History: April 14, 1772: Road to Revolution, The Pine Tree Riot

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A Brief History

On April 14, 1772, the building tension toward open rebellion of Americans against the British erupted in New Hampshire in an incident known as The Pine Tree Riot.  The dispute at the core of this incident concerned the protection of Eastern White Pine trees of 12 inches or greater diameter, setting these aside for the exclusive use of British shipbuilders.  Obviously, colonists thought they had better uses for the wood growing in their own backyard!

Digging Deeper

Britain, an island nation of immense naval power, had largely stripped its own land of trees suitable for building ships, especially those required for masts and booms, vital pieces during the Age of Sail.  American Eastern White Pines happened to be quite appropriate for use as masts and booms on ships, and thus were appropriated by the British Government through the Colonial British Government of New Hampshire.

Facing severe fines for ignoring this law, colonists nonetheless defied the law and made it a point of pride that no floorboards should be less than 12 inches across, testament to their defiance.  This proscription against using local lumber had angered colonists even beyond the anger generated by the Stamp Act and various Tea Taxes.  The local authorities did not enthusiastically enforce this law until John Wentworth became Governor in 1766, when he insisted on the obedience to the law.  In a crackdown against offenders in 1771-1772, several sawmills were found to be in possession of lumber earmarked for the Navy, and were ordered to pay fines or be prosecuted.  Some paid, but some refused, and warrants for the arrest of those offenders were issued.

Ringleader of the offending sawmill operators, Ebeneezer Mudgett, led a group of 30 or 40 angry Americans against British authorities and attacked, punishing Sheriff Benjamin Whiting with one lash per tree the Americans were charged with possessing.  Adding to the insult to the Crown, the rioters then cut off the ears and manes of Whiting’s horse and that of his deputy, while the Sheriff and Deputy were forced out of town.

Whiting ran to higher authority which of course sent a larger force to round up 8 of the rioters, and the rioters were fined 20 Shillings and court costs apiece for their actions.  The lenient fines and actions of the British authorities encouraged American patriots and is believed to have inspired other acts of defiance such as The Boston Tea Party.

A lasting legacy of this incident is the Pine Tree Flag which was flown by Americans during the Revolution as a symbol of defiance of British authority, and had influence on neighboring states/colonies (of New Hampshire) Maine and Massachusetts.

(The pine tree referred to in the nickname of Maine, The Pine Tree State, is indeed the Eastern White Pine.)

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Evans, Connie.  Ebenezer Mudgett and the Pine Tree Riot: A true story of New Hampshire colonists who defied British rule in the spring of 1772, foreshadowing the Boston Tea Party.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.