Why ‘Liberty Trees’ Became an Obsession After the Revolutionary War

Why ‘Liberty Trees’ Became an Obsession After the Revolutionary War

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When the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States in 1824 and 1825, there was a can’t-miss destination on his itinerary. Now gnarled with age, the beloved general would receive a hero’s welcome as he crisscrossed the United States he had helped create. It was a farewell tour and a nod to a country that was now 50 years old. And the Marquis knew exactly what he wanted to see in Boston—a tree stump.

It wasn’t just any tree: It was a potent symbol of freedom that had special significance for those who participated in the rebellion. Boston’s Liberty Tree was just one of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, all over the 13 colonies. And they weren’t just famous in the new United States: The symbolic plants were known worldwide.

Even as a stump, the place where Boston’s Liberty Tree had once stood held special significance. “The world should never forget the spot where once stood the Liberty Tree so famous in your annals,” said Lafayette. Three cheers rang out as his carriage passed the place where the tree had once stood.

In the 18th century, people often used natural landmarks like trees as meeting places, and trees were important points of reference. They also held symbolic power: As historian Alfred R. Young notes, English lore contains plenty of stories of trees tied to political events, and “trees in general were much venerated by colonists.”

It makes sense, then, that trees took on special importance when those colonists started to rebel. In 1765, a group of nine patriots who called themselves the Loyal Nine—a precursor of the Sons of Liberty—began to plan resistance to the Stamp Act.

The hated law, which was administered by a public official named Andrew Oliver, required colonists to pay taxes on everything from newspapers to playing cards. It was the first tax ever levied on the colonies, and it felt like an affront to businessmen like the Loyal Nine. In secret, they planned a series of protests that would become the first public acts of resistance to the English Crown.

They chose an old elm tree at the corner of what is now Essex and Washington Streets as the site of their first protest. On August 14, 1765, they hung an effigy of Oliver on the tree along with other symbols of the Stamp Act. As a mob grew, they beheaded and burned the symbol before heading to Oliver’s house. A few weeks later, a copper plate appeared on the tree, declaring it the “Tree of Liberty.”

Angry colonists now had a voice—and a symbol. They began to meet regularly beneath the tree, and its fame quickly spread to other colonies. Soon, cities as far as Rhode Island and Maryland had named their own liberty trees.

The trees had cousins: Liberty poles. They were less decorative than trees, but they had a similar function. Erected all over the rebellious colonies, the mast-like poles were places to post broadsides about the Crown’s tyranny and to gather for protests, speeches and political meetings.

“A Liberty Pole had no roots,” writes historian David Hackett Fischer. “It could be constructed anywhere on the spur of the moment and in many different sizes.” Some were even taller than colonial cities’ largest buildings, Fischer writes, and they were often the sites of riots and rivalries over who could tear down the mast and who could erect another.

As symbols of the rebellion, plenty was at stake when it came to these trees and poles. The colonial government and the British military knew it, and used it to their advantage. In 1775, for example, British soldiers punished Thomas Ditson, a farmer who had tried to purchase a musket from a soldier, by stripping him down, tarring and feathering him, and forcing him to parade past the Liberty Tree wearing a sign that read, in part, “American Liberty (or Democracy) exemplified in a Villain.”

By that time, liberty trees were so well known that they had become landmarks in and of themselves. But later in 1775, the beloved Boston elm tree, which was nearly 130 years old, paid the price for its fame when a group of loyalists and British soldiers tore it down.

The loyalists “made a furious attack on it,” reported a local paper. “After a long spell of groaning, swearing, and foaming, with malice diabolical they cut down a tree because it bore the name of ‘Liberty.’” The tree provided 14 cords of wood that were used to heat buildings used by the army.

Defiant to the end, the colonists simply renamed the tree “Liberty Stump,” erected a pole there, and continued to revere it. Other liberty trees met with happier fates and lasted well into the 20th century; New York’s was only cut down in 1999, and a tree in Annapolis is being restored using grafting and the cultivation of new seedlings.

Even after the revolution, liberty trees remained a potent symbol of the power of rebellion and public protest. When revolution broke out in France in 1789, revolutionaries began to name and plant their own liberty trees, and the custom also sprang up in Italy and Germany.

What started as a simple meeting place had branched into a tradition as inspiring as it was famous.

The Original Liberty Tree

The first, famous Liberty Tree stood on the Boston Common, an American Elm with a political history. The elm was a commons tree in the pre-Norman &lsquoEnglish borough&rsquo tradition: A place for the people of the shire to gather on their own terms and for their own purposes.

In the decade of agitation that fed into the American Revolution, Boston radicals rallied beneath the tree&rsquos canopy, speaking against imperial authorities and calling for home rule in the colonies.

After the speeches, the people marched. In one case, hundreds of marchers ended their protest at the docks, where they cheered on scores of activists as they dumped East Indies Trading Company tea into the harbor. In another case, the march ended in a volley fired from imperial rifles, martyring Crispus Attucks and four others as the first casualties of the dawning revolution.

In the first months of the Revolutionary War, imperial troops occupied Boston, and cut the elm to the ground. Yet the Liberty Tree lived on. In hundreds of towns, and in every colony, the revolutionaries consecrated new Liberty Trees and Liberty Poles, and flew their likenesses on their flags.

Thomas Paine wrote of the Liberty Tree in poetry and prose, and soon the tree was an international symbol. The French revolutionaries hailed the tree, as did the Irish republicans. In Haiti, the great Toussaint L&rsquoOuverture prophesied:

The original Liberty Tree served as a physical and symbolic gathering place for revolutionary, democratic movements. It is our intention that this new Liberty Tree serve in the same purpose. As an organization, the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution provides material support for the growth of a broad based, deeply rooted, aggressive democracy movement in the United States. At Liberty Tree, we echo the sentiments of the abolitionists of the 1850s who wrote that:

Liberty Tree

A song, written early in the American Revolution
by Thomas Paine, 1775

In a chariot of light from the regions 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 distinctions 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 uniting 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.

Liberty Tree

Share your thoughts with the world by posting a message on the Liberty Tree. The 17-foot metal sculptural tree, rooted in the galleries at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, features 20 electronic lanterns that display liberty messages from all over the world. You can enter your thoughts on liberty by clicking the button below. Send your message to the tree for everyone to see in the museum. After submitting your liberty message, be sure to check out what other people had to say by using the map feature.

What is a liberty tree?

During the time period leading up to the American Revolution, a stately Elm tree on the Boston Commons served as a place to demonstrate dissatisfaction with British rule. On August 14, 1765, a band of discontented merchants and artisans hung an effigy in the tree to protest the Stamp Act. Hundreds of Boston citizens gathered under the tree to see the spectacle. After that, the tree became a symbol of objection to British policies. Complaints were posted on the tree’s trunk and the tree became an inspiration to other communities to establish their own Liberty Tree. When the Stamp Act was repealed in March of 1766, Bostonians hung lanterns in the tree to celebrate. The tree continued to serve as an important place to demonstrate opposition to British actions until August, 1775, when the tree was cut down by British troops. Though the Boston tree of the Revolution is gone, its symbolic presence is captured in the Liberty Tree at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

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Stamp Act protests Edit

In 1765 the British government imposed a Stamp Act on the American colonies. It required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. Colonists were outraged. In Boston, a group of local businessmen calling themselves the Loyal Nine began meeting in secret to plan a series of protests against the Stamp Act. [2]

On 14 August 1765, a crowd gathered in Boston under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street (the latter of which was renamed Washington Street) to protest the hated Stamp Act. Hanging from the tree was a straw-stuffed effigy labeled "A. O." for Andrew Oliver, the colonist chosen by King George III to impose the Stamp Act. Beside it hung a British cavalry jackboot, its sole painted green. This second effigy represented the two British ministers who were considered responsible for the Stamp Act: the Earl of Bute (the boot being a pun on "Bute") and Lord George Grenville (the green being a pun on "Grenville"). [3] Peering up from inside the boot was a small devil figure, holding a copy of the Stamp Act and bearing a sign that read, "What Greater Joy did ever New England see / Than a Stampman hanging on a Tree!" [4] This was the first public show of defiance against the Crown and spawned the resistance that led to the American Revolutionary War 10 years later.

