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Patriots Live

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Boston Tea Party Museum unveils rare tea chest artifact

DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE

This Robinson Half Tea Chest is one of only two left from 1773.

The outraged colonists who threw it in the harbor are long gone. But a chest hurled into the water during the Boston Tea Party — and the nation that sprang from that ­unrest — are still around.

On Wednesday, the Robinson Half Tea Chest, a crate that colonists tossed overboard in protest of British taxes prior to the Revolutionary War, was ­returned to the spot where the Tea ­Party began.

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The chest, one of two remaining, was passed down through generations after John Robinson retrieved it the morning after the Tea Party from the marshes of Dorchester Heights in what is now South Boston, said Christopher Belland, chief executive of Historic Tours of America, which owns the ­Boston Ships and Tea Party Museum, where the chest will be showcased.

The museum bought the chest from a Texas family six years ago.

A fife and drum corps playing in front of the Old South Meeting House Wednesday caught the attention of many who stopped to listen in the midst of a light rain. Several officials with connections to the museum and meeting house spoke, from the same spot where Samuel Adams once ­addressed the patriots.

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The chest was then marched from the meeting house to the waterfront museum, which is on the exact spot the chest was cast overboard more than two centuries ago. The possibilities of such a chest existing and ever returning to the Tea Party scene were minuscule, said Robin DeBlosi, director of marketing at the meeting house.

“Most artifacts from this treasonous event were buried in the mud so people wouldn’t keep them,” DeBlosi said, “which is what makes this so rare.”

Other known artifacts include a label peeled from one of the chests, a few tea leaves fished from the waters, and a second tea chest, which is at the Daughters of the American Revolution museum in Washington, D.C.

At Wednesday’s unveiling, 90 third-graders from Davis Hill Elementary School in Holden followed the corps, reenactors, and chest through the streets. At the museum, they were given the first look at a replica ship’s hold to see what the colonists probably saw when they seized the chest.

However, the rest of Boston eager to glance back into time through the chest will have to wait. The crate will not be viewable by the public until June 26, when the museum reopens after being closed for 11 years.

The museum’s troubles began when a fire burned the site after it was struck by lightning in 2001.

Originally scheduled in 2004, with two additional replica ships, the reopening was first delayed by paperwork, then by another fire in 2007.

Paying a visit to see the tea crate will be much more than simply looking at an old box.

“Looking at this one tea crate it reminds you how differently things could have happened,” DeBlosi said. “We could be in a British colony today.”

Matt Woolbright can be reached at matt.woolbright@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @reportermatt.
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