They were a bold bunch of rebel-rousers in the eyes of the British and the choir leaders in the colonial dissent about the taxes imposed by the mother country. A secretive, often underground organization, the Sons of Liberty managed to establish a network of communications throughout the thirteen colonies with major influencers in Massachusetts and New York. It was one of the first rumblings of unification for these British colonies.
So…did the Sons of Liberty have a flag? Yes. Two actually. And it’s quite a story for the history books…
Two Flags – One Purpose
Because of the secretive nature of the Sons of Liberty’s organization and local networks, historical details are a little “fuzzy” and not always as precise as researchers would like. But we do know that around 1765, the newly formed group in Boston started flying a flag from their “liberty pole.” (see next section for a complete explanation)
Their first flag consisted of nine vertical stripes, alternating red and white.
Well, that didn’t go over well with the British governor and loyalists who ordered the Sons of Liberty to desist from flying that flag which they had labeled “the rebellious stripes.” The Sons got creative. They agreed to stop flying that flag.
However, they altered it. Now, the red and white stripes were sewn horizontally and three years later they had all thirteen colonies represented by thirteen stripes! Much to the British/loyalists’ dismay.
The Flag’s History
In 1765, the British Parliament leveled the Stamp Acts – a culminating round of taxation on the colonies, intended to pay for the military service and protection from the previous Seven Years War (aka French and Indian War). This new set of rules and taxes pushed the colonials to rebellion and protestation.
The Sons of Liberty chapters formed in opposition to the Stamp Act, usually banding together locally during the summer of 1765. Though Boston’s chapter is definitely the best known and most recognized in history books, chapters existed and actively protested in all thirteen colonies. While notable men joined and helped guide the movement, the Sons also attracted society’s “rabble” who were more anxious to take part in a loud demonstration or tar’n’feathering than actually thinking ahead to political goals and how to achieve them.
The “Stamp Act Flags” or “Sons of Liberty Flags” grew out of these movement. The importance of the Sons of Liberty should not be underestimated; though records are not also clear, enough is known to recognize that these chapters of engaged and motivated men managed to shake their communities, send a strong resistance message to Britain, and – remarkably – join together, starting an underground network of communication between the colonies that would lead to further united efforts.
A Flag For The Beginning
Sometime in the summer of 1765 (we think), the Sons of Liberty in Boston gathered at the Liberty Tree, staged yet another demonstration, and started flying their new flag (the first banner). In Boston and in other cities, “liberty poles” went up and the vertical striped flag flew, prompting the complaints and orders from colonial authorities.
After altering their design, the Sons continued to fly their flag, eventually adding all thirteen strips. That subtle symbolism had significant impact. The colonies were not operating in separate spheres of rebellion. Though some were more “on fire” that others, there was still an united effort to make their point to England.
It should be noted that at this point in history, the rallying cry was not sounding for independence from Britain, rather for “no taxation without representation.” Most were still willing to remain as colonies, if they would be represented fairly in Parliament. That sentiment would change and transform as Britain seemed to ignore the petitions and retaliated harshly to new steps by the Sons of Liberty.
Why This Flag Matters
First, it symbolically started to unify the colonies and represented an important and powerful organization, the Sons of Liberty.
Second, the flag was used by American maritime vessels from 1776 until 1800.
Third, arguably, the stripes on the adopted United States flag may have roots in the Sons of Liberty’s banner.