I assume the taxes were ultimately passed on to tea consumers, but that’s not my question.

Who in Boston was responsible for the initial outlay of payment, and when in the lifecycle of a tea shipment did they have to pay it?

I asked this question at the Boston Tea Party Museum and got some very vague answers (e.g. “we all paid!!”).

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    I believe the tax was collected by an official with the title "Collector of Customs", and it had to be paid before the tea ships were permitted to leave the harbour (presumably by the owner of the vessel). (Perhaps this will help someone to put together a properly sourced answer) Aug 18, 2019 at 0:34

3 Answers 3


Question: How were British tea taxes collected in Boston in the early 1770s?

Short Answer:
Prior to 1773 all legal tea in the Colonies had to be shipped through Britain. Tea was taxed entering Britain and again when shipped from Britain to the Colonies. Taxes were paid by both the East India company and Colonial wholesalers. The East India company paid the tax to import the tea to Britain were all legal British tea was required to be sold at auction (in London). American Colonial merchants/wholesalers would buy the tea in London and pay the import tax a second time to ship the tea from Britain to the colonies. The Tea Act of 1773, which provoked the Boston tea party changed all this.

After 1773 All tea taxes were paid by the East India company and American wholesalers / shippers were cut out of the loop entirely. One of several favorable provisions for the East India Company contained in the Tea Act of 1773 was it allowed the company to ship directly to the Colonies, thus negating the need for American wholesalers and the second tax. This Act effectively halved the taxes while reducing the shipping costs on legal tea; making legal tea cheaper than smuggled tea. The Tea Act also permitted the East India Company to dump millions of pounds of its surplus tea onto the lucrative American tea market at these cut rate prices. At the time(1773), 90% of the tea consumed by the colonies was smuggled tea. This act's intention was to reestablish the East India Company's monopoly on tea at the expense of colonial black market smugglers but it also hurt colonial merchants who transported legal tea by eliminating them from participation in the distribution/transportation process.

Detailed Answer
American Tea was actually double taxed prior to the Tea Act of 1773. Prior to 1773, tea was taxed entering and exiting Britain, again by the merchants importing and exporting the tea. The Importation fees were paid by the The East India Company which had a monopoly on all tea entering British territory. The second tax was levied on American Merchants (shippers) who purchased the tea at auction in London for reshipment to the colonies. After 1773 these American Shipping Companies were cut out of the loop, because the East India Company was permitted to ship directly to the colonies. Thus the tea act reduced the tax on Colonial tea as well a greatly reduced transport costs. (tea was no longer required to go to Britain prior to the colonies).

The Tea Act: Boston Tea Party Prior to the Tea Act, the British East India Company Tea was required to exclusively sell its tea at auction in London. This required the British East India Company to pay a tax per pound of tea sold which added to the company’s financial burdens. The Tea Act aborted this restriction and granted the British East India Company license to export their tea to the American colonies. This opened up the British East India Company’s markets to the lucrative American colonies. Additionally, under the Tea Act, duties Britain charged on tea shipped to the American colonies (from Britain) would be waived or refunded upon sale.


Boston Tea Party Facts

  • Most American colonists consumed, on average, 2 to 3 cups of tea each day. This equaled approximately two million pounds of tea among 3 million colonists each year.
  • It was estimated that approximately 90% of the tea being drank by American colonists was smuggled in. Coffee drinking increased as a result of boycotts on British tea.

The tea act of 1773 was an attempt to make legal tea more competitive with black market tea by dramatically reducing its cost to the Colonial consumer. After 1773 it was taxed at it's destination port as it entered British territory rather than in Britain itself. The tax from Britain to the colonies was eliminated.

This act, also dumped millions of pounds of cheap British tea which prior to 1773 had been piling up in warehouses onto the colonial market at a cut rate price.

The Tea Act: Boston Tea Party
With the passing of the Tea Act, the seventeen million pounds of unsold surplus tea the British East India Company owned could be sold to markets in the American colonies

All this prompted John Hancock to take action. In 1773 John Hancock's first move against the now cheaper British tea was to sponsor Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty to destroy the cheap British Tea in Boston Harbor before it could penetrate the colonial tea market.

John Hancock made his fortune selling smuggled goods, especially tea. John Hancock would become President of the second continental congress (May 10, 1775) which declared independence from Britain in July 4th, 1776, just under three years after the passing of the Tea Act.


John Hancock
It was a well known fact that John Hancock had made his fortune through smuggling Dutch tea, which was cheaper than East Indian tea. A commonly forgotten fact is that East Indian prices were cut before the introduction of the three pence tax, in effect making its price, even with the tax, cheaper than Hancock’s tea. Presented with this information, many loyalists did not wonder at Hancock’s involvement in the boycotting of East Indian tea and indeed, the entire war.

After he inherited a fortune in his mid-20s, this elegant dandy nearly single-highhandedly bankrolled the early protests in Boston.


Second Continental Congress The Second Continental Congress was a meeting of delegates from 12 of the 13 British colonies that joined in the American Revolutionary War. It convened on May 10, 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, succeeding the First Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774. The Second Congress functioned as a de facto national government at the outset of the Revolutionary War by raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and writing treatises such as the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms and the Olive Branch Petition.1 It eventually adopted the Lee Resolution which affirmed the independence of the colonies on July 2, 1776, and it agreed to the Declaration of Independence two days later...... .
Many of the delegates who attended the Second Congress had also attended the First. They again elected Peyton Randolph to serve as President of the Congress and Charles Thomson to serve as secretary.2 Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; Hancock succeeded him as president, and Thomas Jefferson replaced him in the Virginia delegation



A quote from the Wikipedia article Boston Tea Party states:

The Tea Act in 1773 authorized the shipment of 5,000 chests of tea (250 tons) to the American colonies. There would be a tax of £1,750 to be paid by the importers when the cargo landed.

So this would seem to be a normal payment on arrival customs procedure which is still used today.


Consignees paid the tax on arrival in the Custom House. The customs officials were employed by the Crown. This is mentioned in any detailed history of colonial taxation or unrest, but this looks like a good resource for more detail: Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America by Benjamin L. Carp.

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