The Pine Tree Riot

Maine is known as the “Pine Tree State” for good reason; it’s one of the state’s most significant natural resources. New Hampshire has plenty of this particular resource as well, but “Granite State” works just as well. That combination of pine sap and granite makes for a gritty edge. New Hampshire settlers were no pushovers, as seen in people like John Stark and Robert Rogers (born in Methuen, but raised in NH). You can add Ebenezer Mudgett to that list.

White pine trees made excellent ship masts, and the British Navy needed a lot of them. New Hampshire was a British colony, and in 1722 the New Hampshire General Court passed the Pine Tree Law, reserving the best of these white pines – those with a diameter greater than 12 inches, as the property of the King of England. The trees were marked with a distinctive broad arrow slash. For 50 years New Hampshire lived with this law simmering resentment. These same trees could be sold to merchant ships for a nice profit, or made into floor boards or other profitable products for the lumbermen and sawmills in the state.

When British surveyors tried to enforce a fine on a sawmill in South Weare, the owner of that sawmill, Ebenezer Mudgett and 40-50 locals rose up in defiance on April 14, 1772. Defiance to them meant hauling the Sheriff and his Deputy out of bed in the middle of the night and beating them with sticks, cutting the ears off of their horses (WTF?) and sending them fleeing off into the night. Not exactly Saratoga but hey we had to start somewhere, right?

Eventually eight men were charged in the assault, but received light fines. One of the judges in the Pine Tree Riot case was my old friend Theodore Atkinson (I think he’s reminding me that I ought to pay a bit more attention to his accomplishments soon). The case got a lot of attention in the colonies as many others felt the frustration of the Pine Tree Rioters.

Some say the Pine Tree Riot and the relatively light fines inspired those who participated in the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. What is definitely true is the White Pine became a symbol for New Hampshire in the Revolutionary War, and flew at Bunker Hill when John Stark’s New Hampshire Regiment held off the British flanking maneuvers.

Today you can have a pint of beer at Able Ebenezer’s Brewing Company in Merrimack, New Hampshire and scan the walls to read some of this history. Maybe have a pint of Broad Arrow as you look at the replica Pine Tree Flag on the wall. Either way, celebrate that New Hampshire independent streak and the role our forefathers played in the creation of these United States.

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