​Who are the Sons and Daughters of Liberty?

Secret society aims to uphold founders’ values of revelry, chaos, staunch devotion to Liberty

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Members of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty posted their annual list of "rebels" and "tyrants" around Grounds early Thursday morning. 

Anna Higgins | Cavalier Daily

On the evening of April 12 each year, a list appears around Grounds, declaring the “Rebels and Tyrants” of the University and its affiliates. Published on the eve of Jefferson’s birthday, the list marks a yearly resurfacing of a secret society — the Sons and Daughters of Liberty.

Although the “Rebels and Tyrants” lists have only appeared annually since 2005, the society began in 2003. The Cavalier Daily was able to interview three original members of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, who — citing the secretive nature of their organization — asked to be referred to under the pseudonyms of Mr. Washington, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison. These are the aliases which they held in the secret society during their time at the University.

The three alumni said the society, originally a joke, was established as a social organization for fun, intended to be “a sort of anti-douchebag club,” according to Mr. Jefferson, Class of 2005.

“We started it as a joke, which involved some of our friends, or people we knew to be good, upstanding human beings,” Mr. Jefferson said. “And by that I mean, not douchebags or tyrants — people who were willing to get together, drink and have fun.”

The organization was also meant to serve as a source of fun in the arduousness of University life.

“As we saw it, there were many people around Grounds who took themselves far too seriously and got too caught up in their surroundings and got a little too big for their britches,” Mr. Jefferson said. “We always saw it as something that was full of mirth and chaos, and something where we could have fun and celebrate that aspect of college.”

Among the secret societies at the University, there weren’t any light hearted, mischief-making groups that had a strong presence, Mr. Jefferson said. Although the IMPs society existed at the time and was known for writing on buildings, there was not an active group “engaging in legitimate tomfoolery on behalf of the student populace,” Mr. Jefferson said.

Mr. Madison, a member of the Class of 2006, said the original members considered their society — centered around chaos, revelry and “fighting the tyranny of douchebaggery” — to be more in line with the founding fathers’ and Jeffersonian ideals than other societies whose members took themselves more seriously.

“The selection process was fairly chaotic. We identified friends and students who fit a criteria, who were active and engaged, often in a political nature, and at the same time, didn’t take themselves too seriously,” Mr. Madison said. “It was a chaotic process in which they had to stand up for themselves and prove themselves worthy to be Sons of Liberty.”

This process involved bringing members into dark rooms and halls across Grounds to conduct trials where new members had to “prove their worth to the University.”

Mr. Washington, Class of 2004, graduated just one year after he helped to found the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. He said the tradition of the “Night of Liberty” — publishing the list of “Rebels and Tyrants” on the eve of Jefferson’s birthday — started two years after the society was founded. The “Night of Liberty” follows a month-long debating process over the “Tyrants” and “Rebels” of the University and the surrounding areas, Mr. Washington said.

“Rebels” are people who embody the ideals of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, and should be identified and honored, according to Mr. Washington. The society also makes a point to list “Tyrants” each year.

“The idea [of calling out tyrants] is to bring down a peg people or groups who aren’t embodying those ideals, people who take themselves too seriously, and need to realize where they are and appreciate where they are,” Mr. Madison said.

The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society is listed each year as a “Tyrant” by the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, and the two societies have been known to have a long-standing rivalry.

Mr. Madison said the rivalry began in 2003, when the Jefferson Society committed some action the Sons and Daughters of Liberty considered to be tyrannical. The 13 members of the Sons of Liberty interrupted a Jefferson Society meeting, dressed in colonial clothing and carrying a full-sized barrel of tea. The Sons and Daughters of Liberty delivered a proclamation naming the Jefferson Society “tyrants,” and spilled the barrel of tea on the floor before running out of Jefferson Hall, chased by a member of the Jefferson Society.

The Jefferson Society sent out an email to its members the following day, establishing a committee to deal with the “Sons of Liberty problem.”

“I was impressed by how quickly they took up being our nemesis,” Mr. Madison said.

Jack Chellman, a third-year College student and current president of the Jefferson Society, said the relationship between the two societies has evolved over the years as the nature of the groups has changed.

“I know that the Jefferson Society holds no ill will toward the Sons & Daughters of Liberty and has even come to enjoy a certain playful rivalry with the organization,” Chellman said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We certainly interpret our annual designation as ‘tyrants’ as playful, since the Jefferson Society today cultivates intellectual culture on Grounds in a variety of positive ways.”

At its heart, the goal of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty is to make the University a better place and enrich that experience for those who are currently a part of it, Mr. Washington said.

“It speaks to how much people care about making sure the University is a great place for students — that there is an entity here that may be a little chaotic, but is out there fighting tyranny and douchebaggery every day,” Mr. Washington said.

The three alumni wanted to inform students of a treasure from the Sons and Daughters of Liberty buried on Grounds. A book hidden in the Special Collections Library leads to the treasure, and is titled, “Madison’s Gold.”

“It has a lot of secrets from the early years, and contains pieces of our legacy,” Mr. Madison said. “Clues are all over the University, and it all starts in the Special Collections Library.”

To this day, no one has found the book or the treasure, Mr. Madison said.

The society's 2017 list of rebels and tyrants: 

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