Groups identifying themselves as Sons of Liberty existed in almost every colony. The organization spread month by month after independent starts in several different colonies. August 1765, was celebrated as the founding of the group in Boston. While Samuel Adams was the organizer of the Boston group, this group had formerly existed as the "Loyal Nine" and there is no evidence it was originally a tool of radicals such as Adams and Otis. By November 6, a committee was set up in New York to correspond with other colonies, and in December an alliance was formed between groups in New York and Connecticut. In January, there was established a correspondence link between Boston and Manhattan, and by March, Providence had initiated connections with New York, New Hampshire, and Newport, Rhode Island. Also, by March, Sons of Liberty organizations had been established in New Jersey, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, and a local group established in North Carolina was attracting interest in South Carolina and Georgia.
North American colonists from Savannah to Halifax resisted the Stamp Act in 1765, through legislative resolutions (starting in Province of Virginia), public demonstrations (starting in Province of Massachusetts), threats, and occasional violence. The success of this popular movement — the Stamp Act became unenforceable and was repealed in May 1766 — emboldened colonial Whigs to resist other new taxes with similar measures in the following years. In 1768, in response to the Townshend Act, the Sons of Liberty were able to impose a virtual blockade of British goods.
In 1766, the Sons of Liberty (a.k.a. "Liberty Boys") in the Province of New York erected a Liberty Pole in New York City to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act. There was a long-running skirmish over these Liberty Poles with the British troops stationed there (the most notable engagement being the Battle of Golden Hill on 19 January 1770). As poles were alternately erected by Patriots and cut down by troops, violent outbreaks over it raged intermittently from 1766 until the Patriots gained control of New York City government in April 1775. The last liberty pole was cut down by occupying British troops on 28 October 1776.
The Sons of Liberty were responsible for the burning of HMS Gaspée in 1772.
In December 1773, the Sons of Liberty issued and distributed a declaration in New York City called the Association of the Sons of Liberty in New York which formally stated their opposition to the Tea Act and that anyone who assisted in the execution of the act was "an enemy to the liberties of America" and that "whoever shall transgress any of these resolutions, we will not deal with, or employ, or have any connection with him". The Sons of Liberty took direct action to enforce their opposition to the Tea Act at the Boston Tea Party. Members of the group, wearing disguises meant to evoke the appearance of Native American Indians, poured several tons of tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of the Tea Act.
The Sons of Liberty were widely accused of tarring and feathering.
Early in the American Revolution, the Sons of Liberty generally evolved into or were superseded by more formal groups such as the Committee of Safety.
After the end of the American Revolutionary War, Isaac Sears along with Marinus Willet and John Lamb, in New York City, revived the Sons of Liberty. In March 1784, they rallied an enormous crowd which called for the expulsion of any remaining Loyalists from the state starting May 1. The Sons of Liberty were able to gain enough seats in the New York assembly elections of December 1784 to have passed a set of punitive laws against Loyalists. In this time period, it is said that John Adams and Sam Adams fought in jurisdiction due to the public offholding of public society as a system. In violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783) they called for the confiscation of the property of Loyalists.
In 1767, the Sons of Liberty adopted a flag called the rebellious stripes flag with nine uneven vertical stripes (five red and four white). It is supposed that nine represented the number of colonies that were to attend the Stamp Act Congress. A flag having thirteen horizontal red and white stripes, used by American merchant ships during the war, was also associated with the Sons of Liberty. While red and white were common colors of the flags, other color combinations, such as green and white, in addition to yellow and white, were used.
One of the secret societies at the University of Virginia calls itself the Sons of Liberty. Some of its actions seem designed to echo those of the colonial Sons of Liberty, including pouring tea down the chimney of an individual of whom the society was publicly critical.