Liberty Tree

The Liberty Tree (1646–1775) was a famous elm tree that stood in Boston, Massachusetts near Boston Common, in the years before the American Revolution. In 1765, colonists in Boston staged the first act of defiance against the British government at the tree. The tree became a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of Britain over the American colonies, and the ground surrounding it became known as Liberty Hall. The Liberty Tree was felled in August 1775 by Loyalists led by Nathaniel Coffin Jr.[1] or by Job Williams.[2]

For other uses, see Liberty Tree (disambiguation).

The Liberty Tree in Boston, as illustrated in 1825

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“The Colonists Under Liberty Tree,” Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, 1865.

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. Colonists were outraged. In Boston, a group of local businessmen calling themselves the Loyal Nine began meeting in secret to plan a series of protests against the Stamp Act.[3]

On 14 August 1765, a crowd gathered in Boston under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street (the latter of which was renamed Washington Street) to protest the hated Stamp Act. Hanging from the tree was a straw-stuffed effigy labeled “A. O.” for Andrew Oliver, the colonist chosen by King George III to impose the Stamp Act. Beside it hung a British cavalry jackboot, its sole painted green. This second effigy represented the two British ministers who were considered responsible for the Stamp Act: the Earl of Bute (the boot being a pun on “Bute”) and Lord George Grenville (the green being a pun on “Grenville”).[4] Peering up from inside the boot was a small devil figure, holding a copy of the Stamp Act and bearing a sign that read, “What Greater Joy did ever New England see / Than a Stampman hanging on a Tree!”[5] This was the first public show of defiance against the Crown and spawned the resistance that led to the American Revolutionary War 10 years later.

The tree became a central gathering place for protesters, and the ground surrounding it became popularly known as Liberty Hall.[2] A liberty pole was installed nearby with a flag that could be raised above the tree to summon the townspeople to a meeting. Ebenezer Mackintosh, a shoemaker who handled much of the hands-on work of hanging effigies and leading angry mobs, became known as “Captain General of the Liberty Tree.”[4]Paul Revere included the Liberty Tree in an engraving, “A View of the Year 1765.”[5]

When the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, townspeople gathered at the Liberty Tree to celebrate. They decorated the tree with flags and streamers, and when evening fell, hung dozens of lanterns from its branches.[5] A copper sign was fastened to the trunk which read, “This tree was planted in the year 1646, and pruned by order of the Sons of Liberty, Feb. 14th, 1766.”[2] Soon colonists in other towns, from Newport, Rhode Island to Charleston, South Carolina, began naming their own liberty trees, and the Tree of Liberty became a familiar symbol of the American Revolution.[4]

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