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The Liberty Tree – A Forgotten Symbol of the American Revolution

by Contributor July 5, 2017

The Liberty Tree- A Forgotten Symbol of the American Revolution

Summer is here, and as everyone gathers to celebrate America’s 241st Birthday, Arborist Now is taking this time to publish a short article about The Liberty Tree and the role it played as the colonists resisted the rule of King George III. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into our great American history.

In 1765 the British government imposed a Stamp Act on the American colonies. It required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. Because the Act applied to papers, newspapers, advertisements, and other publications and legal documents, it was viewed by the colonists as a means of censorship, or a "knowledge tax," on the rights of the colonists to write and read freely.

On 14 August 1765, a crowd gathered in Boston under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Washington Street, originally called Orange Street, to protest the hated Stamp Act. Patriots who later called themselves the Sons of Liberty had hung in effigy Andrew Oliver, the colonist chosen by King George III to impose the Stamp Act. The effigy was hung on the tree, where nearby a British cavalry jackboot, also hung in its branches. Grinning from inside the boot was a devil-like doll holding a scroll marked “Stamp Act.??? It was the first public show of defiance against the Crown and spawned the resistance that led to the American Revolutionary War 10 years later. On 10 Sept., a sign saying "Tree of Liberty" was nailed to the trunk of the tree.

In the years leading up to the war, the British made the Liberty Tree an object of ridicule. British soldiers tarred and feathered a man named Thomas Ditson, and forced him to march in front of the tree. During the siege of Boston, a party of Loyalists led by Job Williams defiantly cut the tree down in an act of spite, knowing what it represented to the patriots, and used the tree for firewood. This act only further enraged the patriots. As resistance to the British grew, flags bearing a representation of the Liberty Tree were flown to symbolize the unwavering spirit of liberty. These flags were later a common sight during the battles of the American Revolution.


For many years the remnant of the tree was used as a reference point by local citizens, similar to the Boston Stone, and became known as the "Liberty Stump." Later the citizens in many of the colonies erected a Liberty pole in commemoration of the Liberty Tree.

Other towns designated their own Liberty Trees as well. The Liberty Tree in Acton, Massachusetts, was an elm tree that lasted until about 1925. In 1915, knowing that the Liberty Tree was getting older, Acton students planted the Peace Tree, a Norway maple that still stands today.

Liberty Trees that were designated in the other Thirteen Original Colonies were eventually lost over time as well. A 400-year-old tulip poplar stood on the grounds of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland until 1999, when it was felled after Hurricane Floyd caused irreparable damage to it. The wood from this tree was acquired and progressively used by Taylor Guitars to produce limited-edition musical instruments: 400 of their Grand Concert guitars; 400 of their Baby Taylor guitars; and 50 of their T5 guitars (each named for one of the fifty states, sequenced in the order in which that state joined the Union). Randolph, New Jersey claims a white oak Liberty Tree dating to 1720.

Besides actual trees, the term "Tree of Liberty" is associated with Thomas Jefferson's quotation, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

As the summer progresses, remember – Arborist Now offers full service tree care and tree pruning for residential and commercial properties in the San Francisco and surrounding areas. Contact us today for our expert professional tree services. 

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