The tree became a central gathering place for protesters, and the ground surrounding it became popularly known as Liberty Hall. [5] A liberty pole was installed nearby with a flag that could be raised above the tree to summon the townspeople to a meeting. Ebenezer Mackintosh, a shoemaker who handled much of the hands-on work of hanging effigies and leading angry mobs, became known as "Captain General of the Liberty Tree." [3] Paul Revere included the Liberty Tree in an engraving, "A View of the Year 1765." [4]

When the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, townspeople gathered at the Liberty Tree to celebrate. They decorated the tree with flags and streamers, and when evening fell, hung dozens of lanterns from its branches. [4] A copper sign was fastened to the trunk which read, "This tree was planted in the year 1646, and pruned by order of the Sons of Liberty, Feb. 14th, 1766." [5] Soon colonists in other towns, from Newport, Rhode Island to Charleston, South Carolina, began naming their own liberty trees, and the Tree of Liberty became a familiar symbol of the American Revolution. [3]

Other protests Edit

The Loyal Nine eventually became part of a larger group, the Sons of Liberty. [2] They continued to use the Liberty Tree as a gathering place for protests, leading loyalist Peter Oliver to write bitterly in 1781,

This Tree stood in the Town, & was consecrated for an Idol for the Mob to Worship it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those, whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy. [6]

During the Liberty Riot of 1768, to protest the seizure of John Hancock's ship by the Royal Navy, townspeople dragged a customs commissioner's boat out of the harbor all the way to the Liberty Tree, where it was condemned at a mock trial and burned on Boston Common. Two years later, a funeral procession for the victims of the Boston Massacre passed by the tree. [4] It was also the site of protests against the Tea Act. In 1774, a customs official and staunch loyalist named John Malcolm was stripped to the waist, tarred and feathered, and forced to announce his resignation under the tree. [7] The following year, Thomas Paine published an ode to the Liberty Tree in the Pennsylvania Gazette. [4]

In the years leading up to the war, the British made the Liberty Tree an object of ridicule. British soldiers tarred and feathered a man named Thomas Ditson, and forced him to march in front of the tree. [8] During the Siege of Boston, a party of British soldiers and Loyalists led by Job Williams cut the tree down, knowing what it represented to the patriots, and used it for firewood. [5] Later, in the Raid on Charlottetown (1775), American privateers sought revenge against the man who cut the tree down, Loyalist Nathaniel Coffin Jr.

Following the British evacuation in 1776, patriots returning to Boston erected a liberty pole at the site. For many years the tree stump was used as a reference point by local citizens, similar to the Boston Stone. [7] During an 1825 tour of Boston, the Marquis de Lafayette declared, "The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree, so famous in your annals." [4]

At the 1964 New York World's Fair a sculpture of the tree designed by Albert Surman was a featured exhibit in the New England Pavilion. When the Liberty Tree Mall was opened in 1972, the sculpture was installed at center court.

In October 1966, the Boston Herald began running stories pointing out that the only commemoration of the Liberty Tree site was a grimy plaque, installed in the 1850s, [4] on a building at 630 Washington Street three stories above what is now the intersection of Essex and Washington Streets, a block east of Boston Common. Reporter Ronald Kessler found that the plaque was covered with bird droppings and obscured by a Kemp's hamburger sign. Local guidebooks did not mention it. [9]

To call attention to how obscure the site had become, Kessler interviewed waitresses at the Essex Delicatessen below the bas relief plaque on Washington Street. None knew what the Liberty Tree was. "The Liberty Tree? That's a roast beef sandwich with a slice of Bermuda onion, Russian dressing, and a side of potato salad," said one waitress who had worked beneath the plaque for 20 years. [9]

Kessler persuaded then Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe to visit the site. A photo of Volpe examining the plaque from a fire engine ladder appeared on page one of the 6 October 1966 edition of the Boston Herald. [10]

In 1974, funding was approved for a small park at Washington and Essex, which at that time was part of an area known as the Combat Zone. [11] Plans to plant trees there had to be scrapped because there were too many underground utilities. [12] The Boston Redevelopment Authority ultimately placed a small bronze plaque in the sidewalk across the street from the bas relief plaque. The plaque bears the inscription "SONS OF LIBERTY, 1766 INDEPENDENCE of their COUNTRY, 1776." [ citation needed ]

In December 2018, the city finally opened a suitable plaza commemorating the Liberty Tree. Called Liberty Tree Plaza, it is at 2 Boylston Street across the street from the original bas relief with tables and chairs, landscaping, lighting, an elm tree to commemorate the original tree that British soldiers cut down in 1775 before the outbreak of the American Revolution, and a stone monument inscribed with the history of the Liberty Tree. The Liberty Tree "became a rallying point for colonists protesting the British-imposed Stamp Act in 1765 and became an important symbol of their cause," the inscription says. "These 'Sons of Liberty' began the struggle that led to the Revolutionary War and American independence." [13]

Boston's Old State House museum houses a remnant of the flag that flew above the Liberty Tree, and one of the original lanterns that were hung from the tree during the Stamp Act repeal celebration in 1766. [4]

Many other towns designated their own Liberty Trees. Most have been lost over time, although Randolph, New Jersey claims a white oak Liberty Tree dating to 1720. [14] A 400-year-old tulip poplar stood on the grounds of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland until 1999, when it was felled after Hurricane Floyd caused irreparable damage to it. [15] The Liberty Tree in Acton, Massachusetts, was an elm tree that lasted until about 1925. In 1915, knowing that the Liberty Tree was getting older, Acton students planted the Peace Tree, a maple that still stands today. [16]

The Arbres de la liberté ("Liberty Trees"), inspired by the American example, were a symbol of the French Revolution, the first being planted in 1790 by a pastor of a Vienne village, inspired by the Liberty Tree of Boston. The last surviving liberty elm in France from c.1790 still stands in the parish of La Madeleine at Faycelles, in the Département de Lot. [17] Liberty trees were also planted on the Place Royale in Brussels on 9 July 1794, after the occupation of the Austrian Netherlands by French revolutionary forces, [18] and on Dam Square in Amsterdam on 19 January 1795, in celebration of the alliance between the French Republic and the Batavian Republic. [19]

Tipu Sultan gave his support to French soldiers at Srirangapatna in setting Jacobin club in 1797. Tipu himself called Citizen Tipu and he planted the Tree of Liberty at srirangapatana.

The Gernikako Arbola in the Basque town of Gernika acted as a meeting place for citizens of the province since at least the 14th century. The tree represents the traditional freedoms of the Biscayan people. Nowadays the president of the Basque Country known as the Lehendakari swears his charge there.

In 1798, with the establishing of the short-lived Roman Republic, such a tree was also planted in Rome's Piazza delle Scole, to mark the legal abolition of the Roman Ghetto (which was, however, re-instated with the resumption of Papal rule). The last surviving liberty elm in Italy, planted in 1799 to celebrate the new Parthenopean Republic, stood until recently in Montepaone, Calabria. The tree was badly damaged in a storm in 2008 and has been replaced by a clone. [20]

As students at the Tübinger Stift, the German philosopher Georg Hegel and his friend Friedrich Schelling planted a liberty tree on the outskirts of Tübingen, Germany. [21]

Besides actual trees, the term "Tree of Liberty" is associated with a quotation from a 1787 letter written by Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." [22]


When the motif was revived during the 16th century it was mostly carried by national or political personifications. Its first appearance as an attribute of Liberty in an Italian emblem book was in 1556, later followed by many others. [4] In his "Apotheosis of Venice" (1585) [5] in the Doge's Palace, Paolo Veronese has the ascendant Republic of Venice (personified as a woman) flanked by several symbolic persons, one of whom represents Liberty, dressed as a peasant hoisting a red Phrygian cap on a spear. [6]

The Dutch Maiden, national personification of the Dutch United Provinces fighting to escape from Spanish rule, often carries a hat on a pole. In these cases, the hat is the normal contemporary respectable man's hat, usually with a broad and stiff brim. With considerable cheek, Louis XIV of France had a medal cast in 1678, after the Treaty of Nijmegen ended the war started by his invasion of the Netherlands this showed the Maiden "standing beside Peace, and receiving the instructions of Prudence". [7]

