Several National Societies exist today to honor descendants of patriots of the American Revolution. The societies have various stated purposes but in general seek to increase public awareness and preserve the memory of the values, ideals, and actions of those involved in establishing American independence. And of course to bring attention to themselves.
The earliest known society was actually conceived before the revolution was over, in Fishkill, New York in 1783. The hereditary Society of the Cincinnati, organized by Major General Henry Knox, was created to help officers keep in touch after the war. Membership would be limited to officers who had served for at least three years in the Continental Army or Navy, plus certain officers of the French Army and Navy, as well as officers who had been killed in service serving on the Continental Line. The irregulars, the Colonial Militias and Minutemen, were excluded. Membership today is passed down to the eldest male heir with only one representative descendant of an eligible officer serving at any given time. The Society of the Cincinnati has had three goals: “To preserve the rights so dearly won; to promote the continuing union of the states; and to assist members in need, their widows, and their orphans.” George Washington was its first president and Alexander Hamilton its second. Twelve months after its founding, there were more than 2000 members in each of the thirteen states. In 1784, the French king Louis XVI ordained the French Society of the Cincinnati and let his officers wear the eagle badge of the Society.
What is the connection with Cincinnati, Ohio? Nothing, really. The Society is named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a legendary paragon of ancient Roman virtue, who dropped everything to answer the call of his Republic in 460 BC. He took control of Rome during a war emergency and returned power to the Senate once the emergency was over. The Society’s motto reflects Cincinnatus’s ethic of selfless service: Omnia reliquit servare rempublicam (“He relinquished everything to save the Republic”).
Fast forward almost a hundred years later to February 22, 1876 (the Centennial), when John Austin Stevens and other Cincinnati members, disagreeing with the Cincinnati’s rules of male hereditary, created the Sons of the Revolution (SR) in New York City to broaden participation by recognized descendants of a Revolutionary ancestor.
Thirteen years later, in 1889, William Osborn McDowell, a New Jersey businessman, organized the New Jersey Society of the Sons of the Revolution but was unwilling to accept the SR’s requirement to be subordinate to the New York society. He also wanted to further broaden participation by making it a mass movement of descendants of all Revolutionary patriots rather than an exclusive social club. McDowell organized the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) in New York on April 30, 1889.
As the SAR grew, some SAR societies permitted the participation of women, recognizing that women also played a role in the Revolution. Others opposed it, and at the one-year anniversary General Meeting of the SAR in April 1890, a vote was taken and it was decided that women would henceforth be excluded from SAR. Not having any of it, eighteen women (and four men) met in October of the same year in Washington D.C. to form the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). DAR is a lineage-based service organization for women who can trace their ancestry to patriots of the American Revolution. DAR is dedicated to “promoting patriotism, preserving American history and securing America’s future through better education for children.” It currently has more than 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters worldwide, and has had over 950,000 members admitted since its founding in 1890.
Maybe it’s time to think about unifying them all into CAR, Children of the American Revolution.