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 following are some facts about the Sons of Liberty:

The Sons of Liberty formed to protest the passage of the Stamp Act of 1765. The Stamp Act 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 formed in the summer of 1765, the group 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
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 office, 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: 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

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. 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.

“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

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the owner and operator of this website and all the articles are written and researched by her. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

5 thoughts on “The Sons of Liberty: Who Were They and What Did They Do?

  1. Ben

    An amazing part of our history, and a part of my history,as Benjamin Edes was my great grandfather 6 generations back.

  2. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks Post author

    That’s very cool, Ben. William Burbeck was my 7th great grandfather. Maybe they mingled at the Liberty Tree dinner.


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