The imagery was introduced to Britain, partly by the Dutch William III of England, who in one medal presents a cap of liberty to the kneeling England, Scotland and Ireland. [8] When Britannia was pictured as "British Liberty", she usually exchanged the trident she normally carried for a liberty pole. An example of this is a large monument, originally called the "Column of British Liberty", now usually just the "Column to Liberty", begun in the 1750s on his Gibside estate outside Newcastle-on-Tyne by the hugely wealthy Sir George Bowes, reflecting his Whig politics. Set at the top of a steep hillock, the monument itself is taller than Nelson's Column in London, and topped by a bronze female figure, originally gilded, carrying a cap of liberty on a pole. [9]

During the 18th century, the Roman pileus was confused with the Phrygian cap, and this mis-identification then led to the Phrygian cap, familiar from other uses in Roman sculpture, becoming the standard shape when a cap of liberty was used as a political symbol. [10]

Gérard de Lairesse, the Dutch Maiden in his Allegory of the Freedom of Trade (glorify the De Graeff family’ as the protector of the Republican state), 1672

Dutch allegory for the Netherlands/US trade treaty, 1782. Personification of the Americas, left, "Indian princess" and classical hybrid for the US centre, Dutch Maiden right.

French painting of the Triumph of Liberty, c. 1790. The cap is a contemporary man's hat. The Gallic cock accompanies Liberty.

Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks, 1792, Samuel Jennings. A liberty tree is outside.

"British Liberty" in The Contrast: 1792: Which Is Best, by Thomas Rowlandson. Anti-French cartoon.

John Archibald Woodside, We Owe Allegiance To No Crown, 1814

Obverse of 1839 United States Gobrecht dollar coin, the first of the "Seated Liberty" type

Dutch Maiden statue in Rotterdam, 1874, hat and costume in styles from the start of the Dutch Revolt.

Liberty poles were often erected in town squares in the years before and during the American Revolution (e.g. Concord, Massachusetts Newport, Rhode Island Caughnawaga, New York Savannah, Georgia and Englewood, New Jersey [11] ). Some colonists erected liberty poles on their own private land [ citation needed ] [ original research? ] (such as in Bedford, Massachusetts since 1964 and Woburn, Massachusetts—the pole raising there is reenacted annually [ citation needed ] ). An often violent struggle over liberty poles erected by the Sons of Liberty in New York City raged for 10 years. The poles were periodically destroyed by the royal authorities (see the Battle of Golden Hill), only to be replaced by the Sons with new ones. The conflict lasted from the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 until the revolutionary New York Provincial Congress came to power in 1775. [12] The liberty pole in New York City had been crowned with a gilt vane bearing the single word, "Liberty". Under the Sedition Act of 1798, authorities indicted several men in Massachusetts for erecting a liberty pole bearing the inscription "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America peace and retirement to the President Long Live the Vice President". [13] [14]

In some locales—notably in Boston—a liberty tree rather than a pole served the same political purpose.

During the Siege of Boston on August 1, 1775, a tall liberty pole was erected on Prospect Hill, a fortified high-ground overlooking the road to British-occupied Boston. [15] Both the "Appeal to Heaven" Pine Tree Flag and Grand Union Flag (aka Continental Colors) are reported to have flown on Prospect Hill. [16] [17] The 76 foot long liberty pole was originally a ship's mast that had been recently captured [18] from the British armed schooner HMS Diana (1775), in the aftermath of the Battle of Chelsea Creek on May 27 and 28, 1775.

When an ensign was raised (usually red) on a liberty pole, it would be a calling for the Sons of Liberty or townspeople to meet and vent or express their views regarding British rule. [ citation needed ] [ original research? ] The pole was known to be a symbol of dissent against Great Britain. The symbol is also apparent in many seals and coats of arms as a sign of liberty, freedom, and independence. [ citation needed ]

During the Whiskey Rebellion, locals in western Pennsylvania would erect poles along the roads or in town centers as a protest against the federal government's tax on distilled spirits, and evoke the spirit embodied by the liberty poles of decades earlier. [19]

The arbres de la liberté ("liberty trees") were a symbol of the French Revolution, mostly living trees newly planted. The first was planted in 1790 by a pastor of a Vienne village, inspired by the 1765 Liberty Tree of Boston. One was also planted in front of the City Hall of Amsterdam on 4 March 1795, in celebration of the alliance between the French Republic and the Batavian Republic. In 1798, with the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic, a liberty tree was planted in Rome's Piazza delle Scole, to mark the legal abolition of the Roman Ghetto. After resumption of Papal rule, the Vatican reinstated the Roman ghetto.

Peter Francisco: American Revolutionary War Hero

On the morning of June 23, 1765, a ship dropped anchor in the James River at City Point, now a part of Hopewell, Virginia. A longboat was lowered to the water, and two sailors rowed it to the wharf, where they deposited a young boy. The sailors left, and the ship immediately slipped back down the river. Thus Peter Francisco arrived in the New World.

Found sitting on the dock, the boy appeared to be 5 years old and large for his age later research seems to indicate that he was a few weeks short of 5. Olive-skinned, with black hair and dark eyes, he had a brave bearing and an engaging manner despite his predicament. He spoke a foreign gibberish — what might have been Portuguese mixed with French, or Spanish — and kept repeating the name ‘Pedro Francisco.’

His soiled suit was of the very best quality, with fine lace collar and cuffs, and on his shoes were silver buckles bearing the initials ‘P.F.’ Peter Francisco, as he was promptly called by the English colonists who found him, would grow up to become the strongest and the most remarkable private soldier of the American Revolution, a man whose legendary exploits are remembered even today.

For the moment, however, the boy had all the needs of any other orphan. City Point’s town fathers found an unused bed in a dock warehouse, housewives arranged for him to be well fed and the old watchman on the wharf guarded him at night. As the story of Peter Francisco’s mystifying appearance spread, Judge Anthony Winston, an uncle of famed orator Patrick Henry, investigated. He liked the boy and took him, as an indentured servant, to his sprawling plantation on the old Lynchburg?Richmond stage road.

Attempts at unraveling the mystery of Francisco’s origins, passage and arrival in America have led historical researchers to laudable efforts but uncertain results. Robert McKee of Tennessee studied Spanish Court records and learned of a small boy whose father, ‘the head of the House of Francisco, was in severe disfavor with the King?and a secret order had been given that one of the Francisco children be killed to atone for the father’s guilt.’ The boy suddenly disappeared, but the deed was not done and the father apparently had to do his own atoning. McKee’s research seems to be at the root of the often-cited theory that young Pedro’s own parents arranged his kidnapping and transportation to Britain’s American Colonies for his own safety.

Far more plausible are the results of painstaking studies conducted in 1960 by John E. Manahan of the University of Virginia. Manahan spent seven months researching in the islands of Graciosa, São Jorge and Terceira in the Portuguese Azores. His efforts paid off on Terceira, where he uncovered in the seaside town of Porto Judeu the birth record, family history and even the parental home of a Pedro Francisco, who some have suggested was the very same boy whom the Colonists found at City Point and called Peter Francisco.

After learning some English, Francisco explained to his new friends that he recalled living in a mansion by the sea. His father was a shadowy figure in his mind, but he remembered a little sister and a beautiful mother whom he loved. Although he was never able to recall the name of his native country, he did retain some memories of what likely were the last moments of his life at home.

He was playing with his sister in the garden of his parents’ home when two sailors lured the children to the garden gate with cakes or toys. Opening the gate, the men seized both children. The girl managed to escape, but the kidnappers threw a blanket over Francisco and carried him off to their waiting ship.

Azorean historian Pedro de Merelim deemed the kidnapping a routine atrocity, likely the work of Algerian corsairs. ‘We all know how they infested these islands,’ he wrote in 1978, ‘and ravaged their peoples.’

In America, Francisco thrived under Judge Winston’s patronage. He had a keen mind and, although technically illiterate, he came to understand the Colonists’ struggle against the mother country. He developed muscles of steel while working in the fields and the blacksmith shop. By age 15, Francisco was 6 foot 6 in a time when the average man was at least a head shorter, and he weighed 260 pounds.

