Versions of the Genesis of the Sons of the Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution are as varied and colorful as the stories of Creation. They differ considerably in details, depending on whose account you are reading. How does it happen that there are two similar organizations with almost identical names? Although this all came about over three quarters of a century ago, it is a question often posed. It is surprising, or perhaps it really isn't, that some of our own Sons of the Revolution members aren't fully aware of the difference.
Poring over publications of the two Societies appearing over the years, one finds fingers pointing in both directions, and some rather heated arguments. But we're friendly now, and we do not fight each other. Each Society, however, is jealous of its own identity, and no longer is an attempt made for amalgamation. Occasionally someone will remark casually, "Wouldn't it be nice if these two groups with practically the same aims could get together?" It's unlikely that it will ever happen. Some enthusiastic Revolutionary descendants find enjoyment in a dual membership belonging to both S.R. and S.A.R.
The whole thing apparently started in the far west, in California. Planned and instituted in 1875 in San Francisco, the Sons of Revolutionary Sires came into being three thousand miles away from the scenes of the struggles for American Independence. They immediately set out to form "auxiliary" branches all over the United States. While they stirred up considerable interest the idea didn't seem to take hold. Perhaps it was mostly because the East didn't particularly go along with the idea of having the headquarters of such an organization located in a part of the country that was a long way off, and never even involved in the Revolutionary picture.
Anyway, this California society was the pioneer of the modern hereditary patriotic society, and its influences led to the formation of all of them. It cannot, however, be considered as the founding of either the Sons of the Revolution or the Sons of the American Revolution, as had sometimes been claimed, although it appears that it eventually dropped its name and became affiliated with the S.A.R.
The Sons of the Revolution was actually formed in New York City in 1883, from organizational plans launched in 1876 by John Austin Stevens, a member of the Order of the Cincinnati, obviously due to the influence of the Sons of the Sires, but in no way connected. Since plans for the New York Society of the S.R. were actually "on the drawing board," and meetings held, in 1876, it can be rightfully claimed that this is our 100th Anniversary.
As we gather from reading contemporary reports, in 1888 a group of New York members living in New Jersey, proposed a New Jersey Society, and in 1889 groups in several other states followed the lead. Although they intended to effect union with the previously existing New York and Pennsylvania Societies as Sons of the Revolution, technicalities and some disagreements caused them to disassociate themselves and form a separate organization, which, unfortunately for the sake of clarity and easy identifications, was called the Sons of the American Revolution.
Each national association ever since has travelled its own path, with member Societies being formed often in the same states. Over the years, in fact as early as 1893, several attempts have been made by some members of both organization of consolidation under one name. Sound reasons for and against have been advanced, but the opposition has always been powerful enough to forestall each attempt. Neither Society has wanted to lose its identity, and compromisers have not jelled. Undoubtedly we will continue to co-exist peaceably, and the confusion will remain despite continual explanations.
It has been suggested that the Sons of the Revolution change the name to something else. This seems to be a defeatist attitude that would upset a century of tradition and pride in a name. Granted, of late years "revolution" has become a "dirty word," but it would seem that the Bicentennial has more or less clarified that situation as to "our" revolution. Taking a cue from our insignia, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of California has added "1775" to its name, and no one seems to inquire any more, "What revolution?"
To get back to the two Societies: the aims and purposes of each are practically the same. The requirement for membership, however, differ somewhat. While both recognize lineally descendants of ancestors who participated in the Revolutionary War in a military or naval capacity in behalf of American independence, or as official or individual whose service was of sufficient importance to have rendered him liable to conviction of treason against Great Britain, the S.A.R. will accept other services not considered by the S.R. These are descent from a justice of the peace, a member of a coroner's jury, surveyor of highways, associator, persons rendering various types of patriotic or civil service, etc. The D.A.R. has patterned its requirements after the S.A.R.: consequently D.A.R. lineages cannot always be accepted by the Sons of the Revolution.
Richard E. Coe (1907-1987)
General Vice President (1970-1979)
General Society of Sons of the Revolution