My new series, The Boston Brahmin Series, is steeped in historical context. In 1813, John Adams wrote:
“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected BEFORE the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”
The Loyal Nine planted the seeds of revolution.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
~ George Santayana, philosopher and novelist
George Grenville was a British statesman born into an influential political family. He became the British Prime Minister in and the primary focus of his government was to bring spending under control. Grenville, a whig, advocated the supremacy of Parliament and a strong central government.
During his term in office from 1763 – 1765, a major point of contention at the time was the incredible cost of defending and protecting the colonies and the British expansion into the American frontier. Near the Appalachian Mountains, the British had stationed 10,000 troops for this purpose. While serving as Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1764, he proposed a stamp tax in a speech to Parliament. The new tax was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed-paper they used. Documents, licenses, newspapers, ship’s papers, legal documents, and even playing cards were taxed. The money collected by the Stamp Act was to be used to help pay the costs of garrisoning the troops.
On February 17, 1765, the Stamp Act was passed in the House of Commons by an overwhelming vote of 205 to 49; on March 8, it unanimously passed in the House of Lords; and on March 22, it was given Royal Assent. The law had an effective date of November 1, 1765.
News of the Stamp Act’s passage reached America in May of 1765. The Stamp Act caused both anger and resentment in the colonies – not so much because of the imposition of a tax, but because of its manner of enactment and means of enforcement. The colonists believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent. Such consent, in the view of the colonists, could only be granted by the legislatures of the colonies in which they resided. The colonists believed that any laws passed affecting them were illegal under the British Bill of Rights of 1689.
A slogan was quickly adopted throughout the colonies: No taxation without representation.
Boston, Massachusetts became the epicenter of the colonist opposition to British rule. In 1765 a group of Bostonians formed a social club — attempting to avoid the scrutiny a political organization might provoke. Their purpose however was more than social. This group of nine Bostonians, formed and operating in secrecy, plotted a response to the Stamp Act.
They called themselves The Loyal Nine. Although they were respectable merchants and tradesmen; they were not necessarily the most prominent Bostonians. They were private and unassuming, avoided undue publicity, and were diligent in their secretiveness. The names of The Loyal Nine aren’t prominent in American History books. But these nine men sowed the seeds of the American Revolution. They were average, hardworking Americans — fighting against tyrannical rule.
Henry Bass, a merchant and the cousin of Samuel Adams; Thomas Chase, a distiller; John Avery, also a distiller and The Loyal Nine’s secretary; Stephen Cleverly and John Smith, braziers (tradesmen who worked with brass); Thomas Crafts, a painter; Joseph Field, a seafarer; George Trott, a jeweler; and the most well-known among The Loyal Nine — Benjamin Edes, the printer of the Boston Gazette.
John Adams recalled in his diary that The Loyal Nine met in one of two locations; either in a small compting Room in Chase and Speakman’s Distillery or under the foliage of a large elm tree in nearby Hanover Square. The tree would soon become known as The Liberty Tree. Until its destruction by British soldiers in 1775, The Liberty Tree would serve as a meeting place for fiery speeches and as a rallying point for patriotic demonstrations.
Knowing they were going to need help organizing a resistance movement, The Loyal Nine turned to Ebenezer Mackintosh and his gang of miscreants known as the South Enders. Mackintosh was a poor shoemaker who was generally considered lower class in Boston at the time. After the death of his first wife, Mackintosh became involved in the militia and later joined the infamous Fire Engine Company No. 9 in South Boston. Over time, he became a fixture and a leader in the poor communities of Boston’s South End.
As the head of the fast growing South End gang, he coordinated activities of the annual Guy Fawkes Night held on the fifth of November. In 1605, Guy Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James and several members of the House of Lords. The plot failed, but Fawkes became well known for his insurgent activities. Animated masks honoring Fawkes began to surface featuring an oversized smile and red cheeks, a wide upturned moustache and a thin vertical pointed beard.
Today, the Guy Fawkes mask is the widely recognized symbol of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Mackintosh used the occasion of Guy Fawkes Night to light an enormous bonfire and recruit more members into his gang. He orchestrated most activities in the south part of the city. Inciting public disturbance was not foreign to them.
The Loyal Nine needed soldiers — insurgents. They convinced Mackintosh to put aside his local quarrels with Henry Swift and the North Enders gang to direct their hostilities towards opposing the British and The Stamp Act. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Mackintosh, Swift and the hundreds of their gang members agreed to work together.
Per a letter on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Cyrus Baldwin, a local civil engineer, recounted the events of the morning of August 14. Bostonians were greeted by:
“something so Rair as to draw the attention of almost the whole Town – it was no less than the Effigie of the Honourable Stamp Master of [the] Province hanging on one of the great Trees at the south end directly over the main street – behind him was a Boot hung up with the Devil Crawling out, with the Pitchfork in his hand, on the Effigie’s Right arm was writ and sew’d on the letters AO [Andrew Oliver] – On his left arm was wrote these words ‘It’s a glorious to See a stamp-man hanging on a Tree’ … This Effigie hung in this manner alday … the mob … took the Image down, after the performance of some Cerimonies. It was brought through the main street to near Olivers Dock, and in less than half an hour laid it even with the ground then took timbers of the house and caryd ‘em up on Fort Hill where they stamped the Image & timber & made a bonfire – the fuel faild. – they Immediately fell upon the stamp Masters Garden fence, took it up, stampd it and burnt it … Not contented with this they proceeded to his Coach house took off the doars, stampd ‘em & burnt ‘em.”
