“We’ve all been taught a story about the beginning of the American Revolution. Roughly speaking, it says that over 218 years ago, there was spontaneous uprising of farmers and tradesmen in the eastern Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. Seizing their muskets and powder horns, this untrained militia chased British professional soldiers back to their Boston barracks and besieged them for two months before fighting to a bloody draw at Bunker Hill–a draw that showed Americans they could fight on equal terms with the most powerful army in the world.
What’s missing from this narrative is the fact that for ten years before the “shot heard ’round the world,” Boston was the center of a secret movement whose overt manifestations, like the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (Dec 1773), and perhaps even Lexington and Concord (Apr 18-19, 1775) were not spontaneous at all, but planned and deliberate provocations aimed at kindling an armed rebellion.
If those famous events were not accidents but choreography, who were the choreographers? In their memoirs, the last British rulers of Boston, governors Bernard and Hutchinson, and the military governor General Thomas Gage, all attribute their downfall to a devious conspiracy that triumphed in spite of the spy they had placed in its highest councils. At the center of that conspiracy were such familiar figures as Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere…
Although overtly a lowly Whig state legislator, Sam Adams managed to put together a political machine that by the end of the 1760’s controlled the moral if not the political tone of Boston. He actively recruited young men whom he could tutor in the art of politics…
Adams’s political savvy plus John Hancock’s wealth created what the Tories called the Faction. The Faction was a shadow government, run by Adams and his colleagues from a long room above the press that printed their propaganda sheet, the Boston Gazette. They called themselves the Long Room Club different from other tavern societies was the fact that it included a secret directorate known as the Loyal Nine who controlled a street army–the Sons of Liberty. Jim Padian,”The Riddle of Joseph Warren,” Yankee Magazine (July 1993): 52-57, 126-30.
These introductory remarks identify several local revolutionary groups–for Boston in this article–duplicated in most of the American colonies in the years leading up to the outbreak of hostilities. Tavern societies, shadow governments at all levels of jurisdiction, clubs, political machines that communicated with each other all up and down the American coast. For some 10 years, Americans fought a non-military war against attempts of the British to tax goods and services imported and exported by the Americans. And the demand that the Mother country could enact laws for and in behalf of the colonies without their consent.
One of the principal triggers for the creation of secret societies and shadow governments was the Treaty that ended the French and Indian Wars/7-Years’ War in 1763: the restriction on Bounty Lands promised in lieu of pay and as an incentive to serve for the duration of the war. The lands awarded were frequently beyond the Proclamation Line which, by treaty, separated the American colonies from Indian Territory! Examples: Greenbrier county VA (later WV); Surry/Stokes counties NC–where Virginia had already granted lands to her troops; the whole of Kentucky; Ohio–especially the Virginia Military District near Cincinnati; Edgecomb county NC; most of Tennessee–where South Carolina had already established forts, where North Carolina claimed two separate military districts, and where Cornplanter had sold the Territory South of the River Ohio (KY and TN) to Virginia, 19 Oct 1774.
And the British had the audacity to recall the numerous Americans who had already settled on these Western lands. And to grant large holdings, called Crown Grants, to land speculators, using Indians to enforce treaty limits.
Who were these Local Groups and their often “Secret” Partnerships?
Committees–of Safety and of Correspondence. These committees met in the morning as British jurisdictions; they met again in the afternoon as Colonial jurisdictions enacting all the same business–they probated wills, recorded deeds, performed marriages, collected local fees, and rendered oaths of allegiance.
Minutemen–local militiamen who could be ready to fight at summons with weapons and ammunition. The most famous were those who mustered at Lexington and Concord. Most colonies had organized their own minutemen by the end of 1774.
Associators–formed in 1774 of those adult males who took the oaths of allegiance to support their local and colonial governments against the King.
Sons of Liberty–merchants, mechanics, clerks, warehousemen, storekeepers, printers, and other urban populations who organized and took oaths of allegiance. Their wives formed Daughters of Liberty groups who agreed not to buy British goods–especially tea and wine. Meetings were announced in newspapers with a code as to date, time, and place. Or flyers that were circulated and posted through the towns and cities. They often formed their own militia groups to fight.