Winston loved like a son the young giant who could do the work of three men, and planned to adopt him formally. In the spring of 1775, he took Francisco with him to Richmond for a meeting of the Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church. Francisco was outside listening through an open window when, on March 23, Patrick Henry delivered his impassioned speech that ended in the declaration, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’

Francisco wanted to enlist in the militia immediately, but Judge Winston made him promise to wait one more year. Finally, in December 1776, Winston released him and gave him permission to join the army. Francisco, then 16, enlisted as a private in the 10th Virginia Regiment under Colonel Hugh Woodson and was sent to Middlebrook, N.J., for his basic training.

Assigned to General George Washington’s Continental Army, Francisco received his baptism of fire at the Battle of Brandywine on Thursday, September 11, 1777. There, along the little creek south of Philadelphia, Washington tried to stem the advance of an army led by Lt. Gens. Sir William Howe and Lord Charles Cornwallis. With a circular flanking movement, Howe surprised the Americans, who had expected a frontal assault. The Continentals fought desperately but were routed by Cornwallis’ regulars.

Francisco’s regiment and other units were rushed onto the field late in the day, in an effort to halt the British advance and protect the American rear. The 10th Virginia took position at Sandy Hollow Gap, a narrow defile flanked by woods, where its mission was to block Redcoats pursuing the fleeing Continentals. Standing their ground valiantly, the Virginians and detachments of the Pennsylvania line held the gap long enough to enable Washington to turn the rout into an orderly retreat. This was the fifth time that Howe had beaten him, but once again Washington had saved his army.

During the fighting Francisco took a British musket ball in his leg, the first of many wounds he would suffer. He was taken to a makeshift hospital at a Moravian community north of Philadelphia and treated near Maj. Gen. Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette, who also had suffered a leg wound in his combat debut that same day. While recuperating, the 16-year-old Portuguese and the 19-year-old French volunteer struck up a conversation. They would become lifelong friends.Francisco’s wound healed quickly, and he rejoined his regiment just in time to take part in the Battle of Germantown on October 4. There, the Continentals tried vainly to hold their forts protecting the lower Delaware River. A British counterattack forced a disorderly American retreat, but the gallant Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene held fast. Francisco was in the thick of the action as Greene opened his lines to let other Continentals retreat, and then closed ranks to give them a chance to reorganize.

From October to November, Francisco was on duty at Fort Mifflin on Mud Island on the Delaware while British ships bombarded the position. He was one of the exhausted survivors who abandoned the island on November 16. Shortly afterward, he and the rest of Washington’s oft-defeated army wintered at Valley Forge, enduring the nightmare of hunger, bitter cold and exposure that was the lot of the Colonial soldier there. Like many, he became ill and spent two bitter winter months in the hospital.When his tour of duty expired, Francisco reenlisted and subsequently took part in the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse on June 28, 1778. There, after an initial collapse of his original offensive plans, Washington rallied his retreating units, which showed the results of their drilling at Valley Forge under Maj. Gen. Baron Wilhelm von Steuben’s tutelage by fighting Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton’s Redcoats to an exhausting standoff. Francisco was wounded again when a musket ball hit him in the right thigh. As a result, he was in pain for the rest of his life, but that disability did not shake his zest for soldiering.

The following year, Francisco was chosen as one of 20 soldiers in a ‘forlorn hope’ handpicked by Washington for Maj. Gen. ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne’s assault on the British fort atop Stony Point on the Hudson River. Moving out at 11:30 p.m. on July 15, 1779, the men had to clear the way for Wayne’s light infantry by cutting a path through the undergrowth with axes, then scramble up the cliff. Francisco was the second man to reach the top, and as he advanced into the fort, fierce fighting ensued. Of the 20 members of the forlorn hope, 17 were killed or wounded, the latter including Francisco, who received a 9-inch bayonet slash across his abdomen but killed his adversary and two other Redcoats. In spite of having suffered his third wound of the war, he joined in a charge to the fort flagstaff, and was the first to seize it. He then lay there, spent, while the Redcoats surrendered themselves along with their ammunition and provisions. In the morning, Francisco delivered the flag to Lt. Col. Francois Louis Teissedre de Fleury, a French army engineer fighting for the Americans.

News of the victory at Stony Point spread swiftly through the Colonies, as did Francisco’s fame. Captain William Evans, who had served with him at Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth, reported that the young patriot ‘distinguished himself by numerous acts of bravery and intrepidity’ at Stony Point, and added that ‘his name was reiterated throughout the whole army.’

Francisco recuperated, served out his second army hitch and returned to Virginia. He soon enlisted a third time, however, and joined a Virginia militia regiment commanded by Colonel William Mayo.

At that point the British had changed their strategy and launched a massive invasion of the South. Francisco’s regiment marched southward with a hastily assembled force led by Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates to a confrontation with Lord Cornwallis’ army at Camden, S.C., on the moonless, sultry night of Tuesday, August 15, 1780.

Cornwallis struck first, and he never had such an easy task during the war. At dawn on the 16th, the Redcoats fired a volley and charged with bayonets. Thousands of Virginia and North Carolina militiamen, many of whom had never before seen action, tossed away their muskets and fled. Among them was the incompetent General Gates, who galloped off on the fastest horse he could find.

The indomitable Francisco tried vainly to rally the running, screaming men around him, but he too was forced to retreat through the pine woods. Catching sight of a British grenadier raising his musket to bayonet Colonel Mayo, Peter wheeled around and shot the Redcoat. Then one of British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s cavalry troopers spotted the two fugitives and charged. Colonel Mayo continued on, but Francisco stood his ground. The green-coated cavalryman raised his sword and ordered Francisco to throw down his musket, but the young militiaman merely stepped aside. As the horseman wheeled to cut him down, the boy sidestepped, then swiftly bayoneted the trooper, toppling him from his saddle.

Mounting the horse, Francisco impersonated a Tory as he yelled: ‘Huzzah, my lads! Let’s go after the rebels!’ As he rode through the advancing British line, he spotted Mayo trudging along on foot, the prisoner of a British officer. Francisco rode up and cut the Redcoat down. Alighting from the captured steed, Francisco urged his regimental colonel to ride it to safety.

Mayo never forgot the young soldier’s gallantry. Years later he presented Francisco with his small dress sword and promised to bequeath him 1,000 acres in Kentucky. That sword is preserved by the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.

After the colonel had departed, Francisco performed one of the most legendary acts of his remarkable life. Amid the retreating Continentals, he spotted an abandoned small fieldpiece. The attached artillery horse had been killed. Unwilling to have the British capture it, Francisco reportedly ran to it, loosened the gun carriage, lifted the 1,100-pound cannon onto his back and staggered with it toward a group of Continentals. Exhausted, he felt entitled to sit under a tree, but he had barely regained his breath when one of Tarleton’s troopers burst through the pines and reared above him menacingly. He gave Francisco a choice: surrender or die.

Declaring that his musket was unloaded, Francisco meekly presented it to the trooper. As his would-be captor reached for it, however, the big but agile lad suddenly twirled it around and thrust its bayonet home. He then climbed on the dying man’s horse and galloped off. He was promptly set upon by more of Tarleton’s cavalrymen, but once again he rose in the stirrups and impersonated a Tory, crying: ‘Huzzah, my brave boys! We’ve conquered the rebels!’ Once again, the ruse allowed him to ride off through the enemy troop.

After the debacle at Camden, Francisco returned to Virginia. There, he learned that Captain Thomas Watkins was recruiting a cavalry troop in Prince Edward County. It was to be assigned to Colonel William Washington’s light dragoons. Francisco found a good horse and hurried to reenlist.

At this point the herculean young veteran began complaining that the sword he had been using was more like a toothpick than an effective weapon. General Washington heard of his predicament and gave special orders for a suitable broadsword to be forged for him. Six feet long and with a 5-foot blade, the new sword was delivered to Francisco on March 13, 1781 — two days before the most sensational day of his fighting career and one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution.

