The Boston Tea Party is sometimes called the first deliberate act of colonial resistance to British authority. At issue was the predisposition of the crown to pass laws and levy taxes without the consent of the colonists. After the repeal of the Townsend Acts in March 1770, the colonies were freed from duty on all commodities except tea. To counteract smuggling and help move burgeoning supplies, the 1773 Tea Act was enacted. Despite the low price, even with the duty, the rift over the Parliament's right to tax, and ultimately its right to govern the colonies directly, grew.
On December 16, 1773, three vessels of the East India Tea Company, who had been waiting for twenty days to unload, were barred from returning to Britain by customs officials, despite repeated requests for repeal of the taxes. Approximately 116 men, encouraged by Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Joseph Warren and Paul Revere, some disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships and quietly and efficiently spilled 342 casks, or 45 tons, of tea into Boston Harbor. They met no resistance.
Parliament was swift to act, however, and passed the Intolerable Acts and closed the Port of Boston. This cut the city off from all commerce, and systems of government and justice were altered, with any remaining liberties stripped away. Rather than isolating the colonies, however, news spread, enraging the citizens of other east coast cities who could see themselves as victims of such measures. In response, the First Continental Congress was created.
Robert Reid was commissioned to paint The Boston Tea Party, and its companion mural, Paul Revere's Ride, three years after completing the James Otis for Nurses Hall. The unidentified players are caught on the deck of one of the three ships that fell prey to the Sons of Liberty during their historic act. In the background can be seen warehouses at the harbor. The choice of these events may be explained in part by their value as night scenes, which allowed the artist to carry the firelight motif introduced in the earlier scene through the series.