Sons of Liberty

Cornelius Harnett was not only an active member of the ‘Sons of Liberty”.  He was its leader in the southeastern area of North Carolina.  For one of his important acts of Leadership in this organization see the article entitled “Harnett Confronts Governor Tryon.”

According to a PBS Video entitled “Birth of the Sons of Liberty.” a written copy of which appeared online, the origin of the phrase came about in this way:

“During the Stamp Act debates in Parliament, Isaac Barre tried to defend the colonies. In his speech he not only defended the colonies, but he also presented a number of views that were welcomed in the colonies. He also uttered one phrase, sons of liberty, (which) gave him instant acclaim in the colonies. In the few seconds that he took to say the three words, he gave birth to the Sons of Liberty, a group originally founded to oppose the Stamp Act. In this . . . (response) he is speaking directly to Charles Townshend, an ardent advocate of Parliaments’ position, and the entire membership of Parliament 1 .”

Judging by the full content of Barre’s response, Townshend apparently stated that Parliament had planted the colonists with care, nourished them up with indulgence and protected them with arms.  Against these charges Barre replied:

. . . [The colonies] planted by your care?  No!  Your Oppressions planted [them] in America.  They fled from your Tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable Country–where they exposed themselves to almost all the Cruelties of a Savage foe.  And yet, actuated by Principles of true English Lyberty, they met all these hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own Country, from the hands of those who should been their Friends (Liberty).

They nourished up 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] . . . who were perhaps the Deputies of Deputies to some Member of this house – 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 those Sons of Liberty (emphasis added) to recoil within them (Liberty).”

They protected by your Arms?  They have nobly taken up Arms in your Defence [against the French and Indians] . . . for the defence of a Country, whose frontier, while drench’d in blood, . . . yield all its little Savings to your Emolument [advantage].  And believe me, remember I this Day told you so, that same Spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first [beginning in 1607 at Jamestown] will accompany them still (Liberty).

The original group calling itself the Sons of Liberty was established in New York City as a New York City committee of correspondence in opposition to the Stamp Act.  This group became one of the most radical and persistent of the colonial groups opposing English laws.  By the end of 1765, Sam Adams began using this term to refer to colonists who opposed any Acts of Parliament or royal orders aimed at the colonies.  Most often the name Son of Liberty was given to any person, organized or not, who opposed selected policies and actions by the English government (Liberty).


1. Liberty, Birth of the “Sons of Liberty,” hereafter (Liberty); A PBS Video database, Web. 30 Mar. 2011.  [Note this site has been taken down as of February 2012].  For a Web site that is likely to remain posted, see [accessed October 6, 2014]

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