Originally an offshoot of the radical Sons of Liberty faction in the American colonies and the early United States, the Society of St Tammany has among the most complicated and checkered careers of any American society. Its story began in Annapolis, Maryland in 1773, when the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty renamed itself the Society of St Tamina or Tammany after Tamanend, a Native American elder of the Delaware nation during the colonial period, who had earned the respect of the white immigrants as well as that of his own people. His role as patron saint of the Society was a deliberate provocation aimed at Maryland’s Roman Catholic upper class, which named most of its social clubs and institutions after European Catholic saints. See Roman Catholic Church; Sons of Liberty.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, several other Sons of Liberty chapters took the same name, including the chapter in New York City. Most members of the Sons of Liberty ended up changing their allegiance to the Society of Red Men after that organization was founded in 1816, and much of the political wing of the Society of St Tammany was drawn off into the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s, but the New York City chapter of the older Society remained in existence. During the early decades of the nineteenth century it affiliated with the Democratic Party and became increasingly important in New York City politics. By the second half of the century Tammany Hall had become the unofficial government of the city, under the leadership of the fabulously corrupt William Marcy “Boss” Tweed (1823–78), the most notorious figure in an age of city “machine” politics. See Improved Order of Red Men; Know-Nothing Party.

The great age of political reform in the early twentieth century rooted out some of the corruption from Tammany Hall but did little to reduce its influence over city government. The social and ethnic changes that transformed most of the cities of America’s east coast during the middle of the century, however, undercut the Society’s power, and New York City’s near-bankruptcy in the 1970s destroyed what was left. Tammany Hall still exists as a private association made up mostly of New York City’s old wealth, but its days of significant influence are long past.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006


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