Isaac Sears

Isaac Sears

Sears, Isaac, c.1730-86, American Revolutionary leader, b. West Brewster, Mass. A merchant sea captain, Sears won a reputation as a daring privateer during the French and Indian War. He was a leader in the resistance to the Stamp Act in New York City, helped organize (1766) the Sons of Liberty, and remained prominent in the agitation against the British during the next decade. Arrested (1775) for anti-British activities, he was rescued at the prison door by his comrades. When news of the battle of Lexington reached New York, Sears led a mob that drove prominent loyalists from the city and seized the British arsenal. After the British capture (1776) of New York, Sears went to Boston and promoted privateering for the remainder of the war. He was later elected (1784, 1786) to the New York state assembly.

(born July 1?, 1730, West Brewster, Mass.—died Oct. 28, 1786, Canton, China) American patriot. A merchant in New York City, he supported the patriots' cause in the Stamp Act riots. As a member of the radical Sons of Liberty, he headed a boycott of British goods to protest the Townshend Acts. He led the ouster of loyalist officials from New York City and seized control of the municipal government until George Washington's troops arrived (1775). From Boston he organized privateers to prey on British ships. He died while on a trading venture in China.

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Isaac Sears (1730 – 1786) was an American merchant, sailor, and political figure who played an important role in the American Revolution.

He was born July 1, 1730 at West Brewster, Massachusetts the son of Joshua and Mary Sears. He was a descendant of Richard Sears, who emigrated to the colonies from Colchester, England, in 1630. While he was a child the family moved to Norwalk, Connecticut.

At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to the skipper of a coastal vessel. By 1752, he was in command of a sloop trading between New York and Canada. Isaac established his reputation as a privateer during the French and Indian War, commanding a vessel from 1758 until 1761, when he lost his ship. He moved to New York City and had become successful enough to become a merchant investing in ships engaging in trade with the West Indies.

Sons of Liberty

On October 31, 1765 the day before the Stamp Act was to take effect he was among the merchants assembled in New York City resolved to enforce opposition to distribution of the stamps and to curtail the importation of British goods. Sears organized and was a leader of the Sons of Liberty in 1765. They used violence and threats of violence to prevent the use of stamps. He was nicknamed "King Sears" for his influential role in organizing and leading the New York mob . He was at the head of nearly every demonstration of mob violence in New York City. He partnered with James DeLancey in opposition to the stamps and supported him in his 1768 election to the New York assembly. Sears and many of his followers were engaged in trade and they demanded that trade continue without stamps.

In 1766, Sears, John Lamb and three others formed a committee of correspondence to communication with other Sons of Liberty groups in other provinces. After the Stamp Act was repealed the Sons of Liberty erected a Liberty pole to celebrate. When the British cut down the pole for the first time, Sears was injured in a confrontation with the British. In 1768, he and numerous New York merchants sent a petition to Parliament outlining their grievances on the state of trade. In 1769, when the New York assembly passed an appropriation for funding of the Quartering act, he had posted an inflammatory broadside entitled "To the betrayed inhabitants of the city and colony of New York".

In January 1770, confrontation led by Sears with the British over the posting of broadsides and the liberty poles resulted in the Battle of Golden Hill. The fifth liberty pole was raised in 1770 on a plot of land owned by Sears. When the Tea Act was passed in 1773, he organized the city's captains into refusing to freight the East Indian tea. It was the first organized opposition to the tax. Broadsides, signed "The Mohawks", were posted warning against anyone trying to land tea. New York's opposition was partly responsible for Boston's decision to stop the landing of tea. Adams wrote, "we must venture, and unless we do, we shall be discarded by the sons of liberty in the other colonies". They were successful in preventing the landing of tea. In April 1774, they boarded the Nancy and destroyed its tea.

When in May, 1774 news of the Boston Port Act arrived, Sears and McDougall wrote a letter of support to Boston, without consulting anyone else, in addition to a British boycott, they proposed a ban on exports to the West Indies and called for a Continental Congress. Reaction in New York to the Boston Port Act was cautious and equivocal, there was a split with the DeLanceys on whether to proceed with nonimportantion.

Committee of Sixty

On May 16, 1774 a meeting at the Fraunces Tavern was called of the various factions. The Committee of Fifty was elected with Isaac Low as its chairman. James DeLancey's faction was in the majority, with Sears and his Sons of Liberty in the minority.

In 1774, he was a leading member of New York City's Committee of Sixty. In a letter to the Boston Committee of Correspondence he proposed a meeting of delegates from the principal towns. This proposal was initially disavowed by the Committee of Sixty, but later was ratified in a proposal for the meeting of the First Continental Congress.

American Revolution

On April 15, 1775 he was arrested for his anti-British activities, but was rescued at the prison door by his supporters and paraded through the streets as a hero. When news of the Battle of Lexington arrived he and his followers seized the arsenal at the Custom House. He was the de facto commander of New York City until Washington's Army arrived in June, 1775.

On November 20 1775, Sears led a group of 80 citizens in apprehending Parson Seabury, Judge Fowler, and Lord Underhill. At some point the mob forced Fowler to write (or else they forged his name) an apology and a promise not to interfere with the Second Continental Congress. While some of the mob escorted the three prisoners to Connecticut, Sears led the remaining 75 in a march to James Rivington's Royal Gazette, where they destroyed the printing press (which was melted and made into bullets (presumably for the war effort) in November 1775. According to the Diary of the American Revolution, Volume I:

They then faced and wheeled to the left, and marched out of town to the tune of Yankee Doodle. A vast concourse of people assembled at the Coffee House, on their leaving the ground, and gave them three very hearty cheers.

The group then disarmed many of the loyalists along their route before disbanding.

This action was condemned by the Committee of Sixty, the New York Provincial Congress and the New York delegation to the Continental Congress, but public opinion was with him and no action was taken.

After the capture of New York, Sears returned to Massachusetts, where he grew rich by privateering and spending time at sea as a privateer from Boston from 1777 to 1783.

After war years

After the British left New York City in 1783, he returned to the city installing himself in a mansion on the Bowling Green and reviving the Sons of Liberty. By March, he was calling for the expulsion of any remaining Loyalists in the state by May 1. He and other members of the Sons of Liberty won enough seats in the New York State Assembly in December, 1784 to enact a set of harsh anti-Loyalist laws. He was exposed for buying up soldier's pay certificates at depressed prices and using them to speculate in forfeited Loyalist property. The public regarded this as the height of venality and cynicism. He was again elected to the assembly in 1786, but by then he was deeply in debt and he left the state to avoid arrest. Sears became supercargo on a merchant ship on a trading venture to China. He contracted a fever and died in Canton on October 28 1786.

Footnotes

References

  • Isaac Sears.Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.
  • Ketchum, Richard, Divided Loyalties, How the American Revolution came to New York, 2002, ISBN 0805061207
  • Schecter, Barnet, The Battle of New York, 2002, ISBN 0802713742

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