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Where was the Boston Tea Party Site?
Frequently Asked Questions & Frequently Questioned Answers

  • These are comments extracted from actual emails. The identity of those expressing the question or comment is withheld.
  • I appreciate all of the emails received. The responses or answers shown here are not necessarily those I sent in response to the original message.

ANS: [snip] I viewed your website on the Tea Party site with some interest. I commend you for your map research but have to tell you that you have come to slightly the wrong conclusion, for Griffin's Wharf was actually on the site of later Liverpool Wharf, now the empty lot at 500 Atlantic Avenue, not on the site of the present Russia Wharf Building.

[JR NOTE: At the time of this writing, the lot was vacant, as seen in the aerial view. A page down from this view shows the Intercontinental Boston Hotel now there and other links show the "Big Dig" vent tower it encloses. Complying with the very useful comments in this response resulted in moving my estimate of the location 45 yards to the east of my initial estimate.]

There are several reasons for your error, most notably your relying too heavily on two 18th c. maps that are not noted for their accuracy, namely the Price 1769 and the Page 1777. Actually, the location of Griffin's Wharf is not consistent on these two maps, as you claim. On the 1769 Price, Griffin's Wharf is shown slightly northeast of an extension of Hutchinson (later Pearl) Street whereas on the 1777 Page it is slightly southwest of the foot of Hutchinson.

[JR NOTE: by laying a straight edge on Hutchinson St., it may be noted that the end of Griffin's Wharf on the 1777 map is to the east of that line. The street and the wharf are not shown as parallel. However, I know the credentials of this person, and accept that the 1769 map in the more trustworthy of the two.]
The location on the 1769 Price is the correct one, as you can see on the 1800 Carleton. By 1814, as shown on the Hales map of that year (not available on the web but in the Mapping Boston book), the former Griffin's Wharf just northeast of Pearl had become Harris' Wharf and by 1826 (see the 1826 Annin and Smith map in Mapping Boston it was Liverpool Wharf.
[JR Note: It certainly appears to me to see that the final Liverpool Wharf location is somewhat to east of its Griffin's Wharf beginnings].
And so it remained until it was taken over by Boston Edison at the very end of the 19th c.

Another confusion in your account concerns Belcher's Lane. It became Purchase Street, not Atlantic Avenue, as perhaps you can see in a comparison of the 1800 Carleton and 1838 Boynton maps on the Mapping Boston website.

[JR Note: That is indeed an error and has been corrected.]
The reason Atlantic Avenue is not present on the 1800 map is because not enough land had been made for it to be laid out, NOT because land had been removed to fill wharves. And by the way, to speak of "landfilling" is an oxymoron, for it was water that was being filled, not land. I suggest that you use just the term "filling" for this concept.
[JR Note: While I had used the term I had seen used most commonly for the process, I have replaced all uses of landfilling with in-filling, realizing that by so doing, I am at some risk of replacing one oxymoron with another!].

I hope you will put the correct location of the Tea Party on your website.

[JR Note: I have given it my best effort!].
You have done a service by showing that it was not at 470 Atlantic Avenue on the site of Independence Wharf, but it would be nice if you could show where it actually was. [snip]

MY RESPONSE: This response is precisely the kind and quality of response the webpage was intended to elicit. In almost every case, I have modified the webpage to concur with the comments. I have hedged a bit on saying that the location of Liverpool Wharf is identical with that of Griffin's Wharf at the time of the BTP, because I cannot see that the maps support such a conclusion. While quite close to the same position, it appears to me Liverpool Wharf grew to the east from the original Griffin's Wharf location, and that some of the westernmost portions of Griffin's Wharf disappeared over time. I have taken the position that the BTP took place slightly to the west of the location of Liverpool Wharf. What we are talking about is "where was the tea thrown overboard?". Actually, the spilled tea was carried considerable distances by water and waves. Had this person already had a webpage online spelling out the conclusions expressed above, I'd likely have linked to it and gone away satisfied that my question had been answered. Thank you for this very factual and informed response. I remain puzzled why Boston scholars have remained silent when the numerous erroneous locations for the BTP have been publicized, but I will let that go as an "imponderable".

ANS: The Boston Tea Party indeed did occur at Griffin Wharf but it is difficult to place Griffin in today's world with all of the changes along that section of Boston.

MY RESPONSE: This response is from a place in Boston that has access to as many of the old maps as one would find anywhere. If a conclusion were forthcoming from them, based upon cartography (the basis of my conclusions), few would question it. While difficult, I do not agree that it is impossible. What one must do is study a lot of old maps of Boston over the years, ignore what has changed, and focus on "what has remained the same".