Early on the bright, crisp afternoon of Tuesday, March 15, Cornwallis’ columns marched through wooded defiles to meet General Greene’s at Guilford Court House in North Carolina. As the British infantry moved up the wooded slope around the courthouse and through a clearing, the first and second American lines opened fire, driving them back in disorder. The Redcoats re-formed, hurled themselves back up the slope, breached the heart of Greene’s front line and shouted triumphantly as they swept forward.

Just then an American bugler sounded the charge and Colonel Washington’s cavalrymen thundered down the slope. With fearless Peter Francisco in the lead, they crashed into the British ranks and rode roughshod over them. Swinging his great sword, Francisco personally felled 11 Redcoats.

One British guardsman managed to pin Peter’s leg to his horse with a bayonet. ‘Forbearing to strike,’ said a contemporary account, ‘he assisted the assailant to draw forth his bayonet, when, with terrible force, he brought down his broadsword and cleft the poor fellow’s head to his shoulders!’

Francisco’s fourth injury of the war did not deter him from soldiering on. He had charged at one of the British defensive squares, his son Dr. B.M. Francisco wrote decades later, when an upward-thrust bayonet impaled ‘his right thigh the whole length of the bayonet, entering above the knee and coming out at the socket of his hip.’ Doubling up with pain, he wheeled out of the action, clinging to his mount in desperation. He rode a short distance before tumbling, unconscious, to the ground — and was thus spared the sight of Greene’s withdrawal, leaving Cornwallis the nominal victor.

Francisco was found lying beside four corpses by a kindly Quaker named Robinson who was scouting the field for survivors. The man took Francisco home and nursed him back to health. It took six to eight weeks for the young warrior’s wounds to heal. Meanwhile, his heroism at Guilford Court House was the talk of the southern Continental Army. Colonel Washington was so impressed that he offered the Portuguese patriot a commission, but Francisco declined because of his lack of education. Greene had a handsome razor case made for the hero as ‘a tribute to his moral worth and valor.’ That case is preserved in the Guilford Court House National Military Park museum in Greensboro, N.C. Eventually a monument to Peter Francisco was erected on the battlefield itself.

Francisco walked back to Virginia, regaining his strength as he went. Meanwhile, the war had engulfed his home state, as Cornwallis crossed the border into Virginia. Tarleton’s hated dragoons were raiding army posts and settlements, and Francisco was given a special assignment as a scout — a great honor for a private soldier.One day, while cantering around the countryside, he stopped at Ben Ward’s Tavern in the Nottoway County village of Amelia to take a break. He was sitting quietly in the inn yard with a mug of ale when nine of Tarleton’s troopers suddenly galloped up along the road and surrounded him. Francisco stood up quietly, knowing that it was futile to resist.

Eight of the dragoons went into the tavern. The remaining trooper, who was also a paymaster, approached Francisco with saber drawn. ‘Give up instantly all that you possess of value,’ he said, ‘or prepare to die!’ He demanded the big silver buckles on Francisco’s shoes.

‘They were a present to me from a valued friend,’ Francisco protested. ‘Give them into your hands, I never will. You have the power take them if you think fit.’Tucking his saber under his arm, hilt first, the trooper bent to snatch the buckles. Peter took a step backward, grabbed the saber and slashed the man’s head and neck. Although mortally wounded, the cavalryman drew a pistol and fired at Francisco, grazing his side. It was his sixth wound of the war, but in the fray that ensued as the other eight troopers came running out of the tavern, the young hero netted one wounded dragoon galloping off to his troop, seven dragoons running helter-skelter for their lives, and eight horses for himself.

Again Francisco’s exploits resounded throughout the Continental Army, and he became known by a number of sobriquets, such as the ‘Giant of Virginia’ and the ‘Hercules of the Revolution.’ ‘Without him, we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the war, and with it our freedom,’ George Washington said. ‘He was truly a one-man army.’

The skirmish at Ward’s Tavern marked the end of Francisco’s fighting career. He was in the lines with his friend, Lafayette, to watch the surrender of Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. They returned to Richmond together.

Following Britain’s acknowledgment of American independence and the end of hostilities in 1783, Francisco made it a priority to acquire an education as he reentered civilian life. His bulk, battle scars and age notwithstanding, he applied for a place in John McGraw’s private school and was accepted. Within three years, he was reading the classics. He became an avid reader and assembled his own library.

Francisco married — three times — became prosperous, acquired property, raised children and served on juries. The fame of Francisco’s combat prowess slowly gave way to the legacy of a quiet-spoken, kind-hearted giant who shelled corn for the poor and habitually left the table to take food to old servants.

Many stories, some of which are undoubtedly apocryphal, were told of him. There was the time he rescued a cow and her calf from the mud, carrying one under each arm. Another time, angered by a carpenter’s shoddy work, he reportedly picked the carpenter up by the neck and trousers and threw him on to the roof of a barn.

Among the best tales concerns a husky Kentucky backwoodsman named Pamphlett who rode all the way to the Francisco plantation to show the genial giant a thing or two. The war hero allowed Pamphlett his fun, then picked him up and tossed him over a 4-foot fence onto the road. But of course the Kentuckian then needed his horse. No problem — over the fence went the quadruped as well.

Peter Francisco was appointed sergeant-at-arms in the Virginia Legislature in 1825. His acquaintances there included such distinguished contemporaries as Chief Justice John Marshall and Henry Clay, the senator and Whig Party leader.

In January 1831, Francisco developed an abdominal ailment — probably appendicitis. He died in Richmond on Sunday, January 16, at the age of 70. The Virginia House of Delegates adjourned in respect for the patriot who was ‘no common man’ and ‘whose striking example of bravery?and exploits have scarcely ever been excelled.’An impressive funeral was conducted by the Right Rev. Channing Moore, Episcopal bishop of Virginia, in the House of Delegates Hall at the state capitol on January 18, and the funeral procession comprised the governor, legislators, citizens and units of the light infantry, artillery, dragoons and the Public Guard.

Peter Francisco was buried with military honors in Richmond’s Shockoe Cemetery, where his tombstone describes him simply as ‘a soldier of revolutionary fame.’ Years later, the ‘liberty tree’ representing Virginia at Golden Gate State Park in San Francisco, Calif., was nourished by soil taken from Francisco’s grave. (Thirteen liberty trees, one for each of the 13 original American Colonies, were planted by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution just before the turn of the 20th century.)Some years after his death, Peter Francisco’s famous broadsword was presented by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Pescud of Petersburg, Va., to the Virginia Historical Society. Sadly, the weapon has since disappeared.

In North Carolina, a granite column marking the spot where the hero felled 11 British soldiers was unveiled at the Guilford Court House National Military Park in 1904. A diorama in the museum there depicts Colonel William Washington’s cavalry charge, with Francisco in the forefront. Since 1953 at least three states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia — have officially designated March 15, the anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Court House, as Peter Francisco Day.

The Portuguese Continental Union of the United States created in 1957 a silver, gold and enamel Peter Francisco Award. Candidates for the prestigious medal are persons or organizations that contribute to the promotion of Luso-American relations and the preservation of Portuguese heritage and culture. The medal bears the motto of Prince Henry the Navigator, the famed Portuguese explorer: ‘Talent De Bien Faire’ (the desire to do well). The first recipient of the award was President John F. Kennedy.

At City Point, on the James River, a historical marker was also erected on the spot where a robust little boy about 5 years old wearing shoes with silver buckles and the initials ‘P.F.’ was first found on June 23, 1765.

This article was written by Michael D. Hull and originally published in the July/August 2006 issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!

"Contrary Both to Justice and Humanity"

The Politics of Slavery at Princeton during the Early Republic

Early Princeton students lived within a landscape of slavery. Throughout the colonial period, slaves constituted between 12 and 15 percent of the population of east New Jersey.[8] After the Revolution, the slave populations of Middlesex and Somerset counties – the two counties that bisected the town of Princeton – increased.[9] In 1794, the college formally prohibited students from bringing their own servants to campus.[10] Nevertheless, students did not have to wander far from Nassau Hall to encounter slaves.[11] Although New Jersey passed in 1804 an act for the gradual abolition of slavery, the state was painfully slow to relinquish the institution. There were 7,557 slaves in New Jersey in 1820 and still 236 slaves remaining in 1850.[12] In 1865, New Jersey became the only state in the North to vote against the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.

