Trees – Symbols of Freedom in the United States

In 1765 England imposed the Stamp Act on the American colonies. The Act imposed a tax on all papers, newspapers, advertisements, and other publications and legal documents. American colonists considered it a means of censorship on their rights to write and read freely. In response, crowds gathered at a large elm at the corner of what is now Washington and Essex Streets in downtown Boston.


Liberty Tree Boston Massachusetts

On August 14, 1765, to protest the enactment of the Stamp Act a defiant group of American colonists, later known as the Sons of Liberty, rallied beneath the mighty boughs of the century-old elm tree. The young rebels decorated the tree with banners, lanterns and effigies of the British stamp master and prime minister. Over the next decade, patriots regularly gathered around the tree for meetings, speeches and celebrations until British soldiers and Loyalists under siege in Boston chopped it into firewood during the summer of 1775. The Liberty Tree became such a powerful patriotic symbol that towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead in designating their own versions.


Emancipation Oak, Hampton Virginia

Today the Emancipation Oak stands near the entrance of the Hampton University campus (Virginia). It is an enduring symbol of the university’s rich heritage and perseverance.

During the Civil War, Union General Benjamin F. Butler’s “contraband of war” decision at Fort Monroe in 1861 changed the fates of many African American slaves, enabling hundreds to reach freedom behind Union lines. Although previously forbidden an education by Virginia law, the rising number of “contrabands” camped in the area prompted the establishment of schools for those freedmen who exhibited “a great thirst for knowledge”.


Mary Smith Peake

The peaceful shade of the young oak served as the first classroom for newly freed men and women, eager for an education. Mrs. Mary Peake, daughter of a freed colored woman and a Frenchman, conducted the first lessons taught under the oak located on the University’s campus. Classes continued with the The Butler School, which was constructed in 1863 next to the oak.


One day in 1863, the members of the Virginia Peninsula’s black community gathered to hear a prayer answered. The Emancipation Oak was the site of the first Southern reading of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, an act which accelerated the demand for African American education.

With limbs sprawling over a hundred feet in diameter, the Emancipation oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society.

Photos and paraphrased text from Hampton University and Atlas Obscura, thank you


The Survivor Tree

After a terrorist’s bomb ripped apart the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, one of the few things left standing was this American elm. Initially investigators wanted to chainsaw the tree to gather evidence embedded in the bark by the blast. Today it has become a symbol of resilience, hope and optimism for the people of Oklahoma City.


Posted: August 27, 2021

Category: Conservation, Natural Resources
Tags: Trees, Trees In American History

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