Skip to comments.Liberty tree is rooted in American revolution
Posted on 04/29/2006 4:49:53 PM PDT by Pharmboy
Almost 240 years ago William Read donated a small triangular plot of land at Thames and Farewell streets to William Ellery and other Sons of Liberty, shortly after the successful struggle to force the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act.
The donation was welcomed not for the land, but for the tall buttonwood tree, known as "The Liberty Tree," that stood on the property.
The Newport Historical Society put the famous tree's history in the spotlight Friday as a way to celebrate Arbor Day. Edward Andrews, a historian now completing his doctoral dissertation at the University of New Hampshire, explored the tree's history and legacy in an address at the Colony House before leading about a dozen people to the site.
Sometime in 1765, the Sons of Liberty began rallying at the tree to protest the hated Stamp Act that the colonists believed was unjust taxation and the latest case of oppression by Parliament. Andrews said the nearby Common Burying Ground was a backdrop for mock funerals the protestors held for "Liberty." The group also hung in effigy people who defended the British policies.
The Liberty Tree remained a gathering point during the decade leading up to the Revolutionary War, Andrews said. The local tree became such an icon for the independence movement that Gen. Thomas Gage ordered it be cut down some time after the British occupied Newport in December 1776, Andrews said.
In celebration of victory in war, the departure of the British and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Newport residents planted an oak tree at the site in 1783 that became the second Liberty Tree. It flourished until the early 1860s, as documented by paintings and illustrations. Andrews said a new oak tree was planted at the site in 1876, but died just 21 years later.
The present leaf beech tree at the site, the fourth Liberty Tree, was planted in 1897. The tree was rededicated in 1919, when Henrietta C. Ellery deeded the property and the tree to the city. It is now William Ellery Park, a small "pocket park."
Andrews said the tree in the 1700s was first used by the local African-American community as a site of gatherings, dances and celebrations. In 1755, about 20 percent of the city's population was of African descent, many of them slaves, he said. There is evidence they gathered at the tree for all kinds of events, perhaps most notably the annual elections to chose a community leader.
The Sons of Liberty appropriated the symbolic nature of the tree, which already had been established by the local African-American residents, Andrews said.
The Revolutionary War Liberty Tree tradition began in Boston, where Sons of Liberty gathered under a large elm tree on Essex Street and hung tax collectors in effigy, Andrews said. Thereafter, it became known as the Liberty Tree, and within a year, many communities in the American colonies had their own Liberty Tree.
When the British seized Boston in 1775, they cut down the original Liberty Tree and used it for firewood. As resistance to the British grew, flags bearing a representation of the Liberty Tree were flown to symbolize the unwavering spirit of liberty, according to historical documentation.
Andrews said New York, Philadelphia and Charleston all had Liberty Trees.
The tradition of establishing Liberty Trees continued in some communities in the following century.
In Brockton, Mass., an American sycamore became that city's Liberty Tree because abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips spoke there during the mid 1800s. Later in the century, early women's rights activists such as Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Amelia Bloomer all spoke at the tree.
Estimated to be about 300 years old, it was cut down at the end of 2004 because it was dying and could not be saved.
Andrews said much of the history of Newport's Liberty Tree comes from an essay written by city resident Henry Bull in 1837, as part of a collection of writings called "Rhode Island Memoir."
The Washington Family Coat of Arms
FreepMail me to get OFF or ON this RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list
Excellent analogy. You are a great American.
The "Pine Tree Flag" which flew over the troops at Bunker Hill in 1775 displayed a pine tree, symbol of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was a white flag with a top and bottom stripe of blue that showed a green pine tree with the words "Liberty Tree-An Appeal to God".
The boot, with a devil effigy climbing out, was the symbol for Lord Bute -- the King's agent in the House of Commons, who led the effort to tax and discipline the Colonies.
Interesting post. If I remember correctly, other people would copy this idea and plant one at their home to show equal patriotism...
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