Although no evidence yet suggests that Princeton students brought their own slaves to campus during the colonial or early national periods, the students regularly encountered enslaved people delivering wood to their rooms, working in town, or laboring in the fields of the privately owned farm adjacent to the campus.[13] They also crossed paths with the slaves who resided at the President’s House, even after New Jersey passed the 1804 act for the gradual abolition of slavery. For example, shortly after moving to Princeton in 1813, Ashbel Green, the college’s eighth president, purchased a 12-year-old named John and an 18-year-old named Phoebe to work as servants in the House. Although Phoebe and John’s birth years (approximately 1794 and 1801) denied them a right to freedom under the state’s 1804 gradual emancipation act, they may have made an informal arrangement with their new master. Ashbel Green wrote in his diary that he would free them each at the age of twenty-five, or twenty-four “if they served me to my entire satisfaction.”[14] In the meantime, in 1817, he manumitted another one of his slaves, Betsey Stockton, who went on to a remarkable career as a missionary in Hawaii and as a teacher in a school for black children in Princeton.[15]

Photograph of Betsey Stockton, a former slave who served as a missionary and teacher in the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii).

Yet, within this landscape of slavery, Princeton during its first 75 years produced a staggering number of leaders of the American clergy, military, and government, many of whom were “antislavery” in the sense that they disapproved of slavery and sought to abolish the institution.[16] The venerated Dr. Benjamin Rush (Class of 1760) and the theologian Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (Class of 1765) provided crucial moral leadership during the North’s transition into the “free states.” As Edwards wrote in 1791, “You. . .to whom the present blaze of light as to this subject has reached, cannot sin at so cheap a rate as our fathers."[17] Edwards meant “our fathers” literally. His own father, Jonathan Edwards, Sr. had been a slaveholder, and Princeton’s third president.

Antislavery members of the Princeton community proved particularly active during the so-called “First Emancipation”—the period from the Revolution though the early 19th century when northern states passed laws for the gradual abolition of slavery, the United States abolished the foreign slave trade, and many slaveholders emancipated their slaves. John Witherspoon provided the intellectual underpinnings for this antislavery sentiment at Princeton. Witherspoon emigrated from Scotland in 1768 to become the college’s sixth president. During his 26-year tenure, Princeton became a primary conduit for the diffusion of Scottish moral-philosophical thought, which, in the words of Margaret Abruzzo, emphasized “both human benevolence and sympathy as the foundations of all morality.” Although Witherspoon owned slaves, his teachings gave a generation of students “a language for challenging slavery.”[18]

Portrait of John Witherspoon, Princeton's sixth president.

Witherspoon became a political role model for his students. Almost from the start, he criticized the British for encroaching upon American rights, and he later signed the Declaration of Independence and served in the Continental Congress. The Princeton community followed the president’s lead. “No other college in North America,” writes the historian John Murrin, “was so nearly unanimous in support of the Patriot cause. Trustees, faculty, and nearly all alumni and students rallied to the Revolution in a colony fiercely divided by these issues.”[19] As the site of a battle in 1777 and temporary home for the Congress of the United States in 1783, Princeton emerged from the Revolution distinctly aligned with national concerns, and the institution consciously and proudly linked its own success to that of the American republic.[20]

The college’s close identification with the republic came with added responsibility. “With such a stake in the new government,” writes historian Mark Noll, “the spirits of Princeton officials rose and fell with the perceived health of the nation.”[21] Witherspoon’s successor, Samuel Stanhope Smith (Class of 1769), taught his students that slavery posed a particularly dire threat to the nation’s spiritual, moral, and political well-being. Like his six predecessors, Smith was – or had been – a slaveholder. In 1784 he advertised to sell or trade a young slave, “well acquainted with the business of a plantation, and used to taking care of horses.”[22]

Smith nonetheless became an important, if sometimes eccentric, critic of racism and slavery in the early United States. In his 1787 treatise titled an “Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species,” he posited that racial differences stemmed from nothing more than climate. Later, in 1812, he argued against the ancient Aristotelian notion that civilized nations had a natural right to wage war on barbarians to enslave prisoners, and contended instead that such forms of enslavement constituted “the most unjust title of all to the servile subjection of the human species.” He asserted that “To reduce [prisoners of war] to slavery is contrary both to justice and humanity.” He also noted that “men deceive themselves continually by false pretenses, in order to justify the slavery which is convenient for them.”[23]

However, Smith stopped well short of calling for the immediate abolition of American slavery. “No event,” he exclaimed, “can be more dangerous to a community than the sudden introduction into it of vast multitudes of persons, free in their condition, but without property, and possessing only habits and vices of slavery.” Smith also doubted that the state had the right to compel slaveholders to give up their property. “Neither justice nor humanity,” he wrote, “requires that [a] master, who has become the innocent possessor of that property, should impoverish himself for the benefit of the slave.” As an alternative, Smith floated a few ideas to both encourage voluntary manumission and diminish racial prejudice, including one plan to assign a “district out of the unappropriated lands of the United States, in which each black freedman, or freedwoman, shall receive a certain portion.” He then proposed that “every white man who should marry a black woman, and every white woman who should marry a black man, and reside within the territory, might be entitled to a double portion of the land.” Smith hoped that such interracial marriages would “bring the two races nearer together, and, in a course of time. . .obliterate those wide distinctions which are now created by diversity of complexion.”[24]

Portrait of Samuel Stanhope Smith, Princeton's seventh president.

Smith’s views on race and slavery helped shape those of his students. According to William Birney, the son of James G. Birney (Class of 1810), Smith had “great influence over his pupil, an influence perceptible for many years.” The elder Birney eventually manumitted his slaves and became an important champion of the abolitionist movement. William Birney wrote that Smith had “a deep interest in all questions touching slavery and the African race” and “taught his pupils that men are of one blood, and that slavery is wrong morally and an evil politically.” Indeed, his father kept Smith’s works on his bookshelf – alongside those of the famed British abolitionists James Ramsay and Thomas Clarkson – even though Smith himself believed there could be “no remedy [to slavery] except in voluntary manumissions by masters.”[25]

During Smith’s administration (1795-1812), Princeton produced many graduates who sought a solution to the moral and political problems associated with slavery. Unlike Birney, most dismissed the thought of immediate abolition and refused to question the property rights of slaveholders. Nevertheless, they contributed to the pro-reform discourse during the early republic, which, in turn, set the stage for the rise of the abolitionist movement. For example, in 1816, Smith’s pupil Charles Fenton Mercer (Class of 1797), a slaveholder from Virginia, organized the American movement to colonize free blacks. Mercer did not invent the idea of colonization.[26] But he latched onto it because, like Smith, he worried that emancipated slaves were a drain on public resources and a threat to social order. Mercer echoed Smith’s fear that racism would prevent blacks from assimilating into white society.[27] But while Smith proposed sending blacks to the western frontier, Mercer wanted to send them to Africa.

Mercer considered his time at Princeton to be his personal “Golden Age.”[28] He remained active in the college community throughout his life, and enlisted Princeton associates in his endeavor to colonize free blacks. In 1816, he asked Elias B. Caldwell (Class of 1796) to pitch the colonization idea to his brother-in-law, Rev. Robert Finley (Class of 1787), director of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Finley supported colonization because he believed that slaveholders would be more willing to manumit their slaves if they could then send them away far away. With that in mind, Mercer, Caldwell, Finley, and their friend John Randolph—a statesman from Virginia who had briefly attended Princeton—organized the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Colour of the United States (also known as the American Colonization Society or the ACS). Attorney General, Richard Rush (Class of 1797), attended the first meeting. Like his father, Benjamin Rush, he, too, sought a solution to the slavery problem.

