Anne Hutchinson: Religious Rebel

Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan religious leader and midwife who moved from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.

Facts about Anne Hutchinson:

Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury in Alford, Lincolnshire, England on July 20, 1591 and was the daughter of Bridget Dryden and Francis Marbury, a Deacon in the Church of England. Francis Marbury was a dissident minister who had been silenced and imprisoned many times for complaining about the poor training of English clergymen. As a child, Anne had been deeply influenced by her rebellious father and his own troubles with the church left a big impression on her, according to the book “American Jezebel”:

“Although entirely without formal schooling, like virtually every woman in her day, Anne Hutchinson had been well educated on her father’s knee. Francis Marbury, a Cambridge-educated clergyman, school-master, and Puritan reformer, was her father. In the late 1570s, more than a decade before her birth, his repeated challenges to Anglican authorities led to his censure, his imprisonment for several years, and his own public trial – a on a charge of heresy, the same charge that would be brought against his daughter, of refuting church dogma or religious truth. Marbury’s trial was held in November 1578 at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, fifty-nine years and an ocean distant from her far better known trial. His trial left an abiding mark on her, though, and its themes foreshadowed those of hers. During a lengthy period of church-imposed house arrest that coincided with Anne’s first three years of life, her father composed from memory a biting transcription of his trial, which he called ‘The conference between me and the Bishop of London’ with ‘many people standing by.’ This dramatic dialogue, published in the early 1590s as a pamphlet, was one of the central texts he used to educate and amuse his children.”

"Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston," illustration published in Harper's Monthly, Feb 1901

“Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston,” illustration published in Harper’s Monthly, circa February 1901

On August 9, 1612, Anne married William Hutchinson, a London merchant, with whom she eventually had 15 children. The couple moved back to Alford and began attending the services of a new preacher, John Cotton, at St. Botolph’s in Boston, Lincolnshire. Anne was instantly mesmerized by Cotton and the two began a mentor-type relationship. Under his guidance, Anne led weekly prayer meetings in her home.

After John Cotton went into hiding when he was threatened with imprisonment for his views, he fled England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. Feeling lost without her mentor, Anne then convinced her husband that they should follow Cotton to the New World. William consented and the Hutchinsons arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on September 18, 1634. As a wealthy and prominent cloth merchant, William bought a half-acre lot on the Shawmut peninsula, in what is now downtown Boston, and built a large timber frame two-story house on the exact spot where the Old Corner Bookstore building now stands.

William Hutchinson continued his cloth business and Anne became a midwife, often giving spiritual advice to the mothers she assisted. Things went well for both Cotton and the Hutchinsons until 1636, when they started speaking out against the way Puritans leaders were being trained, thus sparking the Antinomian Controversy, a religious and political conflict that lasted until 1638, according to the book “Rebels and Renegades: A Chronology of Social and Political Dissent in the United States”:

“Soon after Cotton began complaining that the Puritan ministers in Massachusetts Bay were emphasizing the covenant of works, Hutchinson began holding meetings at her house. Initially, she merely led discussions relating to Cotton’s sermons. Later, rumors circulated that she had accused the ministers of teaching only the covenant of works. Such an accusation assaulted the heart of the Puritan beliefs, that faith mattered most. To accuse the Puritan ministers of teaching a covenant of works was to accuse them of being no better than the Church of England, against which the Puritan movement had originally begun as an alternative to Anglican ‘faithlessness.’ Hutchinson’s charge struck at the power of the colony’s leaders: the ministers did not hold public office, but they wielded enormous political power and to portray them as being on the wrong path implied they should be replaced. Consequently, her claims divided the Puritan community, and in 1636 those who supported her succeeded in electing Henry Vane as the colony’s governor. Vane, the 24-year-old son of a British government official, had attended Hutchinson’s meetings.”

This victory was short lived since the orthodox Puritans defeated Vane in the next election and elected John Winthrop as Governor. Feeling pressure to maintain conformity in the colony, Winthrop and his colleagues met in August of 1637 and decided to find a way to discredit and denounce Hutchinson. First they disenfranchised and banned her prominent friends and allies and then they charged Hutchinson with sedition, the act of inciting people to rebel against authority. The fact that Hutchinson’s charge of sedition was against the ministers, not the civil magistrates, demonstrates the lack of separation between church and state and suggests that if you undermine one, you undermine the other as well.

Old Corner Bookstore, Boston, Ma, circa 19th century

Old Corner Bookstore, Boston, Ma, circa 19th century, former site of Anne Hutchinson’s house

Hutchinson found herself in more trouble in October of 1637, about a month before her trial began, when she assisted in Mary Dyer’s birth of what the Boston ministers would later call a “monster.” Dyer’s baby was a stillborn with anencephaly and spina bifada malformations. Knowing the controversy the birth would create, Hutchinson wrapped the baby in a blanket in an attempt to conceal its deformities and buried it in unconsecrated ground, most likely somewhere on Boston Common. Winthrop and others eventually learned of the birth and exhumed the corpse. Upon examining it, the Boston ministers declared the deformed baby a punishment from God, just as they did later when Hutchinson endured a similar delivery herself in 1638, and viewed Hutchinson guilty by association for her role in the birth.

Anne Hutchinson’s Trial:

Hutchinson was brought to trial for sedition on November 7, 1637. During her trial, Hutchinson, who was possibly pregnant at the time (many historians aren’t sure if she became pregnant before or after her trial), underwent intense questioning. Winthrop accused her of violating the 5th commandment to “honor they father and thy mother,” implying that she had defied authority. He also criticized her for teaching men, which was a violation of the Puritan’s rule that women should not be leaders. Her testimony, during which she proudly professed to violating many Puritan rules, was the most damning, according to the book “Rebels and Renegades”:

“Hutchinson denied she had ever said the ministers were preaching only the covenant of works. Nevertheless, she said, ‘When they preach a covenant of works for salvation, that is not truth.’ Strong and assertive, Hutchinson made a startling claim in her testimony to the court: ‘I bless the Lord,’ she said. “He hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong.’
‘How do you know that was the spirit?’ the court asked her.
‘How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?’ she replied.
‘By an immediate voice,’ the court said.
‘So too me by an immediate revelation,’ she responded.
‘How! An immediate revelation ,’ the court said.
‘By the voice of his spirit to my soul,’ she insisted.
Thus Hutchinson had claimed that God had revealed himself directly to her, a stance that violated the Puritan doctrine that revelation ended with the bible. Orthodox Puritans labeled Hutchinson a blasphemer and an antinomian, a person who believed that commands came only from God and that salvation freed an individual from the laws of church and state….Such ideas as Hutchinson’s opened society to potential disorder, should everyone assert that they could determine God’s revelations, and with them, God’s directions, for themselves.”

