Who Were the Sons of Liberty?

Who Were the Sons of Liberty?

The Sons of Liberty were a grassroots group of instigators and provocateurs in colonial America who used an extreme form of civil disobedience—threats, and in some cases actual violence—to intimidate loyalists and outrage the British government. The goal of the radicals was to push moderate colonial leaders into a confrontation with the Crown.

The Sons marked one of their early victories in December 1765. The Stamp Act—the first tax imposed directly on American colonists by the British government—had only been in effect for a month, when a group of Boston merchants and craftsmen sent a letter to Andrew Oliver, the newly-appointed official collector of stamps. The group informed Oliver that he was to show up the next day at noon at the Liberty Tree in the city’s South End to publicly resign.

“Provided that you comply with the above, you shall be treated with the greatest Politeness and Humanity,” the letter explained. The message left to Oliver’s imagination what terrible fate might befall him if he didn’t comply.

Oliver didn’t need much persuading. He appeared as demanded, walking through the streets of Boston in a driving rainstorm and quit his job, to the cheers of a crowd of 2,000 people.

It was an exhibition of the fearsome clout of the Sons of Liberty. The Son likely formed from a secretive group of nine Boston-based patriots who called themselves the Loyal Nine. The first Sons chapters sprung up in Boston and New York City, but other cells soon appeared in other colonies as well.

The group may have taken its name from a speech given in Parliament by Isaac Barre, an Irish member sympathetic to the colonists, who warned that the British government’s behavior “has caused the blood of these sons of liberty to recoil within them.”

Their most famous act of disobedience was destroying 92,000 pounds of British tea in Boston Harbor in December 1773. The Boston Tea Party, as the act would become known, was one of the key events that pushed the colonies and the British government toward war.

Samuel Adams, John Hancock Were Among Its Prominent Leaders

The Sons’ most prominent leader was Samuel Adams, the son of a wealthy brewer who was more interested in radical rabble-rousing than commerce. Adams wrote his masters thesis at Harvard on the lawfulness of resisting British rule. While George Washington eventually led the war effort against the British, “the truth is that there might not have been a fight to begin with had it not been for the work of Sam Adams,” writes historian Les Standiford.

Another key member was John Hancock, who later was immortalized by his flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence. James Otis, Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, among others, were also involved in the group.

Adams and Hancock in particular were so loathed and feared by the British that when General Thomas Gage offered amnesty to Bostonians who stopped their resistance in 1775, he made a point of excluding the two men, “whose offences are of too flagitious a nature” not to be punished severely.

It’s not hard to understand why Gage took a hard line against them. After forming in the summer of 1765, the Boston Sons chapter marched through the streets and burned stamp officer Oliver’s effigy, and then broke into and looted his house. When Massachusetts Lt. Gov. and Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson, a loyalist, declined to renounce the Stamp Act, they similarly looted and destroyed his house as well.

The Sons didn’t stop there. After Parliament passed the Townshend Acts in 1767, which imposed import duties on goods such as china and glass, Adams organized a boycott to keep British goods out of Massachusetts altogether. According to Adams biographer Dennis Fradin, the Sons enforced the boycott by sending boys to smash the windows and smear excrement on the walls of local shops that didn’t comply. If that didn’t work, the proprietor faced the risk of being kidnapped and tarred and feathered, a painful, humiliating torture that could leave lasting scars.

“Violence was not necessarily accepted as a regular feature of politics, but there was an understanding that it might be part of politics as a last resort,” explains Benjamin L. Carp a historian at Brooklyn College and author of the 2010 book Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America.

During this time, the Sons’ core views evolved, Carp says. They rejected the British notion that they had fought the French and Indian War on behalf of the colonists, and that as a result, the Americans were obligated to pay for continued upkeep of British soldiers in North America. But beyond that, they also rejected the authority of the British Parliament to make laws for Americans. Most of all, they argued the British government could not compel Americans to pay taxes.

Their overarching goals similarly shifted over time. “At the outset, most Sons of Liberty only wanted something limited—for Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act,” Carp explains. “But over time, more and more Sons of Liberty became convinced that independence was the answer.”

The Boston Tea Party

Parliament’s passage in December 1773 of the Tea Act, which propped up the financially struggling British East India Company by giving it a virtual monopoly on selling tea to the colonies, pushed the Sons to become even more brazen. The law threatened the livelihood of the American merchants who had been importing tea from Dutch traders. The Sons couldn’t let that stand.

“I don’t think the Bostonians set out to destroy property. I think they felt it was a last resort,” Carp says. “Their first preference would have been to send the tea back. But when the merchants (consignees) were unwilling, the ship captains were unwilling—it would have ruined them—and the governor was unwilling to bend the rules for them, they felt they had no choice.”

“If they’d allowed the tea to land, they knew that customers wouldn’t be able to resist it—so they would have paid the tax on it AND let a monopoly company, the East India Company, muscle into the local market,” Carp says.

The Bostonians also knew that if they let the tea be unloaded, they’d lose standing in the eyes of other Sons of Liberty groups in New York, Philadelphia and other places, he notes.

The Sons’ defiance of the British not only helped spur the Revolutionary War, it also fostered an American tradition of grassroots activism that various activist groups have applied over the centuries to push for change.