In effect, Princeton was Ground Zero for the colonization movement in the United States. The college’s support for the movement drew other Princeton affiliates into the ACS’s effort to colonize free blacks and suppress the African slave trade. Members of the Princeton community helped arrange for Lt. Robert F. Stockton – the scion of Princeton’s most illustrious family – to receive command of a new cruiser that the Navy planned to use in its campaign against the African slave trade. Stockton conducted two tours of the African coast. In addition to suppressing the African slave trade, he personally negotiated on behalf of the ACS the purchase of a 130-mile long and 40-mile wide swathe of coastline. This land would form the basis of Liberia, the American colony for free blacks.[29]

Ultimately, Stockton became the president of New Jersey’s chapter of the ACS, unsurprisingly based in Princeton. However, the real steward of the ACS in New Jersey was a young professor at Princeton named John Maclean, Jr., who had graduated from the college in 1816. Maclean took a deep and abiding interest in colonization. As a northern clergyman, he sought a vehicle to encourage voluntary manumissions, protect society from an influx of newly-freed blacks, spread Christianity to Africa, and suppress the African slave trade. But Maclean could also empathize with the reluctance of slaveholders to part with their property. His own father, Princeton’s first chemistry professor, had died in 1814 while in possession of two slaves: a girl named Sal and a boy named Charles.[30]

Maclean’s interest in the colonization movement dovetailed with his attachment to Princeton. He dedicated his life to the college, rising through the ranks to become its tenth president in 1854, and throughout his long career sought to promote harmony between the northern and southern members of his beloved community. Princeton’s close affiliation with the ACS seemed useful and beneficial. After all, the ACS allowed members of the college community to demonstrate their distaste for slavery, without having to call for its abolition. “Humanity and justice,” exclaimed Samuel Southard of New Jersey (Class of 1804), “exult in the belief, that the gradual emancipation of the slave, and the restoration of the free to the land of their fathers, may yet afford a remedy [to the evil of slavery].”[31]

Portrait of John Maclean Jr., Princeton's tenth president.

In the long-run, though, Princeton could not depend on the colonization movement to mediate the conflicting desires of slaveholders and non-slaveholders. During the 1830s, a new generation of abolitionists began to call for the immediate abolition of slavery. Consequently, the colonization movement came under pressure both from those who called for the slaves to be freed, and from the increasingly defensive slaveholders who responded that slavery was actually a positive good for society, rather than a necessary evil. Abolitionists abandoned the ACS and slaveholders became suspicious of the colonization movement, which had tacitly encouraged voluntary manumissions. This polarization sapped the popularity of the ACS, especially in conservative areas like Princeton. “The New Jersey Col. Society is at a low ebb,” wrote one ACS member to Maclean in 1842. “The gentlemen from Princeton,” he added, “appear wholly to have neglected it.”[32] Instead, the Princeton gentlemen were becoming more concerned with abolitionism, which, in their view, now constituted a greater threat than slavery to the survival of their beloved republic. Maclean, Vice President of the college during the 1830s and 40s, found himself presiding over an increasingly conservative institution.

Liberty Tree Tavern – An All-American Choice

Stephanie was born and raised in Philadelphia PA. She still lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and 2 young daughters who are 6 and 9. She first visited Walt Disney World with her parents in 1978 when Magic Kingdom was the only park! She reconnected with Walt Disney World in 2007 when she and her husband planned a trip with their first daughter, who was 15 months old at the time. Visiting with her young daughter showed a different side to a WDW vacation and she fell in love with the Disney magic all over again. Stephanie and her family have been back to Walt Disney World every year since and even became Disney Vacation Club members. Stephanie’s second daughter had her first trip when she was 9 months old, so she loves giving vacation planning tips to families with young children. Stephanie also loves dining at Walt Disney World and she is the person in the restaurants taking food pictures! Stephanie is so excited to be contributing to the Disney Driven Life and can’t wait to start sharing tips and experiences!

Liberty Tree Tavern is a sit down restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort. It is located in Magic Kingdom Park in Liberty Square. Liberty Square transports park guests to Colonial America with its distinctive architectural elements. Keeping with the theme, the restaurant is divided into rooms named after famous figures from the Revolutionary period such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Standing in front of the restaurant is Magic Kingdom Park’s own Liberty Tree, which is representative of “liberty trees” that became rallying points for colonists during the Revolutionary War, and is complete with 13 lanterns representing the 13 original colonies. History buffs may enjoy the retelling of the events of this time in the 1957 film “Johnny Tremain” made by Walt Disney Productions. (on TCM Treasures from the Vault July 2, 2015!)

For those interested in the history of Walt Disney World Resort, Magic Kingdom Park’s Liberty Tree has its own intriguing story as well, including how the tree arrived at it’s current site.

Photo courtesy of http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog

But I digress on my love of history and will get back to the delicious Liberty Tree Tavern restaurant!

Lunch is ordered from an a la carte menu while dinner is served family style. This review will feature the lunch offerings. If you are wondering the difference, dinner is a delicious selection of comfort foods fashioned after a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Selections include roast turkey, beef and pork with accompaniments such as green beans, stuffing, and macaroni and cheese. Dessert is Johnny Appleseed cake (vanilla cake with Craisins® and apples) served with vanilla ice cream.

As mentioned, lunch is ordered off the menu.

I ordered the Declaration Salad (Field Greens tossed in your choice of our Tavern-made Dressing or Garlic-Buttermilk Dressing) as my appetizer. This is just the right size for an appetizer salad and is fresh and delicious. The tavern-made dressing is vinaigrette that is very good.

My husband ordered the New England clam chowder. It was a large bowl full of tender potatoes and sweet clams.

For my entrée I had Freedom Pasta (Rigatoni Pasta with Sautéed Seasonal Vegetables tossed in a Cream Sauce). Although not rigatoni, this dish was very good. The portion is very generous and could easily be shared between 2 adults. There were many big chunks of tender juicy chicken with chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach. The cream sauce was not overpowering or heavy. This is definitely a favorite dish of mine!

My husband ordered the New England Pot Roast (Our Tavern Keeper’s Favorite…Braised Beef in a Cabernet Wine and Mushroom Sauce served with Mashed Potatoes and Garden Vegetables). This entrée is absolutely delicious! Again the portion is easily enough for 2 people but you may not want to share, I know my husband didn’t! Under the tender beef and roasted vegetables is a nice scoop of mashed potatoes. This dish is flavorful, rich, and hearty. You may want to take that into consideration if your plan is to be walking around the park for the rest of the day! As I mentioned it is easily a meal that you can split, especially if you enjoy an appetizer too.

If you love the Thanksgiving style meal that is featured at dinner, but also enjoy the flexibility of ordering from a variety of appetizers and desserts, there is a meal for you too! The Pilgrim’s Feast (Traditional Roast Turkey served with Herb Bread Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, and a Garden Vegetable) is on the lunch menu. This picture is from 2013 but the meal is the same. Our dining partner enjoyed his Feast.

My children once again went with the ‘child friendly” option of macaroni and cheese which they enjoyed. It is similar to the kids mac and cheese served at a number of other Walt Disney World Resort table service restaurants.

Dessert is another thing that sets apart to lunch and dinner menus at Liberty Tree Tavern. At dinner there is one choice as mentioned above, but lunch has a few choices, one of which is considered my many to be the piece de resistance of this meal – the Ooey Gooey Toffee Cake (Vanilla Cake with a Gooey Toffee Filling, Caramel Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream). Here are a couple different pictures to show the pure delicious gooey-ness!

The kids had the ice cream that came with their meal which was vanilla ice cream with chocolate drizzle and star spangled sprinkles. They enjoyed it.

I had the berry sorbet which I enjoyed very much. It was nice to have something light and fresh after my pasta.

Overall lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern is a great choice. It is one of the few restaurants that my husband requests to go to each time we visit Walt Disney World. I highly recommend Liberty Tree Tavern for the decor and atmosphere and how skillfully American and Disney World history is incorporated into them.

The food is delicious and hearty. It is a good choice for a meal before heading off to your resort for a break, and is a great place to share if you have a smaller appetite.

Note – Liberty Tree Tavern will be closing for planned maintenance starting July 6, 2015 and is currently scheduled for reopening November 20, 2015. For those in or near your 180 day mark for making Advanced Dining Reservations, there are no dates available for booking after the restaurant closes. My assumption is that once the maintenance is underway and the reopening date is more concrete, the availability will be loaded into the dining system.