The court declared her a heretic, banished her from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and ordered her to be gone by the end of March. Afterward, they placed her under house arrest at the home of Joseph Weld, while she awaited her church trial. It was during this time that her friend and mentor, John Cotton, turned his back on her, according to an article in Harvard Magazine:

“Having been found guilty in her civil trial, she was placed under house arrest to await ecclesiastical trial. In 1638, the final blows were delivered. A sentence of banishment was never in doubt. Her former mentor, John Cotton, fearing for his own credibility, described her weekly Sunday meetings as a ‘promiscuous and filthie coming together of men and women without Distinction of Relation of Marriage’ and continued, ‘Your opinions fret like gangrene and spread like leprosy, and will eat out the very bowels of religion.'”

Hutchinson’s church trial began on March 15, 1638 at her home church in Boston. During the trial, the church leaders tried to get her to repent and confess her errors but to no avail, according to the book “The Antinomian Controversy”:

“If the trial seems harsh to the modern reader, its role within the Puritan context was punitive only in a limited sense. Punishment by the church was meant to inspire repentance, and a genuine act of repentance could lead to the restoration of church membership. Those who prosecuted Mrs. Hutchinson hoped that she would confess her errors, as, for a moment, she did. But in the end she stood her ground and the church had no other choice then to cast her out.”

Anne Hutchinson on Trial, illustration by Edwin Austin Abbey, circa 1901

“Anne Hutchinson on Trial,” illustration by Edwin Austin Abbey, circa 1901

The church leaders read the charges against Hutchinson and tried to get her to admit they were errors but she remained defiant, according to court records:

“Mr. Leverit: Sister Hutchinson, here is diverse opinions laid to your charge by Mr. Shephard and Mrs. Frost, and I must request you in the name of the church to declare whether you hold them or renounce them as they be read to you.
1. That the souls of all men by nature are mortal.
2. That those that are united to Christ have two bodies, Christ’s and a new body and you knew not how Christ should be united to our fleshly bodies.
3. That our bodies shall not rise with Christ Jesus, not the same bodies at the last day.
4. That the Resurrection mentioned is not of our resurrection at the last day, but of our union to Jesus Christ.
5. That there be no created graces in the human nature of Christ nor in believers after their union.
6. That you had no scripture to warrant Christ being now in heaven in his human nature.
7. That the Disciples were not converted at Christ’s death.
8. That there is no Kingdom of Heaven but Christ Jesus.
9. That the first thing we receive for our assurance is our election.
These are alleged from Mr. Shepard. The next are from Roxbury.
1. That sanctification can be no evidence of a good estate in no wise.
2. That her revelations about future events are to be believed as well as scripture because the same Holy Ghost did indite both.
3. That Abraham was not in saving estate until he offered Isaac and so saving the firmness of God’s election, he might have perished eternally for any work of grace that was in him.
4. That a hypocrite may have the righteousness of Adam and perish.
5. That we are not bound to the law, not as a rule of life.
6. That not being bound to the law, no transgression of the law is sinful.
7. That you see no warrant in scripture to prove that the image of God in Adam was righteousness and true holiness.
These are alleged against you by Mr. Wells and Mr. Eliot. It is desired by the church, Sister Hutchinson, that you express this be your opinion or not.
Anne: If this be error then it is mine and I ought to lay it down. If this be truth, it is not mine but Christ Jesus’ and then I am not to lay it down. But I desire of the Church to demand one question. By what rule of the word when these elders shall come to me in private to desire satisfaction in some points and do profess in the sight of God that they did not come to entrap nor ensnare me, and now without speaking to me and expressing any dissatisfaction would come to bring it publicly into the Church before they had privately dealt with me? For them to come and inquire for light and afterwards to bear witness against it. I think it is a breach of Church Rule, to bring a thing in public before they have dealt with me in private.”

Although it appeared at times during the trial that Hutchinson did admit to errors and mistakes, she still refused to recant her beliefs and was found guilty and excommunicated.

Anne Hutchinson in Rhode Island:

Hutchinson left Massachusetts for Roger Williams’ settlement in Rhode Island on April 1. Her husband, most of her children and many of her friends had already left the colony months before in order to prepare a place for the group to live. Accompanying Hutchinson on her long walk to Rhode Island were her remaining children, Mary Dyer and about 60-70 of Hutchinson’s followers, many of whom had been exiled by the court themselves in November for sedition. The group slept in wigwams they either found along the way or made themselves. The journey took over six days and the group finally reached Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, where their family and friends had already begun to build a settlement, in the second week of April.

That May, Hutchinson went into labor and gave birth to a hydatidiform mole, a mass of tissue that is usually the result of sperm fertilizing a blighted egg. When Winthrop learned of the news, he appeared to take pleasure in her misfortune and wrote to Anne’s doctor, John Clarke, to find out more of the details. He later reported in his journal:

“Mistress Hutchinson being big with child, and growing toward the time of her labour, as others do, she brought forth not one (as Mistress Dyer did) but (which was more strange to amazement) thirty monstrous births or thereabouts, at once, some of them bigger, some lesser, some of one shape, some of another; few of any perfect shape, none at all of them (as far as I could ever learn) of human shape. These things are so strange that I am almost loath to be the reporter of them, lest I should seem to feign…But see how the wisdom of God fitted this judgement to her sin every way, for look – as she had vented misshapen opinions, so she must bring forth deformed monsters. And as [there were] about thirty opinions in number, so many monsters. And as those were public, and not in a corner mentioned, so this is now come to be known and famous over all these churches, and a great part of the world.”

John Cotton also spoke to his congregation about Hutchinson’s miscarriage, stating it “might signify her error in denying inherent righteousness” and suggested it was a punishment from God for her crimes.

Hutchinson continued to find herself surrounded by political controversy in Rhode Island. Wealthy merchant William Coddington was elected governor of the Aquidneck Island settlement, which they named Pocasset, but he quickly began to alienate the settlers and was overthrown in April of 1639. Hutchinson’s husband, William, was chosen as the new governor. Coddington and several others then left the area and established the settlement of Newport. After a year, the two settlements decided to reunite and Coddington became Governor of the island and William Hutchinson was chosen to be one of his assistants.

In February of 1639, Winthrop sent three ministers, Edward Gibbons, William Hibbins and John Oliver, to visit Anne Hutchinson to force her to recant her beliefs. When she refused, they warned her that Massachusetts was poised to take over the colony of Rhode Island and she would no longer be welcome there.

After William Hutchinson died in 1642, realizing her future in Rhode Island was uncertain, Anne Hutchinson moved with her children to New York, to the area that is now Pelham Bay Park, which was then the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. There they would be out of reach of the Massachusetts Puritans.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1830 biographical sketch of Hutchinson, titled “Mrs. Hutchinson,” Hawthorne envisioned that Hutchinson found not only peace of mind in New York but also the chance to be the leader she always wanted to be:

“Her final movement was to lead her family within the limits of the Dutch Jurisdiction, where, having felled the trees of virgin soil, she became herself the virtual head, civil and ecclesiastical, of a little colony. Perhaps here she found repose, hitherto so vainly sought. Secluded from all whose faith she could not govern, surrounded by dependents over whom she held an unlimited influence, agitated by none of the turmoltuous billows which were left swelling behind her, we may suppose, that, in the stillness of nature, her heart was stilled.”