Who Were the Sons of Liberty? - HISTORY

It was 1765 when everything started. It was another year of suffering for the Colonists suffering under the wrath and dominance of the British army. One day, a very controversial rule known as the Stamp Act of 1765 was established on all the colonies of British America. It stated that most printed materials must be published on the stamped papers made in London, and they even had proceeds stamps on each of them.


On top of that, the tax required must be paid in the accepted British currency, not the currency used by the colonies. The apparent purpose of the tax was to pay for the British troops’ service after their victory on the Seven Year’s War. The British people were certainly happy for having this law established unfortunately, the American colonies were certainly not smiling about it. That was the time when certain groups, after tolerating years of British oppression, had suddenly appeared and gathered. And after being christened by Sir Isaac Barré – an Irish man who became one of the champions of American rights, the group was reborn as the Sons of Liberty.

Sons of Liberty

was an underground faction that sought to protect and fight for the American cause. It all began when the British Empire rose as one of the most feared powers in the world. After having conquered countries like France, the hands of the Empire finally reached America, where they decided to provide workplaces for their armed forces and almost ten thousand men. If that wasn’t bad enough, the British forces had planned to fund this by collecting unnecessary taxes. And due to this and the lack of representation of the Colonists in the Parliament, the “no taxation without representation” was conceived.

Many groups since then had appeared, the most known of which was the Boston Caucus Club. But the true highlight of the controversies was the Stamp Act of 1765. Every person in the colonies was enraged, and a selected few redirected this hatred by forming the Sons of Liberty. The chief founder of the said cause was a man named Samuel Adams. The conquerors soon after faced a series of threats, violent acts, and mass demonstrations.


The first known activity of the Sons of Liberty occurred on the 14th of August, 1765, when an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the next candidate to be the Distributor of Stamp for Massachusetts, was hung on a tree on Newbury Street. This figure also had a big boot and a scary demon springing out of it. This was actually a symbol orchestrated by the Sons of Liberty in order to show the wicked link between Andrew Oliver and the Stamp Act.

Local officers were ordered to remove the effigy shockingly, none of them did what they were told, out of fear that the raging crowd that appeared ahead of them would kill them if they did. They moved on to his main house, and after the villagers looked out of their windows to view the stirring commotion the crowd proceeded to behead the figure they made while the others stoned Andrew’s house.

The angry mob then went on to Fort Hill where they created a bonfire to burn the Andrew Oliver effigy in flames. Some ransacked the abandoned home of Oliver. The next morning, everything was quiet. It seemed that the leaders and most of the British Army remained silent about the night’s events.

By years end, members of the Sons of Liberty appeared in the colonies. All people had continued their efforts in an attempt to coerce the British to stop selling their stamps. Since then, other groups have exercised similar and more radical methods of protest. Many bands tried to boycott the British goods and merchandises, aside from the stamped papers. A cluster of the Sons of Liberty had set ablaze the written records of the vice-admiralty court and pillaged the house of Thomas Hutchinson, a chief justice of that time.


During local elections, many candidates that helped contribute to the Stamp Act lost due to their support for the act. It wasn’t also apparent to all the authorities that most members of the Sons of Liberty were actually news publishers and printers. They made perfect use of their positions by spreading propaganda through articles in news publications that describe the actions and movements of the Sons of Liberty.

Even though only five of the seven literary works were published, news had already scattered like wildfire throughout the nearby states. That marked the newly-formed collaboration of the states. The chain of uprisings on New York and Connecticut that started on November of 1765 still continued up to January of 1766 in Newport, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and March of 1766 in New Jersey, Virginia, Norfolk, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. The states were soon to be included in the nine-striped flag that the Sons of Liberty was famous for.

Word about the Sons of Liberty continued to spread, many British officials trembled and hid in order to be spared. However, many instances, some were unkind to the people. January 19, 1770 marked the Battle of Golden Hill, where many casualties fell on the Colonists’ side due to the reaction of the army on the “liberty poles” they had put up. On June 10, 1771, the HMS Gaspée, a British ship docked on Rhode Island, was burned down, further spreading the infamy of the faction. When the East India Company reeled in boats with contained boxes of tea, numerous colonists boarded it and threw the boxes into the Boston Harbor, immortalizing the legendary Boston Tea Party.

What transpired during the 1770s has led to the American Revolution. The actions taken by the Sons of Liberty had definitely sparked something in the formerly complacent Colonists to fight for their rights in order to bring forth the eventual unity of the states.

Who Were the Sons of Liberty? - HISTORY

When word of the enactment of the Stamp Tax spread through the colonies protest began In Boston riots developed directed against both Royal officials and anyone who agreed to distribute the stamps. The mob directed its anger at Andrew Oliver who had agreed to be an agent of the stamp tax. They hung him in effigy, and threatened him if he did not resign which he did.

The rioting quickly spread to other colonies. Throughout the colonies the agents for the stamp tax were forced to resign. Behind much of the rioting was a new organization that had been founded to defend the liberties of the colonist..

The passage of the Stamp Act created the first sustained opposition to the British. The opposition was not only political. The opposition also took the form of demonstrations, rioting and other acts of violence. The violent actions were not spontaneous. The actions were coordinated and implemented by a new organization called "The Sons of Liberty". The Sons of Liberty was founded in the summer of 1765 by a group of shopkeepers and artisans in Boston. The founders of the group were not the most prominent of Bostons citizens. However, the group included Benjamin Edes, who was a printer and John Gil who ran the Boston Gazette, thus assuring they were able to spread their message.

