CCSS: 6.RP.A.3

TEKS: 6.4H, 6.5A, 7.4B

Tea and Taxes

Read this extended news story about how taxes helped spark the American Revolution

Illustrations by Randy Pollak

This year is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. On December 16, 1773, a group of men snuck into Boston Harbor and boarded three ships filled with tea from the East India Company. They destroyed all 342 crates of tea by dumping them into the harbor.

Why? Taxation without representation! Colonists had to pay taxes but had no say in the government or how taxes were used. This act of rebellion and rejection of England’s colonial rule led directly to the Revolutionary War—and American independence.


The Boston Tea Party was in response to the Tea Act of 1773. A tax is a payment or additional charge collected by a government to cover the costs of government services—including paying government employees. But this act didn’t increase taxes on tea. Instead, it gave the East India Company, a British trading company, a monopoly on importing the popular product. A monopoly is when one person or company controls the supply of a product, so you can only buy it from that person or company. 

Before the Tea Act of 1773, the East India Company sold its tea at auction. Independent merchants would buy it in bulk, then import it to the American Colonies to sell it. The Tea Act of 1773 let the East India Company sell its tea directly to colonists instead. It had deals with select merchants, who would then give the company a percent of their earnings. The East India Company had 17 million pounds of tea to sell, and the Tea Act let the company sell it for 2 shillings per pound. That was 1 shilling less than other legal tea sellers! 


But that doesn’t mean that taxation wasn’t part of the problem! The tax on tea was first established in 1767, as part of the Townshend Acts. By 1773, it was the only one of the taxes still in effect, and American colonists were furious. The money collected from taxes on the American Colonies went to paying down Britain’s war debt and later to paying British colonial administrators—not to supporting the Colonies or colonists themselves. 

People like Samuel Adams, a Boston politician and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, argued that any tax on the American Colonies was unjust. He argued that since the Colonies had no representation in the British government, they shouldn’t have to pay these taxes. To Adams, the Tea Act was another example of the British government enforcing policies on the Colonies without the right to do so. 

The problem wasn’t the tax itself, according to tax historian Joseph Thorndike. It was how the tax was used to benefit British companies over colonial ones. British representatives of the East India Trading Company were able to undercut the prices of colonial businesses that did not have deals with the company. Colonial businesses also paid an import tax that these British representatives did not. All these tax laws were passed without any input from the people who had to pay the tax. That led to the Boston Tea Party’s rallying cry: “No taxation without representation!” 

Tea was taxed at 3 pence per pound. Each of the 342 crates that were destroyed held 260 pounds of tea. How much tax would have been collected on the destroyed tea?

In the 1700s, newspapers were often single pages printed front and back. The Stamp Act taxed newspapers 1 pence per sheet. How much tax would be collected on a run of 70 newspapers?

A merchant orders 10 gallons of molasses for 33 pence, before the duty on molasses is added. Molasses was taxed at 3 pence per gallon. What does he pay in total, including the duty?

A. American colonists drank a lot of tea—up to 1.2 million pounds per year! Tea was taxed at 3 pence per pound. How much tax, in British pounds, would be collected on a year’s worth of tea in the Colonies? (Hint: 1 British pound = 240 pence)

B. There were approximately 2 million free people in the American Colonies as of 1775. What would be the tax per person, in pence, for this amount of tea? Round your answer to the nearest pence.

How do you think these taxes affected the cost of items for American colonists? Why do you think they resisted paying these taxes?

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