Visiting the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
There’s nothing like making history come alive than visiting and participating in reenactments of a historic event that defined our nation. One of the major events Boston is associated with was the infamous Boston Tea Party. My daughter knew the history from elementary school and my 10-year old son will be learning it this year. So, a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum was a must visit during our educational tour of the city. It was a unique and memorable experience.
We went to the museum along the Boston Harbor right when they opened. It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted by one of the costumed actors. We later found out he was playing Sam Adams who was the leader of the Sons of Liberty. They organized and executed the tea party which was considered the “single most important event leading up to the American Revolution”.
In the late 1700s, the American colonies were under the British rule and King George III. Britain was taxing them on various items that even included playing cards, paper and sugar yet the colonies weren’t represented at the Parliament. Hence, the famous phrase “taxation without representation”.
It was believed that American colonists drank about 1.2 million pounds of tea annually. The Tea Act gave the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in 1773 with the tea tax also still in place. It made tea very expensive for the colonists. The Sons of Liberty, who came from many professions and hailed from many areas in the region, finally decided to take action and protest the taxes and challenge the British rulers.
Between 7-10 PM on December 16, 1773, hundreds of men men disguised as Mohawk Indians opened 340 chests and threw about 46 tons of tea into the Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party was the first major “act of defiance” and was followed by more protests and opposition against the British. It eventually led to the American Revolution in April 1775.
The Guided Tour
“Sam Adams” gave each of us a feather with the event’s date as we entered and led us into a town hall. Another actor who was playing one of the tea party participant’s wife greeted us. (I wrote her name on my notes but now can’t find it). She also served as our tour guide throughout our visit. She gave each of us a small card with a little information on the colonist who played a part in the event. We would be playing that historical role during the tour’s duration. Being the first one there, I got Sarah Bradlee Fulton who was known as the Mother of the Tea Party. I love that we were actual participants of the tea party but also learned a bit of information on some of these colonists.
We waited until the town hall was almost filled up. We then participated in the re-enactment of the planning of the Boston Tea Party. Over 5,000 people assembled at the Old South Meeting House (which can still be visited today) at around 10 AM on December 16, 1773. Sam Adams led our meeting and it was quite interactive. It was a joy to see the actors playing their roles enthusiastically and injecting some humor now and then. It set such a fun vibe throughout the tour.
The whole assembly took longer than I expected. It would be hard for kids in elementary school to totally grasp all the history and facts here. I think it would have helped to give the kids an interactive activity sheet to follow along too. My son was a little lost on some parts. I saw my daughter tuning out on some areas even with the active audience participation.
The next part of our tour was visiting one of the two docked authentically restored tea ships. There were three ships that sailed from London and docked at the harbor during the tea party event. The Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor were actually ships owned by Americans but carried British East India Company tea that came from China. The Beaver and Eleanor were the only ones restored during our visit. I’m not sure which one we boarded.
Another costumed role player on the ship met us. We learned that the whole harbor obviously smelled after the tea was thrown in and was closed for awhile. The tea party participants took great measures to ensure no one was harmed and there was no damage to any of the ships or the crew’s personal properties. They even swept the decks clean afterwards.
We also learned that this museum was near where the actual event took place. Griffin’s Wharf, the original location, disappeared after Boston’s expansion during the19th century. So, what was the total damage of all that dumped tea? It was an estimated £9,659 back in 1773 but equates to about $1.7 million in today’s currency. It made quite an economic and political impact.
All of us had the chance to dump “tea” into the harbor. They were tied to ropes so they made their way back up again. They were also a lot lighter than they looked. I lost count on how many times my kids threw out these packages into the harbor. It wasn’t a surprise that this was a favorite activity among all the children here. This part was a bit touristy but still fun.
We also had the chance to explore below deck. It was interesting to see the crew’s quarters and the Captain’s cabin. This looked more comfortable than the quarters we saw on the Mayflower II.
Our next stop was the museum. Along the wall were the names of some of the known participants. Their disguises worked well to keep their anonymity. We learned that part of the disguise was to cover their one and only winter jackets which could be identifiable. There were hundreds that participated in the Boston Tea Party but many decided to stay anonymous even years after the event since they were afraid of being punished. Many also left Boston right after so they wouldn’t be arrested. Thousands of people actually witnessed the event which ignited rebellion and patriotism.
Unfortunately, photography and videos were not allowed inside the museum. This was unlike other museums though. Our tour guide led us through a few stops. There were no exhibits to stop and read memoirs or vast galleries to peruse paintings of the event. These were high tech exhibits that included holographic images that held many of the kids attention. We enjoyed the portrait gallery where we heard accounts of King George III. There’s a wonderful surprise in store for everyone at the gallery so tell the kids to pay attention.
We also had the opportunity to see the Robinson Tea Chest which is one of the two only left from the actual Boston Tea Party. It was interesting to see the size of the chest and how this piece of history made its way here after two centuries.
The museum tour ended with a award-winning documentary “Let It Begin Here” at the Minuteman Theatre. It told the tale of how the Minuteman fought bravely against the British soldiers on Lexington Green. The short film was done well and ignited a sense of patriotism in all of us. It was quite loud so this may not be a film to watch with toddlers and younger kids sensitive to loud noises.
Like many places, the tour ended at the large gift shop. This was a fantastic shop though. Tea, anyone? They had many varietiesof tea here plus adorable tea sets. There were also many souvenirs related to American History, Boston and this museum. It will be hard to leave this place empty-handed.
This almost 90-minute tour was worth the trip for us. It was a great interactive and informative experience with a fantastic staff that stayed true to their characters. We learned quite a bit about this era of American history. My husband and I have forgotten details of this historical event and some of the information wasn’t covered in textbooks. It was a delight to hear my 12-year-old daughter say “They didn’t teach us that in school!”. This visit made us appreciate all the patriots’ efforts to stand up for their rights. History really did come alive with some imagination and was a fun and unique way to learn.
Visiting Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum Basics and Tips
- Tickets: Adults $25; Children (ages 4-12) $15; Buy online and save up to $2.50. Buy with other packages like the Old South Meeting House.
- Sign up for the Old Town Trolley tours to get tickets to this attraction too.
- The museum is located on Congress Street Bridge near the Children’s Museum.
- If you’re near or will be visiting Boston around Dec 16, the annual re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party sounds like a fun event to watch.
- There is limited seating during the tour which happens only on the first and last parts. You will be on your feet for most of the tour which is something to keep in mind when bringing little ones. Strollers aren’t allowed inside but they have a designated parking. The museum is handicapped accessible on tours that are on the :15 and the :45 of the hour.
- Abigail’s Tea Room gives visitors the chance to sit and taste an assortment of teas including the same tea that was thrown overboard), pastries, soups and baked goods. It has a wonderful view of the harbor and looked like a great place to relax and sip some tea. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to do this due to another appointment.
*Have you visited this museum? Would you be interested in visiting?
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