Liberty Trees and Poles

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Liberty Trees and Poles

LIBERTY TREES AND POLES. At dawn on 14 August 1765, two effigies were discovered hanging from the branches of the largest of a group of elms in an enclosure where Orange and Essex Streets of Boston converged (later Washington and Essex). One effigy was Andrew Oliver, the Massachusetts native who had agreed to distribute stamps and collect the taxes due under the terms of the Stamp Act. The other effigy was the Devil peeking from a huge boot, a derogatory reference to the earl of Bute, one of the principal advisers to the young King George III, whom Boston radicals blamed for the Stamp Act. The elm tree, already some 120 years old, thus made its professional debut as the original Liberty Tree. Opponents of the Stamp Act rapidly adorned and designated as "liberty trees" prominent trees in the public spaces of other towns throughout the colonies. The Boston tree was cut down by British soldiers in 1775 and yielded fourteen cords of firewood. A "liberty pole" was later erected on the spot.

Radicals in towns that lacked appropriate trees erected liberty poles. One of the best known was erected by the Sons of Liberty at Golden Hill in New York City in 1765 as a location where the Sons and their supporters could meet to agitate for repeal of the Stamp Act. They were so outraged when a group of off-duty soldiers sawed down the liberty pole on 16 January 1766 that a two-day riot ensued.

Liberty trees and poles could also be invested with considerable numerological significance. When the Massachusetts Assembly voted 92 to 17 not to rescind a circular letter to the other colonies in which it advocated resistance to the Townshend Acts, liberty trees were said to have ninety-two branches and the stubs of 17 others. The famous Issue No. 45 of John Wilkes's magazine, The North Briton, that advocated resistance to tyranny inspired ninety-two Sons of Liberty to raise a forty-five-foot-tall liberty pole.

SEE ALSO Golden Hill, Battle of; Massachusetts Circular Letter; Stamp Act; Wilkes, John.

                          revised by Harold E. Selesky

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Liberty Trees and Poles

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