The first action the Sons of Liberty initiated took place on August 14, 1765. The Sons burned an effigy of Andrew Oliver who was slated to become the Commissioner of the Stamps for Massachusetts. That night, a mob burned part of Olivers property in Boston and ransacked an abandoned house belonging to Oliver.

The Sons of Liberty quickly spread to all of the colonies. Their goal was to undermine all attempts to enforce the Stamp Act. Their actions were successful. There was no royal force available to counter the Sons of Liberty. The actions of the Sons of Liberty were instrumental in forcing the British to repeal the Stamp Act. After their initial victory, the Sons of Liberty continued their anti-British agitations, with such actions as planting Liberty trees in New York, and burning of the British revenue cutter, "The Gaspee".

Sons of Liberty

During the Parliamentary debate over the Stamp Act (1765), Isaac Barré referred to the American opponents of the new tax as the "Sons of Liberty*." Secret radical groups in the colonies adopted this name and worked to oppose the stamp tax and other later parliamentary revenue programs. Membership in the Sons was largely middle class with more upper-class representation than lower. Relationships were often negotiated with street elements, which sometimes conducted violent actions — often without the Sons' approval. A streak of conservatism remained a hallmark of the Sons until the 1770s. Initially they saw their role as the organizers of protests against specific government policies and not as the disrupters of royal authority. The first such group was formed in New York City in the fall of 1765. Its leaders were Isaac Sears and Alexander McDougall, both prosperous self-made men and neither a beneficiary of inherited wealth. Loyalty to these men was widespread among the city's working elements. One of their first contributions to Stamp Act opposition was to enforce Nonimportation Agreements. Greedy merchants would occasionally handle forbidden products, if the price were right. If discovered, the New York Sons of Liberty would force the guilty merchants to make humiliating public confessions - there were few repeat offenders. The New Yorkers also were active with contacting other colonies and encouraging resistance through Committees of Correspondence. Not all New York demonstrations remained peaceful. In May 1766, the Sons interrupted the opening performance at a new theater by shouting, “Liberty!” and forcing the audience into the street. Wigs and other signs of class distinction were taken from the theatergoers. The building was pulled down and the resulting jumble of wood was used for a great bonfire. Samuel Adams and Paul Revere headed the Sons of Liberty in Massachusetts. The Sons there also organized demonstrations, enforced boycotts, and occasionally resorted to violence to advance their agenda. Francis Bernard, governor of Massachusets, sent an account to the Earl of Halifax, an important figure in the British government, in which he remarked:

Who Were the Sons of Liberty? - HISTORY

Teachers Instructions:

1. Read through Intro and discuss map

2. Watch “American Revolution History Videos” and discuss question

4. Print pdf file “ The Sons of Liberty — Patriots or Terrorists?” – read through worksheet and answer questions

5. Watch “Boston Tea Party ” and answer questions

6. Read through Coercive Acts – and copy blue text

7. Read through sources and complete questions


Following the discovery of the America's by Europeans in 1492, colonisation quickly occurred, led by the Spanish and French. Britain was involved in North America from 1607 and by the 1760s, controlled 13 colonies along the East coast, having displaced native Americans to the west of the Appalachian range.

Each colony was run by a governor, appointed by the British government, however, there was also a council elected by the landowners of each colony.

The Sons of Liberty was an organization of American colonists that was created in the Thirteen American Colonies. The secret society was formed to protect the rights of the colonists and to fight taxation by the British government. They are best known for undertaking the Boston Tea Party in 1773 in reaction to new taxes.

Britain passed a series of taxes, and when the Americans refused to pay on the argument of "No Taxation without Representation" (there were no colonial representatives in Parliament), Parliament insisted on its right to rule the colonies without their input. The most aggravating tax was the Stamp Act of 1765, which caused overwhelming opposition through legal resolutions (starting in Virginia), public demonstrations, threats and occasional attacks.

The Stamp Act Riot

What had been vocal opposition to the Stamp Act turned to violence in Boston on the morning of August 14, 1765, when protesters believed to be Sons of Liberty members attacked the home of local British stamp distributor Andrew Oliver.

The rioters started by hanging a likeness of Oliver from the famed elm tree known as the “Liberty Tree.” Later in the day, the mob dragged Oliver’s effigy through the streets and destroyed the new building he had built to use as his stamp office. When Oliver refused to resign, the protestors beheaded his effigy in front of his fine and costly home before breaking out all of the windows, destroying the carriage house and stealing the wine from the wine cellar.

Having clearly received the message, Oliver resigned the next day. However, Oliver’s resignation was not the end of the riot. On August 26, another group of protesters pillaged and virtually destroyed the stately Boston home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson – Oliver’s brother-in-law.

Similar protests in other colonies forced more British officials to resign. At colonial seaports, incoming ships loaded with British stamps and paper were forced to return to London.

By March 1765, the Loyal Nine had become known as the Sons of Liberty, with groups known to have formed in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In November, a committee had formed in New York to coordinate secret correspondence between the rapidly spreading Sons of Liberty groups.

When Did the Daughters of Liberty Form?

The name, the Daughters of Liberty, first began showing up in the press around 1766, when the Boston Gazette published an article on April 7 of that year about a recent spinning bee held at a house in Providence, Rhode Island:

“On the 4th instant, eighteen daughters of liberty, young ladies of good reputation, assembled at the house of doctor Ephraim Brown, in this town, in consequence of an invitation of that gentlemen, who had discovered a laudable zeal for the introducing Home Manufacturers. There they exhibited a fine example of industry, by spinning from sunrise until dark, and displayed a spirit for saving their sinking country, rarely to be found among persons of more age and experience.”

