It interests me how trees are so often intertwined with our culture and history. The July celebration of our Independence is a good time to review the history of the Liberty Tree, a symbol for individual liberty and resistance to tyranny.
Boston was the incubator for the American Revolution, being one of the first places where strict British rule was protested. There was a group of elm trees in the town, one of which had a great spreading crown. This tree was a rallying point for the growing resistance to English rule. During the summer of 1765 there was heavy protesting of the Stamp Act, one of many taxes that the colonists disagreed with. On August 14 of that year a group calling themselves the Sons of Liberty gathered under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex and Orange Street to protest the tax. They concluded their protest by hanging two tax collectors in effigy from the tree. From that day forward, the tree became known as the Liberty Tree, and assemblies continued to meet under it on a regular basis.
News of the Liberty Tree spread, and local patriots in each of the 13 colonies formed a Sons of Liberty group and identified a local large tree to be used as a meeting place. In those times, holding an unauthorized assembly was dangerous, so the casual appearance of a group chatting beneath a tree offered some safety from arrest.
The symbolism of the Liberty Tree was so strong that several flags were designed with a tree on them. A flag was flown by colonial fighters during the Battle of Bunker Hill that came to be called the New England flag. It was a red flag with a pine tree in the upper left hand corner. The red color was similar to that used by many British flags, which symbolized that the colonists were still British citizens, but the tree symbolized their desire to have all of the rights and liberties of a British citizen.
The liberty we now enjoy as American citizens should not be taken for granted, as it cost many brave patriots dearly for us to have it. The same is true for our military personnel, both past and present. They have sacrificed their family time and their lives for our benefit, so let us not forget this. Thomas Jefferson said it best, as he did so many things: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”