outside and argue their case, lob expertly crafted insults at each other, and shake their fists…or stomp their canes. Whichever the case may be.
There’s also traditional fife and drum music, which always gets a few heads turning when December 16th falls on a weekday. In a city as historic and compact as Boston, it’s not unusual to experience costumed evidence of the 18th century while waiting in line for lunch or riding the T, but an event as large as the Boston Tea Party reenactment taking place just after the workday ends makes it hard to miss.
Inside the gift shop, tickets are acquired (or picked up) and souvenirs purchased.
And then it’s into the beautiful, historic Old South.
The reenactors do their bit with spirited enthusiasm, but the public is also encouraged to participate. Each guest is assigned a “voice” in the debate (via individual identities typed on slips of paper), and at points throughout the evening, you can make your way to one of the microphones positioned throughout the room to read your stance.
For a look at what it’s like during the debate, here’s a great video from the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.
After the debate, the crowd streams outside to begin the half-mile journey to Griffin’s Wharf, accompanied by fife and drum, for the free portion of the evening — the dumping of the tea! It’s a festive affair, especially if the weather is cooperating.
At the water, the crowds are seated on bleachers to watch as the Sons of Liberty storm the Brig Beaver, and then toss “the troublesome tea” into the sea.
It’s an expertly-executed reenactment that’s been put together with a lot of care, and it’s terrific fun to watch.
To close the event, speeches are made by members of the Sons of Liberty, and then it’s back to relative peace and harmony in Boston until December 16th rolls around once more.
Have you ever attended the Boston Tea Party Reenactment? There’s still time to make your way to Griffin’s Wharf this Wednesday evening to watch the annual destruction!
Did You Know? The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is home to one of only two known tea chests to have survived the Boston Tea Party. Learn more about the Boston Tea Party Tea Chest!
Old South Meeting House. 310 Washington St., Boston, MA. 617-482-6439; osmh.org
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. 306 Congress St., Boston, MA. 617-338-1773; bostonteapartyship.comThis post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.