Yet, according to the book Understanding the American Promise, the Daughters of Liberty didn’t officially emerge until 1768, after the passage of the Townshend Acts the previous year:

“The Townshend duties thus provided an unparalleled opportunity for encouraging female patriotism. During the Stamp Act crisis, Sons of Liberty took to the streets in protest. During the difficulties of 1768 and 1769, the Daughters of Liberty emerged, embodying the new idea that women might play a role in public affairs. Any woman could express affiliation with the colonial protest through conspicuous boycotts of British-made goods.”

Who Were the Sons of Liberty?

The Sons of Liberty was a secret underground society created due to the social and political fallout of the French and Indian War. The war, which took place throughout the world, was just one part of a larger conflict called the Seven Years War, a war that many historians consider to be “The First World War.” The French and Indian War, coupled with the fighting throughout the globe, nearly pushed the British Empire to the brink of financial collapse due to the increased spending needed to fight an international war. As a result, the British increased taxation among the colonies and stationed soldiers of the Crown within these colonies to guard the Empire’s new territorial gains. The British Empire needed money and goods for their empire, and they turned to the colonies for both. However, the Sons of Liberty made it their goal that the Empire received neither.

The British Parliament rationalized that the fighting in North America against the French was to protect the colonists and their interests, and thus, they should pay their share in taxes to help pay off their war-debt alongside stationing British soldiers within the new territorial gains. So, the solution was to forcefully quarter soldiers with American colonists via the Quartering Act. This quartering also increased the required funds needed in order to sustain the lives of thousands of British soldiers, who also had to be fed, out of pocket, by the colonists. The first of many taxes forced upon the American people was the Sugar Act, which taxed the transport and sale of raw sugar, molasses, and rum throughout the colonies. Smuggling, however, helped to circumvent this tax, but only partly

Additionally, the increased taxation of the colonies combined with the financial hardships of the colonists due to the forced quartering of British soldiers, and the numerous taxes finally boiled over once the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. The Act required an additional tax for a stamp on all paper documents or products this included items such as deeds and other legal documents, to newspapers, and even playing cards. Because the British, quite literally, found a way to tax almost every aspect of colonial life, the Sons of Liberty instigated riots throughout Boston, Massachusetts.

Stark, James Henry. Bostonians Reading the Stamp Act. 1882. From “Stranger's Illustrated Guide to Boston and Its Suburbs”

Once the Stamp Act had passed, a secret group called the Loyal Nine, the precursor to the Sons of Liberty, gathered crowds around the famous Liberty Tree in Boston. The crowd, angered by the Stamp Act and provoked by the encouragement of the Loyal Nine, began rioting throughout the streets of Boston. These riots targeted the taxable goods and the tax collectors, which put many colonial officials at risk of being tarred and feathered or even killed. The rioters also destroyed an immeasurable amount of property. In one case, Boston rioters raided the home of the Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson and stole an estimated £250,000 worth of his possessions. The Loyal Nine, having sparked resistance, turned to publishing patriotic ideas in the Boston Gazette. Eventually, the Loyal Nine began signing their political dissent as ‘The Sons of Liberty’ thus establishing a much larger resistance group. What was originally organized in Boston by a local brewer turned politician, Samuel Adams, quickly snowballed into a larger network of resistance to the British Crown. With the coordination of various Sons of Liberty chapters, the Stamp Act was repealed within one year of it being enacted. However, this victory came at a price. The British Parliament passed the Declaratory Act when they repealed the Stamp Act. The Declaratory Act was more of a formal threat than an actual piece of legislation, as the Act stated that the British King and Parliament have the power to enact any and all legislation onto the colonies. This Act only served to reinforce the Sons of Liberty’s idea of “No Taxation Without Representation,” as written by a fellow member, James Otis Jr.

Despite the revolutionary patriotic sentiments of the colonies, Britain was still in debt and needed money. The British Parliament, in desperation, passed the Townshend Acts, which increased taxes and tariffs on numerous products from Britain like lead, paint, paper, ink, porcelain, glass, and tea. Additionally, the Act functioned as a general search warrant, which allowed British soldiers to enter any colonist’s home to find and take smuggled goods. As the Sons of Liberty took to smuggling in cheaper goods to avoid British taxes. Eventually, Sons of Liberty member and tea smuggler John Hancock was captured and put on trial by the British. Hancock turned to fellow Sons of Liberty member, cousin of Samuel Adams, and prominent attorney, John Adams. Adams successfully defended Hancock, but smuggling had increasingly become riskier. So, under the direction of the Sons of Liberty, the colonists organized a boycott of all British goods being sold in the colonies. Under Samuel Adams and other members of the Sons of Liberty, the boycott was enforced throughout Boston and the surrounding Massachusetts area. Anyone who dared to sell British goods risked their store being vandalized or worse. Even their physical safety was at risk as the Sons of Liberty turned to violence to threaten shopkeepers that did not comply with the boycott. As a result of the unrest in Boston, Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, the British Commander of North America, was sent to Boston to control the patriots and the Sons of Liberty. However, the British mission of pacification and peacekeeping failed on the night of March 5 th , 1770 when eight British soldiers guarding the Customs House in Boston opened fire upon a mob of angry colonists. When the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead, and another six wounded. No one, not even the British soldiers, could recall how the shooting started and if there was even an order given. However, a local Boston silversmith, engraver, and Sons of Liberty member Paul Revere used this massacre as propaganda to fuel patriotic feelings and a general anti-British sentiment throughout the colonies. Soon, news spread throughout the colonies about the massacre with the accompanying engraving depicting the ‘complete brutality’ and ‘barbarism’ of the British Army.

