Liberty Tree Origin

Patriots met at the Liberty Tree in Boston during the late 1760s. The tree got its nickname from an act of rebellion that occurred on August 14, 1765. On September 11 of that year, a plaque was placed on the elm tree commemorating the event with the words The Tree of Liberty.

The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765, and went into effect on November 1. Taxes were levied on all documents—from real estate paperwork to even a deck of cards.

Great Britain had just fought an expensive war with France—known as the French and Indian War in the American Colonies—and new taxes were needed to pay down the national debt. Americans generally considered the tax illegal, and Taxation Without Representation in government.

On August 14, 1765, an effigy of the Stamp-Master was hung in a tree in Boston's South End (at today's Boylston & Essex Streets). A boot, with its sole painted green and a small devil inside, was also placed in the tree. The boot symbolically rebuked John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and Stephen Grenville, the Primer Ministers of England from 1762 to 1765.

Tree of Liberty
Tree of Liberty

That day, crowds were led to the tree and their goods were mockingly stamped in defiance of the new law. Anyone that attempted to remove the effigies were threatened by the crowd. That night, the effigies were cut down and a fake funeral procession took place to the Town House, and then proceeded to the tax collector's house. The effigies were burned in a funeral pyre, with part of the collector's carriage house and furniture tossed into the fire. The tax collector resigned in fear of his life, and it has been reported that he was escorted through the streets of the town and forced to resign in public under the Tree of Liberty.

After this act of rebellion, the large elm was known as the Tree of Liberty. The August 19, 1765 Boston Gazette describes the event:

"Early on Wednesday Morning last, the Effigy of a Gentleman sustaining a very unpopular Office, viz, that of Stamp-Master, was found (to the great Joy of the People) hanging on a Tree in the most public part of the Town, together with a Boot, wherein was concealed a young Imp of the Devil, represented as peeping out of the Top. — On the Breast of the Effigy was a Label, containing these Lines, in large characters:

Fair Freedom's glorious Cause I meanly quitted, 
Betrayed my Country for the sake of pelf [money]; 
But ah! At length, the De[vi]l has me outwitted, 
Instead of stamping others, I've hang'd myself.

Underneath was the following words, HE THAT TAKES THIS DOWN IS AN ENEMY TO HIS COUNTRY. — On the right Arm were the initial Letters of the Stampman's Name, (A.O.) and on the left, these Lines:

What greater Joy can NEW-ENGLAND see, 
Than STAMPMEN hanging on a Tree! —

The Owner of the Tree finding a Crowd of people to assemble, thought at 5 o'Clock in the Morning, endeavored to take it down; but being advised to the contrary by the Populace, left it should occasion the Demolition of his windows, if nothing worse, desisted from the Attempt. — The Diversion it occasioned among a great Multitude of Spectators, continually assembled the whole Day, is surprising; not a Peasant was suffered to pass down to the Market, let him have what he would for sale, 'till he had stopped and got his Articles stamped by the Effigy. — Towards dark some Thousands repaired to the said place of Rendezvous, and having taken down the Pageantry, they proceeded with it along the Main Street to the Town-House, through which they carried it, and continued their Rout[e] through Kilby-Street to Oliver's Dock, where there was a new Brick Building, just finished; and they imagining it to be designed for a Stamp-Office, instantly set about demolishing of it, which they thoroughly effected in about half an Hour.

In the mean Time the High Sheriff, &c, being apprehensive that the Person of the then Stamp-Master, and his Family, might be in Danger from the Tumult, went and advised them to evacuate the House; which they had scarcely done, making their Retreat across the Gardens, &c, before the Multitude approached Fort-Hill, contiguous thereto, in order to burn the Effigy, together with the Timber and other Wood-work of the House they had demolished. After setting Fire to the Combustibles, they proceeded to break open the Stables, Coach-Houses &c, and were actually increasing the Bonfire with a Coach, Booby-Hutch, Chaise, &c, but were dissuaded going so far by a Number of Spectators present, though they burnt the Coach Doors, Cushions, &c. But it seems not having yet completed their Purpose, they set about pulling down a Range of fence upwards of 15 Feet high, which inclosed the Bottom of the Garden, into which having entered they stripped the Trees of the Fruit, despoiled some of them by breaking off the Limbs, demolished the Summer-House, broke the Windows in the Rear Part of the House, entered the same, went down the Cellars, and helped themselves to the Liquor which they found there, in the Silver Plate that the House afforded, none of which however was missing the next Day, although scattered over various Parts of the House. — They then destroyed Part of the Furniture, among which was a Looking Glass said to be the largest in North-America, with two others, &c, which they stamp'd.

The next Day the Transactions of the proceeding Night was of Course the general Topic of Conversation; when the Stamp-Master, in order to appease the Sensations which seemed to possess the Breasts of every one, at the Prospect of a future Stamp-Duty, sent a Card to several Gentlemen, acquainting them that he had absolutely declined having any Concern in that Office; which being publicly read upon 'Change, it was thought all Uneasiness would subside; but the Evening following they again assembled, erected a Number of Stages with Tar-Barrels, &c, in the Form of a Pyramid in the Centre of which was a Flag-Staff, and a Union Flag hoisted; whereupon 'tis said the Stamp-Master sent them a Letter with the aforementioned Resolution of Non-acceptance, and Assurance of Endeavour's to serve the Province, &c. Upon which they thought proper to demolish the Bonfire and retire — but did not disperse till they went down to his H—r the L[ieutenan]t G[overno]r's, with whom they said they wanted to have a Talk; but not finding him at Home, they concluded the Business of the Night by loud Acclamations in every Quarter of the Town, on account of the Resignation of the Stamp-Master; which, they were assured was forwarded by Express to New-York, to go in the Pacquet from thence. leutenant

We are told, that the Concourse on Wednesday Evening was far from consisting wholly of the Inhabitants of this Metropolis, many having come from Charlestown, Cambridge and other adjacent Towns. — The Truth of which may possibly be here after discovered by the Vigilance, Industry and Zeal of the Attorney-General.

It is supposed by some people, that the Effigies exhibited in this Town on Wednesday last (ACTUALLY or VIRTUALLY) originated in Cambridge, from this remarkable Circumstance, that the very Breeches were seen upon a Gentleman of that Town on Commencement Day. 
...

The following is the Return of one of the Watchmen of the Town of Boston, to the Select Men of Said Town. 
Thursday, Boston, August 15th, 1765.

This Evening about 9 o'Clock, a great Number of the Inhabitants of this Town, of both Sexes, surrounded his Honor's Dwelling House at the N. End. With loud Acclamations for Liberty and property; after giving three Cheers, they quickly dispersed without doing any Damage to the House, having been told of Mr. Secretary's resigning up his Stamp-Office, as dangerous for him or any Man to accept; and that he had wrote Home, that it would endanger the Life of any that did, it being contrary to the Rights and Privileges of Englishmen; which seemed to appease the Multitude, so that none offered any Violence, whatever their Intentions may have been against his Honor. And after they had dispersed themselves, our Division was quiet for the Night."

Contact Information & Address:

Liberty Tree  Site 
Washington & Boylston Streets, Boston, MA

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