Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Only Surviving Chest from the Boston Tea Party

Blogger: Amber Schamel

When my family and I visited Boston this past fall, we had the pleasure of seeing the Boston Tea Party museum. It's a fantastic place with actors bringing the characters and events of the past to life. If you ever get a chance to go, this museum is worth the stop!

I love visiting the places I've read about, because you almost always learn something you didn't come across during your research. For me, the new tidbit was found at the center of the Tea Party Museum. The artifact was mesmerizing as it rotated in a glass cylinder, illuminated by a light designed to highlight the carvings and paintings on its sides. The Robinson Tea Chest.

During the night of the Boston Tea Party, the 'Indians' used tomahawks to break open the chests of tea and throw the contents into the harbor. They were thorough in their work. The tea chests were demolished and only slats of wood remained, floating in the foamy harbor. Of the 340 chests destroyed, only two survived. A teenager by the name of John Robinson spotted one of them half buried in sand while walking along the shore the next morning. He took it home and put it in a storage space underneath the stairs. It survived the war in that hiding place and has been passed down in the Robinson family for generations. Someone painted flowers on one side, someone else etched a game board into the bottom. It was used as a doll house, and even a nest for a litter of kittens. But the Robinson family diligently kept the story of the chest alive and passed the history and artifact along. In 2012, the chest became a part of the Tea Party Museum upon its grand opening.

Tea Chest Exhibit at Boston Tea Party Museum.

So how do we know this chest is an actual East India Company artifact that was indeed a part of the tea party? Fair question. Besides the oral history of the chest as provided by the Robinson family, there is also a letter and affidavit from one of the recipients of the crate. Helen Ford Waring, who inherited the crate from her mother, had a specific fascination with the relic and traced its path back up the family tree to John Robinson. This information proved valuable when the Smithsonian Institute contacted the family in regards to the artifact. In addition, forensic testing revealed traces of the salt-water from Boston harbor, and period accurate wood and nails, confirming the oral legend of the box. Thus, the Robinson Tea Chest stands as one of the most interesting artifacts of the Boston patriots.

Replica of the Robinson Chest

If you'd like to learn more about how the box was passed down through the years, you can read more details on the museum website:

Do you have any heirlooms or artifacts passed down in your family? I'd love to hear about them!

Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".  She lives in Colorado and spends half her time volunteering in the Ozarks. Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. I don't have anything super old. My grandfather's suitcase is perhaps from the late 1800's or early 1900's. Thanks for the post!

    1. That is neat, Connie. I absolutely LOVE old suitcases. And I bet your grandfather had a lot of adventures to tell about it.

  2. Wow ... forensic evidence that confirms the very water in the Boston Harbor! Amazing. Talk about being thorough about verifying oral history. Fascinating post. My most treasured heirloom is a gutta percha case holding a photo of my great grandmother as a young woman. Since the family didn't have many photographs of ancestors, it's especially precious to me

    1. I can see why, Stephanie. That's awesome.

      Isn't it amazing what they can confirm with science these days?

  3. What a fantastic story with the forensic evidence being there for the Robinson Tea Chest. I enjoyed learning facts of historical value. I have a library table that belonged to my grandparents who was married almost 74 years and they acquired the table in their early years together.
    Thank you for the post. Happy New Year to you Amber and all contributors on HHH.

    1. What a precious heirloom of your grandparents, Marilyn. Things like that have priceless value to us that no one else will understand.
      Happy New Year!