Sons of Liberty

Boston Massacre printed by Paul Revere

The Boston Massacre engraved by Paul Revere, who was one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty

This article on the Sons of Liberty in Colonial America provides fast facts and information about the formation of this secret society

  • Who the Sons of Liberty?
  • What were the objectives of the Sons of Liberty?
  • The purpose of the Sons of Liberty
  • The Leaders of the Sons of Liberty
  • Fast and easy to understand explanation of the Sons of Liberty organisation, suitable as an educational Social Studies resource for schools and kids
American Colonies Index

History of the first 13 Colonies and how they became the United States

The colonization of America and the fascinating events that led colonists and patriots down the Road to Revolution

Definition of the Sons of Liberty
The Meaning and Definition of the Sons of Liberty: The Sons of Liberty were a secret, underground organization that was founded in Boston by Samuel Adams and John Hancock in July 1765. The Sons of Liberty were opposed to the Stamp Act and their membership spread to a number of colonial towns.

Purpose of the Sons of Liberty
The Purpose of the Sons of Liberty The objective and purpose of the Sons of Liberty was to force all of the British stamp agents to resign and also stop many American merchants from ordering British trade goods. Its members were American patriots, many of whom were hot-headed and were not adverse to the use of violence and intimidation.

Sons of Liberty - the Stamp Act
The Stamp Act was a direct British tax in the form of a stamp required on all newspapers and legal or commercial documents. Contracts, licences, diplomas, calendars, pamphlets and even playing cards required a stamp. Basically anything printed on paper, except books, was taxed.


Stamp Acts Stamps - One Penny Stamp

Picture of a One Penny Stamp Act Stamp


The Sons of Liberty

There were many workers associations, or fraternal organizations, that provided fellowship for craftsmen (artisans), apprentices, and common laborers in Boston. There was often conflict between these organisations as every trade had its own agenda. The Stamp Act effected every single person, regardless of their trade, wealth or standing in the community. The taxes levied by the Stamp Act were not to regulate commerce and trade, but to directly grasp money out of colonists. Samuel Adams, a prominent Boston Patriot and political activist, persuaded these organizations to stop fighting amongst themselves and unite in opposition to the Stamp Act. The members of this united brotherhood became known as the Sons of Liberty. 

The Sons of Liberty - Advance warning of the Stamp Tax
The American colonists were informed in advance of the intended Stamp Tax which had been was passed in Parliament on February 17,1765 but would not take effect until November 1, 1765.  There was time to plan, protest and take action in the form of demonstrations and petitions against the Stamp tax. The Stamp Tax was introduced by a direct order from Britain without approval of the colonial legislature - the cry of "No taxation without representation" was to ring loudly in the colonies. Other provisions made in the Stamp Act included that anyone accused of evading the tax would not have the right of a trial by jury. The act also stated that it would be enforced by stamp agents. The Stamp Agents were either sent over from England or appointed by the loyalist governors. The stamp agents would become obvious targets for the Sons of Liberty.

The Sons of Liberty - Paul Revere and the 'Mechanics'

Sons of Liberty

Sons of Liberty


In Boston Paul Revere organized a group of Sons of Liberty men called the 'Mechanics'. The 'Mechanics' established an intelligence network that monitored the actions of the British troops in Boston which they reported to Sons of Liberty leaders in Boston such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren. They met on October 23, 1765 and voted that they would oppose with their lives and fortunes, the vending of any tea that might be sent to Boston by the East India Company. Ten years after its formation, on the eve of the American Revolution, this organization, within the Sons of Liberty, would discover that British troops were planning to march on Lexington and Concord on the evening of April 18, 1775. They were able to inform their fellow patriots by Paul Revere's Ride.

It was essential that their meetings were should be kept secret, so every time they met, each man swore upon the Bible not to divulge their information to any but their leaders. These Sons of Liberty used secret passwords and signs as protection against loyalist spies. On public occasions members wore medals, that had been designed by Paul Revere in his capacity as a silversmith and copperplate engraver. (Paul Revere also produced the engraving shown at the top of this page) On one side of the medal was a figure of a stalwart arm, grasping in its hand a pole, surmounted with a cap of liberty, and surrounded by the words, "Sons of Liberty." On the reverse side was a representation of Liberty Tree where their public meetings in Boston were held.

