Learn about revolutionary New York at Fraunces Tavern’s new ‘Fear and Force’ exhibit

August 23, 2018

Getting to know a Son of Liberty, via Fraunces Tavern

The Sons of Liberty may be best known for the Boston Tea Party, but Fraunces Tavern, the Revolutionary-era watering hole and museum at 54 Pearl Street, is showcasing the group’s history in New York City. The new exhibit, Fear and Force: New York City’s Sons of Liberty, opened on Wednesday, August 22nd in the Museum’s Mesick Gallery.

In 1765, New York’s Sons of Liberty began protesting the Stamp Act, and other measures they believed the King had no right to impose. Their active resistance to the trappings of British Rule makes for an exciting exhibition. The items on display, all culled from the Museum’s own collection, reveal the group’s pivotal role on the road to Revolution. Interactive features, like chests of Bohea tea, which you can sniff, help make visitors feel like a part of that story.

A crowd takes in Fear and Force on opening night, via Fraunces Tavern

Some parts of that story feature well-known names. Current star of the stage Alexander Hamilton was a Son of Liberty in New York City, as was his friend and revolutionary mentor, the tailor and spy Hercules Mulligan. This also exhibit highlights some lesser known patriots, like Haym Salomon, who was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, and a Son of Liberty.

Fraunces Tavern was one of the Sons of Liberty’s prime Manhattan haunts, and the exhibit does a good job showing off the group’s local bona fides. A gorgeous map of Manhattan Island includes arrows pointing to places where the sons of Liberty left their mark.

Revolt! via Fraunces Tavern

But, as the show makes clear, it was a violent mark. The Sons of Liberty practiced militant resistance to Crown Rule, and were even known to tar and feather their opponents. The process included covering one’s victim in tar and feathers, then parading that person around town in front of a jeering public. The exhibit counts four instances of Tar and Feathering in New York City between September 1769 and August 1775.

The show’s curator, Executive Director Jessica Phillips explains, “The Sons of Liberty were often violent and brash, but they risked everything in order to set in motion the American Revolution.” She continued, “It’s hard to imagine the streets of Lower Manhattan filled with nearly half the City’s population breaking windows, starting bonfires, and writing death threats to government officials, but this is how the years leading up to 1776 developed as revolt turned to revolution.”

Fear and Force via Fraunces Tavern

The exhibition space physically takes into account the group’s valor as well as its violence. Philips explains, the gallery is painted white with black stripes, “to emphasize that things are rarely black and white, including the founding of our great nation.” Such nuance makes the show particularly interesting, With a wide array of fascinating objects highlighting both iconic and lesser known events, Fear and Force tells a compelling tale of Revolutionary New York.

Fear & Force: New York City’s Sons of Liberty will be on view in the Fraunces Tavern Museum’s Mesick Gallery through August, 2020.

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