"Sons of Liberty", source thereof
Joel S. Berson
Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Aug 7 14:35:17 UTC 2012
I had not researched this earlier, since I was
only interested in documenting written use of the
phrase and not in speculating about its
circulation across the Atlantic. But I had heard
(elsewhere) about Ingersoll, the writer, and
Fitch, the recipient. Were they Loyalists or
patriots? I suspect the answer is "conflicted".
The sentiments of Jared Ingersoll (the elder,
1722-1781, who gets a paragraph in an article about his son), seem mixed. He
was the Stamp Master for Connecticut, and was
tarred and feathered there on Aug. 21, 1765. [From Wikipedia]
But a [partial?] transcription of his letter ends
"I own I felt Emotions that I never felt before &
went the next Morning & thank'd Col. Barre in
behalf of my Country for his noble and spirited
http://pasleybrothers.com/mocourses/texts/Barre.htm Patriot sympathies?
This transcription does not include the footnote
where Ingersoll wrote ""I believe I may claim the
Honour of having been the Author of this Title
(Sons of Liberty) however little personal Good I
have got by it, having been the only Person, by
what I can discover, who transmitted Mr. Barré's
Speech to America." I now suspect this footnote
was added by Ingersoll later -- the "little
personal Good" may be a reference to his tarring and feathering!
Thomas Fitch was the governor of
Connecticut. He was under conflicting
pressures, an elected governor but subject to
royal and Parliamentary dictates. He signed the
oath required of colonial governors to enforce
the Stamp Act, although he delayed as long as
possible, and was not re-elected in 1766. [From
Barre's speech is dated Feb. 1765, but I have not
been diligent in trying to dig out the exact
day. Ingersoll's letter, dated Feb. 11, must
have been very prompt. And at least that letter
was not sent by an agent for a colonial province
in London, although others there, perhaps
Franklin, very likely quickly wrote back to the
colonies reporting Barre's stirring words.
I have now looked for reports of Barre's speech
(that is, ones not containing the phrase "sons of
liberty") in EAN. The earliest is Apr. 13, 1765,
in the Providence Gazette, "By a Letter from
London in the last Ship to Boston". The next 4
are in four different Boston papers, April 22 (3)
and April 25, datelined Providence. (I assume
therefore the letter was posted to someone in
Providence.) In passing, it may have taken about
a month for the reports of Barre's support of the
colonials to become generally accepted -- on
April 29 the Boston Post-Boy said it had "heard"
that a letter there claimed Barre had not said
one word in opposition to the Stamp Act, but by
May 6 the Boston Gazette had published additional information from New York.
And there was time from April to August, when the
Boston Sons of Liberty became public, for the phrase to travel the colonies.
As I wrote to Fischer, everyone claims the Sons
of Liberty took their name from Barre's
speech. I see today that includes the on-line
Encylopaedia (spelled like Chambers') Britannica.
None of this, however, seems to prove how the
(organized) Sons of Liberty chose their name.
At 8/6/2012 10:33 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>Earlier--maybe, but not by much. My suggestion of the May date for the
>transmission of the speech to the colonies was based on someone in the
>delegation committing it to writing and sending it home by letter--or,
>alternatively, showing up and delivering the report in person. Either
>way, the delivery time would have been between 6 and 12 weeks. I don't
>recall the exact timeline of when the delegates or their correspondence
>made it back. The earliest date would have been the very end of March.
>The latest date would have put it in the first week of May--when the
>continentals are known to have been discussing the results. We also know
>that several messages were sent before the passage of the bill,
>essentially resigned to its passage. So, if Barre's speech indeed was
>the inspiration, several letters would have gone out either just before
>or coincident with Ingersoll's. (The ships did not leave every day, so
>if the earlier correspondents missed the mailbag, their letters would
>have ended up on the same ship with Ingersoll's.) Either way, we are
>talking about the difference of days, at most, in either direction
>(Barre's speech predates Ingersoll's letter by about a week).
>There is yet a third possibility--in addition to Barre inspiring the
>name and to Barre borrowing the phrase from the colonies when he was
>stationed there. Barre could have composed his speech in advance with
>the aid of one of the colonist present in London, as he was in contact
>with them during this period. Why is this significant? Consider the
>possibility that someone like Franklin might have dropped the
>possibility of this reference into Barre's ear the night before the
>debate in Parliament. There was no association back home yet to take up
>the name, so Barre's speech might have inspired it. Yet, the actual
>source would have been not Barre, but the colonist who suggested it at
>that particular moment, creating a feedback loop. How would historians
>react if it turned out that the speech was jointly composed by Barre and
>Franklin? Would this not change at least some interpretations of that
>period? (I'm picking Franklin out of a hat, not suggesting that he was
>actually the author.) It's unfortunate that 99.99% of this is
>speculation. I certainly would like to have know what a paradigm shift
>in American history feels like... ;-)
>On 8/6/2012 9:36 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>Further digging in my mailbag turned up the
>>following [slightly edited]. Clearly Ingersoll's
>>claim of having been "the Author of this Title
>>(Sons of Liberty)" is suspect, since the phrase
>>was in use in the preceding 27 years (at least, twice!).
>>I now have a slightly earlier report of Barré's speech than May 1765.
>>Letter, from Jared Ingersoll to [Thomas] Fitch,
>>1765 Feb. 11, London. In _Mr. Ingersoll's
>>Letters Relating to The Stamp-Act_ (New Haven; Samuel Green, 1766), p. 16.
>>"Men, whose Behavior, on many Occasions, has
>>caused the Blood of those Sons of Liberty, to recoil within them".
>>[Ingersoll has put quotation marks around the words he attributes to Barré.]
>>In a footnote, Ingersoll writes "I believe I may
>>claim the Honour of having been the Author of
>>this Title (Sons of Liberty) however little
>>personal Good I have got by it, having been the
>>only Person, by what I can discover, who
>>transmitted Mr. Barré's Speech to
>>America." Perhaps the earliest if not the only
>>transmitter, since the Boston Post-Boy report is 3 1/2 months later.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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