"The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre." Paul Revere

Due to the increasing success of the Sons of Liberty, the British Parliament eased many of the duties in the colonies. However, the Parliament continued the high tax on tea, as the British Crown desperately needed money. Even worse, the British East India Company was close to bankruptcy. The British East India Company, essentially an extension of the British government, was an imperial trade company that transported tea from Asia for consumption in western markets. However, rather than have a private civilian owner of the East India Company, much like a CEO, the company was instead to be owned by the British Parliament and King. Via the Tea Act, the British Government was forcing the colonists to pay extremely high taxes on British tea, while the British tea importers paid no taxes or import duties. These actions created a monopoly for the British East India Company in the colonial tea market, undercutting local merchants and other foreign tea importers.

In 1773, the refusal to pay for British tea on behalf of the colonists fell upon deaf ears, and the East India Company’s trading ships were to enter Boston Harbor to sell the tea. However, rather than purchase the tea, on the night of December 16 th , 1773 the Sons of Liberty boarded the trade ships docked in Griffin’s Wharf and threw the shipments of tea overboard in an event known as the Boston Tea Party. Members of the Sons of Liberty allied with local patriot tea merchants, smugglers of Dutch tea, and any patriot infuriated by the taxation without representation to wear traditional Native American garments to signify that these colonials identify more with their American roots rather than their status as British subjects. After three hours, over 342 chests of tea were heaved into the harbor. The destruction of the tea imports cost the British Empire, valued today at over $1,700,000.

"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor." Nathaniel Currier

In retaliation, the British Government passed the Intolerable Acts, which were called the Coercive Acts in the colonies. These Acts covered four major points. The Act shut down Boston Harbor, suspended trials by jury, prohibited elections and the meeting of the state assembly, and aggressively forced the quartering of British soldiers in private buildings and homes. These Acts punished the Boston Sons of Liberty and the Massachusetts colony, but also inspired increasingly revolutionary ideals. The resistance encouraged other Sons of Liberty chapters to rebel in their own ways. For example, the Maryland chapter of the Sons of Liberty set the trade ship the ‘Peggy Stewart’ on fire because it was importing British tea.

Eventually, the patriotic resistance to British rule became too much to handle and revolution and war was inevitable. When lawmakers of Virginia gathered in 1775 to discuss negotiations with the British King, Sons of Liberty member, Patrick Henry exclaimed to the Second Virginia Convention “Give me liberty or give me death!”. Thus, cementing the American stance for independence from British rule and initiating the American commitment to the Revolutionary War.

Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty was an organization born out of rebellion to the Stamp Act.

Following the French and Indian War, England sought to alleviate war debts by establishing a tax on the colonies. The colonists were angry, asserting that, as they had no representation in Parliament when the Act was passed, it violated their rights as English citizens.

The 1765 Stamp Act inflamed colonial opposition. People began protesting, both with legislative outlets in colonial government, and with public demonstrations.

The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering, by Philip Dawes | Public domain image, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One such group of protesters was founded in Boston. Made up of shopkeepers, tradesmen, and artisans, they called themselves “the Loyal Nine.” Little is known about them because their illegal operations were carried out in absolute secrecy. The nine men were close friends, therefore the group didn’t operate like an official organization they left almost no paper trail, though it’s a generally accepted fact that they met at the “Liberty Tree” in Hanover Square where they planned their exploits.

The nearby tavern owners were sympathetic to the Sons of Liberty and their cause, and they met often at the Green Dragon Tavern. The Loyal Nine consisted of club secretary John Avery (a distiller) Henry Bass (a cousin of Samuel Adams) Thomas Chase (also a distiller) Stephen Cleverly and John Smith (both braziers) Thomas Crafts (a painter) Benjamin Edes (printer of the Boston Gazette) Joseph Field (a ship captain) and George Trott (a jeweler).

These nine men banded together to protest the Stamp Act and prevent its taking effect, by violence if necessary. They incited a mob to use fear, force, and intimidation to frighten government officials and pro-Act supporters. They distributed anti-Act literature, hung effigies of public officials, and set the targets the mobs would attack.

In 1765, the Loyal Nine merged with the emerging Sons of Liberty, whose origins are mostly unknown. They burst on the public scene in August 1765 when they hung the effigy of one commissioned Distributor of Stamps for Massachusetts, drawn with a large boot with a devil climbing out of it. (The boot was a play on the name of the Earl of Bute, designed to establish a connection between the Distributor and the Stamp Act.)

They collected a mob in the streets, and the sheriffs were to afraid to take the effigy down. The mob burned Oliver’s property, then moved to his home and beheaded the effigy in front of his home. Then they took it to a nearby hilltop and burned it. Later, under the cover of darkness, they gathered in his home and ransacked it. The British militia nearby supposed to be enforcing the Act did nothing. Oliver resigned shortly afterward.