Liberty Tree and Liberty Poles
The Liberty Tree, where the public meetings of the Sons of Liberty  in Boston were held, was located in the open space known as "Liberty Hall," at the junction of Newbury, Orange and Essex Streets. For ten years, a famous tree known as the "Liberty Elm" often served as the rallying point for the Sons of Liberty. The Boston chapter of the Sons of Liberty gathered beneath the Liberty Tree for meetings whilst the New York City chapter met beneath the Liberty Pole for its meetings.

During the siege of Boston, a party of Loyalists led by Job Williams cut the Liberty tree down in an act of spite, knowing what it represented to the colonists, and used the tree for firewood.

The Sons of Liberty used replaceable Liberty Poles as their rallying points. The Liberty Poles were tall wooden poles planted in the ground, which were often topped by a flag or a liberty cap. Many of the Liberty Poles were defiantly cut from white pine, which was prohibited for public use and reserved exclusively for masts of His Majesty's navy.

An, often violent, struggle over liberty poles erected by the Sons of Liberty in New York City raged for 10 years, as depicted in the picture. The poles were periodically destroyed by the royal authorities only to be replaced by the Sons with new ones.


Defence of the Liberty Pole in New York

Defence of the Liberty Pole in New York


The Sons of Liberty Flag
The Sons of Liberty Flag was known as the "Rebellious Stripes". When the Sons of Liberty flag was raised on the Liberty Tree or Liberty Pole, it was a sign for all the Sons of Liberty and other supportive townspeople to meet and discuss their complaints about British rule. The first Sons of Liberty flags were based loosely on British ensigns. Their flag then emerged with nine alternating red and white vertical stripes consisting of four white stripes and five red stripes.

The Sons of Liberty Flag

The nine stripes of the Sons of Liberty flag represented the nine protesting colonies that participated in the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. The nine colonies represented are: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and South Carolina. Eventually the number stripes grew to 13, representing unified resistance from all 13 American colonies. The Liberty Flag symbolized freedom and the fight against British oppression in the colonies. The Liberty Flag afforded the Sons of Liberty a sense of purpose, permanence and legitimacy. The white stripes on the flags symbolized peace and honesty, the red stripes on the flag symbolized hardiness, bravery, strength & valour. The idea of flying a flag grew from the requirements of ancient warfare and was associated with the battlefield. Flying a Sons of Liberty flag literally had the effect of raising a red rag at a bull - a flag demands attention. It is therefore no surprise that there were conflicts and skirmishes related to the liberty trees, the liberty poles and the liberty flags. British authorities, and their supporters known as Loyalists, considered the Sons of Liberty as seditious rebels, referring to them as "Sons of Violence" and "Sons of Iniquity".

The Growth of the Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty organizations started in Boston and New York quickly followed suit. These two original Sons of Liberty organizations  quickly established correspondence and communications with ever emerging Sons of Liberty groups in all of the other colonies. Soon other groups, identifying themselves as Sons of Liberty, existed in almost every colony. The organization grew quickly and spread month by month, after independent starts in several different colonies. A Sons of Liberty Timeline follows:

  • July 1765 the Sons of Liberty movement in Boston, Massachusetts,  was founded
  • September 1765 the Sons of Liberty was established in New York
  • December 1765 the Sons of Liberty was established in Connecticut
  • January 1766 the Sons of Liberty was established New Hampshire
  • March 1766 the Sons of Liberty was established in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia
  • April 1766 the Sons of Liberty was established in North Carolina
  • June 1766 the Sons of Liberty was established in South Carolina and Georgia
  • June 1766 the Sons of Liberty was established in Delaware and Pennsylvania

The Aims and Objectives of the Sons of Liberty
The initial aims and objectives of the Sons of Liberty were to prevent collection of the stamp tax, to enforce the Nonimportation Agreements (agreements by merchants not to purchase British goods) and to stimulate a consciousness of colonial grievances against British rule. The Sons of Liberty organisation continued to oppose British rule for as long as it lasted. Outwardly, the Sons of Liberty proclaimed their unfaltering loyalty and allegiance to King George III of Great Britain and emphasized their support of the English Constitution, their issues were with the British Parliament, not the king. Others held more radical views but initially the idea of revolution was not held by the majority of Sons of Liberty. As events unfolded the more conservative members of the Sons of Liberty adopted the radical views.  The working class people despised the 'lame' protests of the elite colonists - they favored more extreme measures...