Anne Hutchinson’s Death:

Little did Hutchinson know, the Dutch colony was a dangerous place to live at the time due to some bad blood between the local Native American tribes and the colony’s governor Willem Kieft. Many of the local Native American tribes in New York at the time were unhappy about the Dutch settlement and often tried to persuade the settlers to leave. Kieft further enraged the tribes by mistreating and deceiving them, such as when he tried to extort “protection” money from the Algonquins, Raritans and Wappinger Indians to keep them safe from the local Mohawk tribe, which Kieft actually controlled and used to terrorize other tribes. When the other tribes refused to pay and attacked the Dutch colony, Kieft unleashed the Mohawks on them. In 1641, Kieft again tried to persuade the Wappinger Indians to pay by sending the Mohwaks after them. Failing to realize who was really behind the attacks, the Wappinger Indians appealed to Kieft for help. Kieft responded by sending more Mohawks after them and then some of his own troops to attack them. Actions such as these eventually sparked a series of events known as Kieft’s War.

Massacre of Anne Hutchinson, illustration published in A Popular History of the United States, circa 1878

“Massacre of Anne Hutchinson,” illustration published in A Popular History of the United States, circa 1878

One of these events occurred in August of 1643, when a party of Siwanoy indians raided the section of New York that Hutchinson lived in and she and six of her children were brutally killed, according to the book “American Jezebel”:

“The Siwanoy warriors stampeded into the tiny settlement above Pelham Bay, prepared to burn down every house. The Siwanoy chief, Wampage, who had sent a warning, expected to find no settlers present. But at one house the men in animal skins encountered several children, young men and women, and a woman past middle age. One Siwanoy indicated that the Hutchinsons should restrain the family’s dogs. Without apparent fear, one of the family tied up the dogs. As quickly as possible, the Siwanoy seized and scalped Francis Hutchinson, William Collins, several servants, the two Annes (mother and daughter), and the younger children—William, Katherine, Mary, and Zuriel. As the story was later recounted in Boston, one of the Hutchinson’s daughters, ‘seeking to escape,’ was caught ‘as she was getting over a hedge, and they drew her back again by the hair of the head to the stump of a tree, and there cut off her head with a hatchet.’”

The bodies were dragged into the house, which was then set on fire. Hutchinson’s nine-year-old daughter, Susanna, was out picking berries at the time of the attack. She hid from the attackers but was eventually captured and lived with her captors for a few years until she was ransomed back to her family, according to the book “Unafraid: The Life of Anne Hutchinson:”

“When another treaty of peace was finally concluded with the Indians in 1645, one of the articles insisted on was a solemn obligation to restore the daughter of Anne Hutchinson. The Dutch guaranteed that had been offered by the New England friends of the little captive, and the obligation on both sides was fulfilled. Susan was restored to the Dutch – against her will, it is said, since she had learned to like her Indian captors – and she was eventually returned to Rhode Island.”

The reaction in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to Anne Hutchinson’s death was harsh. Winthrop wrote in his journal:

“Thus it had pleased the Lord to have compassion of his poor churches here, and to discover this great imposter, an instrument of Satan so fitted and trained to his service for interrupting the passage [of his] kingdom in this part of the world, and poisoning the churches here…This American Jezebel kept her strength and reputation, even among the people of God, till the hand of civil justice laid hold on her, and then she began evidently to decline, and the faithful to be freed from her forgeries…”

The Reverend Thomas Weld also seemed pleased with Hutchinson’s death and happily wrote to acquaintances in England:

“The Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from our great and sore affliction… I never heard that the Indians in those parts did ever before this commit the like outrage upon any one family or families; and therefore God’s hand is the more apparently seen herein, to pick out this woeful woman…”

Later when it was discovered that the warrior, Wampage, took Anne Hutchinson’s name after her death, calling himself “Anne Hoeck,” it was assumed that he was the one who took her life, since it was customary among Native-Americans to adopt the name of their most notable victim. In 1654, Wampage even transferred the deed of the Hutcinson’s property to Thomas Pell and listed his name on the document as “Anne Hoeck alias Wampage.”

Anne Hutchinson’s Descendants:

Hutchinson has a number of notable descendants. Her great-great grandson was Thomas Hutchinson, who became the loyalist Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay during the American Revolution. Her other descendants include U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, George H. Bush and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Melville Weston Fuller, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Her grandson, Peleg Sanford, became Colonial Governor of Rhode Island. Eve LaPlante, the author of Hutchinson’s biography “American Jezebel” is also one of Hutchinson’s descendants.

Anne Hutchinson’s Legacy: Why Was Anne Hutchinson Important?

Anne Hutchinson is considered one of the first notable woman religious leaders in the North American Colonies. She fought for religious freedom and openly challenged the male dominated government and church authorities, making her a religious and feminist role model.

A number of local landmarks in New York were later named after Hutchinson. The neighboring land near where Hutchinson lived was named Anne-Hoeck’s neck, the local river was named the Hutchinson and the highway that runs alongside it was named the Hutchinson River Parkway.

In 1922, The Anne Hutchinson Memorial Association and the State Federation of Women’s Clubs erected a statue of Anne Hutchinson, sculpted by artist Cyrus Dallin, in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

In 1987, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis officially pardoned Anne Hutchinson, therefore revoking her banishment from Massachusetts and clearing her name.


“Unafraid: The Life of Anne Hutchinson”; Winnifred King-Rugg; 1930

“Rebels and Renegades: A Chronology of Social and Political Dissent in the United States;” Neil A. Hamilton; 2002

“Forgotten Americans: Footnote Figures Who Changed American History”; Willard Sterne Randall, Nancy Nahra; 1998

“American Jezebel”; Eve LaPlante; 2010

“The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638: A Documentary History”; edited by David D. Hall; 1990

“A Popular History of the United States, Volume I”; William Cullen Bryant; Sydney Howard; 1878 Anne Hutchinson Arrives in the New World:

Harvard Magazine; Anne Hutchinson; Peter G. Gomes; November-December 2002:

State of Rhode Island: Anne Marbury Hutchinson:

American National Biography Online: Anne Hutchinson:

National Women’s History Museum: Anne Marbury Hutchinson:

Eve LaPlante:

History of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Massachusetts Bay Colony was a British settlement on the East Coast of North America in the 17th and 18th century. It was located in what is now modern-day central New England.

Who Founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony?

Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by the Massachusetts Bay Company. The company, which was strongly Puritan, was granted a charter by Charles I on March 4, 1629 to engage in trade in New England. When the charter was issued, it neglected to say that the company members were required to stay in England to conduct their meetings. In August, the company held a series of meetings in Cambridge where they voted to take advantage of this omission and move the entire company to New England, according to the book “The Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony”:

“The men reasoned that if they company continued to meet in England, the king could find things to quarrel about and could possibly take back the charter. This had happened to the Virginia Company of London. Taking the charter with them to America would remove much of the king’s power to interfere in their affairs. The company could erect a self-governing religious commonwealth. It would allow the leaders to create the kind of society they wanted, a “City of God in the wilderness.”

In April of 1630, the Puritans, led by one of the company’s stockholders, John Winthrop, left their homes in Boston, England and sailed from Southampton to the New World. The fleet of 12 ships reached the shores of Massachusetts on June 12 and landed at Salem. The existing colony in Salem did not have enough food or shelter to accommodate the 700-800 new colonists, according to Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s book “The History of Massachusetts”:

“The Arabella arrived at Salem the 12th of June. The common people immediately went ashore, and regaled themselves with strawberries, which are very fine in America, and were then in perfection. This might give them a favourable idea of the produce of the country; but the gentlemen met with enough to fill them with concern. The first news they had, was of a general conspiracy, a few months before, of all the indians as far as Narragansett, to extirpate the English. Eighty persons out of about three hundred had died in the colony the winter before, and many of those that remained were in a weak, sickly condition. There was not corn enough to have lasted above a fortnight, and all other provisions were scant. They had not above three of four months to look out proper places for settlements, and to provide shelter against the severity of the winter. With this prospect of difficulties, great enough for them to encounter, sickness began among them. Being destitute of necessary accommodations, they dropped away one after another…Before December, they had lost two hundred of their number, including a few who died upon their passage. The governor, and some of the principal persons, left Salem the 17th of June, and travelled through the woods to Charlestown, about twenty miles, to look for a convenient place for their chief town, which they had determined should be in some part of the bay or harbour between Natasket and Cambridge….”

The Puritans finally settled in Charlestown, across the river from the Shawmut peninsula, which is now modern day Boston. Although they had finally settled, the colony still suffered due to a lack of fresh water. Little did Winthrop know, a friend he had attended the University of Cambridge with back in England, William Blackstone, was living on the nearby Shawmut peninsula. Blackstone, a member of the failed Dorchester colony, had moved to the peninsula after the remaining members of his colony returned to England. After Blackstone heard of Winthrop’s arrival from his Native-American friends, the two met and Blackstone invited the puritans to live with him on the peninsula. Winthrop accepted the offer and the Puritans began construction on their settlement.

"Gov. John Winthrop -- In honor of the birthday of Governor John Winthrop, born June 12, 1587," wood engraving, circa 1860-1880

“Gov. John Winthrop — In honor of the birthday of Governor John Winthrop, born June 12, 1587,” wood engraving, circa 1860-1880

One of the colonists, Thomas Dudley, proposed that they name the new town Boston after their hometown in England.

By the mid 1630s, the Puritans had invited hundreds of more colonists over from England and were taking over the area. After they took control over all but 50 acres of the land Blackstone believed was his, Blackstone decided to sell his remaining land back to the Puritans, which later became Boston Common, and moved to what is now Rhode Island.

In 1632, the colonists officially made Boston the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

More Puritans continued to travel over from England and the number of colonies in Massachusetts multiplied to a total of four: Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven. These colonies included many villages that consisted of houses, a community garden and a meetinghouse for church services. Schools were soon built, including the first American public school called the Boston Latin School, and laws were passed requiring a school in every town with more than 50 inhabitants. In 1643, the four colonies formed a military alliance, known as the New England Confederation, to help defend themselves from Native American attacks.

The colonists felt it was their mission to help “civilize” this New World as well as the Native-Americans who lived there. The original seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony even depicted an image of a Native-American saying “Come over and help us.”

Diseases brought by the colonists started to ravage the Native American population. By 1650, about 90 percent of the Native Americans living in New England died due to disease. Growing resentment between Native Americans and settlers eventually led to King Phillip’s War in 1675, which completely wiped out the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes. The Native Americans that survived the war either fled to the west or surrendered and were sold into slavery.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony seal

The original Massachusetts Bay Colony seal

While the Native American population declined, the number of colonists flourished. By 1676, Boston had 4,000 residents. The colonists continued to build up the city, constructing its first post office in 1639, the first bank in 1674 and published its first American newspaper in 1690 titled “Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestick.”

Colonists also declared war on local wildlife that they deemed a threat, such as the local wolf popular, according to the book “Disguised as the Devil: A History of Lyme Disease and Witch Accusations”:

“Wolves were considered flat out pests. They became the pariah of the wilderness – dark, insidious predators biting at the heels of civilization. They had a price on their heads from almost the moment of contact with the English colonists. Well nourished on deer meat, this thriving wolf population was unfortunately not discerning enough to know a domesticated animal from their wild prey. When they began to add pork, beef, and mutton to their diet, it was not tolerated. In 1678 Salem Village was rimmed by a set of wolf traps. The last wolf bounty in Massachusetts was paid in the nineteenth century at the end of a successful eradication program that took over 200 years to complete.”

The population of Boston continued to grow in the 17th and early 18th century, despite small-pox outbreaks in 1690, 1702 and 1721. By 1730, Boston had over 13,000 residents. Many of Boston’s most famous buildings were built during this time period, such as the Old State House in 1713, Old North Church in 1723, Old South Meetinghouse in 1729 and Faneuil Hall in 1742. By 1750, Boston’s population had risen to 15,000 people.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Government and Religion:

From the moment they landed in the New World, the Massachusetts Bay colonists worked tirelessly to establish a government that was not only efficient but one that also reflected their personal and religious ideals, according to the book “Massachusetts: Mapping the Bay State Through History”:

“While the Pilgrims were occupied with the problems of survival, the better organized and provisioned Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony came with a mission, to establish their own shining ‘citty [sic] upon a Hill,’ free of the sin and corruption of the land and society they were leaving. They moved quickly to establish their political and religious – and eventually, geographical – authority, with confidence based on their religious faith and the later economic success that they took as a sign of divine consent.”

Religion and government were deeply intertwined in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and only the most devout Puritans could participate in governmental affairs, according to the book “Politics and Religion in the United States”:

“While everyone in the community was a member of a congregation and was expected to attend services and support the church, only those who went through the arduous process of demonstrating their spiritual regeneration could become full-covenant members, thus gaining a say in both ecclesiastical and secular government. The civil government had authority over everyone in the community, but was controlled by the minority of the population that had achieved full church membership.”

