It’s a cold December morning as a group of Suffolk students stand outside the Old State House Museum, the men wearing black, tricorn hats and the women in ruffled white bonnets.
They are about to reenact the Boston Tea Party as an alternative to taking a traditional final exam in “The American Revolution” history course.
“I gave them a choice of writing two papers or reenacting the Boston Tea Party,” says History Professor Robert Allison. “They all jumped at the opportunity to do the latter because it was a unique way to learn outside of the classroom.”
Beginning at the Old State House Museum, the dozen students followed in the footsteps of the original Boston revolutionaries, traveling to the Old South Meeting House then to Griffin’s Wharf on the Boston Harbor, site of the 1773 Tea Party, playing out historical scenes at all three venues.
At the Old State House Museum, Sally Thomas played Francis Rotch, who owned the ship, Dartmouth. She explained the shipowner’s dilemma: that it would cost him a fortune to leave Boston without unloading the tea, much as he would like to do so.
The class then moved on to the Old South Meeting House, where a series of tumultuous meetings had demonstrated public opposition to landing the tea. There Rotch met with customs collector Richard Harrison—played by Taylor Miranda—and Governor Thomas Hutchinson—Dennis Rodriguez— who refused Rotch’s request for a pass to sail the Dartmouth out of port.
When Rotch told the Old South meeting that his request for a pass was denied, Samuel Adams announced: “This Meeting can do nothing more to save the country!”
Freshman Israel Peter Sanchez, playing the leader of the rebels, shouted, “Hurray! For Griffin’s Wharf!” and led the class to the waterfront, following the route of the patriots of 1773.
At the wharf, the class staged a confrontation with Dartmouth Captain James Hall—Jonathan Walker—and reenacted the storming of the ship. In a concluding note, narrator Erik Doldt read from John Adams’s diary for Dec. 17, 1773, calling the “Destruction of the Tea,” the “most magnificent Movement of all.”
“The class really got at the political movement behind the destruction of the tea – why it was such an important event,” said Allison. “Most reenactments focus on the dramatic and theatrical dumping of the tea.
“But these students in their script and performance really showed the political tension in Boston in 1773, and the tension between Adams and Hutchinson, with Rotch caught in the middle, and showed why this dramatic event had such profound consequences. Their script captured this perfectly. This was the moment at which revolution became inevitable.”
“I feel so lucky because I get to experience the American Revolution in the place where it was born–Boston,” says Thomas, a European history major and Iraq war veteran. “It’s pretty awesome to learn this way, following the path of so many historical places.”
Students involved in the group project took responsibility for tasks ranging from researching the history of the Tea Party, to writing the script, to learning about the characters involved to properly play their roles.
“By working together and using everyone’s talents, they reenacted the Boston Tea Party in dramatic form and brought it to life,” says Allison.
Rodriguez and senior Francesca Famosi, with help from Walker and sophomore Patrick Flynn, co-wrote the script, compiling much of their information from the book, The Boston Tea Party, by Allison.
“When you’re writing something like this, you really delve into the details about the Tea Party to learn more than you ever knew before,” says Famosi.
Added Rodriguez, “As a group, we were all very passionate about making the most of this alternative final exam. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in college.