The name “Sons of Liberty” was given to to the group during a Parliamentary debate. When a Supporter of the Stamp Act criticized the colonists and their reaction to the Act, Isaac fooré, an Irish-born Colonel veteran of the French and Indian War, stood and defended them, calling them “these Sons of Liberty.” He was sympathetic to their views and advocated for them. The name made its way back to the colonies and was adopted.

The Sons’ main objective was to make the stamp distributors in the colonies resign. They did not yet consider independence or separation. some people acted under the name of the sons of liberty to carry out personal vendettas and revenge. members of the sons of liberty worked at newspapers and printed inflammatory articles about the stamp act and glorified the acts of the sons of liberty, obviously, without the required stamp.

Following the incident with Andrew Oliver, the mob attacked Oliver’s brother-in-law, Thomas Hutchison, the Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and a known Loyalist. The Sons of Liberty demanded Hutchinson denounce the Stamp Act in his letters back to Parliament, but he refused. His home got the same treatment as Oliver’s and he, too, resigned. Meanwhile, the Sons of Liberty designed a flag and formed new chapters all over the colonies.

The Sons adopted a flag called the rebellious stripes flag with nine uneven vertical stripes (five red and four white). It is supposed that nine represented the Loyal Nine. Public domain image

One of the most charismatic leaders of the Sons of Liberty was Samuel Adams, cousin of John Adams. Through his compatriot Benjamin Edes and his Boston Gazette, Samuel Adams wrote a continuous stream of articles, speaking out against the British government, though still claiming loyalty to the King. Like many other colonists, they blamed Parliament for the unfair taxes.<

Over time, the mobs became more violent and less picky about the victims of their crimes. As is the nature of mobs, it became less controlled. Several skirmishes broke out between the British militia and the New York City chapter.

They openly opposed the Tea Act, which gave the East India Company a monopoly on tea import, declaring supporters of the Act to be enemies of liberty. They actively challenged it by sneaking on board a British ship dressed as Native Americans and throwing several tons of tea into the harbor in what became known as the Boston Tea Party.

After the Revolution, the organization was reestablished and its members infiltrated the New York Assembly, gaining enough seats to vote for the confiscation of Loyalist homes and property.

Are There Instances of Raids Similar to the Boston Tea Party?

The Boston Tea Party is well documented, but are there other instances of similar raids?


The Boston Tea Party was one of many of confrontations from Charleston, South Carolina, to York, Maine, in 1773 and 1774 to prevent shipments of East India tea from entering the Colonies.

Since 1767, boycotts and non-importation agreements in opposition to the Townshend Revenue Acts had promoted political networks and personal connections across the colonies. Perhaps most importantly, regardless of their success or failure, these early resistance actions created a growing sense of common cause among colonists that began to trump local insularity and economic, social, and geographic differences.

The British underestimated extent of colonial political mobilization and the adamancy of colonial commitment to "no taxation without representation," even though colonial opposition had influenced Parliament's repeal of the Townshend Acts in 1770 (with the exception of the tax on tea). In 1773, Britain then imposed the Tea Act, in an attempt to bail out the financially-ailing British East India Tea Company. The Act allowed the company to sell directly to America, thereby bypassing competitors, circumventing British taxation, and generating sufficient corporate income to avoid bankruptcy. The Act actually lowered the price of tea in America colonists, however, perceived it as another scheme to circumscribe what they had come to define as their rights.

Colonists acted swiftly toward nullification, generating newspapers and broadsides urging colonists once again to refuse to buy imported goods. A strongly-worded article in the Pennsylvania Packet stated,". . . revenue acts are opposite to the very idea and spirit of liberty . . . whenever Tea is swallowed, and pretty well digested, we shall have new duties imposed on other articles of commerce."

In 1773, colonists consumed an estimated 1,200,000 pounds of tea annually, much of it smuggled from Holland. It was perhaps reasonable that the East India Company believed colonial resistance to buying their tea would dissolve if they could get tea to land and offer it for sale. They engaged ships scheduled to arrive simultaneously in November 1773 in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston and made arrangements to find American brokers for their cargo—generally merchants whose personal loyalties lay with the Crown.

All these pre-arrangements made for a poorly-kept secret: American political activists were well apprised beforehand when and where the tea ships were going to try to make port and unload their cargo and news of activities at each port was immediately sent to the others so that all their actions could be coordinated.

Nowhere in the American Colonies was the East India Company able to sell its tea. Outside of Boston, colonists, merely by persuasion or by bullying the shippers and consignees, were able to prevent the landing of the tea into port—or at least its sale. In Boston too, more than a month before the Tea Party, a body of men gathered in the street outside the store of tea merchant Richard Clarke, demanded that the proprietor vow not to receive any tea shipments. One merchant wrote that the crowd, "not receiving such an answer as they demanded, they began an attack upon the store and those within, breaking down doors, flinging about mud, &c., for about an hour, when they began to disperse, and a number of gentlemen, friends of those agents coming to their assistance, they left the store and went upon change, but met with no further insult, tho' there is much threatening."

In Lexington, the inhabitants met and resolved not to use tea of any sort, no matter where it had come from, and to show their sincerity, "they brought together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire." Boston, perhaps, was unique among the other major American ports insofar as its Colonial Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, was relatively eager to demonstrate to the "troublemakers," with whom he had already had a series of confrontations, that he was the supreme authority in the affairs of the Colony of Massachusetts. This certainly contributed to why events played out in Boston as they did. (Visit this Ask a Historian response for details of events in the Boston Harbor.)

