by The Sons of Liberty Chapter of the SAR
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted from the September 1996 Edition of the Liberty Tree and Valley Compatriot Newsletter
As surely as you are members of this Chapter, you will be asked “Who are or were the Sons of Liberty?” We have prepared a short description of this historic group and will be publishing articles on the Sons of Liberty as time goes by.
The Sons of Liberty was a secret organization that had its start in 1765 to protest and nullify the Stamp Act. They took their name from Isaac Barre’s speech opposing that act in the House of Commons. Barre had closed his speech with a reference to the colonists as ” . . . these sons of liberty”. During the course of the Revolution they assumed many different names, but whether they called themselves “committees of safety”, or “true-born Whigs”, they were the radicals who led the colonies into open revolt against the British Colonial Government, the Crown, and Parliament.
In the name of “Liberty” they were responsible for many acts of violence against supporters of the Crown. Tar and Feathering were among their favorite forms of retribution. Sam Adams’ group, recruited from wharfingers, artisans and shipyard workers of North Boston, were ruffians to say the least. On August 26th, 1765 they burned the records of the Vice-Admiralty Court, ransacked the home of the comptroller of the currency, and looted the mansion of the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. Their effectiveness was demonstrated by the fact that all Stamp Act agents in the colonies had resigned before the Act was supposed to become law on November 1st, 1765.
Committees of Correspondence were established in early 1772 to coordinate the activities of all the colonies and to organize public opinion against the British ministry. The first known Committee was created in Boston, Massachusetts at the urging of Samuel Adams. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry established Virginia’s committee.
Since the Sons of Liberty was a secret organization, and one must keep in mind they were guilty of acts of treason against the British Crown, they were careful not to keep rosters of members. There is evidence to support their being organized along the lines of contemporary espionage groups – – by cells of a handful of members, who interfaced with other such groups, whose names were unknown to them. This would prevent a captured member or an infiltrator to be able to identify the entire organization. As the acts of ungentlemanly conduct spread, many of their ranking members were careful to distance their names from the Sons of Liberty even after the Revolutionary War was won. It is therefore impossible today for us to compile active lists of members. But, it is safe to assume that most of the founding fathers were indeed members.
In Boston, as an example, to identify oneself as a member of the Sons of Liberty, Paul Revere cast a coin size medal which was suspended around the neck by a ribbon. It had a liberty tree on one side with the words “Liberty Tree” on the bottom, and on the reverse side an arm holding a liberty cap with the words “Sons of Liberty” inscribed at the bottom. We have a written description of the medal, but not a single one has survived.
From the Sons of Liberty and the Committees of Correspondence grew the Committees of Safety. Again, the first one was established in Massachusetts in February of 1775. It consisted of eleven men and had the authority to mobilize the local militia and to seize military stores. It was, in fact, the first “Revolutionary Government”, usurping the power of the Crown and Parliament to govern the people.
The other Colonies soon followed Massachusetts’s example. In most cases, the members of these Committees of Safety were appointed by popular opinion, and consisted of the most respected and prominent (anti-British) men from each colony.
Soon after hostilities started at Lexington and Concord, these Committees of Safety convened the First Continental Congress on July 18th, 1775. It was at this Congress that the Committees of Safety declared themselves to be the legitimate government of the colonies, creating a “Continental Army” and, although not stated for another year, unofficially declared their independence from English rule. With the establishment of Congress, the need for the Sons of Liberty was over and they were disbanded, leaving us a Nation of Free Men.