YARMOUTH — The slate gravestone of Capt. Joseph Bassett in Yarmouth’s Ancient Cemetery was decorated with a commemorative brass plaque on Wednesday, recognizing the old mariner as one of the patriots who took part in the 1773 Boston Tea Party.
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the Town of Yarmouth, and Revolution 250, a consortium of organizations planning a 250th commemoration of the iconic event, joined in the effort. Fifty people gathered around the Bassett family plot with its 12 slate gravestones.
Evan O’Brien, creative manager for Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, said the Tea Party was an event that came to define a nation.
"It eventually led to the American Revolution,” he said.
O’Brien gave some history on the days leading up to the Tea Party, how colonists sought to return the three ships carrying tea back to England. They did not want to pay tariffs and taxes on the tea, as the law required at the time. But their appeals to the Royal Governor to return the tea were refused.
Navigation laws at the time gave ships 20 days to clear customs, offload cargo and pay tariffs and taxes, O’Brien said. Colonists held 19 town meetings in those 20 days. As the deadline approached it became clear they would never be able to return the ships to England on time. So about 100 men, their faces covered in soot and wearing feathers in their caps, got on the ships and threw the tea chests overboard.
Those involved had sworn themselves to secrecy because it was an act of treason, O’Brien said. Only one man who said he’d been there was arrested, O’Brien added.
The tea was worth about 10,000 pounds sterling at the time, a sum that would translate into $1.3 million to $1.8 million today, O’Brien said. As a result, England blocked Boston Harbor to punish the city until the bill was paid. It never was.
Jonathan Lane, coordinator of Revolution 250, said the real revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people. Long before the first drops of blood were shed in the battles of Lexington and Concord, people supported the cause of independence, he said.
By the time the Continental Congress formally declared independence from Great Britain in July 1776, towns in Massachusetts had discussed the issue in town meetings. Every town in the commonwealth was asked to put an article on their town warrants in early 1776 to debate the issue.
From Yarmouth to Worcester, residents were asked if they would support independence with their life, liberty and property, Lane said. Virtually every town supported the article, he added.
Equity advocates at the Juneteenth Freedom Walk in Falmouth call for continued reform
The story of the country’s fight for independence is a complicated one, and Revolution 250 is working to tell the stories of underrepresented people, Lane said.
“It’s important to understand that American independence was not entirely won by the likes of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin,” Lane said. “There were African Americans – free and slaves – who supported independence, Native Americans, women and children. These people were ordinary citizens.”
And the principles behind the protest are timeless, as important today as they were 250 years ago, Lane said.
Actor Ryan Stack, outfitted in a tri-corner hat, woolen coat, button-down waist coat, neck tie and breeches portrayed Capt. Bassett. Bassett lived in Yarmouth and was a sea captain by trade. He had sailed into Boston Harbor in the lead-up to the Tea Party and was inspired to join the protest.
Take a history tour: Massachusetts history on full display during free, fun State House tour
The design on the commemorative plaque is inspired by Nathaniel Currier’s “The Destruction of the Tea at Boston Harbor” lithograph created in 1846, according to the museum. It depicts bare chested men with feathers in their hair tossing tea chests overboard a ship. Colonists on land cheer them on.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Yarmouth sea captain recognized for his part in Boston Tea Party