The Puritans were highly intolerant of other religions and came to the New World specifically to escape religious persecution and create their own community where they could live only among like-minded people. As a result, the Puritans frequently persecuted other colonists who didn’t share their religious views, especially Quakers, according to the book “Politics and Religion in the United States”:

“At first, Quaker missionaries who came to Massachusetts to spread their views were simply banished. However, as Quakers kept coming, harsher punishments were introduced for them, such as cutting off their ears or boring a hole in their tongues with a hot iron – and then banishing them. When even this didn’t stop Quaker missionary activity, the death penalty was added. Between 1659 and 1661, four Quakers were put to death by the Puritans. It appeared that the persecution would become even more deadly; however, in 1661, King Charles II intervened and prohibited any corporal punishment of Quakers.”

After the establishment of the English Commonwealth in 1649, the colonists also declared Massachusetts a commonwealth, although they had no authority to do so. The Cromwell government in control of England at the time did little to respond to this move.

After King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the British government attempted to take more control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony by sending a series of royal commissions, first in 1664 and then again in 1676, to settle land disputes and reform the colony’s administrations. The colony rebuffed each commission, but, once again, the British government didn’t respond to or attempt to punish the colony for these acts of defiance.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony did receive bad news though in 1684, when its charter was revoked due to repeated violations of the charter’s terms. These violations include running an illegal mint, establishing religious laws and discriminating against Anglicans and Quakers.

In 1685, King James II decided to reign in these rebellious New England colonies by merging all of them together to form the Dominion of New England and, in 1686, appointed Sir Edmund Andros as its governor. Andros immediately set to work proposing new taxes, pushing aside the General Council and forbidding town meetings. When word reach Boston, in April of 1689, that King James II had been overthrown by William of Orange, a mob formed in Boston and they quickly seized and ousted the royal officials and put the former Puritan leadership back in power.

In 1691, a compromise was made over the unpopular Dominion of New England and a new charter was issued. This new charter united the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony and Maine Colony into one single colony and called for a Royal Governor and elected assembly to be established. The charter also restricted religious-based laws, such as the church membership requirement needed to become a voter, extended religious tolerance to other Protestant denominations, required oaths to be taken to the king and not the government of Massachusetts and tightened the British government’s overall control over the colony, which caused much anxiety among the colonists. The Puritans worried that their religion, and they themselves, were once again under attack. This anxiety is considered to be one of the many underlying causes that sparked the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

In the mid 1700s, the government’s expenses during the French and Indian War, which took place between 1754-1763, brought in a whole new set of problems for both England and the colonists, according to the book “Massachusetts: Mapping the Bay State Through History”:

“At the end of what was known in America as the French and Indian War, the British economy was on the brink of collapse. British statesmen, notably George Grenville, first lord of the treasury (the equivalent of prime minister), after deciding that the government’s budget could be cut no further and an increase in taxes at home was out of the question, turned to the colonies as a source of revenue – the same colonies whose exports were up, who continued to flaunt British mercantile policies, whose per capita income may have been as much as twice that of England’s, and who, at least from the British point of view, contributed little or nothing toward their own support.”

A series of unpopular taxes and acts that were intended to make money off of the colony, such as the Stamp Act of 1765, the Declaratory Act and the Townshend Act, eventually set the American Revolution into motion and, in the end, resulted in the British government losing control of the colony.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Economy:

By the mid-18th century, Massachusetts Bay Colony had grown into a successful colony with a large trade industry that exported fish, lumber and farm products to Europe. Yet, in the early years, the colony not only struggled to supply enough of these products to meet the demand in Europe but was actually hesitant to engage in trade with Europe at all, fearing it would hurt the health, autonomy and independence of the colony, according to the book “Building the Bay Colony”:

“Many Puritans initially feared that these endeavors could pull their communities into the transatlantic world too quickly, distract them from the virtues of husbandry, lead to unhealthy levels of profit, and become ‘a prison and constant calamity’ as a result of the individual’s spending his life ‘in doing little good at all to others, though he should grow rich by it himself’…By satisfying the local market before endeavoring to reach more profitable export venues with these valuable commodities, Puritan pioneers set an important precedent: they would fully meet local needs first. This decision, perhaps more than any other, shaped the contours of Massachusetts’s seventeenth-century economic development. It made what we might call ‘persistent economic localism’ a customary, and quite fertile, Puritan value.”

"A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America," etching by John Carwitham, circa 1730-1760

“A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America,” etching by John Carwitham, circa 1730-1760

Things quickly changed though in 1640 when the colony suffered its first economic depression and the settlers decided to pursue the exportation of its goods, especially beef, to Europe and the West Indies, according to the book “Disguised as the Devil”:

“Many early frontier towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, like Sudbury, were set up on inland meadows specifically as cow towns. The domestic beef market became a key part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s economy that would later shift focus from the depressed domestic market to provide an important commodity for early trade with the West Indies.”

In fact, exporting domestic beef became so profitable for the colony that in 1692, Salem Sheriff George Corwin spent a great deal of his time barreling up meat from the confiscated cattle of accused Salem witches and shipping it off to the West Indies.

Slavery also played an important role in the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s economy. Starting in 1644, Boston merchants began to engage in the Triangle Trade, a three-stop trade route in which merchants imported slaves from Africa, sold them in the West Indies and then bought sugar to bring back to Massachusetts to make molasses and rum. Some Massachusetts merchants, such as Captain John Turner, who built the House of Seven Gables in Salem, chose to forgo importing slaves from Africa and instead sold fish to plantation owners in the West Indies as food for the slaves and then bought sugar from these same plantation owners to import to Massachusetts. Many wealthy Massachusetts colonists also bought and sold slaves themselves for household labor in Massachusetts. In fact, in 1641, Massachusetts became the first state in the North American colonies to make slavery legal when John Winthrop helped write a law allowing slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony trade activities continued into the 18th century, although the importation of slaves came to an end after slavery was slowly phased out in Massachusetts starting in 1780. The colony’s prosperous trade industry even played a pivotal role in the American Revolution when Britain attempted to tighten its grip on New England’s trade activities as a way to raise revenue. When the government’s activities began to hurt the local economy and threaten the colonist’s autonomy, the colonists responded by boycotting British imports, protesting the government’s actions through acts of rebellion like the Boston Tea Party and eventually declared war on Britain in order to earn their independence.


“The History of Massachusetts, Volume I”; Thomas Hutchinson; 1764

“The Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company”; Barbara A. Moe; 2003

“Disguised as the Devil: A History of Lyme Disease and Witch Accusations;” M. M. Drymon; 2008

“Politics and Religion in the United States”; Michael Corbett, Julia Corbett-Hemeyer, J. Matthew Wilson

“Massachusetts: Mapping the Bay State Through History : Rare and Unusual Maps”; Vincent Virga, Dan Spinella; 2011

“Building the Bay Colony: Local Economy and Culture in Early Massachusetts”; James E. McWilliams; 2007

Encyclopedia Britannica: Massachusetts Bay Colony:

Citizen Information Service: Historical Sketch:

The Sons of Liberty: Who Were They and What Did They Do?

