The History Behind Assassin’s Creed III – The Secret Societies

The Assassin’s Creed series is built on the twists and turns afforded by secret societies. A lot of the involvement, membership and activity of the secret societies is, of course, invented to drive the fiction forward. As with most things in this game series though, the fraternities included in the game are rooted in reality.

In this final feature in the History Behind Assassin’s Creed III series, we’ll take a look at a couple of the societies present in the colonies during the time covered by the game and how they might factor into the narrative.

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The Sons of Liberty.

During a speech in opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765 Isaac Barré coined the term “Sons of Liberty” to refer to the colonists in North America. Barré was a notable Irish politician in British parliament, former soldier in the British army that defeated the French in the Battle of Quebec and a slave owner. There are several towns in the eastern seaboard states named in his honour.

Barré fought in parliament for the rights of the colonies he’d once fought on the battlefields for. The term that he coined was adopted by those in the New World who also fought against the oppressive taxation and regulation being imposed upon them.

The Sons of Liberty wasn’t necessarily a coherent order with a hierarchy and a structure, although it is often portrayed like that. It’s more likely that the name became a byword for any group who opposed the stringent rules enforced by the British parliament between 1765 and 1775, when the Sons were absorbed into various factions of the new United States army.

They were engaged in rebellious acts, ranging from public rallies to more violent protests. The Sons of Liberty are accused of many instances of tar-and-feathering, public beatings and incalculable other violent means of furthering their cause. If they hadn’t ended up on the victorious side, we might have remembered them as terrorists.

Within six months, branches of the organisation came into being in almost every one of the thirteen colonies, with much communication and some coordination between disparate groups – despite the lack of a prominent, official leadership structure. The membership was mostly comprised of the middle classes – tradesmen, merchants, lawyers and local politicians. The fact that their membership included many newspaper owners and printers (and the not coincidental fact that these were the people most affected by the Stamp Act…) meant that they could spread their ideas quickly and widely around the colonies.

The Sons of Liberty inspired acts of, often violent, rebellion among the lower classes who would read in pamphlets or newspapers about the meetings and speeches which rallied against the British government. The Sons are credited with countless acts of coercing appointed tax officials to decline their duties or even forego their positions entirely.

Although the group was opposed to what the British parliament was attempting in the colonies, they still considered themselves loyal to the King – initially, their aim was to secure their rights as Englishmen. That changed as the Revolutionary war drew closer and the actions taken by the Sons of Liberty grew more extreme, probably most famously in Boston when they are assumed to be responsible for the Boston Tea Party.

For the purposes of the Assassin’s Creed series, the Sons of Liberty represent a widespread group of malcontents who are engaged in the fermenting of ill will amongst an increasingly oppressed people. It would be difficult to imagine a more perfectly suited historical group for the Assassins to be embedded within. The fact that the Sons had no certain leadership could be used by Ubisoft to implant their own fictitious figure or play off the many rumours of prominent colonial leaders’ involvement with the group.

Figures such as Samuel and John Adams, Benedict Arnold, Paul Revere and Abraham Whipple (who captained the expedition that burned the Gaspee revenue ship) are all believed to have been members and could all act as perfect mission-givers for Connor in the upcoming game. However, several supposed members also have rumoured – or accounted – membership with another society that is a favourite of the Assassin’s Creed series…

The Masons.

There is an enduring theory that the masons evolved from the remnants of the Knights Templar who were in distant lands like Scotland (at Rosslyn – made globally famous by the use of this existing rumour by Dan Brown in The DaVinci Code) and as such not reached by the Friday 13th 1307 arrest and subsequent torture and massacre orchestrated by King Philip of France and Pope Clement V.

There is a lack of historical – or Masonic – evidence to back this up but the veracity of the claims are perhaps given some degree of legitimacy thanks to their enduring nature and the symbology of the modern Masonic order. Not to mention the fact that the first recording of the Masonic branch, which still exists, calling themselves the Knights Templar is from Scotland.

If we submit to this rather evidentially tenuous link between the Templars and the Masons, there are vast opportunities to incorporate it into the fiction of Assassin’s Creed III.

The Masons (and for our purposes, the Templars) were very active in the colonies during the latter half of the eighteenth century. It has been suggested by some that every single signatory to the Declaration of Independence was a member of the Masonic orders. While there is certainly no historical evidence to back that claim, it is known that many prominent Masons were signatories.

Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Tun Tavern lodge in Philadelphia. John Hancock – he of the oversized signature – was a member of St. Andrew’s Lodge in Boston. Richard Stockton, George Walton, Robert Treat Paine, William Whipple, Joseph Hewes and William Hooper are all recorded members of various lodges. There are five or six other signatories who have circumstantial evidence linking them with Masonic membership – including Thomas Jefferson. George Washington didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence – he resigned his position as a congressman from Virginia when the Second Continental Congress formed the United States army and appointed him in command of it – but he was certainly a Mason.

Masonic membership was by no means limited to the colonial side during the time spanned by the game – Washington become a Mason in 1752, the year before he became a British army officer. So there are likely to be Masons on all sides during the various conflicts and political wrangling. Such a large and secretive organisation, which tasks itself with plenty of influence in the communities in which it exists, should make for seamless integration with the themes of the Assassin’s Creed games. Whether Ubisoft will want to invoke the name of an enduring organisation into its largely fictional narrative is another matter.

Just how Assassin’s Creed III will reconcile the seeming affiliation between Connor – an Assassin – and George Washington – a Mason (Templar?) – is unknown but there is definitely a great opportunity here for plenty of the intriguing twists and shadowy affiliations that the series is known for.

More in this series:

  • For the first, on the subject of nationality at the time, click here.
  • For the second, on in-game locations, click here.
  • For the third, on other important locations, click here.
  • For the fourth, a timeline of some key events, click here.
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4 Comments

  1. Another good read. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how the history is told through the game and which events will crop up.

  2. Anyone that has ever been to the US and taken a close look at the money can point to all kinds of Masonic symbolism. Actually the symbolism is especially pervasive in the make-up of Washington DC. It’s a bit weird when you think about it like some ancient culture building things for the gods.

    Although I am looking forward to AC3 – Liberation’s intrigues me more (old stomping ground and all)

  3. Another great read :)

  4. As a French gentleman having personal interest in the New World history, this series of articles has got me more excited than the game itself. Good read all around.

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