Events that happened elsewhere, after the Boston Tea Party on December 14, 1773, were also later styled tea parties, linking them to the momentous action in Boston. Like the Boston Tea Party, they were efforts to reject tea shipments and to enforce a boycott of the East India Company's product.

On December 3, 1773, Alexander Curling, the captain of the London, had brought a cargo of tea to port in Charleston, but its consignees had refused delivery. On December 22, a week after the Boston Tea Party, a committee of colonists told Curling to return the tea to England, but the captain balked. The customs collector then had the 257 tea chests seized for non-payment of customs duties, unloaded, and stored in a locked room in the Exchange building (they were sold in 1776, with the proceeds going to finance the Revolutionary cause).

In late June of 1774, Captain Richard Maitland brought tea into Charleston harbor aboard the British ship Magna Carta. When local officials confronted him, he told them he would return the tea to England, but local men boarded the ship after hearing rumors that he intended to sell the tea. Captain Maitland took refuge on board the 100-gun British man-of-war HMS Britannia. That ship landed seven chests of tea in Charleston on November 3, but local officials ordered the merchant consignees to dump it in the Cooper River "as an Oblation to Neptune," and in order to avoid mob violence, they did.

On Christmas Day, 1773, three days after the tea from the London was seized in Charleston, the British ship Polly, laden with 698 cases of tea, sailed up the Delaware River toward Philadelphia and landed at Chester, Pennsylvania. Its captain, Samuel Ayres, was escorted into the city where he was met by a committee of hard men representing a mass meeting of perhaps 8,000 citizens who told him that he had better return the tea to England. They may have offered to pay some of his expenses and may also have drawn his attention to a broadside that promised to tar and feather him if he attempted to unload the tea. The broadside promised the same treatment to any river pilot who tried to bring the ship into Philadelphia and to any consignee who attempted to accept the shipment. The Polly sailed away without putting into port.

On December 10, just before the Boston Tea Party, the brig William, which had been headed to Boston along with the other tea-laden ships, wrecked off Provincetown. The ship's captain, Joseph Loring, off-loaded the 58 chests of its tea cargo before abandoning the ship, and sent it along to Boston for safe keeping, by agreement with the consignee, the son of Boston tea merchant Richard Clarke. Jonathan Clarke, who had rushed to Wellfleet to make the transfer, allowed his cousin there, David Greenough, to have two cases to sell on Cape Cod, a small amount of which he sold to a Colonel Willard Knowles, who also happened to be in charge of the town of Eastham's stock of ammunition. When their neighbors discovered what had happened, both men were brought into disrepute. Action erupted on March 7, 1774, when about 80 people unsuccessfully tried to "wrest the Towns Ammunition out of the Hands of Col. Knowles." Knowles's neighbors eventually forgave him, and Greenough apparently destroyed the rest of the tea from his two cases.

That left 56 chests of the William's cargo that had been sent to Boston. The Sons of Liberty quickly discovered where it was being kept and raided the place, but found only half of it, 28 cases, which they smashed and emptied into the harbor.

On March 7, 1774, as Colonel Knowles confronted his Eastham neighbors, and a day that Colonial Governor Thomas Hutchinson had proclaimed a day of public fasting, a band of men, evidently believing they had located some of the William's tea that remained, entered the Boston shop of tea merchant Davison, Newman, & Company (whose tea had been destroyed in the Boston Tea Party) and took 16 chests of tea down to the harbor, broke them open, and dumped the contents into the water. This has been referred to as the second Boston Tea Party.

Again, on the same day, March 7, 1774, King George III sent a message to the British Parliament, asking it to exact retribution for the destruction of tea in Boston. Parliament obliged him by passing the Boston Port Act, which would close the port to commerce, beginning on June 1.

On April 18, 1774, the Nancy, commanded by Captain Benjamin Lockyer, having been blown far off course by storms, finally anchored at Sandy Hook, "having on board something worse than a Jonah, which, after being long tossed in the tempestuous ocean, it is hoped, like him, will be thrown back upon the place from whence it came," according to the New York Journal. Its cargo consisted of 698 chests of tea. The consignees sent a note to him, saying they would not accept the tea because it would "expose so considerable a property to inevitable destruction." They advised Lockyer that, "for the safety of your cargo, your vessel, and your persons, it will be most prudent for you to return" to England. Members of the New York chapter of the Sons of Liberty took charge of the Nancy at Sandy Hook, and prevented its crew from deserting the ship, and escorted Lockyer into New York City, where he agreed to return to England with the tea and began procuring supplies to do so.

Meanwhile, on April 22, the ship London (which had been in Charleston in December) arrived, now under the command of a Captain Chambers. Although Chambers protested that he had no tea aboard, the Sons of Liberty had received word from Philadelphia that he was smuggling 18 chests, for his own profit, hidden among the ship's blankets. Chambers was taken into custody and members of the Sons of Liberty searched the ship, discovered the tea chests, broke them open, dumped the tea into the river, and brought the busted chests back to the city, where they were used to ignite bonfires in the streets. Chambers was threatened with his life, but he managed to escape, and made his way to the Nancy. A few days later, the ship sailed back to England with both Lockyer and Chambers aboard.

