White Pine Trees’ Influence in the Revolution

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Lumberjacks felling a white pine tree suitable to make a ship mast

In colonial America trees were a very important resource. Trees provided colonists with
many different kinds of fruits and nuts, the sap from maple trees was the colonists primary source of sugar besides honey, and trees even provided colonists with beer. The wood from these trees built the towns and cities of the colonies, and helped establish trade with other countries. White pine trees were valuable also because of the fact that they are perfect for making ship masts. Wide, tall, easy to mill and very strong, they were sought after by England to build ship masts and strengthen their navy. Especially so because of the fact that England’s forests were depleted, therefore they had no alternative way of acquiring trees that were capable of being turned into ship masts. The trees that England bought from the rest of Europe were much more expensive, and nowhere near as good quality as those found in America. In 1691, King William III of England issued the “Kings Broad Arrow” act. This new law dictated that all white pine trees with diameters of twenty-four inches or more belonged to the king himself. Any colonist that cuts down these trees is committing a crime against the crown. This law was not followed very closely by most colonists until very soon before the revolution, when this act began to be more and more strictly enforced. The colonists were already angry with so many things the king had done at this point that the laws regulating who can
and cannot cut down North American white pine trees may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and tipped the scale in favor of a revolution. The governor of New Hampshire wrote that “the crown never had the right, the soil being in the natives.” (American Canopy) The colonists were very angry, and one big thing that sparked this anger is the horrible display that happened in Exeter, New Hampshire. When Colonel Dunbar, a new surveyor general, wanted to make an example of what happens to those who violate the king’s legislature, he chose Exeter to be his target. Dunbar encountered a large supply of white pines floating in a mill pond while in Exeter and proceeded to interrogate the townspeople to find the owner of the mill. When the townspeople refused to cooperate, they were beaten in the streets by Dunbar himself. Dunbar then attempted to seize half a million feet of white pine board from the town of Exeter, but was met by assailants fighting to keep their wood. Although two men suffered lashings at the hands of the surveyor, Dunbar never collected his wood. After decades of these laws, the people of the colonies grew sick of the king and decided to start a revolution. It may have in fact been the conflict surrounding these twenty-four-inch diameter white pine trees that led in part to the colonists starting this war for independence. Without the King’s Broad Arrow act and the colonists’ reactions to it, America could very well have had a drastically different history and be a very different place today.

Rutkow, Eric. American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.   This book details the roles of trees and forests in America leading up to the revolution and the changes they caused in history.

Manning, Samuel F. “Felling a Mast Tree.” Penobscot Marine Museum. N.p., 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2016. This site provides helpful illustrations depicting the felling of these massive white pine trees.

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