Protesting against the Reaction to the Stamp Act

Riots and Protests against the Stamp Act

The Sons of Liberty Protests and Actions
The Sons of Liberty organised various protests and actions against the provisions of the Stamp Act. Their members were cloaked with secrecy. Prominent citizens such as Sam Adams and his cousin
John Adams did not  participate in the violent actions initiated by the Sons of Liberties. But they were clearly viewed ad as leaders of the Sons of Liberty. The protests and actions of the Sons of Liberty became more radical and violent as their numbers swelled and their power grew. The actions and protests moved on from peaceful meetings, organising boycotts and minor covert actions to public displays of civil unrest and violence. The Sons of Liberty were involved in:

  • Ransacking and damaging houses of British officials
  • Images of unpopular figures were burned in effigy
  • Stamp Agents were subjected to threats and intimidation
  • Offenders were publicly 'tarred and feathered'
  • Sons of Liberty were involved in riots
  • Burning Buildings and the Gaspee affair


Major Incidents involving the Sons of Liberty
The major incidents involving the Sons of Liberty included:

The Leaders of the Sons of Liberty
The leaders of the Sons of Liberty included the following men who were American patriots and political activists during the period in history leading up to the American Revolutionary War:

Leaders of the Sons of Liberty

Samuel AdamsSamuel Adams was the founder and a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Boston. Sam Adams was a second cousin to John Adams
John AdamsJohn Adams was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Massachusetts, he was destined to great achievements and became the second President of the United States
Patrick HenryPatrick Henry was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Virginia. In 1775 Patrick Henry delivered his passionate and  fiery speech "Give me liberty or give me death!"
John HancockJohn Hancock was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Boston, he became president of the Continental Congress
James OtisJames Otis was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Boston and was a lawyer and public official.
Paul ReverePaul Revere (1734 – 1818) was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based Boston. He was a silversmith and copperplate engraver who helped to organize an intelligence and alarm system to keep watch on the British military. As a copperplate engraver, Paul Revere began producing political engravings that supported the cause of the Patriots. The picture of the Boston massacre at the top of the page is taken from one of the Paul Revere engravings.

Joseph WarrenDoctor Joseph Warren was a leader of the Sons of Liberty based in Boston who served as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

Leaders of the Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty - The Name was coined by Isaac Barré
Isaac Barré (1726 – 1802) was an Irish soldier and a prominent Member of Parliament supporting William Pitt. Isaac Barré is known for coining the term "Sons of Liberty". Colonel Isaac Barré was a staunch opponent of the taxation of America and he applied the name "Sons of Liberty" in one of his speeches against the Stamp Tax. He responded to an observation by Charles Townshend, as he was introducing the Stamp Act resolutions on February 11, 1755, that the American colonies should "contribute to the mother country which had planted, nurtured and indulged them..." The fiery reply made by Isaac Barré is as follows:

"... Planted by your care! No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated, inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable, and among others to the cruelties of a savage foe and actuated by principles of true English liberties, they met all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country
from the hands of those who should be their friends."

His words and his support of the patriots made him a hero and champion of the American colonists, the original Son of Liberty. The name 'Sons of Liberty' originally coined by Isaac Barré was a first used as an underground term for any men resisting new Crown taxes and laws. The initial groups of protestors had their own specific names for their new associations for example the Caucus, the Long-Room Club and the Union Club that were all names of organizations used in Boston. The name, "Sons of Liberty" was soon adopted as the unified name for all those fighting for the liberties of America.

Sons of Liberty

  • Meaning and Definition of the Sons of Liberty

  • History of the Sons of Liberty

  • Fast Facts and info about Sons of Liberty timeline

  • The Sons of Liberty article is a great history resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the Sons of Liberty

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