One night in late January, 1774, Princeton College students from all the colonies broke into the College's storeroom, and then, as described by student Charles Beatty, "gathered all the steward's winter store of tea and having made a fire on the campus we there burned near a dozen pound, tolled the bell, and made many spirited resolves." They also made an effigy of Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson, tied a tea canister around its neck, and burned it in front of Nassau Hall. Students subsequently continued their agitations, including paying nocturnal visits in groups of 40 "drest in white," to local townspeople rumored to be tea drinkers, seizing their stock of tea, and burning it.

On May 23, 1774, the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty, having heard that the Port of Boston was to be closed, and having passed a series of "resolves" against buying, selling, or drinking tea shipped from England, heard that the brig Geddes (which was possibly owned by the local customs inspector, William Geddes, who was also a merchant) had put into port in Chestertown with tea in its cargo. They boarded the brig by force and dumped its tea into the Chester River.

Some of the facts in this instance are a little spare—such as who owned the tea and where it had come from. Nevertheless, the city of Chestertown stages an enthusiastic reenactment of the "Chestertown Tea Party" every Memorial Day weekend.

In the summer of 1774, Thomas Charles Williams, the London representative of an Annapolis merchant firm, tried to smuggle tea across the Atlantic into Annapolis by disguising nearly a ton of it in 17 packages labeled as linen, and loading it among the rest of the cargo on the brig Peggy Stewart. The captain of the brig, Richard Jackson, only discovered the true nature of the "linen" while at sea. A few years before, an Annapolis precedent had been set when its customs officer refused to allow any ships to unload any portion of their cargo until the tax on all of it had been paid. This now alarmed Captain Jackson because most of the rest of the Peggy Stewart's cargo consisted of 53 indentured servants.

The ship reached Annapolis on October 14, 1774, and Williams's business partners decided they wanted nothing to do with his attempt at smuggling. They could not think of risking the lives of the indentured servants by sending the ship back across the Atlantic during the storm season which had just begun. They paid the customs tax due and quickly got the human cargo ashore, leaving the tea onboard. The presence of tea aboard ship had inflamed public opinion in Annapolis. Williams and his business partners were threatened with lynching their store and their homes, with destruction. To avoid that, the business partners offered to burn the Peggy Stewart, which they owned, along with its cargo, which they did, on the night of October 19. This came to be called the Annapolis Tea Party. The city of Annapolis marks this each year with a ceremony.

On September 15, 1774, the sloop Cynthia sailed into harbor at York, Maine, from Newfoundland with a cargo that included 150 pounds of tea for its owner, local judge and Tory sympathizer, Jonathan Sayward. The local Sons of Liberty noted its arrival and called a town meeting on September 23. Meeting participants voted to seize the tea, which was done against the objections of the ship's captain, Sayward's nephew, James Donnell. The tea was placed in a storeroom, "until further Discovery could be made." That night, "a Number of Pickwacket Indians" (so it was said) broke into the storeroom and made off with the tea. Two days later, however, it was mysteriously returned, so perhaps Sayward was able to drink his tea after all, without having to pay customs duty on it (because it had been stolen). This was later called the York Tea Party.

In the summer of 1774, the captain of the small ship, Greyhound, loaded with East India Company tea, was reluctant to try to unload his shipment in Philadelphia, so just before the Delaware Bay, he put into Cohansey Creek, and anchored at the little hamlet of Greenwich, New Jersey. There he unloaded his cargo, and it was put into the cellar of a Loyalist, Daniel Bowen, who intended to have it eventually carried overland into Philadelphia and to sell it there.

On the night of December 22, 1774, after planning in secret for several months, 40 locals dressed as Indians broke into Bowen's house, carried the cases of tea into a field, dumped the tea in a large pile, and set it all on fire. Those who participated in this tea party were arrested but were not convicted because the jury was in complete sympathy with them.


Benjamin W. Labaree, "Boston Tea Party: American Revolution,"United States at War: Understanding Conflict and Society, ABC-CLIO, January 7, 2009, http://www.usatwar.abc-clio.com (accessed January 2009).

T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 294–331.

Francis Samuel Drake, Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents Relating to the Shipment of Tea to the American Colonies in the Year 1773, by the East India Tea Company (Boston: A. O. Crane, 1884), 84–85, 256–259.

John R. Alden, A History of the American Revolution (New York: Da Capo Press, 1989), 138–140.

Ruth M. Miller and Ann Taylor Andrus, Charleston's Old Exchange Building: A Witness to American History (Charleston: The History Press, 2005), 26–28.

David Lee Russell, The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000), 46.

Edward S. Gifford, Jr, The American Revolution in the Delaware Valle (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, 1976), 21-22.

Isaac Q. Leake, Memoir of the Life and Times of General John Lamb (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1850), 80–83.

Albert Ulmann, "The Tea Party New York Had," The New York Times, January 21, 1899, BR38.

Theresa Barbo, "A Bitter Wellfleet Tea Party," in True Accounts of Yankee Ingenuity and Grit from the Cape Cod Voice (Charleston: The History Press, 2007), 23–26.

Edwin Mark Norris, The Story of Princeton (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1917) 78–79.

Willis Rudy, The Campus and a Nation in Crisis: From the American Revolution to Vietnam (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996) 10–12.

Charles Edward Banks, The History of York, Maine, Volume 1 (Boston: Calkins Press, 1931), 386.

George Ernst, New England Miniature: A History of York, Maine (Freeport, ME.: Bond Wheelwright Company, 1961), 76.

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