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ANS:It surely is not where the Boston Tea Party ship and gift shop are located.

MY RESPONSE: It appears to me that if they were to moor the ship along the north side of Fort Point Channel rather than in the middle, they would be about as close as they could get and still be in the water. And per Labaree, while the other two ships were tied up at the wharf, the Beaver was "anchored nearby". I'd think it probable that they anchored off the end of the wharf, so as not to interfere with wharf operation, and also due to having recently had smallpox on board.

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ANS: It is Osgood Carleton's map that is the most accurate.

MY RESPONSE: I understand that the map you refer to is the map of 1800 from "Mapping Boston" (map 14-d), 27 years after the event. The location of Oliver Street, Pearl Street and Gridley Street are as easy to find on that map as they are on one off MapQuest. Griffin's wharf is a few yards east of where it is shown on both maps of 4 years of 1773 when the Tea Party occurred. And then on later maps, a wharf reappears in its former position.
[NOTE: My response here seems to have been too quick and too glib. The comment was apparently made by someone who had good reason to know what she (possibly, he, but probably not) was talking about. Would that this person would have made his/her case in a more detailed fashion, since it appears that it would have clarified the location of the BTP months earlier than was the case.]

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ANS: Are you aware that Boston literally grew substantially with the removal of at least one hill and the dumping of the removal spoil into the harbor? I understand that where wharves and docks once stood is now substantially blocks away from the nearest water.

MY RESPONSE: I am well aware of that fact. I have provided a summary of a number of statements and maps showing the history of the in-filling (about as complete as you'll find anywhere). I found that the summary maps and statements were useless in learning when in-filling actually occurred in the South Cove area. The only way I have been able to understand when it affected the old Griffin's Wharf area is by looking at changes visible in the maps made over the years.

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ANS: (From an historical society) We do not have a historian on staff who can evaluate your effort.

MY RESPONSE: Although that statement gives me pause, I have no response it, but I must point out that this person was courteous and helpful in suggesting other persons to contact (which I did).

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ANS: The Boston Tea Party took place at a location now occupied by a building on Atlantic Ave and I think Northern Ave. It actually used to be where the Mass. Dept of Vital Records used to be located. There was a plaque on the outside of the building that marked the historic site. They tore down the building because it was sinking into the ocean (it was on pilings and they were sinking). There is now a new building there but I am not sure if the plaque remains.

MY RESPONSE: It would be interesting to know the exact location of any such plaques in order to make the list of proposed sites as complete as possible. I have found no evidence substantiating that the Boston Tea Party occurred in the area of either of the Northern Avenues, as I have explained here and here. If there is evidence for such, I'd like very much to see it.

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ANS: I do not know the actual spot where the Tea Party took place but I am certain of an approximate location. That approximate location is near the Rowe's Wharf Hotel to the rear as one would head towards Atlantic and Northern Avenues.

MY RESPONSE: This sounds as if it would be to the north of the old Northern Avenue bridge. As above, it would be interesting to be able to plot this location in order to make the list of proposed sites be as complete as possible. I have seen no evidence to substantiate such a site, but would like to see it if it is available. I believe the answer I gave for the two Northern Avenue locations would apply.

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ANS: The Boston Tea Party took place on T Wharf.

MY RESPONSE: I responded to this in this message to the Boston-L mailing list. A general response to this area can be found here.

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ANS: I have seen several maps of 1770s waterfront and except for Rowe's Wharf and some of the street names ( Pearl, High, Congress and others) very little is even recognizable in any form. I doubt that the exact location even if it could be named could be accurately identified today.

MY RESPONSE: You are not alone in having this opinion. It comes close to being the "standard answer" in the answers that I have received from Boston and Massachusetts historical societies and agencies. To date, I have received a single reply from one of these groups where it was evident that there was any familiarity with the evidence I provide. For those who give this answer without considering evidence offered to the contrary, it is like saying "My mind is made up. Please do not confuse me with the facts."

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ANS: (from a non-Boston historian) What is it that piqued your interest to conduct such indepth research to establish the exact location where the event took place particularly given the fact that the location no longer exists other than essentially as GPS coordinates?

MY RESPONSE: When you see the satellite picture, you will see that the site I select is under a building. Next to that building (at least 5 years ago) was a big vacant lot. [NOTE: You will see that I later revised my estimate of the site to be in what was then a vacant lot. The International Boston Hotel now occupies that lot.] You can very probably use a gps and be able to stand very close to where it took place, or possibly on the site itself. [No longer true]. Among my associates, to be able to stand on a site is an end in itself. We stand on a lot of them. Deducing where they were (when others declare them "unknown") from old accounts and maps, and matching our results with those of our associates, is great fun. If you really know and love a story, standing on (or near) the spot it occurred makes it become very real in your imagination.