The Sons of Liberty was a group of political dissidents that formed in the North American British colonies during the early days of the American Revolution.

The original purpose of the Sons of Liberty was to protest the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, which was a tax that required printed materials in the colony, such as newspapers and legal documents, to be published on paper produced in London and embossed with the revenue stamp. The colonists resented the Stamp Act and felt that being taxed without their consent was a violation of their rights as British citizens.

The Loyal Nine:

When the Sons of Liberty first started, in the summer of 1765, it was originally known as the Loyal Nine, which consisted of nine Boston shopkeepers and artisans:

John Avery Jr, distiller
Henry Bass, merchant and cousin to Samuel Adams cousin
Thomas Chase, distiller
Thomas Crafts, painter
Stephen Cleverly, brazier
Benjamin Edes, printer of the Boston Gazette
Joseph Field, ship captain
John Smith, brazier
George Trott, jeweler

The ninth member was either Henry Welles, a mariner, or Joseph Field, master of a vessel.

How the Sons of Liberty Got Their Name:

The term “the Sons of Liberty” actually came from a debate over the Stamp Act in Parliament in February of 1765, during which Irishman Isaac Barre made a speech defending the colonists and criticizing the British government’s actions against them, according to the book “The Eve of the Revolution”:

“[Were] they nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of them. As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over them, in one department and another… sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon them; men whose behaviour on many occasions has caused the blood of these sons of liberty to recoil within them…”

When the group officially expanded and adopted the name “The Sons of Liberty” is not known since the secretive group left virtually no paper trail.

The Stamp Act Riot:

"The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering," print by Philip Dawe, circa 1774

“The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering,” print by Philip Dawe, circa 1774

What is known about the group is that in August of 1765, the Loyal Nine acquired the help of Ebenezer McIntosh, a local cordwainer and leader of the South End Pope’s Day Company (Pope’s Day was the Boston colonial version of Guy Fawkes Day) to pull off its first protest, according to the book “A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere”:

“On the morning of August 14, 1765, Bostonians witnessed a ritual of protest similar to the mocking, world-turned-upside-down festivities of the Pope’s Day processions. The Loyal Nine prepared effigies of Andrew Oliver, the stamp master, and Lord Bute, the king’s favorite, who, though out of office since the end of 1763, was considered the instigator of the unpopular revenue measures. McIntosh’s men, mostly artisans from the lower ranks of the craft hierarchy, laborers and mariners, hung the effigies from a large elm tree at Essex and Orange Streets in the South End, a tree soon to become famous as Liberty Tree. A label on the breast of Oliver’s effigy praised liberty and denounced ‘Vengence on the Subvertors of it,’ and another label warned: ‘He that takes this down is an enemy to his country.’ At sunset, forty or fifty artisans and tradesman took down the effigies and carried them in a procession to Andrew Oliver’s dock, where the mob leveled a building they believed would be the stamp offce, and then to Fort Hill, where they burned the figures. In his journal, John Boyle stressed that the procession was ‘followed by a great concourse of people, some of the highest reputation, and in the greatest order.’ At this point, the less genteel members of the mob, led my McIntosh and angered by Thomas Hutchinson’s attempts to disperse them, proceeded to wreak havoc on Andrew Oliver’s house, pulling down fences, breaking windows, looking glasses, and furniture, stripping his trees of fruit, and drinking his wine.”

The following night, August 15, the mob formed a blockade in front of Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion, demanding that he denounce the Stamp Act in his official letters to London. Hutchinson, a loyalist who had written “The History of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay” in which he condemned a revolt by Boston citizens in 1689 against the rule of governor Sir Edmund Andros, refused. A few weeks later, on August 26, the mob returned. After attacking the homes of William Story, deputy register of the Vice-Admiralty Court, and Benjamin Hallowell, comptroller of customs, they then attacked Hutchinson’s house. Hutchinson and his family were able to escape the home just minutes before the mob arrived. Upon breaking into the mansion, the mob destroyed Hutchinson’s furniture, wrecked the garden, tore out the windows, walls, wainscoting, tiles and even tore down the cupola on the roof. In addition, they stole the contents of his wine cellar, £900 in sterling, every valuable object in his home and destroyed his collection of books and papers from his research for his history book.

Members of the Sons of Liberty

Members of the Sons of Liberty: 1st Row: Samuel Adams • Benedict Arnold • John Hancock • Patrick Henry • James Otis, Jr. 2nd Row: Paul Revere • James Swan • Alexander McDougall • Benjamin Rush • Charles Thomson 3rd Row: Joseph Warren • Marinus Willett • Oliver Wolcott • Christopher Gadsden • Haym Salomon

For a number of years after the Stamp Act riot, the Sons of Liberty organized annual celebrations to mark the event, which consisted of parades and gatherings at the Liberty Tree on Boston Common or large dinners, known as “Liberty dinners,” under a tent at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester.

By the end of 1765, Sons of Liberty groups had sprouted up in every state in the colony. Women also joined the cause by forming local chapters of the Daughters of Liberty, which organized spinning groups to spin cloth and supported a boycott against British imports.

Members of the Sons of Liberty:

Due to the secret nature of the Sons of Liberty, the group never kept any official rosters of its members. Yet, in 1869 a handwritten list titled “An Alphabetical List of the Sons of Liberty Who Dined at the Liberty Tree, Dorchester Aug. 14, 1769” was donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society. This list of over 300 names was compiled by an attendee of the event, William Palfrey, and was donated by his grandson on the 100th anniversary of the event. The names on the list are as follows:

Adams, Samuel
Adams, John, Esq.
Avery, John, Esq.
Avery, John, Jr.
Appleton, Nath.
Austin, Benj., Esq.
Austin, Samuel
Ayres, Joseph
Abbot, Samuel
Avis, Samuel

Brattle, Thos.
Bradford, John, Capt.
Bowes, Nicholas
Barber, Nath.
Bant, William
Boyer, Peter
Barrell, Joseph
Balch, Nath.
Blake, John, Capt.
Blanchard, Caleb
Brimmer, Martin
Brimmer, Hermon
Black, Andrew
Burt, Benjamin
Brigden, Zachary
Bowes, William
Bruce, Stephen
Bass, Moses Belcher
Bass, Henry
Boynton, Richard, Capt.
Breck, William
Barrett, Samuel
Bradford, Jos., Jr.
Brown, John
Baker, John
Brattle, Brig. General
Bowdoin, James, Hon.
Burdet, Benj.
Barnard, Benj.
Brackett, Joshua
Bell, William
Belcher, Sarson
Boardman, Win.
Boweyer, Dan.
Bowman, Rev. Dan.
Barrett, John, Esq.
Burbeck, William
Billings, Richard
Brown, Enoch
Binney, Capt.
Bryant, .lames
Bryant, John