While they was doing this, the Sheriff began to read the proclamation for the mob to withdraw.
The Loyal Nine, with the assistance of their new alliance, conducted the first, large-scale opposition against the Stamp Act and, specifically, a Stamp Master. It was well planned, directed at a specific target and perfectly executed. The Loyal Nine’s rationale was simple: without Stamp Masters, the Act could not go into effect. John Dickinson, former president of the Delaware colony and known as the Penman of the Revolution, wrote the hanging of the effigy was “the most effectual and most decent Method of preventing the Execution of a Statute that strikes the Axe into the Root of the Tree.”
Word of the defiance spread throughout the colonies. Incidents of protest had been occurring in other cities and towns from Fort Halifax in Maine to Charleston, but now force had been introduced as a tool of the masses.
On August 26, Andrew Oliver informed his fellow Stamp Master, Jared Ingersoll of Connecticut, of his intention to resign from his office:
“Sir: The News Papers will sufficiently inform you of the Abuse I have met with. I am therefore only to acquaint you in short, that after having stood the attack for 36 hours – a single man against a whole People, the Government not being able to afford me any help during that whole time, I was persuaded to yield, in order to prevent what was coming in the night; and as I happened to give out in writing the terms of Capitulation, I send you a copy of them.”
The activities of The Loyal Nine and their alliance were having the desired effect — the tax collectors were resigning out of fear. These Patriot mobs used tactics of fear, force, intimidation and violence to demonstrate against the Stamp Act, and they targeted pro-Stamp Act supporters and officials. The Loyal Nine organized these mobs by putting anti-Stamp Act pamphlets and signage all over the streets of Boston, hanging effigies of public officials and others who supported the Stamp Act.
On November 1, the day enforcement of the Stamp Act was to begin, there appeared in a Boston newspaper a caricature by John Singleton Copley, entitled, “The Deplorable State of America.” The cartoon expressed the emotions of the citizens of Boston who felt intimidated by the revenue measure. The power of the press was behind The Loyal Nine.
Four days later, the citizens of Boston were greeted by an unusual scene – Ebenezer Mackintosh, leader of the South Enders, and Henry Swift, leader of the North Enders, two bitter rivals, were leading their men side-by-side down the streets of Boston. These were two opposing gangs that had gone at each other with clubs and knives on Guy Fawkes Day for as long as anyone could remember. The citizens were amazed and confused – what had happened? The answer became known as the Union Feast. Samuel Adams, with the assistance of John Hancock, organized a series of dinners and invited all classes of men, meaning the two mobs, to share a meal together.
Sir Francis Bernard, former Governor of the Province of new Jersey recalled in his writings that some of The Loyal Nine were present and with Heart and Hands in flowing Bowls and bumping Glasses, the Sons of Liberty were born!
The Loyal Nine kept up the pressure on the tax collectors. On the evening of December 16, Andrew Oliver received a notice from The Loyal Nine that his presence was requested at the Liberty Tree the next day to publicly resign his office of Stamp Master.
The letter ended with the following caveat:
“Provided you comply with the above, you shall be treated with the greatest Politeness and Humanity. If not …”
The next morning he sent for his friend, John Avery whom he hoped would act as an intermediary between himself and The Loyal Nine. Avery told him that it was too late – that the effigies were already prepared. Oliver then offered to resign at the courthouse, but was told that would not be acceptable. Shortly before noon, Mackintosh appeared at his door for the purpose of escorting Oliver through the streets of Boston to the Liberty Tree. Because there was a heavy rain, Oliver was permitted to read his resignation from an upper window of a house next to The Liberty Tree.
Henry Bass described The Loyal Nine’s involvement in his diary:
“On seeing Messrs. Edes & Gill last mondays Paper, the Loyall Nine repair’d the same Evg. [December 16] to Liberty Hall, in order to Consult what further should be done respecting Mr. Oliver’s Resignation, as what had been done heretofore, we tho’t not Conclusive & upon some little time debating we apprehended it would be most Satisfactory to the Publick to send a Letter to desire him to appear under Liberty Tree at 12 oClock on Tuesday, to make a publick Resignation under Oath: the Copy of which the advertisement, his Message, Resignation & Oath you have Inclos’d. The whole affair transacted by the Loyall Nine in writing the Letter, getting the Advertisements Printed, which were all done after 12 oClock Monday night, the advertisements Pasted up to the amount of a hundred was all done from 9 to 3 oClock.”
