ON AUGUST 14, 1765—exactly four years before the creation of this document—violence broke out in colonial Boston. Over the course of that day and several ensuing days, rioters attacked several buildings in the city, including the homes of colonial officials. The protest resulted from the Stamp Act, passed by the British Parliament on March 22, which would require the colonists to pay taxes on most circulating paper items-such as pamphlets, newspapers, almanacs, playing cards, and legal and insurance documents.
The Stamp Act was passed, over the strong objections of American colonists, in order to help pay off the massive debt incurred by the British government during the French and Indian War. The act was important in that it united many of the colonies in their opposition to British rule and it sparked the creation of secret societies such as the Sons of Liberty. The August riot, which arose largely from the agitation of this group, contributed to the eventual repeal of the Stamp Act. The Sons of Liberty claimed as members many of the later leaders of the Revolution, including Paul Revere, John Adams, and Samuel Adams.
For a number of years after the Stamp Act riot, the Sons of Liberty organized annual celebrations to commemorate the event. In 1768, the city had a parade and a large gathering at the Liberty Tree near Boston Common, where Andrew Oliver, the stamp-distributor elect, had hanged in effigy during the 1765 riot. In 1769, 350 members of the Sons of the Liberty 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."
John Adams, one of the participants, reflected in his diary that such patriotic celebrations "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 also noted that despite the dozens of toasts, "I did not see one Person intoxicated."
This list of the Sons of Liberty present at the festivities was compiled by William Palfrey, one of the participants. His grandson, John Palfrey, donated it to the Society in August 1869, on the 100th anniversary of the event. Because of the organization's secrecy, this list provides a rare glimpse into its membership.
The early events of the Revolutionary movement in Boston are well documented in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Many of the Sons of Liberty listed here, most notably John Adams and Paul Revere, have collections of personal and family papers at the MHS.