In a time before the American revolution an elm tree, that came to be known as the Liberty Tree, served as a place to demonstrate the dissatisfaction of British rule.
The tree was planted in 1646 only 16 years after the city of Boston’s founding. The tree stood along the only road out of Boston, Orange Street. (Boston sat on a narrow peninsula until the 1800s when the Back Bay was filled in.) No measurements of the tree survived, but it was described as “a stately elm… whose lofty branches seem’d to touch the skies.”
In March of 1765, the British Parlament passed the Stamp Act. A few months later on August 14, 1765, hundreds of citizens gathered in Boston under a large elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street to protest the Stamp Act. Colonists hung 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. The sheriff came to cut down the effigy but the crowd wouldn’t let him.
After that, the tree became a symbol of objection to British policies. Around September of 1765, a copper plate was attached to the tree. It read “Tree of Liberty.”
When the Stamp Act was repealed in March of 1766, Bostonians hung lanterns in the tree to celebrate. There were 45 in the tree the first night. The second night there were 108 lanterns. After that, citizens hung as many lanterns as the tree’s branches could hold.
For 10 years the tree continued to serve as an important place to demonstrate opposition to British actions.
In 1775 war broke out.
Knowing what the tree represented to the patriots a group of British soldiers and Loyalists led by Job Williams cut down the Liberty Tree. The British then used the tree for firewood. ( It reportedly made 14 cord of firewood, about 1,800 cubic feet.)
The British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, and revolutionary Bostonians tried to reclaim the site. They erected a “liberty pole” there on August 14, the 11th anniversary of the first protest.
In the years to come, Boston newspapers occasionally mentioned the site of the Liberty Stump, but it didn’t last as a landmark. The Marquis de Lafayette included it in his 1825 tour of Boston. “The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree, so famous in your annals,” Lafayette declared.
Today in the spot where the Liberty Tree once stood, at Washington and Essex streets, is marked by a bronze plaque lying at ground level in an underwhelming brick plaza.