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The eventful Thursday, December 16, 1773, a day ever memorable in the annals of the town, witnessed the largest gathering yet seen at the Old South Meeting House. Nearly seven thousand persons constituted the assembly. Business was laid aside, and notwithstanding the rain, at least two thousand people flocked in from the country for twenty miles around. This time there was no need of handbills--there were none. No effort was required to bring together the multitude that quietly but anxiously awaited the outcome of the meeting. The gravity of the situation was universally felt. Immediate action was necessary, as the twenty days allowed for clearance terminated that night. Then the revenue officials could take possession, and under cover of the naval force land the tea, and opposition to this would have caused bloody work. The patriots would gladly have avoided the issue, but it was forced upon them, and they could not recede with honor.

The committee having reported the failure of its application for a clearance, Rotch was directed to enter a protest at the Custom House, and to apply to the governor for a pass to proceed on this day with his vessel on his voyage for London. He replied that it was impracticable to comply with this requirement. He was then reminded of his promise, and on being asked if he would now direct the "Dartmouth" to sail, replied that he would not. The meeting, after directing him to use all possible dispatch in making his protest and procuring his pass, adjourned until three o'clock.

At the afternoon meeting, information was given that several towns had agreed not to use tea. A vote was taken to the effect that its use was improper and pernicious, and that it would be well for all the towns to appoint committees of inspection "to prevent this accursed tea" from coming among them. "Shall we abide by our former resolution with respect to the not suffering the tea to be landed?" was now the question. Samuel Adams, Dr. Thomas Young and Josiah Quincy, Jr.,[17] an ardent young patriot devotedly attached to the liberties of his country, were the principal speakers. Only a fragment of the speech of Quincy remains. Counselling moderation, and in a spirit of prophecy, he said:

    "It is not, Mr. Moderator, the spirit that vapors within these walls that must stand us in stead. The exertions of this day will call forth the events which will make a very different spirit necessary for our salvation. Whoever supposes that shouts and hosannas will terminate the trials of the day, entertains a childish fancy. We must be grossly ignorant of the importance and value of the prize for which we contend; we must be equally ignorant of the power of those who have combined against us; we must be blind to that malice, inveteracy and insatiable revenge which actuates our enemies, public and private, abroad and in our bosom, to hope that we shall end this controversy without the sharpest, the sharpest conflicts; to flatter ourselves that popular resolves, popular harangues, popular acclamations, and popular vapor will vanquish our foes. Let us consider the issue. Let us look to the end. Let us weigh and consider before we advance to those measures which must bring on the most trying and terrific struggle this country ever saw."

But the time for weighing and considering the business in hand had passed. Time pressed and decisive action alone remained. "Now that the hand is at the plough," it was said, "there must be no looking back."

At half-past four it was unanimously voted that the tea should not be landed. An effort was now made to dissolve the meeting, but it was continued at the request of some of those present from the country, who wished to hear the result of Rotch's application to the governor.

It was an unusual time of the year to be at a country seat, but Governor Hutchinson was found at his Milton residence by Rotch, who renewed his request for a pass. Questioned by the governor as to the intentions of the people, Rotch replied that they only intended to force the tea back to England, but that there might be some who desired that the vessel might go down the harbor and be brought to by a shot from the castle, that it might be said that the people had done everything in their power to send the tea back. "Catching at this straw, with the instinct of a drowning man," Hutchinson offered Rotch a letter to Admiral Montagu, commending ship and goods to his protection, if Rotch would agree to have his ship haul out into the stream, but he replied that none were willing to assist him in doing this, and that the attempt would subject him to the ill will of the people. Hutchinson then sternly repeated his refusal of a pass,[18] as it would have been "a direct countenancing and encouraging the violation of the acts of trade." Thus closed the last opportunity for concession.

