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Fine Manuscript and Printed Americana

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Sons of Liberty
WILLIAM RUSSELL
Autograph document, 1 p. (3 x 7 1/4 in.; 76 x 184 mm) with additional writing on verso, Boston, 14 August 1769; light browning. Matted, glazed, and framed.
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"May the Sons of Liberty Shine with Lustre." Patriotic toasts to "Liberty without End. Amen" and to "Wilks & Liberty."

These patriotic toasts—written on the forth anniversary of Boston's Stamp Act Riot—defiantly salute American liberty. The writer may have been among the 350 Sons of Liberty who celebrated the event at a dinner in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Attendees included John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Adams.

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 14 August 1765 an effigy of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver was found handing 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 Thanks in part to the riot, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act the next year.

14 August 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 cannon, and offered up 45 toasts to everything from "All true Patriots throughout the World" to "The Speedy Removal of all Task Masters."

The toasts offered in this document were likely written for that 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. 

Fine Manuscript and Printed Americana

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