Cushing, Mr. Speaker
Cooper, William
Cushing, John
Church, Benj.
Church, Benj., Jr.
Church, Edward
Cleverly, Stephen
Carnes, Edward
Cobb, Capt.
Collins, Ezra
Copely, John
Cudworth, Benj.
Cudworth, Nath.
Cheever, Wm. Downe
Colson, David
Colson, Adam
Cunningham, Major
Cunningham, James
Chardon, Peter, Esq.
Cranch, Richard
Cunningham, Jno.
Cazneau, Andrew, Esq.
Carter, James
Cattle, Wm., Esq., Carolina,
Crofts, Thomas
Cheever, Ezek., Jr., Esq.
Chase, Thomas
Cunningham, William
Crane, John
Clap, Ebenezer
Cox, Lemuel
Carnes, Joseph
Dana, Richard, Esq.
Dickinson, Mr., brother to the farmer.
Dawes, Thomas, Capt.
Dennie, William
Davis, William
Deshon, Moses, Esq.
Dalton, James, Capt.
Dalton, Peter Roe
Davis, Edward
Dashwood, Capt.
Dorr, Ebenezer
Don-, Harbottle
Dean, John, Capt.
Davis, Caleb
Davis, Aaron
Davis, Robert
Danforth, Samuel, Dr.
Davis, Solomon
Dolbeare, Benj.
Dorrington, John, Capt.
Dickman, William
Doane, Elisha, Major

Erving, John, Hon.
Erving, George, Esq.
Edes, Benjamin
Edwards, John
Eliot, Deacon
Eliot, Joseph, Jr.
Edes, Thomas
Emmes, Samuel
Edwards, Alex.

Freeman, Jon., Capt.
Fleet, Thomas
Fleet, John
Foster, Deacon
Foster, Timothy
Foster, Bossenger
Foster, William
Fitch, Timothy
Flagg, Josiah
Fowle, William
Farmer, Paul

Greenleaf, William
Gore, John, Capt.
Gore, John, Jr.
Green, George
Gill, John
Gill, Moses
Grant, Samuel
Green, Francis
Gardner. Joseph, Dr.
Greenleaf, John
Gardner, John
Gridley, Col.
Green, Joshua
Green, Edward
Greenwood, Capt.
Griffiths, John
Gooding, Benj.
Griffen, Wm., Esq., of Virginia.
Green, John
Green, Joseph
Greenleaf, Oliver
Greenleaf, Stephen
Greene, Benj., Jr.
Gray, William
Gwin, Capt, Newbury
Gooding, Joseph
Gray, Lewis
Greaton, John
Green, Nath.
Gardner, Thomas, member for Cambridge.

Hancock, John, Esq.
Henshaw, Joshua, Esq.
Hopkins, Caleb, Capt.
Head. John
Heath, William, Capt.
Hill, Henry
Henshaw, Joseph
Henshaw, Joshua, Jr.
Henderson, Joseph
Hatch, Jabez
Homer, John, Capt.
Holmes, Benj. Mulbury
Holmes, Nath.
Hichborn, Thomas
Hichborn, Thomas, Jr.
Harris, Samuel
Henchman, Samuel
Harkins, John
Henshaw, Andrew
Hamock, Charles
Hill, Alexander
Hill, John, Esq.
Holbrook, Samuel
How, Samuel
Houghton, John
Hickling, William
Hall, Joseph
Homes, William, Esq.
Henshaw, Daniel
Hinckley, John
Hunt, Mr., Schoolmaster.

Harris, Stephen
Harris, Stephen, Jr.
Hinckley, Ebenezer
Hoskins, William
Hill, Dr.
Hewes, Robert
Honeywell, Richard
Horry, Thomas

I, J.
Jackson, Joseph, Esq.
Inches, Henderson
Jeffries, John, Dr.
Jan-is, Charles, Dr.
Johonnot, Francis
Jones, Deacon
Jarvis, Edward
Jackson, Joseph
Ingraham, Duncan
Jeffries, David, Esq.
Johonnot, Zechary, Esq.
Johonnot, Gabriel
Johonnot, Andrew
Jones, William
Ingersol, John
Jenkins, John

Kent, Benj., Esq.
Knox, Thomas
Knox, Thomas
Kennedy, William
Kneeland, Barth.

Langdon, John
Lucas, John
Lovell, James
Lasinby, Joseph
Langdon, John, Jr.
Langdon, Timothy
Leach, John
Laggett, Thomas
Loring, John
Loring, Caleb
Leverett, John, Capt.
Leverett, Thomas
Lowell, John

Mason, Jonathan
Marshall, Thomas, Colonel
Marston, John, Capt.
May, John
May, Ephraim
Malcom, Daniel, Capt.
Matchett, John, Capt.
Molineaux, William
May, Aaron
McDaniel, Jacob
Morton, Joseph
Morton, Dimond
McDaniel, Hugh
Miller, Charles
McLain, John

Noyes, Nathaniel

Otis, James, The Hon. jr.
Otis, Samuel Allyne
Otis, Joseph

Pemberton, Samuel, Esq.
Partridge, Samuel, Capt.
Pitts, John
Pitts, James, The Hon.
Pitts, William
Pitts, James Jr.
Palfrey, William
Prince, Job, Capt.
Parker, Daniel
Perkins, James, Jr.
Peck, Thomas Handasyd
Pattin, William, Capt.
Peirpont, Robert
Proctor, Edward
Proctor, Samuel
Pool, Fitch
Pulling, John, Jr.
Price, Thos. Maurice, Capt.
Pico, Joshua
Palmes, Richard
Pecker, James, Dr.
Price, Ezekiel
Proctor, John
Phillips, William, Esq.
Pierce, Isaac
Power, Mr., Carolina.
Pierce, Mr., Carolina.

Quincy, Samuel, Esq.
Quincy, Josiah

Ruddock, John, Esq.
Revere, Paul
Rand, Isaac, Dr.
Ray, Caleb
Richardson, James
Reid, Mr., Secretary to Gov.
Franklin, Jerseys.
Read, William, Esq.
Ruggles, Samuel
Robinson, Lemuel
Ratcliffe, Mr., Carolina.
Roberts, Peter

Swift, Samuel, Esq.
Sweetser, John, Jr.
Smith, John
Spear, Nathan
Spear, David
Salter, Richard
Savage, Habijah
Savage, John
Smith, William
Symmes, Eb., Capt.
Symmes, John
Spooner, William
Sharp, Gibbins
Scott, John
Simpson, Ebenezer
Snelling, Jona., Major
Sprague, John, Dr.
Spooner, George
Soley, John
Scollay, John, Esq.
Storey, Elisha, Dr.
Sellon, Samuel
Seaver, Ebenezer
Surcomb, Richard
Stanbridge, Henry
Scott, William
Searle, Samuel
Stoddard, Jonathan
Scott, James, Capt.

