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“Liberty without End. Amen.” Incredibly Rare Toasts from Boston’s Sons of Liberty, 1769
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These patriotic toasts—written on the fourth anniversary of Boston’s Stamp Act Riot—defiantly salute American liberty. The writer may have numbered among the 350 Sons of Liberty who celebrated the event at a dinner in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He would have been in good company: John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Adams were among the guests.

[SONS OF LIBERTY.] WILLIAM RUSSELL. Autograph Document, Boston, Massachusetts, August 14, 1769, 1 p., with additional writing on verso.

Inventory #23891       Price: $26,000

Transcript

“Wilks & Liberty

May the Sons of Liberty Shine With Lustre.

       Boston {    August the 14th. 1769

Liberty without End. Amen.

Americans 92  Wilks 45”

Historical Background

This document was found in the papers of William Russell (1748-1784), a schoolteacher, early member of the Sons of Liberty and Boston Tea Party participant. The writing on the verso, comprising the word “Answer” followed by several monetary figures, suggests that the toasts were drafted on a page from an old exercise book. Russell may have written all or part of the document. Though he is not among those listed as having attended the anniversary dinner, he may well have been a participant.

The much hated Stamp Act of 1765, Britain’s first attempt to impose a direct tax on the colonies, spawned the seeds of revolution in America. Cries of “Taxation Without Representation” echoed through the streets, stamp distributors were burned in effigy, and British goods were boycotted. That spirit of rebellion gave rise to the Sons of Liberty, a secretive group of patriots dedicated to opposing British tyranny.

On August 14, 1765, an effigy of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver was found hanging from a tree in the middle of Boston. It was one of the first acts of the Sons of Liberty. A large crowd gathered at the scene, parading through town with the effigy and burning it, before proceeding to attack Oliver’s home. British authorities had been put on notice: the citizens of Boston would stand up for their rights. Thanks in part to the riot, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act the next year.

August 14th became the unofficial birthday of the Sons of Liberty. In 1769, 350 members of the group attended a great dinner under a tent at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. The revelers flew flags, played music, fired cannons, and offered up 45 toasts to everything from “All true Patriots throughout the World” to “The Speedy Removal of all Task Masters.” Among the attendees were John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Adams. The latter recorded the event in his diary:

Dined with 350 Sons of Liberty at Robinsons, the Sign of Liberty Tree in Dorchester. We had two Tables laid in the open Field by the Barn … After Dinner was over and the Toasts drank we were diverted with Mr. Balch’s Mimickry … We had also the Liberty Song … and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. 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. (Adams, August 14, 1769 Diary entry)

The toasts offered in this document were likely written for this dinner.  Two of them— “May the Sons of Liberty Shine With Lustre” and “Liberty without End. Amen.”—need no explanation. But the notations regarding “Wilks” are more obscure. They refer to John Wilkes, a British parliamentarian, ardent supporter of colonial rights, and hero of the Sons of Liberty. In 1763, after Wilkes was jailed for publishing an incendiary criticism of the King in volume 45 of his journal, The North Briton, the number became a colonial rallying cry against the monarchy. Five years later, “Wilk[e]s 45” was joined by the counterpart “American 92.” The latter is a reference to the 92 Massachusetts legislators who rejected the governor’s demand that they repeal a letter opposing the Stamp Act’s despised successor, the Townshend Acts.

William Russell, a young Boston schoolteacher, cast his lot with the American patriots in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. An early member of the Sons of Liberty, Russell was a participant in the Boston Tea Party. In June of 1777 he joined the Massachusetts artillery, with the rank of sergeant major and afterward adjutant. Following service in the Rhode Island campaign, Russell signed up as clerk on the Jason, commanded by Captain John Manley of Marblehead. The ship was captured on her first cruise, in September 1779, by the British frigate Surprise, and captain and crew were confined to Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. Russell whiled away his time there by conducting classes for the younger members of the captured American crews. His journal from that period is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Russell was exchanged almost three years later, and returned to Boston in June aboard the cartel ship Lady’s [sometimes spelled Ladies’] Adventure. Three weeks after that, he re-entered the naval service, only to be recaptured by the British in November. This time Russell was incarcerated in the prison ship Jersey. He was released, for a second time, in March of 1783. After one more brief stint at sea, Russell returned to teach school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His health shattered after his long imprisonment, Russell died of consumption in March of 1784.

References

Adams, John. Diaries, Adams Family Papers (electronic archive), Massachusetts Historical Society, www.masshist.org

Kimball, James. “The One Hundredth Anniversary of the Destruction of Tea in Boston Harbor,” Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. XII, 1874, pp. 197-239 (Kimball includes a transcription of this document)

“Librarian’s Report,” Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity, Vol. XXI (1905 proceedings), 1907, pp. 207+ (article discusses donation to the Library of William Russell’s  New Testament)

“Monday last was celebrated…” Boston Evening Post, August 21, 1769, p.2 (article detailing Sons of Liberty celebration)

Palfrey, William. “An Alphabetical List of the Sons of Liberty who din’d at Liberty Tree, Dorchester,” August 14, 1769, Massachusetts Historical Society, www.masshist.org (includes introductory text by Mass. Historical)

Stoll, Ira. Samuel Adams: A Life (Simon and Schuster, 2009)


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