By Kate Quinn

On a cold December morning in 1773, three ships sat in Boston Harbor laden with tea. The Sons of Liberty had vowed that the tea would not be unloaded at Griffin’s Wharf and the intolerable tax that King George III and his Parliament had enacted would not be paid. The Governor had refused to let the owner of two of the ships sail them back to England and the crowd of 7,000 people that met at the Old South Church began to chant “Dump the tea! Dump the Tea!”.

Secret meetings were taking place all around Boston. At the carpentry shop of John Crane, a dozen or so men dressed themselves in Indian garb and painted their faces in preparation to dump the tea. Several times in the past, the Sons of Liberty had successfully used the guise of Indian costume to disguise their activities.

Shortly after 6 p.m. a group of about forty men (15 of whom were teenagers) boarded the ship Dartmouth and began to dump the tea in the harbor as a crowd of about 1,000 watched, delighting in the fun. In three hours, every tea chest from the Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver had been destroyed.

Only one man was injured when a crane fell on him. The others took him to shore certain that he was dead, but later when they returned they found him fully recovered. Two other problems arose. The chests were wrapped in heavy canvas which the revelers found difficult to breach with hatchets and dull knives. The other problem was that Boston Harbor at low tide was only two feet deep so the loose tea piled up like a haystack in the shallow water and had to be shoveled back into the harbor.

When word reached England of the “Boston Tea Party”, the King and Parliament immediately imposed laws to close Boston Harbor unless the tea was paid for in full. They also amended the Massachusetts charter disallowing any town meetings and allowing British troops to be quartered in private homes.

There is much evidence to establish a link between the Sons of Liberty and the Improved Order of Red Men. Both were secret societies that included men from every walk of life, both wore Indian garb in their activities and used secret signs and passwords to identify themselves to each other.

Thanks to the efforts of Samuel Adams, word had quickly spread to all the other colonies of the existence of the Sons of Liberty and their activities and soon nearly every colony had its own version of the society. For the first time, the colonies were uniting in their defiance of the newly imposed Stamp Tax. Midnight raids by the Sons of Liberty put fear into every tax collector and burning of homes and shops or tar and feathering were common in all thirteen colonies.

Not everyone in the colonies was in sympathy with the Sons of Liberty and Tories began to form their own groups to combat them. In Maryland, the Sons of Liberty took a new name and called themselves the Sons of Saint Tamina taking as their patron the native American chief Tamina. This group later called themselves the National Institution of Tammany Society.

By May of 1783, a group met at the New York home of Baron von Steuben (for whom Steubenville, Ohio is named) and adopted the name “the Society of Cincinnati” for the Roman senator Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus who was noted for his integrity and honesty. Their purpose was a remembrance of the officers who so gallantly fought the Revolution and George Washing became its first President-General. Because membership in this society was limited to officers who had fought in the Revolution, and their heirs, many people saw this as an elitist group that returned to the English love of “nobility” and so considered them dangerous. The Sons of Tammany was determined to counter this privileged alliance.

Chief Tammany of the Delaware Indian tribe, had adopted William Penn and signed a treaty with him on May 1 which became a day of for the Sons of Tammany to pay homage to the great chief. Tammany led Penn to the future site of the great city of Philadelphia and was said to have been the chief who sold the island of Manhattan to the Dutch. The Sons of Saint Tammany were formally organized in New York City on May 12, 1789.

Earlier, in 1780 the great chief Cornplanter of the Seneca Indians and his entourage passed through Philadelphia and the Sons of Saint Tammany invited them to their wigwam on the banks of the Schuylkill river. After a speech by Cornplanter giving homage to Chief Tammany canons were fired in salute and a peace pipe was passed among the men. The esteem with which the Sons were held at the time was evident in their selection to entertain this great chief and his men.

The next year, Creek Indians, stirred up by the Spanish, were raiding American settlements in Georgia and Florida. President Washington invited several chiefs to meet with him in New York, then capital of the United States. Washington asked the Tammany society to prepare a welcome for the chiefs. They were taken to banquets, concerts, and theaters and to the Tammany’s wigwam to smoke the peace pipe. The members were successful in getting the chiefs to sign a lasting treaty.

Aaron Burr, then a New York lawyer, saw the society as the core of a new political party and with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, founded the Democratic Party in the summer of 1791. Burr ran for president in 1800 with the full support of the Sons of Tammany. The election was decided in Jefferson’s favor by the House of Representatives and Aaron Burr became Vice-President. Alexander Hamilton, who had served under General Washington in the war was Burr’s archenemy and a member of the Society of Cincinnatus which Burr, a supporter of the Tammany group despised. Perhaps this led to the duel between the two in 1894 which caused the death of Hamilton and led to much celebrating by the Sons of Tammany as they saw it as the end of the Society of Cincinnatus as well. This caused the Society of Tammany to fall from favor with the public and all but the New York chapter were disbanded. Tammany Hall, home of the New York chapter became synonymous with political graft and corruption.

The Tammany group reorganized themselves in Philadelphia, calling themselves the Society of Red Men. They saw themselves as a social fraternal and benevolent organization “founded upon the customs, traditions, and history of the aborigines of this continent”
During the War of 1812, the men who occupied and defended Fort Mifflin, four miles south of Philadelphia felt a need to bond and form a contingent that would provide for each others’ families in case any were wounded or killed. They defended the fort for 13 days awaiting an attack by the British which never came. After sacking Washington and burning the White House, the British troops moved to Baltimore Harbor and bombarded Fort McHenry.

As early as 1837, Past Sachem John Weishampel, Sr of Baltimore had established a Tribe called Pocahontas Tribe No. 1 in Wheeling, Virginia. By 1853, it was reorganized into Logan No. 1 tribe. The first Degree of Pocahontas (the women’s auxillary of the Improved Order of Red Men) was founded in Wheeling in 1887 and was called Kolgglitskilg Concil No. 1. Both local groups were comprised mostly of German immigrants, so it must have made for some interesting meetings to see men and women in Indian costume conducting meetings in German. Elizabeth Hydinger of Wheeling was selected as the Great Prophetess. Anthony Zambito of Wheeling was the last president of the Wheeling order. The Order established a cemetery in Wheeling between 24th and 25th Streets on the hill above what is now Route 250. Access to the cemetery was made more difficult with the construction of the road. It is a steep climb, but it can be reached by crossing the pedestrian overpass near Ohio Valley Medical Center. The graves have been neglected and the cemetery is no longer maintained.


History of the Improved Order of Red men and Degree of Pocahontas, Robert E. Davis, Davis Brothers Publishing Co.Inc, Waco, Texas, 1990

Centennial History of The Great Council of West Virginia Degree of Pocahontas of The Improved Order of Red Men 1902-2002, Kenneth R. Reffeitt, The Great Council of West Virginia, Improved Order of Red Men, Huntington, WV, 2007