[Illustration: Signature, John Rowe

"Who knows how tea will mingle with salt water?"--JOHN ROWE. _Old South Church, Boston, Dec. 16, 1773._]

It is only fair to say that the performance of what he honestly believed to be his duty was as vital a consideration with Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, as opposition to measures which he believed to be hostile to the liberties of his country was to Samuel Adams, the popular leader. We can at this day well afford to mete out this tardy justice to a man whose motives and conduct have been so bitterly and unscrupulously vilified and maligned as have been those of Thomas Hutchinson.

[Illustration: Signature, John Rowe]

When Rotch returned and told the result of his application, it was nearly six o'clock. Darkness had set in, and the Old South, dimly lighted with candles, was still filled with an anxious and impatient multitude. "Who knows," said John Rowe,[19] "how tea will mingle with salt water?" The people hurrahed vehemently, and the cry arose, "A mob! a mob!" A call to order restored quiet. Dr. Young then addressed the meeting, saying that Rotch was a good man, who had done all in his power to gratify the people, and charged them to do no hurt to his person or property.

To the final question then put to him, whether he would send his vessel back with the tea in her, under the present circumstances, he replied, that he could not, as he "apprehended that a compliance would prove his ruin." He also admitted that if called upon by the proper persons, he should attempt to land the tea for his own security.

Adams then arose and uttered the fateful words, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." This was doubtless the preconcerted signal for action, and it was answered by the men who sounded the war-whoop at the church door. The cry was re-echoed from the gallery, where a voice cried out, "Boston harbor a tea-pot to-night; hurrah for Griffin's wharf!" and the "Mohawks" passed on to cut the Gordian knot with their hatchets.

Silence was again commanded, when the people, after "manifesting a most exemplary patience and caution in the methods they had pursued to preserve the property of the East India Company, and to return it safe and untouched to its owners," perceiving that at every step they had been thwarted by the consignees and their coadjutors, then dissolved the meeting, giving three cheers as they dispersed.

Meanwhile a number of persons, variously estimated at from twenty to eighty, (their number increasing as they advanced,) some of them disguised as Indians, and armed with hatchets or axes, hurried to Griffin's (now Liverpool) wharf, boarded the ships, and, warning their crews and the customs officers to keep out of the way, in less than three hours time had broken and emptied into the dock three hundred and forty-two chests of tea, valued at £18,000. The deed was not that of a lawless mob, but the deliberate and well-considered act of intelligent, as well as determined, men. So careful were they not to destroy or injure private property, that they even replaced a padlock they had broken. There was no noise nor confusion. They worked so quietly and systematically that those on shore could distinctly hear the strokes of the hatchets. As soon as the people learned what was going forward, they made their way to the scene of operations, covering the wharves in the vicinity, whence they looked on in silence during the performance. The night was clear, the moon shone brilliantly, no one was harmed, and the town was never more quiet. Next day, the Dorchester shore was lined with tea, carried thither by the wind and tide. The serious spirit in which this deed was regarded by the leaders, is illustrated by the act of one who, after assisting his apprentice to disguise himself, dropped upon his knees and prayed fervently for his safety, and the success of the enterprise.

Among the spectators of the scene were Dr. John Prince, of Salem; John Andrews, and Dr. Hugh Williamson, who afterwards underwent an examination respecting the affair before the British House of Commons.

Where is now the wide Atlantic Avenue, the old footpath under Fort Hill, known as Flounder Lane, and afterwards as Broad Street, wound around the margin of the water. Sea Street was its continuation to Wheeler's Point (the foot of Summer Street). Opposite where Hutchinson (now Pearl) Street entered Flounder Lane, was Griffin's Wharf. The laying out of Broad Street and Atlantic Avenue, and the consequent widening and filling in, have resulted in obliterating Griffin's Wharf, although in Liverpool wharf it has a legitimate successor. The old dock logs were found near the centre of the avenue. The coal office of the Messrs. Chapin now occupies the site rendered memorable by the exploit of the Boston tea party.