The three-night Sons of Liberty miniseries premiers on HISTORY January 25. Before tuning in, explore some of the real-life haunts in Boston where a group of young rebels lit the spark that ignited the American Revolution.
1. The Liberty Tree
In 1765 a defiant group of patriots known as the Sons of Liberty rallied to protest the highly unpopular Stamp Act under the shade of a century-old elm tree located on the sole thoroughfare leading in and out of Boston. The young rebels decorated the stately elm, which became known as the “Liberty Tree,” with banners, lanterns and effigies of British stamp master Andrew Oliver and prime minister George Grenville. Over the next decade, the Sons of Liberty regularly gathered underneath the tree’s mighty boughs for meetings, speeches and celebrations. In the summer of 1775, British soldiers and Loyalists under siege in Boston took axes to the patriotic symbol and chopped it into firewood.
2. Old South Meeting House
Built in 1729 as a Puritan meetinghouse, Old South was the largest building in Colonial Boston. With a capacity of 6,000 people, the house of worship hosted fiery public rallies led by the Sons of Liberty that were too large to fit inside smaller Faneuil Hall. After a fierce debate on the controversial Tea Tax inside Old South on December 16, 1773, failed to result in a compromise, congregation member Samuel Adams gave the secret signal to launch the Boston Tea Party. During the siege of Boston, British troops tore out the building’s pews and pulpit, spread dirt on the floor and used it as a riding school
3. Griffin’s Wharf
Under the cover of night on December 16, 1773, dozens of Colonists boarded three ships moored at Griffin’s Wharf and hurled 342 crates of tea overboard in an act of political protest against the Tea Tax. Participants tossed more than 92,000 pounds of tea—enough to fill 18.5 million teabags—into Boston Harbor.
4. Old State House
Built in 1713, Boston’s oldest surviving public building served as the heart of royal government in Colonial Massachusetts. Escalating tensions between Bostonians and British troops sent to occupy the city in 1768 broke into violence outside the building on the evening of March 5, 1770, when nine Redcoats opened fire on a mob of Colonists hurling rocks, snowballs and insults. Five died in what became known as the “Boston Massacre.” While the funerals organized by the Sons of Liberty and Paul Revere’s widely circulated engraving of the event aroused revolutionaries throughout the Colonies, patriot John Adams volunteered to defend the British soldiers at their trial in order to demonstrate the impartiality of Colonial courts. After the Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians from the Old State House’s balcony on July 18, 1776, jubilant patriots tore down the building’s symbols of royal power—a lion and unicorn—and burned them in the streets.
5. Faneuil Hall
Built in 1742 as a gift from wealthy merchant Peter Faneuil, Colonial Boston’s primary public meeting space featured an open-air marketplace on the first floor and an assembly room for official town meetings above that. In the decade leading up to the American Revolution, the fiery rhetoric of Samuel Adams, whose statue now stands outside the building’s front entrance, against the imposition of British taxes cemented Faneuil Hall’s reputation as the “Cradle of Liberty.”
6. Green Dragon Tavern
The Sons of Liberty plotted rebellion in the public houses of Boston such as the Green Dragon Tavern, which began operation as early as 1712. Members of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, which included Paul Revere and Dr. Joseph Warren, purchased the Green Dragon Tavern in 1764 to use as their headquarters. In the fall of 1774, Revere, Warren, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and other members of the Sons of Liberty met in secret at the tavern to exchange intelligence gathered on the movement of British soldiers in and around Boston. By some accounts the plot for the Boston Tea Party was also hatched inside. So pivotal were the secret meetings inside the Green Dragon Tavern that statesman Daniel Webster called it “the headquarters of the Revolution.”
7. Boston Gazette offices
The Sons of Liberty were given a powerful voice of protest in the pages of the radical Boston Gazette. Printed every Monday by proprietors Benjamin Edes and John Gill beginning in 1755, the Boston Gazette published essays by John Adams, anti-tax editorials by Samuel Adams and engravings by Paul Revere. By challenging the Crown in their influential newspaper, Edes and Gill placed themselves at risk. Just before the American Revolution began, Edes fled the city. Gill was incarcerated for two months
8. Old North Church
On the night of April 18, 1775, two lanterns were held aloft in the steeple windows of the Old North Church to signal that British troops were moving by boat across the Charles River on a mission to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Lexington and seize patriot munitions in Concord. Despite popular myths, the lanterns were not a signal to Paul Revere, but a signal from Revere to the Sons of Liberty in Charlestown in case he failed to slip out of Boston to embark on his midnight ride. A teenaged Revere worked as a bell-ringer inside the Anglican church, founded in 1723, but was not a member of the mainly Loyalist congregation that included the royal governor of Massachusetts. Among the 1,000 people entombed in the crypt of Old North Church are British soldiers killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill, including Major John Pitcairn.
9. Bunker Hill
The British victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, came at a heavy price. Outmanned and outgunned, the Colonial militias repelled two assaults by the highly trained and experienced British army before retreating after the third. Nearly half of the 2,200 Redcoats who entered the battle were killed or wounded. “The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear,” wrote General Thomas Gage afterwards. Although it claimed the life of Sons of Liberty leader Dr. Joseph Warren, the battle boosted the confidence of the patriots while virtually eliminating the chances of a peaceful reconciliation with the British. Although most of the fighting occurred on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, the battle was named for nearby Bunker Hill.
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