Liberty Tree

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The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or, Tarring & Feathering depicts the tarring and feathering of John Malcolm in front of the Liberty Tree, the Stamp Act hangs upside down on the tree, and the person in the foreground looks to be wearing a Liberty Cap.[1] In the background is a depiction of the original Boston Tea Party.

The Liberty Tree was an iconic tree in Boston Commons during the Stamp Act crisis[2] that colonists rallied around as a symbol of strength. Various acts of defiance against the King were staged here.

Background

The Sons of Liberty used to rally under its wide-spreading branches. It was under this tree that the first public act of resistance to British tyranny showed itself. At dawn, on the 14th of August, 1765, an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the stamp officer, was discovered hanging to one of the larger branches, which caused great excitement. The sheriff was ordered by the colonial Governor Hutchinson to remove the effigy from the tree. But such was the intensity of public feeling, he declared he dare not do so. It was creating a local revolution, and was removed by stratagem. The tree became famous about 1760, and was named the Liberty Tree about this time. On Feb. 14, 1766, it was pruned by the order of the Sons of Liberty.

The ground about the tree had become sacred soil, and was designated as "Liberty Hall",[3] and really became the original stamping ground of the Revolution, in defiance of the "stamp act." In 1767 a flagstaff was erected, which went up through the branches, upon which was hoisted a flag as a signal for the assembling of the Sons of Liberty. In August, 1775, the Tories, encouraged by their British allies, and led on by one Job Williams, armed with axes, made a furious attack upon the Liberty Tree, and it was ruthlessly cut down. This vandal act caused great excitement. At the close of the Revolution a liberty pole was erected on the stump of the old tree which long served as a point of direction.[4]

Dedication

The dedication of the Liberty Tree was given by a Son of Liberty named Silas Downer.

Symbolism

The Pine Tree Flag

For a more detailed treatment, see Natural Law.

Under the waving branches of those old trees, the inspiration of Nature aided song and oratory in the cry against oppression.[5]

Additionally, the tree stood as a symbol for unwavering strength. Many poems and inscriptions were inspired by the Liberty Tree and the actions that had taken place there. Ezra Stiles noted two such inscriptions:

What greater Joy did ever New England see
Than a Stampman hanging on a Tree[6]
Fair Freedoms glorious Cause I meanly Quitted,
Betrayed my Country for the Sake of Pelf,
But ah at length the Devil hath me outwitted,
Instead of stamping others have hanged my Self.[6]

Pine Tree Flag

For a more detailed treatment, see Pine Tree Flag.

The Liberty Tree appears on the flag for Washington's Cruisers, a small fleet of ships that comprised Massachusetts Navy. The flag is white, with a green tree in the middle, and across the top of the flag are the words An Appeal To Heaven.

Thomas Paine's poem

Like many other patriots of his era, Thomas Paine found inspiration in the Liberty Tree. Here is a poem that he wrote:[7]

In a chariot of light from the region of day,
   The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand Celestials directed the way,
   And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
   Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
   And the plant she named " Liberty Tree."
The Celestial exotic struck deep in the ground;
   Like a native, it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around
   To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinction they came;
   For freemen, like brothers, agree.
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
   And their Temple was " Liberty Tree."
Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
   Their bread in contentment they ate,
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
   The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they old England supplied,
   And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought without getting a groat,
--"For the honor of "Liberty Tree."
But hear, O ye swains,- 'tis a tale most profane,
   How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons, and Lords, are writing amain,
   To cut down this guardian of ours.
From the east to the west, blow the trumpet to arms;
   Through the land let the sound of it flee.
Let the far and the near all unite with a cheer,
   In defense of our " Liberty Tree."

See also

References