This is a story about a small wooden box, the Robinson Tea Chest, a box which floated into Boston’s history on the night of December 16, 1773. The chest was thrown into Boston Harbor when sixty patriots, disguised as Native Americans and equipped with hatchets, boarded and raided three British ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver. These ships belonged to the East India Tea Company; that night the patriots dumped 342 chests filled with tea into Boston Harbor.
That midnight raid became known as the Boston Tea Party an outraged reaction by Colonists to the Tea Act of 1773 when the British Parliament, to save the East India Tea Company from bankruptcy, levied heavy taxes and duties on tea to the Colonists.
The next day, December 17th, fifteen-year-old John Robinson, having witnessed the previous night’s raid, was walking along the shoreline looking for souvenirs. He found the tea chest, plucked it from the edge of the sea, took it home and hid it. Why hide it? Because, the British viewed the raid as an act of treason punishable by death and, Colonists hated anyone having anything to do with tea.
John Robinson went on to serve in the Revolutionary War, married his childhood sweetheart and raised a family, thus beginning the handing down of the wooden tea chest to Robinson family members. Little did John know that the tea chest would stay in his family for over two centuries, changing hands only six times until 2004 when Historic Tours of America purchased it from Robinson family descendents Andre and Betty Goodman of Texas.
The chest is one of only two tea chests to have survived the raid. The other chest is on display at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington DC. Comparisons of both show that the Robinson chest lid was fractured in the same way as the D.A.R’s chest lid had been.
Extensive laboratory (DNA) studies revealed that the chest has small deposits of tea, gypsum and chalk; Robinson family records show that it was used to store school supplies. And, more importantly, the tests showed evidence of sea water, possibly from floating in Boston Harbor.
Starting June 26th the Robinson Tea Chest will be on view at the new Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.