Sears, Isaac

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Sears, Isaac

SEARS, ISAAC. (1730?–1786). Privateer, New York City radical leader. Both Sears's date and place of birth remain contested. He became a seaman and during the French and Indian War established a reputation as a privateer that made him a recognized leader of the sailors and shopkeepers of the New York City waterfront. As a Son of Liberty, "King" Sears was a leader of nearly every crowd action in New York City for ten years. He was wounded on 11 August 1766 in events related to the suspension of the New York assembly. In 1774 he led the Sons of Liberty in turning back the first tea ship and dumping the cargo of the second into the water. Having worked with John Lamb and Joseph Allicocke in 1765 to propose that the Sons of Liberty be organized into a continental military union, he worked with Alexander McDougall in 1774 in proposing to the Boston Committee of Correspondence that a meeting be held of delegates from the principal towns. This led indirectly to the first Continental Congress and showed the considerable scope of Sears as a revolutionary leader.

Arrested on 15 April 1775 for calling on the public to procure arms, he was rescued at the prison door by his supporters. When news of Lexington and Concord reached the city on 23 April, he and John Lamb led 360 men in scattering Loyalist leaders and officials, seizing arms from the arsenal, taking over the customs house, and preventing vessels from leaving. Sears also initiated the regular military training of his followers. The commander of the British ship Asia threatened to shell his house, persuading Sears to retreat to New England. In November 1775 he returned to lead crowds that burned a naval supply ship, captured prominent Loyalists, and wrecked James Rivington's press. He was commissioned by Charles Lee in January 1776 to administer the oath of allegiance to Loyalists on Long Island, raise volunteers in Connecticut, and capture British supplies for the army. With New York City under British control, Sears removed to Boston and returned to privateering from 1777 to 1783, at which he was very successful. Returning to New York City when the British left at the end of 1783, Sears led the effort to punish former Loyalists. Sears died on 28 October 1786 of fever aboard the Empress of China during its historic first journey to Canton, China.

SEE ALSO New York Assembly Suspended.


Christen, Robert Jay. "King Sears: Politician and Patriot in a Decade of Revolution." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1968.

                                revised by Michael Bellesiles