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Voices of the Revolution: Sons of Liberty

In the 225+ years since its independence, the United States of America has developed into a thriving nation, based on the articulate freedoms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, not every aspect of the Revolutionary Period is full of bright morals and good behavior.

When Britain imposed the Intolerable Acts throughout the 1750s and 60s, a great number of men became extremely angry, and began to act violently against British Loyalists in the colonies. Mobs sprung up all over the colonies, reigning terror on those who remained faithful to the crown.

Sons of Liberty, Revolutionary War

One of these groupings would be a secret Boston association known as the The Loyal Nine, composed of elite gentleman, mainly law men and artisans, who met discretely to organize ways to begin to effectively oppose the actions of the crown. The Loyal Nine were responsible for putting boundaries on the rampant violence of Boston, and set limits on how far the demonstrations should progress. They actively stood against British policies they found to be immoral and unlawful, and had their hands in projects such as The Boston Tea Party.

The original members were Henry Bass, Joseph Field, John Smith, Thomas Chase, John Avery, Stephen Cleverly, Benjamin Edes, George Trott and Thomas Crafts, but Samuel Adams would eventually become involved in the group, adopting a role as one of its leading members. John Adams, aware of his second cousin's role in the group, did not exactly approve of the methods used, and kept his distance from the organization.

As time progressed, and frustration with the crown began to heat up in the colonies, the Loyal Nine merged into the more famous organization known as the Sons of Liberty. The members of this group were Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Edes, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, John Lamb, William Mackay, Alexander McDougall, James Otis, Benjamin Rush, Isaac Sears, Haym Solomon, James Swan, Charles Thomson, Thomas Young, Marinus Willett, and Oliver Wolcott.

Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams (September 27 1722 - October 2, 1803)

The second cousin of John Adams, Samuel Adams was a Massachusetts statesman, founding father, and firm voice of the American Revolution. He was one of the main forces behind the American movement for Independence, and was infamous for his role in the turmoil in Boston in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Where John Adams was strong spirited, Samuel was practically virulent, a master of propaganda and an engineer of mob violence. He had few qualms about acting in opposition to the British authorities, especially on issues he deemed to be "unfair" to the American colonists. His strong leadership inspired the New England colonies to take up arms against their oppressors, and he continued to be a central figure throughout the latter part of the eighteenth century.

After the war was over, Adams would go on to become a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, and fourth Governor of Massachusetts. Despite his unusual sense of morality, Adams' charisma and motivational abilities opened many doors for him throughout his lifetime, and he would cause great change in whatever endeavors he attended to.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold

A notorious traitor to the revolutionary cause, Benedict Arnold started his political career as a Son of Liberty. As a pharmacist and bookseller in New England, Arnold fell into financial struggles after the introduction of the Intolerable Acts. He did not engage in any popular demonstrations, but became a smuggler and continued to trade as if no "Act" had ever been passed on the colonial form of the black market.

Despite his early activity to oppose the British crown, and his relative success as a Revolutionary War General, Arnold eventually came to lose faith in the American cause, and would change sides and join the British against the American colonies halfway through the war.

Benjamin Edes (October 14, 1732 - December 11, 1803)

Printer and publisher of the Boston Gazette, Benjamin Edes was a political instigator known as one of the main financiers of the Boston Tea Party. Edes, through the Gazette, spread Anti-British propaganda that helped inflame the colonies against their oppressors. He attacked British policies, most significantly the Intolerable Acts. He was eventually arrested on counts of sedition, but he escaped to Watertown, Massachusetts where he continued to produce the Gazette until the late nineteenth century.

John Hancock
John Hancock

John Hancock (January 23, 1737 - October 8, 1793)

Most famous for his bold signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was a statesman, Second President of the Continental Congress, and Authoritative voice of the Revolution. A merchant whose business was greatly affected by the Intolerable Acts, Hancock joined forces with the Sons of Liberty to actively oppose British influence in the colonies.

Unlike Adams, Hancock was moderately disgusted by the violence enacted by the Sons of Liberty against the Loyalists, and sought to effect change on a more political and diplomatic level, and gave a number of speeches against British oppression which would eventually inspire the more organized move of the American Revolution. His words encouraged many to take up arms, without resorting to mob violence, and he would go down in history as a leading patriot.

Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736 - June 6, 1799)

A Founding Father and two time Governor of the state of Virginia, Patrick Henry was a prominent orator who helped to spread Revolutionary sentiment throughout the American colonies. Most famous for the phrase "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," a speech he made before the Virginia House of Burgesses, Henry was one of the main voices which inspired Virginia to raise troops to fight in the Revolutionary War. Although not a Bostonian, he kept many connections with the Sons of Liberty, and his actions helped spread the movement to the southern colonies.

John Lamb (1735-1800)

The son of a convicted burglar from New York, John Lamb would eventually overcome his father's legacy to become a leading member of the Sons of Liberty. His role was primarily as a writer, and he was responsible for writing articles and publishing handbills which helped to spread the Revolutionary cause in the colonies.

Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren

Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 - June 17, 1775)

President of the Massachusetts Revolutionary Congress, Revolutionary War General, and established man of medicine, Joseph Warren was a leading activist in the war cause of the 1770s. On April 18, 1775 he dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride to Lexington in secret to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of their pending arrest by British troops and to alert the militia along the way that the British were on the move. During the war, Warren fell in battle, and this moment was immortalized in a painting by John Trumbull called "The Death of General Warren."

Paul Revere
Paul Revere

Paul Revere (December 21, 1734 - May 10, 1818)

An early American silversmith and active voice of the Revolution, Paul Revere is most well known for his ride to Lexington to alert the militia of the movement of the British troops and to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of their pending arrest. After his business fell into financial ruin after the implementation of the Intolerable Acts, he became one of the main organizers of the intelligence and alarm system which would keep tabs on the British military.

