Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Pine Tree Riot of 1772

If you've studied American history, you've probably heard about the Boston Tea Party. But have you heard about the Pine Tree Riot?

Though not as well known as the Boston Tea Party, the Pine Tree Riot of 1772 was one of the more important, and earliest, acts of resistance by the American colonists leading up to the Revolutionary War. Like the Boston Tea Party, the Pine Tree Riot was resisting a form of taxation that the colonists considered unjust. In the case of the Pine Tree Riot, the tax was placed on certain pine trees that the colonists wanted to harvest.

Important Concept: The American colonists realized that it is not possible to have political and personal freedom without also having economic freedom. This is why they kept resisting unjust taxes. 

During the colonial period, white pines (which often grew over 150 feet tall) were used to construct ship masts. This quickly became an important export for the colonists. England realized the importance of these pines  and claimed ownership of all white pines of 24-inch & greater diameter in the colonies (the Mast Preservation Clause in the Massachusetts Charter in 1691). Over time, additional acts were passed reinforcing their claim, and in some areas even reducing the size of the claimed pines to as little as 12-inches in diameter.

A Surveyor of the King’s Woods, and his deputies, worked for the Crown identifying and marking, by carving a special arrow symbol into the pine, those pines claimed by the Crown. In order to harvest those pines, the colonists had to purchase a special Royal license, even if the pines were on property owned by the colonists. This created resentment among the colonists, who often would harvest the pines without the license.

Important Concept: Not only was the tax on these pines a form of taxation without representation, the American colonists also considered it a violation of their private property rights. 

In New Hampshire, in 1772, the English tried to enforce this tax on mill owners who refused to pay for the Royal license. Several Mill owners, joined by local townsmen (all with their faces blackened with soot), assaulted the Sheriff and Deputy sent to arrest one of the Mill owners, giving them one lash for every tree being contested, and running them out of town through a jeering crowd.

The Sheriff later returned with reinforcements, and eventually eight men were charged with rioting, disturbing the peace, and assault. They were found guilty and fined 20 schillings apiece, plus court costs.

Several of the rioters (Timothy Worthley, Jonathan Worthley, and William Dustin) later fought for the American side in the Revolutionary War, and the Sheriff (Benjamin Whiting) fought for the British side.

Importance: The Pine Tree Riot was one of the earliest acts of physical resistance against the British by the American colonists, and is considered by many historians as inspiring the Boston Tea Party almost two years later.

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1 comment:

  1. Benjamin Whiting was the sheriff who later fought for the Crown, and after the revolution had his land confiscated.


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