Monday, August 15, 2016

The Loyal Nine, a secret precursor to the Sons of Liberty

Boston’s rough and rowdy reputation goes back farther than the establishment of local sports teams and rivalries. In colonial New England, the anti-Catholic “Pope’s Day,” stemming from the tradition of Guy Fawkes Day in England, was widely celebrated by building large carriages with effigies of popes, bishops, and devils and parading these figures toward a great bonfire, where they would be burned. In Boston, however, the celebration became a bloody competition between gangs from the South End and North End. Each gang would attempt to possess the other’s carriages, resulting in “a ferocious battle” where “people were killed and maimed for life” (Paul Revere & the World He lived in). When England began enforcing stricter taxes on its American colonies in the mid-1700’s, Samuel Adams and his political contemporaries believed that they could harness the North End and South End gangs to further their political agendas.

Via Wikipedia Commons
In reaction to the Stamp Act, a group of nine middle-class artisans and shopkeepers joined together in a secret political group which referred to itself as the “Loyal Nine.”  These men were listed by John Adams as braziers John Smith and Thomas Chase, painter Thomas Crafts, printer Benjamin Edes, distiller Joseph Field, naval officer Henry Bass, and jeweler George Trott. While none of the members were high-profile political figures in Boston, they recognized the threat that the Stamp Act would have on their businesses and crafts. Samuel Adams was not listed as among their ranks but appears to have worked closely with these men to subvert the economic intentions of Great Britain.

Preferring to avoid publicity, the secret group enlisted the help of Ebenezer MacKintosh, the leader of the South End gang that had brutally defeated the North End gang in the last Pope’s Day Riots. On August 14, 1765, MacIntosh orchestrated the hanging of two effigies on the Liberty Tree: one, an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the official responsible for implementing the Stamp Act in Massachusetts, and the other a boot effigy containing a devil figure, a reference to the Earl of Bute who was mistakenly thought to be the architect of the act in England.  A crowd surrounded the tree and effigies and would not allow “peace officers” nor the local sheriff’s forces to cut them down. Eventually, the crowd removed the figures themselves and carried them toward Oliver’s home, where they beheaded and burned the effigy. MacKintosh further incited the mob into ransacking Oliver’s home and forcing Andrew Oliver to flee to Castle William, violence that may not have been part of the original plan. Days later on the 26th of August, MacKintosh also lead a mob which destroyed Governor Hutchison’s North End mansion.

Henry Bass, a member of the Loyal Nine, wrote in a letter to Samuel Savage that “we do every thing in order to keep this & the first Affair Private: and are not a little pleas’d to head that McIntosh has the Credit of the whole Affair… we Endeavour to keep up the Spirit which I think is as great as ever” ("A Note on Ebenezer MacKintosh"). Perhaps because their support of violent action against those supporting the Stamp Act, John Adams seems surprised that the night he spent with the Loyal Nine was unmarred by conflict or drama. Adams reported that he was “very civilly and respectfully treated by all present” and that he “heard nothing but such conservation as passes at all clubs, among gentlemen, about the times. No plots, no machinations. They chose a committee to make preparations for grand rejoicings upon the arrival of the news of a repeal of the Stamp Act, and I heard afterwards they are to have such illuminations, bonfires, pyramids, obelisks, such grand exhibitions and such fireworks as were never before seen in America. I wish they may not be disappointed” (The Works  of John Adams)

After the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Loyal Nine all became active members of the more public Sons of Liberty.  MacKintosh continued to be a persuasive leader for the Boston mobs during the revolutionary period and, along with four members of the Loyal Nine, was recorded as participants in the Boston Tea Party protest years later in 1773.

Further reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff