Context for this Lesson
Topic: The Boston Tea Party
Purpose: To learn about and analyze the central conflict that led to the Boston Tea Party and the multiple perspectives that surrounded it.
Prior Knowledge: A basic understanding of Colonial America
- Artifact: the call to meeting on large piece of paper (look aged if possible)
- Pencils/pens for each student
- Paper for each student
- Chalkboard/whiteboard or large sheet of paper and writing utensil
- News article for end of lesson printed or written out on paper
- Room set up in a U-shape of desks/tables with open space in the middle
If appropriate, invite students to find a comfortable spot to sit in either at their desks or on the floor. If better, have students stay in their seats for this activity. Tell students you are going to tell them a story and invite them to close their eyes and listen:
Today, we are going to pretend that we are not in Texas in 2011, but instead that we are in Massachusetts over two hundred years ago. You are a person living in one of the Colonies in the time before the American Revolutionary War. You probably live in a house built from wood- maybe you even built it yourself. You probably have a job- you might be a farmer, a blacksmith, a shopkeeper, a shipbuilder, or a trader. Think for a minute about who you might be.
You and the others in your town live a pretty calm life. But recently, things have started to feel a little chaotic. There have been several laws passed by your rulers in Britain that raise the taxes on things you use every day, like stamps and tea. Many people in the town have been angry about these changes, while others have been defending the British policies. You’ve also started to notice people quietly distributing pamphlets around town that talk about fighting for your rights.
One day, you are on your way to your place of work in town, and you notice the town center is buzzing with people today. They all seem to be headed toward a signboard in the middle of town, so you follow. You hear whisperings on the way like “we have to let the tea come!” and “he cannot allow the ships to dock here!” and “we should rebel!” You get closer to the sign and push your way through the crowd. You finally are able to glimpse a proclamation that has been posted to the board. It reads:
“Here ye, here ye! All citizens of Boston are called to a town meeting this night to discuss the incoming ships of tea. Representatives of Governor Hutchinson shall be present so all who have grievances may report them. Do not let your rights be dismissed; represent yourself and your fellow countrymen against King George and his taxes!”
You push your way back out through the crowd, and move on to work wondering whether you should attend or not.
Show students the artifact (the proclamation). Ask them questions for reflection:
- What do you notice about it?
What does it tell us about what is going on in the town?
- What town are we in?
- Why has this meeting been called? (What is the problem at hand?)
- What is tea? Why was it important to the Colonists?
- Who can tell us the names of the two big groups of people on each side of this issue? (Loyalists & Patriots)
- What are their different views on the problem? (start the chart on the board here)
- Who might have posted this notice?
- Why might someone go to the meeting? Who might support each side of the issue? (make list on each side of chart)
While students are coming up with ideas on perspectives, write a comparison chart on the board of the Patriots’ and Loyalists’ different views on the tea import. When brainstorming types of people who might have attended the meeting, write them on each side of the chart depending on whether they would likely be a Patriot, a Loyalist, or both. If students have little or no prior knowledge, the teacher may supplement their comments with explanation of the Townsend Acts and the East India Trading Company. Ideas for the chart include:
- We should follow the laws of the King
- Britain has repealed many of the taxes that they had originally established
- We don’t have the power to change the law nor do we want to
- Britain has sent soldiers to protect us, so they must care
- Taxed without elected representative in government
- The taxes only apply to the Colonies
- Cost of living is rising
- Governor should stand up for the Colonists, but he isn’t
- The soldiers are ruining our houses and taking our things- Britain should leave us alone
TRANSITION: Great job everyone. Now, I want you to look at this chart for a minute and choose one of these people you would like to play for the rest of class. (Cite specific examples) When I say go, you are going to walk back to your seat while thinking about what your character might think about the Tea Act and the town meeting coming up. Go.
Once they return to their seats, pass out journal template (see appendix) and pens/pencils to each student. Ask students what they know about journals (What do we use them for? What kinds of things do we write in them?). Tell them they are now going to become the character they chose. Offer the following instruction:
You are now going to become your character. You have gone home after work the same day the notice was posted in town. The meeting is later that night; your brain is buzzing with all that happened today. You open your journal and begin to write. You’ve decided to go to the town meeting to share your opinion on what is happening. Maybe you write about why you want to go, or what you think about the issues going on in town. Maybe you write about the growing anger between the Patriots and the Loyalists and how it is affecting you or your family. You now have a few minutes to write. Go.
Possible Side Coaching:
- If you need suggestions for why your character might go to the meeting, look at the chart on the board.
- What specifically has happened to you or your family?
Once students have several sentences written, explain that we will all be in role at the meeting, and the teacher will lead the meeting as a character. Discuss how townspeople can express agreement by shouting “here here!” after a statement, and practice a group “here here” once. Explain how the class will go into role together (by counting down 3, 2, 1) and how it will come out of character (by saying “freeze”). Encourage students to physically take on their character’s body and voice.
TRANSITION: Are there any questions? Great. Then we’re going into the drama in 3-2-1…
Town Hall Meeting
In role, invite all the Loyalists to sit on one side of the classroom in the desks/chairs and the Patriots to sit on the other side. Teacher introduces him/herself as Sam Jones, employee in the household of His Honor Governor Hutchinson. In role, reiterate the most important issues going on in town –the taxes on tea and other items, the angered citizens, the pamphlets –and ask for student questions and opinions. As you know, I am Sam Jones, assistant butler in the household of His Honor Governor Hutchinson, and I am here to preside over this meeting. Governor Hutchinson has been hearing about issues around the tea taxes and imports here in Boston, and I am just here to report back to him. What has been going on in town? Why did you all come here tonight?
Possible In-Role Coaching/Questioning:
To Patriots Side:
- I know there were some questions about the taxes, but the Governor is working hard to make sure they stay as they are. What else can you ask of him?
- I personally know the government is very powerful. What could you do to stop the ships?
- Why does this matter to us?
To Loyalists Side:
- I know you all stand by the Governor and the King, but are the taxes not affecting you? How are you dealing with the higher costs of tea and stamps?
- Why do you think we should allow the ships here?
- I know many of you are very new to the Colonies. Were you having these issues in England? What do you think we could do to make the town climate better?
TRANSITION: Freeze. Thank you everyone for your excellent participation in our town hall meeting. We’ll pause our drama here and step out of role and back to ourselves. Please join me in a circle in the middle of the room.
Ask students if they know what the Colonists in Boston decided to do about the tea. Tell them the story of the Tea Party following the meeting. Details to share include:
- The Colonists dressed up in costumes and went to the Harbor late at night
- 342 chests aboard three ships were dumped into the sea
- no damage was done to people or to the ships
Questions for reflection include:
- So what happened? Did any of the predictions we made in our town hall meeting actually happen?
- Who can remind us of the different activities we did today?
- What kinds of arguments were made on each side in the town hall meeting?
- Why do you think this was so important to the people of Boston? Why did they decide to throw out the tea?
- What do you think the Loyalists thought about the Tea Party? The Patriots? What was the main conflict between them?
- In politics today there are still times in our country when people are divided on specific issues that affect us all. What is an issue today that is causing conflict between folks with different beliefs? What else?