Trott, George
Trott, Jonathan
Turner, William
Thompson, Major
Trott, Samuel
Trott, Thomas
Turell, Joseph
Tyler, Joseph
Tyler, Roval, Hon.
Tyler, Thomas, Esq.
Tileston, Capt.
Thompson, James
Tuckerman, Edward
Tileston, John
Tileston, Thomas

Vose, Joseph
Vernon, Fortescue

Whitwell, Samuel
Welles, Arnold, Esq.
Waldo, Joseph
Wendell, John Mico
Wendell, Oliver
Welsh, John
Warren, Joseph, Dr.
Webb, Joseph
Walley, Thomas
Waldo, Daniel
Wyer, Robert, Capt.
Whitwell, William
Wheelwright, Job
Wheatly, Nath.
Waldo, John
Wendell, Jacob
Waters, Josiah, Capt.
White, Benjamin
Williams, Joseph, Colonel
White, William, Capt.

Young, Thomas, Dr.

Paul Revere, one of the most famous members of the Sons of Liberty, was reportedly admitted to the group because he had many qualities that they found desirable in their members, according to the book “A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere”:

“Esther Forbes wrote that the leaders of the Revolution in Boston admitted Paul Revere into their society ‘because they wished the sympathy of the large artisan class with whom he was immensely popular, and he represented an important point of view.’ His position as a respected master artisan whose ties of business and friendship connected him to Boston’s artisans, mariners, merchants and Freemasons surely made Paul Revere a desirable member of the patriot cause…Revere’s Masonic experience taught him both to know when to defer to those of superior authority and achievement and when and how to exercise leadership. Revere had also learned to appreciate the opportunity of enlightening his mind through reading, discussion, and fellowship with like-minded men. Revere’s standing in the community, his personality, and his Masonic experience would all make him a worthy member of the patriot circle.”

Public Reaction to the Sons of Liberty:

Newspapers across the colonies praised the Sons of Liberty, calling them “the only guardians and protectors of of the rights and liberties of America” and encouraged them to continue their activities. Yet, the general public were not as enamored with the group, according to the book “The Founding of a Nation”:

“The glowing picture of the Sons of Liberty presented by the newspapers was not accepted by many alarmed Americans who looked upon them as nothing but dangerous, and all too often drunken, mobs. Naturally they kept such opinions to themselves or wrote of them in private letters to friends whom they could trust. There is no doubt that the leaders often found the mobs hard to control. In New York, even children paraded at night carrying effigies and candles. Mobs sometimes appeared on the streets in daytime, as upon the occasion when a British naval lieutenant said that John Holt of the New York Gazette ought to be sent to England and hanged ‘for the licentiousness of his papers.’ For three days mobs paraded the streets, threatening to murder the lieutenant, and order was not restored until General Gage provided the commanders of the naval vessel with extra arms.”

"A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practised at Boston," print, circa 1774

“A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practised at Boston,” print, circa 1774. Print shows two men tarring and feathering a British customs officer and forcing him to drink tea. The man holding the teapot is wearing a hat with number 45 on it, a symbol referring to the John Wilkes case of 1763. The other man is holding a noose and carrying a club. The large bow in his hat indicates his membership in the Sons of Liberty.

After nearly a year of protests, the Sons of Liberty were finally victorious in March of 1766 when Parliament decided to repeal the Stamp Act. The group organized celebrations across the city to mark the occasion, which included bonfires, fireworks, celebratory cannon fire, ringing church bells and decorating ships and houses with flags and streamers.

Since the group’s primary objective was to protest the Stamp Act, it disbanded after the act was repealed. Yet, the group was revived two years later when the passage of the Townshend Act threatened the colonist’s rights once again, according to the book “Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in America”:

“In 1768, the Townshend Revenue Act was passed, placing special taxes on common goods such as lead, paint, glass, paper and tea. The Townshend Act garnered an even quicker response from colonists than the Stamp Act. The newly revived Sons of Liberty embarked on a two-year campaign against the Townshend Acts, playing a vital role in spreading rebellion throughout the colonies. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty invited hundreds of citizens to dine with them each August 14 to commemorate the first Stamp Act uprising. In Charlestown, the Sons of Liberty held their meetings in public, so that all could attend and listen. This helped spread the word of resistance to ordinary folks, including the illiterate who could not read pamphlets, newspapers or petitions….The Sons of Liberty helped to establish and enforce a boycott on British goods, causing trade to dry up. It was not long before the British merchants stepped in on behalf of the colonies and the Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, except for the tax on tea. This would lead to one of the most infamous chapters of American history, the Boston Tea Party.”

The Boston Tea Party:

This controversy over the tea tax was made worse by the passage of the Tea Act of 1773, which allowed for tea sold by British companies to be shipped directly to the colonies and sold at a discount. As the tax on tea was still in place, this act was a subtle way to persuade colonists to comply with the tax. The act served two purposes, it helped prop up the struggling East India Company, whose sales had taken a huge hit when the colonists started to boycott imported tea after the passage of the Townshend Act, and it goaded colonists into complying with the tax.

The colonists were not pleased. They saw through the British government’s plan and the Sons of Liberty groups across the colonies responded by chasing away the tea ships in New York and Philadelphia or abandoning the cargo on the docks in Charlestown. In Boston, the group threatened captains with tarring and feathering until the whole issue came to a head in December of 1773, when colonists refused to let three cargo ships carrying British tea, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, dock in Boston harbor and unload its cargo.

A series of meetings were held, first at Faneuil Hall, then at the Old South Meetinghouse when the number of attendees grew too big for Faneuil Hall to accommodate. During the meetings, a series of proposals and counter-proposals were explored but ultimately, on December 16th, Hutchinson refused to send the ships back to England and ordered the colonists to stop blocking the ships from landing. According to various sources, the Sons of Liberty had anticipated this response and activated their secret plan to rush to the harbor where they rowed out to the ships and threw 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor. This protest became the group’s most famous act of rebellion.

The identity of all the participants in the Boston Tea Party is not completely known but it has been confirmed that at least four of the Loyal Nine: Thomas Chase, Thomas Crafts, Benjamin Edes and Stephen Cleverly, as well as several Sons of Liberty: including Paul Revere and Thomas Young, participated.

The Sons of Liberty continued to be active until the American Revolution ended in 1783 and the group finally disbanded.


Massachusetts Historical Society: Sons of Liberty:; Terms of Estrangement: Who Were the Sons of Liberty?; Benjamin L. Carp; 2012:

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum: Sons of Liberty:

“The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism;” Edited by John Breuilly, 2013

“The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776;” Merrill Jensen; 1968

“Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History, Volume 1;” Edited by Steven Laurence Danver; 2011

“The Eve of the Revolution;” Carl Becker; 1918

“A True Republican: The Life of Paul Revere”; Jayne E. Triber; 2001