The Origin of “Live Free or Die” and “Die or be Free”

J.L. Bell wrote today about “The Origin of ‘Live Free or Die’” on his Boston 1775 blog. He points to correspondence between a Vermont committee and General John Stark in 1810 as the source of New Hampshire’s motto.

This past weekend, a similar slogan jumped out at me as I was reading the 1774 September 5 Massachusetts Gazette, which is loaded with fascinating content related to the Powder Alarm, and the forced resignations and Massachusetts turbulence caused by the Massachusetts Government Act.  It was one short paragraph, two sentences long, under the dateline “BOSTON, September 5,” that stood out on the third page of the issue:

The spirit of the people, was never known to be so great since the first settlement of the colonies, as it is at this time. People in the country for hundreds of miles, are prepared and determine[d] to “DIE or be FREE.”

“Die or be free” was published by a handful of newspapers throughout the colonies in late 1774 (RI, CT, MA) and then again after Lexington and Concord in 1775 (CT, NY, VA, PA, MA, RI, MD). It also appeared as early as 1769 in the masthead of Solomon Southwick’s Newport Mercury: “Undaunted by Tyrants – we’ll die or be Free”.

1 Comment

  1. will brownell, phd
    September 26, 2011

    Dear friends,

    All you say is first-rate. Might I add: there is evidence that long before this, the phrase was French. “Vivre libre ou mourir.” I have seen banners and plates with the words inscribed thereon, in that language.

    Often we fail to understand how much our people and the French influenced one another. Another example: the wonderful French phrases of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” were American phrases, suggested by Franklin. (Some French say it was Jefferson). Definitely one or the other.

    Alas, we hate the French so much these days that it is hard to salute them, and vice versa. But this is another matter, that perhaps does not matter.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Will Brownell, PhD

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