John Adams similarly recalled the events in his writings:
[They] gave me a particular Account of the Proceedings of the Sons of Liberty on Tuesday last in prevailing on Mr. Oliver to renounce his office of Distributor of Stamps, by a Declaration under his Hand, and under the very Tree of Liberty, nay under the very Limb where he had been hanged in Effigy, Aug. 14 , 1765. Their absolute Requisition of an Oath, and under that Tree, were Circumstances, extremely humiliating and mortifying, as Punishment for his receiving a Deputation to be a Distributor after his pretended Resignation, and for his faint and indirect Declaration in the News Papers last Monday.
One Monday evening in January of 1766, John Adams was invited by two members of The Loyal Nine — Thomas Crafts, the painter and George Trott, the jeweler, to spend an evening with them and the rest of The Loyal Nine at a local distillery. Adams wrote:
“I went, and was civilly and respectfully treated, by all Present. We had Punch, Wine, Pipes and Tobacco, Bisquit and Cheese etc… I heard nothing but such Conversation as passes at all Clubs among Gentlemen about the Times. No Plots, no Machinations. They chose a Committee to make Preparations for grand Rejoicings upon the Arrival of the News of a Repeal of the Stamp Act, and I heard afterwards they are to have such Illuminations, Bonfires, Piramids, Obelisks, such grand Exhibitions, and such Fireworks, as were never before seen in America.”
The following February, Adams was again invited by Thomas Crafts to attend the Monday gathering of The Loyal Nine, but this time in his writings he referred to the group as the Sons of Liberty:
Yesterday I wrote you a few lines, by Dr Tufts, informing you the Sons of Liberty desired your company at Boston … on Monday next, because they want you to write those inscriptions that I mentioned to you when last at Boston; one in favor of Liberty, not forgetting the true-born sons, and another with encomiums on King George, expressive of our loyalty …P.S. Destroy this after reading it.
On March 18, 1766, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. The Loyal Nine had fulfilled their purpose. The proclamation read:
In this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
Over the next three years, The Loyal Nine became the more commonly known moniker the Sons of Liberty. In August 1769, seven of the original nine members attended the largest gathering held by the Sons of Liberty to date. They met at the Liberty Tree and offered several toasts, then they:
“dined with 350 Sons of Liberty at [Lemuel] Robinsons, the Sign of Liberty Tree … We had two Tables laid in the open Field by the Barn, with between 300 and 400 Plates, and an Awing of Sail Cloth overhead, and should have spent a most agreeable Day had not the Rain made some Abatement in our Pleasures. … After Dinner was over and the Toasts drunk… we [sang] the Liberty Song. … This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom. There was a large Collection of good Company. Otis and Adams are politick, in promoting these Festivals, for they tinge the Minds of the People, they impregnate them with the sentiments of Liberty. They render the People fond of their Leaders in the Cause, and averse and bitter against all opposers.”
According to the Boston Gazette, the forty-fifth and final toast made was Strong Halters, Firm Blocks, and Sharp Axes to all such as deserve either, followed by the discharge of a cannon and three cheers.
The insurgent activity of The Sons of Liberty continued over the years — some more famous than others, but all leading to a seminal moment. On November 27, 1773, the first of three ships carrying chests of tea arrived in Boston Harbor. Members of the Sons of Liberty met at the Green Dragon Tavern and organized night patrols along the wharf to keep watch of the ships; others organized a series of meetings in the Old South Meetinghouse to discuss whether to confiscate the tea, or destroy it. The patrols were in existence for nearly three weeks. Among those on duty one of those nights were three original members of The Loyal Nine — Henry Bass, Thomas Chase, and Benjamin Edes.
Peter Edes, the son of Benjamin Edes, wrote the following in a letter to his grandson:
“I recollect perfectly well that, in the afternoon preceding … the destruction of the tea, a number of gentlemen met in the parlor of my father’s house, how many I cannot say … I was not admitted into their presence … They remained in the house till dark, I suppose to disguise themselves like Indians, when they left the house and proceeded to the wharves where the vessels lay. After they left the room I went into it, but my father was not there.
Benjamin Edes and Thomas Chase were two of the faux Indians who left to participate in the Boston Tea Party on the evening of December 16, 1773.”
For a period of ten years following the formation of The Loyal Nine, tensions between the British government and the colonists grew. As pressures built in the America, chapters of the Sons of Liberty were formed all over the Thirteen Colonies, especially throughout New England, Virginia, and the Carolinas.
As The Sons of Liberty grew, so did their desire to adopt its own heraldry. Heraldry was used throughout history as a means to express a groups pride and loyalty. In 1767, the Sons of Liberty adopted a five red and four white vertical striped flag as the group’s formal standard. It became known as the Rebellious Flag and the nine stripes paid tribute to The Loyal Nine.
The leaders of the revolt, the Sons of Liberty, were faced with a chance to fundamentally change the course of America. They faced a choice — continue to live under tyranny or choose freedom. They chose freedom. By 1775, their opportunity became reality and the war for independence began. But the seeds of freedom were planted by nine brave Bostonians who had a vision and the courage to stand by their convictions — The Loyal Nine.