The founding of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York (SRNY) was inspired by the example of the Society of the Cincinnati founded by General Washington’s officers on May 13, 1783 to perpetuate the remembrance of the Revolutionary War and the friendships that were “formed under the pressure of common danger.” Revolutionary army officers, or their eldest sons, were eligible for membership in the Society of the Cincinnati. Over the next 100 years little was done to broaden the membership requirements.
In the 1870s the celebrations of the centennial of the Revolutionary War inspired nationwide interest in the founding of the United States. One of these inspired patriots was John Austin Stevens (1827-1910), whose grandfather was an original member of the Cincinnati. John A. Stevens was ineligible for the Cinncinati, since his father was not the eldest son. Stevens was not permitted to officially participate in the centennial celebrations at Philadelphia. He wrote the president-general of the Cincinnati to request extended membership but was denied. Steven’s rejection from the Cincinnati based on his birth spurred him to investigate the feasibility of founding a like society that offered wider membership.
His immediate purpose of starting a new society was to have a group to take part in the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. On December 18, 1875, at the library of the New-York Historical Society, Stevens met with Major Asa Bird Gardiner, Professor of Military Law at West Point to discuss his idea. On February 22, 1876, Stevens called an organization meeting to announce the formation of the Sons of the Revolution and invited persons interested in membership. The name was inspired by the example of the revolutionary group “Sons of Liberty.” There were few responses to his initiative.
However, in 1883 the new organization was successfully established. On December 4th of that year Stevens hosted a dinner in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s farewell to his officers on December 4th, 1783. On this occasion forty guests signed the constitution of the Sons of the Revolution. Membership was open to all male descendants of officers, soldiers, and certain others who were in federal or state service during the Revolution.
On April 18, 1884, the certificate of incorporation under the laws of the State of New York was signed by thirteen men. On May 2, 1884, Judge George C. Barrett signed the certificate of incorporation. Frederick S. Tallmadge was elected president. By 1887 there were over 400 members.
The mission of the SRNY:
[…] to perpetuate the memory of the men who, in military, naval or civil service, by their acts or counsel, achieved American Independence; to promote and assist in the proper celebration of the anniversaries of Washington’s Birthday, the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, the Fourth of July, the Capitulations of Saratoga and Yorktown, the Evacuation of New York by the British Army, and other prominent events relating to or connected with the War of the Revolution; to collect and secure for preservation the manuscript rolls, records and other documents relating to that War; to inspire among the members and their descendants the patriotic spirit of their forefathers; to inculcate in the community in general, sentiments of Nationality and respect for the principles for which the patriots of the Revolution contended; to assist in the commemorative celebration of other great historical events of National importance, and to promote social intercourse and the feeling of fellowship among its members.
The SRNY has always been active in placing historic tablets, statues, and monuments, and in participation in historic preservation. The first of these, placed in 1892, was the tablet to Colonel Marinus Willett at the corner of Broad Street and Beaver Street in New York City. Especially notable are: the statue of Nathan Hale at City Hall Park, New York City; the base relief commemorating the Battle of Harlem Heights, at Columbia University (1897); and the tablet indicating the Revolutionary Line of Defence at 153rd Street and Broadway (1901).
Possibly the most notable act of the SRNY was the purchase and restoration of Fraunces Tavern (More about Fraunces Tavern HERE) at 54 Pearl Street in New York City. As early as 1887, the SRNY attempted to acquire Fraunces Tavern. In 1900, the Tavern was threatened with demolition. The Daughters of the American Revolution with the aid of the Honorable Andrew H. Green, founder and president of the Society for the Preservation of Scenic and Historic Places, came together to try and save and preserve the building. This committee was the nucleus of the later American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. They attempted to purchase the building for several years but the owners refused.
The City got involved with saving the Tavern. In 1903 to prevent the owners from destroying the building the City of New York exercised its rights of eminent domain and designated it as a park. The following year the owners agreed to sell the property to the SRNY who were able to afford the purchase because of the bequest of property and funds from Frederick S. Talllmadge, who died on June 20th. The City rescinded its park designation and the SRNY took title in July.
In 1905 the SRNY hired William H. Mersereau, an architect from Staten Island, to restore the Tavern to its 18th century appearance. There are no early images of Fraunces Tavern. Mersereau did his best. The final design was somewhat conjectural and highly influenced by the Colonial Revival movement.
The grand opening of Fraunces Tavern Museum was held on December 4, 1907, the anniversary of the Washington’s Farewell to his officers. Fraunces Tavern was opened as a museum, restaurant and the headquarters for the SRNY.
The generosity of Tallmadge was recognized with “Tallmadge Day” celebrated on the anniversary of his birth, January 24.
The SRNY continues today. With over 800 active members and new members joining every year, the Society continues to serve the mission through the Museum and their annual celebrations: Tallmadge Day -January, George Washington’s Birthday – February, President’s Day -February, Flag Day – June, Independence Day – July, Nathan Hale Day – September, and Evacuation Day – November
The creation of the Fraunces Tavern® Museum in 1907 is often considered the Society’s most philanthropic educational contribution to the local, national and international communities.
To learn more about the SRNY and how to become a member click HERE.