Desperate Sons

“Desperate Sons” is a book by Les Standiford that tells the story of the “Sons of Liberty”, the band of anarchists who led the American Colonies to war and seceding from Britain and establishing America. Never a popular revolution, at no time did a majority support the American Revolution and around a third of the colonists fought actively for the British, these committed revolutionaries were willing to do anything, including commit acts of violence, to further the Rebellion. Cousins of todays Cancel Culture, they employed the painful and humiliating practice of tar and feathering those Loyalists that disagreed with them or stood in their way. In one instance typical of their actions, the Sons attacked a man who made some remarks in favor of the King. Around 200 of the ruffians surrounded the man and forced him on his knees and demanded he damn the King. Instead, the brave man said “God bless King George” whereupon he was dragged about, his clothes torn off and his watch stolen for good measure. After the successful completion of the war and as a new nation was being formed, few of these radicals found a prominent place in the national government as more conservative, moderate men gained control.

The primary British measures that instigated the Sons into action was the Stamp Act, a rather modest 1765 tax imposed to pay the costs of the French and Indian War and the increasingly expensive costs of administering the colonies, combined with the fact that the Colonists had no representation in Parliament. This led in August 1765 to an enraged Boston mob rioting against the tax, including attempting to murder the sitting Royal Governor of Massachusetts as they thought, incorrectly, he supported the tax. The governor, being warned, managed to escape shortly before the attack but had his home ransacked by the ax-wielding mob. After this, the leaders begin to realize they were losing support and moved away from overt violence for a while although retaining the threat. It was not until later when British leaders overreached, first by stationing troops in Boston and later by setting about to re-order colonial governments by Parliamentary fiat, that the Sons Of Liberty were resurrected. Between the Stamp Act and the battles of Lexington and Concord, which officially began the American Revolution, the book describes how the Sons prepared “the colonies for battle against Great Britain” where the book ends having accomplished its purpose. Along the way, there is a discussion of such famous events as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party and a host of small taxes and measures imposed by Britain that the Sons used to stir up some of the colonists to rebellion.

The book is an interesting read for one interested in the early days of the founding of our country and a reminder of how a minority of anarchists can stir up a people to rebellion. Although the cover indicates that Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and John Hancock would be prominently discussed, as they were important leaders of the revolution, there is actually surprisingly little about them (other than Adams) or background on their motives. Instead, the author incorporates discussions of actions by a host of lesser known persons of the Sons, which while instructive, leaves one wondering what motivated these people to become so violently revolutionary, so quickly. As accommodating to the revolutionaries as the British were at times, one leaves the book wondering if the American Revolution was really necessary at all. The book wets the appetite to read more about the motives for this revolution.