E Pluribus Unum

10b. Sons and Daughters of Liberty

Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson
Royal Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson

They were the ones who were not afraid. They knew instinctively that talk and politics alone would not bring an end to British tyranny. They were willing to resort to extralegal means if necessary to end this series of injustices. They were American patriots — northern and southern, young and old, male and female. They were the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.

Like other secret clubs at the time, the Sons of Liberty had many rituals. They had secret code words, medals, and symbols. Originally formed in response to the Stamp Act, their activities were far more than ceremonial. It was the Sons of Liberty who ransacked houses of British officials. Threats and intimidation were their weapons against tax collectors, causing many to flee town. Images of unpopular figures might be hanged and burned in effigy on the town's Liberty Tree. Offenders might be covered in warm tar and blanketed in a coat of feathers.

㽶ƵappAnother important function of the Sons of Liberty was correspondence. These clubs could be found up and down the colonial seaboard. Often they coordinated their activities. Like the public Congresses that would be convened, this private band of societies provided an intercolonial network that would help forge unity. It should come as no surprise that the members of the Sons of Liberty and the delegates to the various Congresses were at times one and the same.

The Daughters of Liberty performed equally important functions. Once nonimportation became the decided course of action, there was a natural textile shortage. Mass spinning bees were organized in various colonial cities to make homespun substitutes. Since women often purchased consumer goods for the home, the Daughters of Liberty became instrumental in upholding the boycott, particularly where tea was concerned. The most zealous Daughters of Liberty refused to accept gentleman callers for themselves or their daughters who were not sympathetic to the patriot cause.

Of course, the winners write the history books. Had the American Revolution failed, the Sons and Daughters of Liberty would no doubt be regarded as a band of thugs, or at the very least, outspoken troublemakers. History will be on their sides, however. These individuals risked their lives and reputations to fight against tyranny. In the end, they are remembered as heroes.

On the Web

For ten years, a tree known as the "Liberty Elm" often served as the rallying place for the Sons of Liberty. The Liberty Tree Society continues this tradition with Liberty Tree Memorials.

Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson had his residence burned by the Sons of Liberty. He went — in his own lifetime — from being one of the most admired men in the Bay colony to being one of the most despised. This link to Hutchinson's "The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay" really has nothing to do with the Sons of Liberty, however, is a fascinating glimpse into one of the Revolution's most interesting figures.

Known as the "Rebellious Stripes," the Sons of Liberty flag was a rallying standard for the radical group. This page gives a little history of the Liberty Flag and includes a nice image.

From the PBS Liberty site, a bit about how the Sons of Liberty did their bit in the Boston Tea Party. For those of you who have audio capability, check out what scholar Pauline Maier has to say about the Tea Party.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter! Come to this most excellent page for an examination of a group whose violent activities helped propel America toward Revolution at a time when most favored reconciliation.
A few hours after receiving the official papers, a raucous mob captured the governor's gilded and spectacular coach and reduced it to a pile of ashes. From here the mob (consisting largely of extremist elements of the New York Sons of Liberty) raced uptown to the home of Fort George's commander, smashing numerous windows and breaking into the wine cellar to sustain their patriotism..."

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