On August 14, 1765, a group of Bostonians calling themselves the Sons of Liberty gathered under a large elm tree to protest the Stamp Act imposed by England. From a branch they hung an effigy of the Boston official in charge of administering the hated Stamp Act tax. The elm became known as the Liberty Tree.
By the time of the Revolution, just about every American town had its own Liberty Tree, a living symbol of freedom and resistance to tyranny. Patriots met under the trees to swap information and plot rebellion. In some towns, folks erected a tall Liberty Pole to symbolize a tree.
Thomas Paine wrote a popular song called “The Liberty Tree” to rouse Patriots’ spirits. “From the east to the west, blow the trumpet to arms; through the land let the sound of it flee,” the song
ran. “Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer, in defense of our Liberty Tree.”
During the Revolutionary War, Patriot soldiers sometimes carried into battle flags emblazoned with a Liberty Tree. Some banners carried the words “An Appeal to Heaven” to show that the colonists sought guidance from God for their cause.
A 1999 hurricane dealt a deathblow to the last of the Revolutionary War–era Liberty Trees, a 400-year-old giant tulip poplar in Annapolis, Maryland. The conservation group American Forests grew fourteen seedlings from the tree’s seeds to plant in Washington, D.C., and the thirteen original states.