7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

White Pine Trees and the American Revolution

When it comes to precipitating causes that led to the American Revolution, most students of history focus on the taxation of tea. Rarely does one think of trees.

Pine trees became a particular thorn in the flesh for New Hampshire farmers in 1772 when a law passed by Parliament made it illegal to remove from the land “any white pine tree of the growth of twelve inches diameter.” This meant that any landowner who wanted to remove these trees for farming or building purposes was forced to leave the trees there. The Royal Navy declared them to be their own.

So why was the Navy interested in these large pines? The answer was simple: Ship masts.

The best masts to withstand the fiercest winds at full sail were “single stick” masts made from one tree. By the early 1700’s the forests of England were virtually gone, but Colonial America had a seemingly endless supply of trees. And the white pine was by far the preferred source for ship masts to supply seaworthy vessels for the growing Royal Navy.

Although the white pines were considered the property of the King of England for many decades, it was not until 1772 that the stricter law passed by Parliament became an issue. A Deputy Surveyor of the Woods, appointed by then-Governor John Wentworth, began actively enforcing the law. The surveyor, John Sherman, would mark a large arrow on trees of the 12 inch plus diameter with three strikes of an axe head, forcing farmers to leave them standing for the crown’s eventual use. Farmers ignored the law and Sherman suspected as much.

Upon inspection of several mills, large white pines were discovered and the mill owners were levied fines. They hired a lawyer to represent their cause. When the mill owners’ lawyer went to persuade the governor to drop charges, the attorney was instead persuaded to become Surveyor of the King’s Woods. Suddenly their attorney was instructing the mill owners to pay a settlement.

Most of the mill owners paid their fines in defeat. But one town, Weare, refused to pay. The leader of the mill owners, Ebenezer Mudgett, was arrested and soon released with the agreement that he would provide bail in the morning.

Instead, an incident that became known as the Pine Tree Riot occurred. A band of 30-40 men (led by Mudgett) blackened their faces with soot and assaulted the sheriff and his deputies who were lodging in a nearby inn. The mob cut off the ears of the men’s horses and shaved the animal’s tails and manes, before forcing the lawmen out of town through a jeering crowd.

Despite this brutality, the men—who were later arrested—pled guilty and were given a relatively minor fine for their acts. It is believed that the judges were sympathetic to the colonists and the excessive taxes levied in one form or another—even on their very own trees.

This Pine Tree Riot occurred over a year before the tea was thrown into Boston Harbor in December of 1773. When Revolution was declared in 1775, many New Hampshire colonists readily picked up their muskets to join in the fight for liberty from England.

For an interesting video series about the White Pine Act, check out the videos from Colony Bay Entertainment called “Courage, New Hampshire.”

Here is that link: Click here

These BEAUTIFUL photos courtesy of the KINDNESS of MaryLu Tyndall! Thank you, MaryLu!


  1. I thought this was just fascinating when I saw the DVD Courage New Hampshire. And then my son also studied about it and was telling me what he'd read. I can only imagine how outraged people would be if they had all those trees and were told they belonged to the king. I mean there were millions of pine trees here--and they were all George's? I can see where people would have been upset.

    1. I guess no one ever had the "courage" to say "no" to George before! He was rather possessive with everything! I certainly understand the colonists outrage and the increasing demands that led to the revolution.If only the King and Parliament had given just an inch but they dug in deeper and deeper.

  2. This is so interesting. We have an historical house museum in Portland, Maine called Tate House that was the home of the Senior Mast Agent for the British Royal Navy who oversaw the harvesting and shipping of trees from Maine. I loved that they included that about the king's broad arrow in the Courage, NH film. Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoyed it.

  3. Wow. And what I want to know is WHY HURT THE HORSES?? Ugh.
    Interesting post. :)

  4. Good afternoon,

    My name is Kelley Arnold and I am the Watershed Coordinator for the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group/Town of Stratford located on Prince Edward Island Canada. We recently received a small grant to develop/print an Acadian Forest Field Guide, aimed at youth from grades 3-6. We are in the development stage, and are frantically trying to gather all of the data and photos for printing at the end of April in time for distribution at our annual “Water School”.

    I have been trying to locate a good photo of ship masts made from pine, and discovered your photo through Google. I am inquiring as to whether I could get permission to use your photo within our field guide; the photo would be cited of course, along with a website reference at the back of the guide.

    Any information or permission(s) for use from your site would be greatly appreciated! Please feel free to contact me at this email address, or at 902-367-3605.

    Warm regards,

    1. Kelley, you did not leave an email address. If you come back will you please do so? Thanks!


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!