Is this connected in any way to the "Liberty trees" later erected by the French revolutionaries? Bastie 23:51, 30 November 2005 (UTC)

I'm surprised this hasn't been raised since - to me at least, "liberty tree" refers to a concept rather than a specific tree in Boston. Liberty trees are well-attested during the French Revolution and afterwards (see picture). —Brigade Piron (talk) 11:37, 21 March 2016 (UTC) @Brigade Piron: There's already a Liberty Tree (disambiguation) page. Does that address your concern? Or are you suggesting we rename this article "Liberty Tree (Boston)" and have "Liberty Tree" direct users to the disambiguation page? Personally, I don't have a strong objection to that, but I think it's likely that most users of the English-language Wikipedia associate "Liberty Tree" with the one in Boston. But who knows. Most Americans know so little about American history, they're probably starting with a blank slate. Rosekelleher (talk) 16:44, 21 March 2016 (UTC)

The image shouldn't be labeled "lynching" as it was only an effigy that was hanged--and in fact, the sign indicated it was the tax collector hanging himself in shame. 18:09, 27 July 2007 (UTC)

the tipton holtel is right in front of the tree of liberty. the tree of liberty is a part in history because it was there when the revolutionary war and is still standing today,it a national geographic monument of the united states of america (who won the revolutionary war). this is an awsome tree here in the united states of america. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:23, 16 March 2009 (UTC)

A rather substantial portion of the text is fictionalized. Errors pop up throughout, starting with the very first paragraph. The tree was not located anywhere near the Boston Common. In fact, the tree was in the location known as "the Great Trees" in the South End of Boston--a name that's been acknowledges at least since 1733. The ceremonies at the tree did not "conclude with a lynching". The facts are just the opposite (in addition to "lynching" being an utterly inappropriate term)--the effigies had been hung from the tree during the night and removed during the day of August 14 and later burned. The tree was not known as "the Liberty Tree" and, in fact, was not identified as such for some time. Early in September the Boston newspapers published an account that suggested that "the tree" had since the events of August 14 become known as "The Tree of Liberty", making an allusion to the expression that was used to describe the English system of laws.

It is only in November that the first references to the "Liberty Tree" appear. Furthermore, the effigies were not of "tax collectors". One was of the recently appointed stamp administrator--the point may be moot to some, but referring to him as a "tax collector" is simply inaccurate. In fact, this same person was the Colonial Assembly secretary who had signed the letter to Parliament (sent in October) that made the colonists' arguments against the adoption of the Stamp Act.

There had been several trees in other parts of the original 13 colonies, most notably in Newport, RI, where similar effigies had been hung on August 27, 1765. Yet, in all locations where the trees had been specifically identified, they were known as "the Tree of Liberty", not "the Liberty Tree". Boston is unique in this denomination. Many of these trees had been subsequently chopped down by the loyalists (royalists). In other locations, such as Savannah, GA, there was no tree involved in Stamp Act protests at all. The protesters had built gallows on which the effigies were hung. In most locations, the gallows were then burned along with the effigies. In some locations (Portsmouth, NH), the effigies were buried along with copies of the Stamp Act.

The Liberty Poles held a considerably different function--and had entirely different origins--from the Trees of Liberty (and the Liberty Tree). Similarly, the Liberty Trees of the French Revolution had been inspired by the American Revolution but carried a substantially different symbolism. They had been planted throughout France (mostly poplars) to commemorate the Revolution. Whereas in American colonies the tree was a symbol of established liberties worth defending, in France, they were the symbol of sprouting liberty, of growing democracy.

The reason I am putting all this information here is because of the Wiki stated policy of "no original research", which is absolutely preposterous for an encyclopedia. The information I am offering is gleaned from contemporaneous publications, some of which are now available on-line. There is no reason to maintain fictional accounts of historical events unless they are specifically described as such. Unless there will be strong objections added to this page, I will try to introduce corrections--gradually--to the main article, along the lines I've brought up above. I'll return to this in about a month--that should be sufficient time for anyone interested to verify the stories and to make objections (or express support). Alex.deWitte (talk) 09:36, 13 April 2010 (UTC)

The tree was not located anywhere near the Boston Common. In fact, the tree was in the location known as "the Great Trees" in the South End of Boston. If there are publications that support this claim, and they're reliable sources, and they're available online, why don't you edit the article and cite those sources? Or if you're worried about controversy, why not add a brief, neutral section saying something like, "According to popular belief. but other sources point to. "? The handful of sources I've seen locate the tree at what is now Washington and Essex, near the Common, and that's where the city installed the plaque. Of course it's entirely possible that everyone has been wrong all this time, including the Boston Globe reporter who researched it in the 60s, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and Samuel Adams Drake the journalist who wrote this book about Boston landmarks in 1873, and so on. If so, all you have to do is cite these publications you mention. Right? --Rosekelleher (talk) 15:01, 26 January 2015 (UTC)

Additional Changes Edit

While I agree with most of what Alex indicates above I would make the following additional changes:

The tree was actually given its name on September 11, 1765 when a cooper plate was attached to the tree with the following inscription: "The Tree of Liberty stamped thereon in golden letters."

The second effigy was a large boot, with a small devil peeking out holding a copy of the stamp act and with its sole painted green. The boot was a pun on the name of the Earl of Bute. The green sole was a pun on Green-vile-soul which stood for George Grenville the author of the stamp act.

Finally, the description of the current plaques have a number of problems: A painted wooden relief was installed on the side of the Liberty Tree Building (628-636 Washington Street), when it was built by Peter Sears in 1850. The relief is located on the third floor of the building, set in a niche and measures about four feet by seven feet. Carved by unnamed ship’s carpenters , the relief consists of a painted elm tree with green leaves. There is a banner across the top of the tree with the words “Liberty 1765.” There is also a banner across the bottom of the relief with the words “Sons of Liberty 1766 Independence of their Country 1776.” On the roots of the tree is the phrase “Law and Order.”

Directly across the street from the Liberty Tree Building is a bronze plaque embedded in ground in the middle of a small brick square. This plaque was installed in 1966 after a series of articles appeared in the Boston Herald pointing out that the city and state were neglecting the memory of the liberty tree. The plaque is about four feet by five feet and is a loose copy of the wooden relief. Above the image of the tree the bronze plaque says “Liberty 1766” instead of “Liberty 1765” and across the bottom are the words “Sons of Liberty 1766, Independence of 'Our' Country 1776.” The original wording was “Independence of 'their' Country 1776.”

This article needs images of the present-day site. Can someone who lives in Boston please take some pictures and upload them? (There are some non-free examples here.) --Rosekelleher (talk) 20:55, 2 January 2015 (UTC)

Looks like "The Great Tree" is being used interchangeably with "The Liberty Tree" here, but according to at least one source, the Great Tree (or the Great Elm) is a different tree.

Since there's no other mention of the Great Tree in the article, and no supporting reference, I think that subheading should be changed to "History".

Does anyone care? It's clear that this article needs work. I don't mind working on it, but I'm sure there are editors who are much better qualified for the job. My approach when I'm not an expert on the subject of an article is to look for sources that support what's already been said, but from the comments here, I gather that's not going to cut it. --Rosekelleher (talk) 14:22, 26 January 2015 (UTC)

IMHO, The Great Elm was a tree on Boston Common, once used in executions, amongst other things. The Liberty Tree was on the corner of Washington and Beach, now the RMV building. Two different trees, two different eras, two different stories. Hi-storian (talk) 21:06, 26 January 2016 (UTC) Done @High-storian: This problem was taken care of last May by User:Rosekelleher. The word "great" no longer appears in the article. You are correct about them being two different trees. For good measure, the article on the Great Elm clearly distinguishes the two in a sourced statement. Hertz1888 (talk) 22:10, 26 January 2016 (UTC) Thanks. I found this page through the pic request, above. I'll try to get a pic for you sometime this week. Hi-storian (talk) 22:16, 26 January 2016 (UTC)

Watch the video: 12 The Oak Tree, Natures Greatest Survivor - August to February


  1. Mac Ghille-Dhuinn

    I have removed it a question

  2. Merwyn

    FULL !!!

  3. Soren

    Tell to me, please - where I can find more information on this question?

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