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ANS: On the front of the Sheraton Building on Atlantic Ave. is a bronze plaque saying it is the site of the Boston Tea party.

MY RESPONSE: It would be great to be able to plot that site in order to have the list of proposed sites to be as complete as possible. If anyone could take a gps reading of it or could point to the spot on a close-in city map, I'd like to hear from you (John Robertson). One thing that jumps out at you from seeing a map like this one is that All the sites, with one possible exception, are wrong. What is amazing is that no one seems to have challenged them.

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QUES: By placing a marker at the actual site of the Boston Tea Party, if it is in fact now several blocks from the water, would it serve their better understanding of the event or would it just confuse them?

MY RESPONSE: When you can make a map like this one which includes most but not all the suggested sites, it looks to me like confusion is exactly what we already have!. I consider the Boston Tea Party to be the event, more than any other, which started the chain of actions/reactions leading to the Revolutionary War. It is disturbing to me to see so many sites proposed for its occurrence without substantiation and without challenge. If it can be established (which I believe to be the case), it is unacceptable not to do so.

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ANS: (from a Boston historical group) Thanks for your email about the specific whereabouts of the Boston Tea Party. As I'm sure you're aware, there are many different opinions as to precisely where this event transpired. I took several moments to examine your website this morning and see that you are familiar with these different hypotheses. I'm afraid we can not be all that much help in your research as we don't have direct access to any documents that might shed some light on the subject, (and judging by your exhaustive work, I doubt we would find anything any more substantial than you have already found!).

Judging solely on what you have formulated, there does seem to be some indication that the exact location may be near to where you place it. One thing for sure is that it is very difficult to tell given the myriad of conflicting maps and accounts from the time period, and seeing as Boston has evolved and changed so much since the time of the Tea Party. Definitely worth a look though. (italics added).

MY RESPONSE: I have requested a response from every historical agency or society I could find in the area. This is the only response from such in the Boston area showing evidence of having thoughtfully considered the evidence I offer. I don't ask for blanket approval of my work, and it was not given. I only ask that it be seriously considered, and it was. I particularly appreciate that someone who has thoughtfully read my site considers it "definitely worth a look".

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ANS: The latest National Park Service map of Boston (pdf) shows the actual Boston Tea Party site to have been just southwest of the intersection of Purchase and Congress Streets.

MY RESPONSE: This is answered here. This certainly appears to me to be a location that has always been on dry land! I would like very much to see the evidence to support this site. The only way I can visualize doing so is by superimposing old maps over new maps graphically, and there would be difficulties in that.

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ANS: (from a non-Boston historian) I have had a chance to take a quick look at your Boston Tea Party website. I must say, I am very impressed with the research that you've done and the evidence that you provide in drawing your conclusions. It is reminiscent of the way I do a lot of my research. Many out there, particularly in the public arena and outside the historical community, would say that it is way beyond "over-kill," but to me, ferreting out details like you have done is just one of the many fun things about being an historian.

MY RESPONSE: I know that you see that such detail is required. I can also understand how someone with only a casual interest in the matter could drown in the detail. If I am to make a credible case that the actual site can be found, I have no choice but to provide as much detail and as much evidence as I can muster. I also have no choice but to refute the claims of those sites for which there is no supportive evidence. I believe that I have done so. I have shown my evidence; where is that of those would differ with me?

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ANS: ...Our source material in regard to the Tea Party, unfortunately, is negligible and would provide little in the way of evidence of either confirmation or dispute of your conclusions. As a practical matter, not having anyone on staff who has studied all pertinent data relative to the Tea Party in the necessary detail to effectively examine your work would preclude us from judgement. Any qualified refutation of existing scholarly opinion on this particular event would require an expertise beyond that which our research staff could provide. (italics added)

MY RESPONSE: As usual, I appreciate any answer. My hunch is that my boringly detailed collection of evidence was studied with interest, but there is no hint of it in this response. This is from a place where most would expect that there could be found those with the interest, the adequate knowledge, data and expertise to make such an evaluation. Had they done so, few would have questioned their conclusions.

I am attempting to show that the Tea Party occurred in a single specific location which I identify, providing my evidence for doing so. There are numerous other sites proposed apparently without substantiation and without challenge. If there is existing scholarly opinion, why is it seemingly silent about the many contradictory unsubstantiated claims about where such an historic event occurred?

If the existing opinion is indeed scholarly, and if all it has to say is that the answer is unknown and unknowable, does it not become suspect when it chooses to ignore any evidence to the contrary? History has not been kind to such scholarly positions.

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