“My name is James Otis. I am a lawyer and know the laws of England. I led the protest against the dreadful Stamp Act tax, and I can tell you, Gentlemen, that as Englishmen we have the right to representation in Parliament.”
Tea Tax Debate
December 16, 1773. Old South Meeting House.
Jackson School Grade 5 students took on the persona of Boston colonists and loyalists in a feisty debate over the Tea Tax levied on the colonists by Parliament in May 1773.
“My name is Jonathan Sewall. I am Attorney General. This tax issue has divided neighbors and families. My brother-in-law John Hancock and I argue terribly. We must obey laws and we must obey King and Parliament. You, Sons of Liberty, break our good laws. Life now in Boston is dangerous.”
Playing roles of shipowners, carpenters, printers, an artist, a member of the Governor’s Council, doctors, merchants, a teacher, a silversmith, and family members with unyielding colonial roots of more than 100 years, each student introduced his/her historical character then launched into a rationale as to the importance of, or the flagrant unfairness of, a Tea Tax. Following each impassioned statement, series of “Huzzah” and “Fie” were shouted out by opposing ranks.
“I am John Timmons, a merchant representing the ship Beaver which arrived yesterday. This trouble over tea is disrupting people’s lives and jobs. If things get any worse here in Boston I may move to England where people understand and respect the law.”
“I am Josiah Quincy, a lawyer. I say we return the tea to England and keep money in our pockets. Stand and say, ‘Proud to be a Patriot!’”
Three ships (built and owned by colonists), loaded with East India Company tea, had arrived in Boston Harbor. The tax would be paid prior to the crates being unloaded. At one point during the original rowdy Meeting House debate, a signal was given and Sons of Liberty in disguise hoisted 45 tons of tea off the ships and into Boston Harbor.
“My name is Edward Howe and I am a ropemaker hired by many shipowners these days. I disagree with the Tea Tax that pays for the King’s soldiers sent here during the French and Indian War. We didn’t ask for them. I say let King George pay for those soldiers out of his pocket, not out of my cup of tea.”
“I am Judge Benjamin Gridley. I believe in and uphold the laws of England. I support King George and Parliament. It is time we Loyalists stand up to these ruffians and demand order and a peaceful way of life.”
One week later, the fifth graders, teachers, and a few parents traveled to Boston to visit Revolutionary War sites. A small groups scavenger hunt led them to the Samuel Adams statue, the Boston Stone, the Ebenezer Hancock House, the Old State House, and the signature artifact atop the Faneuil Hall cupola. They then walked to the harbor to board and tour an 18th-century replica of the Eleanor, part of the floating Tea Party Ships Museum. They listened to costumed Patriots unfold the clashing events of the “Boston Tea Party,” a Historic Town Meeting, and a theatre presentation.
Students next vigorously participated in a reenactment by hurling the King’s crates of tea overboard. Moving on to Bunker Hill in Charlestown, the fifth graders viewed models and maps of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. They climbed the monument’s 294 steps to the top to grasp the historical perspective of a pasture turned into a battlefield that, combined with their visit to the Tea Party Museum, validated their stance in the Tea Party Debate.