The Pine Tree Riot kicked off the Revolution
Living in New England, one can be exposed to an abundance of colonial-era history – tales of settlers and revolution.
Practically everyone knows of the “Boston Tea Party,” which occurred Dec. 16, 1773. It is recognized as the action that put the colonies on the path to independence.
But there was an event that predates it, that some say may have actually sparked America’s revolt and eventual succession – although few have heard the tale.
When the first shipment of masts was sent from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to England, in 1634, Great Britain had already suffered deforestation. To dominate the high seas, new sources of abundant timber for shipbuilding were needed. No ships, after all, could set sail without as many as 23 masts, yards and spars varying in length and diameter from the huge mainmast to the less substantial.
Although New Hampshire’s white pine wasn’t as hard as Europe’s, its height and diameter were superior. It also weighed less and retained resin longer, giving the ships a remarkable sea life as long as two decades.
When granting land rights to the colonists in 1690, King William prohibited them from the cutting of white pine over two feet in diameter. These larger diameter trees were reserved for the king’s fleet. In 1722, under the reign of George I, the British parliament passed a law that reduced the diameter to one foot, required a license to cut white pine and established fines for infractions.
The law was basically ignored until the crown commissioned John Wentworth as British colonial governor of New Hampshire and surveyor of the king’s woods in 1766. As surveyor, he recognized the revenue potential of licenses and fines and appointed deputies to carry out the law. He conducted his own inspections of mill yards in New Hampshire’s Piscataquog valley by having a servant drive him around in his coach.