Liberty Boys–lower class laborers in towns and cities in New York. Can be identified as early as 1764. See Roger Champagne, “Liberty Boys and Mechanic of New York City, 1764-1774,” Labor History VIII (1967): 115-35.
Yelling Boys–frontier riflemen of the backwoods of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The British had expected little resistance to their offensive in the South–they encountered a new breed of American. See Russell B. Sorrelle, The Yelling Boys. 1999. Happy Valley Publishing, 238 Happy Valley Rd, Bell Buckle TN 37020.
Local Militias and Train Bands–On July 9, 1776 some 20,275 men heard the reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York–about half of them were under 18 years of age. General Washington said, “They are but lads…” This was just one of many such readings in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, Baltimore. Militias in cities were called “train bands.” They fostered rebellions against illegal acts, riots against customs duties, and revolt at enforcement of the laws against smuggling. Virginia exempted from these militias (Law of 1738): ministers of the Anglican (Episcopal) Church, students and college staff of William and Mary, overseers of plantations, millers, iron and metal workers–considered essential industries during the Revolutionary War. See The Revolution in Virginia, 1775-1783 by John E. Selby (Williamsburg VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988) p. 164, Map of Commerce and Manufacturing in Virginia, 1775-1783.
Wagoners–men who drove supply wagons during the War. Drivers were often conscientious objectors–Quakers, Mennonites, and others who refused to fight or take the oath of allegiance (later they were allowed to affirm their support). They demonstrated their support of the Revolution by serving the military as well as local commerce.
Green Mountain Boys–under Ethan Allen and his officers marched through Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.
Swamp Men–under Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, fought in the swamps and bayous of South Carolina and along the coast.
Paxton Boys–frontiersmen in Pennsylvania of Scots-Irish background. After the end of the French and Indian Wars and Pontiac’s Rebellion (ended 1764), they fought the Indians on the PA frontier.
[Boys was a designation given to local militia units who saw a need–legal or not–and filled it. The term is an Irish one. Many Scots-Irish considered themselves to be from Ireland, even when they knew their ultimate origins were in Scotland.]
New Acquisition Men–recruits from the Catawba River Valley near the NC/SC border. Included Cherokee soldiers too. See Michael C. Scoggins. The Day It Rained Militia: Huck’s Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780. Charleston SC: History Press, 2005. Historical opinion is that the British lost the American Revolution in the SC backcountry. Includes lists of the SC militias, the provincials, and the Loyalists with sources references for each one.
Over Mountain Men–Tennessee volunteers who crossed the mountains at their own expense to fight the British. Figured heavily in the Battle of King’s Mountain.
Refugee Soldiers–soldiers who left Georgia to serve in military units raised in other states. Many served in North Carolina in the same companies with relatives and neighbors. They later qualified for lottery draws when they returned to Georgia.
Regulators–over 2,000 men operating in the Carolina back country to enforce laws in the absence of local government jurisdictions–these men sought equal rights with coastal residents.
Moderators–vigilante band from the 1760’s opposed to the Regulators. Supported militia efforts to control Regulator meetings and activities.
Privateers–operating out of French Channel and open American ports, they brought supplies and volunteers from other countries who were willing to fight on the American side. From these privateers and their ships, the first Continental Navy was recruited in 1775. Local mariners along coastal rivers also participated. Their cargoes and crews were investment opportunities for local citizens–especially widows.
Provincials–Americans who enlisted in British army units, sometimes called provincial regulars to distinguish them from Tory units and other British regiments. The British Legion was a cavalry unit of men from New York and Pennsylvania organized to fight under Colonel Tarleton in the South.
Your ancestor could belong to more than one group. Use the above preliminary checklist as a guide–so you don’t miss the very proof of Revolutionary War participation you are searching for. Your favorite genealogist, ArleneEakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS Stay tuned–these military and civilian groups created records. And today, many of the original lists are online and in print.