Despite popular historical accounts, he never rode hundreds of miles through New England shouting "the British are coming," but his acts in secret, and in public, did do a great deal to promote the American Revolutionary cause.

William Mackay (died 1800)

Although little is known about William Mackay, history has preserved the fact that he was a Bostonian merchant strongly affected by the implementation of the Stamp Act of 1765, and worked as a Son of Liberty to promote the Revolution.

Alexander McDougall
Alexander McDougall

Alexander McDougall (about 1731- 1786)

Born in New York City sometime around 1731, Alexander McDougall would become a seaman and a prominent New England merchant. After the addition of the Stamp Act, McDougall joined the Sons of Liberty and would become the leader of a faction in New York. He would eventually enlist in a New York City regiment in the Revolutionary War, and become a Major General in 1777.

Alexander McDougall
Alexander McDougall

James Otis, Jr. (February 5, 1725 - May 23, 1783)

A lawyer and member of the Massachusetts provincial assembly, James Otis, Jr. would become one of the leading members of the American Revolutionary cause. He is famous for coining the phrase, "taxation without representation is tyranny," which would go on to become an anthem for patriot opposition to the crown. As a lawyer, Otis became enraged by British imposed "writs of assistance" which permitted British authorities to enter the house of a colonist without notice or probable cause. In response these writs, Otis gave a number of speeches speaking out against British exploitation of the colonists, and his words inspired many people to rise up against the tyranny of the crown.

Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush (January 4, 1746 - April 19, 1813)

The founder of Dickinson college in Pennsylvania, signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and Founding Father of the United States, Benjamin Rush is certainly one of the more famous voices of the revolution. Incredibly outspoken, Rush would make many friends, and enemies (most notably George Washington, to whom he gave harsh criticism), and his words would effect great movements towards opposition to Great Britain. Also, Thomas Paine looked to Rush when he was drafting his treatises in favor of the Revolutionary War. A truly learned manRush would join the Medical Committee of the Continental Congress, taking on a more practical role as well as a political one.

Isaac Sears (1730 - 1786)

Nicknamed "King Sears" for his pivotal role in organizing the New York mob, Isaac Sears was a leading member of the Sons of Liberty who leaned predominately towards orchestrating violence and encouraging anti-British demonstration. A prosperous New York City merchant outraged by the Intolerable Acts, Sears was forceful in his opposition to the Stamp Act in particular, using whatever means necessary to dissuade the use of British stamps in the colonies. After the Stamp Act was finally repealed, he erected a number of liberty poles and broadsides (large sheets of paper printed on one side only), signed "the Mohawks," warning that action would be taken against anyone supporting any of the Intolerable Acts. He would eventually become the stand in commander of New York City until Washington arrived to relieve him in 1775.

Haym Solomon
Haym Solomon

Haym Solomon (April 7, 1740 - January 6, 1785)

A Portuguese Jew by birth, Haym Solomon was a wealthy merchant and financier of the American Revolution. Sympathetic to the American cause, Solomon joined the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty and was arrested as a spy in 1776. After eighteen months of torture aboard the British vessel, he was released under the stipulation that he would remain as an interpreter for British-commissioned mercenaries. While involved in this forced employment, Solomon helped many American prisoners escape their confinement and encouraged the mercenaries to join the Americans.

James Swan
James Swan

James Swan (1754 - July 31, 1830)

Born in Scotland, James Swan moved to American colonies in the late 1750s where he spent his youth as a shop clerk in Boston. As time went by, he became increasingly interested in the American Revolutionary effort and joined leagues with the Sons of Liberty. As a writer, he published many tracts and articles in opposition to the British crown. Wealthy before the war, he financed Revolutionary efforts until he came to ruin in the early 1780s.

Charles Thomson
Charles Thomson

Charles Thomson (November 29, 1729 - August 16, 1824)

A Patriot leader from Philadelphia born of Scots-Irish parentage, Charles Thomson became known as the "Samuel Adams of Philadelphia," a nickname given to him by John Adams. As secretary to the Continental Congress for fifteen years, Thomson was able to be directly involved in foreign affairs. Also, along with William Barton, he was given the opportunity to design the Great Seal of the United States. Yet, he was a fiery individual who had many enemies. Famously, one James Searle attacked Thomson on the floor of Congress over a supposed misquotation, and the ensuing cane fight ended with both men being cut in the face.

Thomas Young (1731-1777)

The only member of the Boston Tea Party not to wear a disguise, Thomas Young was a bold advocate of American Independence. As consequence for his courage, the British made an example of Young, punishing him to such severity that he nearly died.

Marinus Willett
Marinus Willett

Marinus Willett (July 31, 1740 - August 22, 1830)

Equal parts military man and cabinet maker, Marinus Willett had a reputation for street brawling and reckless behavior. He became a leading member of the New York faction of the Sons of Liberty, organizing surprise movements against the British. Most notably, in 1775, he assembled a small band of men, commandeered a British sloop, and captured a protected British storehouse in Turtle Bay. He would eventually enlist in the 1st New York Regiment under command of Alexander McDougall.

Marinus Willett
Marinus Willett

Oliver Wolcott (November 20, 1726 - December 1, 1797)

A signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as well as the Articles of Confederation, Wolcott had a minor role in the Sons of Liberty and would go on to become the fourth Governor of Connecticut. One of his major acts for the Revolutionary cause was in erecting a shed on his country estate in Litchfield and, with help from his neighbors, casted more than 40,000 bullets.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0

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