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Sons and Daughters of Liberty: Fighting for Fairness and Freedom

Introduction

On August 14, 1765, a likeness of Massachusetts Distributor of Stamps Andrew Oliver was hanged from the so-called “Liberty Tree” in Boston. Over the next few days, the effigy was stomped on, beheaded, and burned. An angry crowd attacked and looted Oliver’s home, demanding his resignation. By August 17, Oliver had publicly resigned from the position of stamp collector. A few months later, he swore never to hold the job again. 

Who hanged the effigy of Oliver and ransacked his house? Why were they so angry?

Explanation

As a stamp collector, Oliver was in charge of enforcing the newly passed Stamp Act, which was the first direct tax on American colonists by the British government. According to the Act, colonists now had to buy revenue stamps for all paper products. Colonists were furious that they were being taxed by a Parliament they had not elected. Some of these angry colonists formed the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.

Sons and Daughters of Liberty

The Sons and Daughters of Liberty were American colonists who supported the patriot cause. The Sons used threats, protests, and acts of violence to intimidate loyalists, or those loyal to the British crown, and make their grievances clear to the British Parliament. They helped organize and carry out the Boston Tea Party. The Daughters bolstered the cause by upholding boycotts and fashioning homemade versions of products affected by non-importation agreements. 

The Sons of Liberty

The Sons of Liberty initially formed in response to the Stamp Act. Furious about “taxation without representation,” they used extralegal forms of protest to make their displeasure known. They tried to get moderate colonial leaders to push back against Parliament and threatened and intimidated loyalists. 

In direct response to the Stamp Act, the Sons attacked both Andrew Oliver, the stamps distributor, and Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, who supported Parliament’s actions. The Sons hanged Oliver in effigy, ransacked his house, and threatened him until he publicly resigned. When Hutchinson refused to denounce the Stamp Act, the Sons looted and burned his home.

Though the Stamp Act was repealed in March 1766, the Sons continued to fight against what they perceived as Parliament’s unjust actions. They argued that since colonists had no representation in the British government, Parliament could not force them to pay taxes. The Sons’ anger and indignation were reinvigorated by the 1767 Townshend Acts, which placed import duties on china, glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. In response, Sam Adams, one of the Sons’ leaders, organized a boycott of British goods. Other Sons attacked shops and threatened to tar and feather shopkeepers who did not comply with the boycott.

One of the Sons’ most famous acts of protest was the Boston Tea Party. In December 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which essentially gave the British East India Company a monopoly over selling tea to colonists. In response, the Sons of Liberty organized and carried out the Boston Tea Party, during which they dumped 342 chests of British East India Company tea into Boston Harbor. This infuriated the British and helped spark the Revolutionary War. 

The Daughters of Liberty

Like the Sons of Liberty, the Daughters of Liberty protested unfair taxation by the British Parliament. Since women were largely in charge of buying goods for the home, they were also responsible for upholding boycotts. Those who ran small shops refused to carry British goods. Women also made substitutes for products that were being boycotted as part of non-importation agreements. Through these agreements, colonists pledged to not buy certain products in protest of British policies.

As a result, a lot of goods were in short supply. For example, in August 1768, Boston merchants agreed not to import or sell British goods, which led to shortages in textiles and other products. The Daughters worked tirelessly to ensure colonists could still have the goods they needed. They helped address the textile shortage by organizing spinning bees to spin yarn and wool. They also helped enforce the boycott of British tea by refusing to buy or drink it and by making their own “Liberty Tea” out of plants like mint and basil. 

The Daughters of Liberty had a significant impact on the Patriots’ efforts, but they were less of an official, organized group than the Sons. Additionally, women’s contributions, both then and now, are often left out of historical records, meaning no comprehensive membership list exists. 

So What?

The Sons and Daughters of Liberty helped organize colonist dissent and resistance to British policies. The boycotts implemented by the Sons and upheld by the Daughters forced the British to understand how serious the colonists’ grievances were. As a result, their actions helped lead to the American Revolution.

Think Further

  1. Do you agree with the Sons of Liberty’s use of violence and intimidation? Why or why not?
  2. Explain the grievance of “taxation without representation.” Why were colonists so upset about being taxed?
  3. The Daughters of Liberty were not included in the Sons’ protests, including the Boston Tea Party. How does this reflect the position of women at the time of the American Revolution?

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Learn More

  1. Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. “The Daughters of Liberty: Who Were They and What Did They Do?” History of Massachusetts Blog, 9 Dec. 2015, historyofmassachusetts.org/who-were-the-daughters-of-liberty/.
  2. Kiger, Patrick J. “Who Were the Sons of Liberty?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 19 Aug. 2019, www.history.com/news/sons-of-liberty-members-causes.
  3. “Sons and Daughters of Liberty.” U.S. History, Ushistory.org, www.ushistory.org/us/10b.asp#:~:text=They%20were%20American%20patriots%20%E2%80%94%20northern,words%2C%20medals%2C%20and%20symbols.
  4. “Sons of Liberty.” Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, 26 May 2020, www.bostonteapartyship.com/sons-of-liberty.
  5. “The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os/chapter/the-stamp-act-and-the-sons-and-daughters-of-liberty/.