Those Trees are for the King

by: the Common Constitutionalist

Practically everyone knows of the “Boston Tea Party”, that occurred in 1773. It is recognized as the action which began America’s revolution.

There was an event that predates it, although few have heard the tale.

When the first shipment of masts from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to England occurred, in 1634, England had already suffered deforestation. In order 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 twenty-three masts, yards, and spars varying in length and diameter from the bulky mainmast to its subordinate parts.

Although New Hampshire’s white pine was not as hard as Europe’s, its height and diameter were superior. It also weighed less and retained resin longer, giving the ships a sea life as long as two decades.

When granting lands in America in 1690, King William prohibited the cutting of white pine over two feet in diameter. In 1722, under the reign of George I, parliament passed a law that reduced the diameter to one foot, required a license to cut white pine, and established fines for infractions.

This law was basically ignored until John Wentworth became governor in 1767. Appointed Surveyor of the King’s Woods, he recognized the revenue potential and appointed deputies to carry out the law. He conducted his own inspections of mill yards in the Piscataquog valley by having a servant drive him around in his coach.

Before settlers could clear the land or build cabins, barns, or meetinghouses, the king’s sanction, a broad arrow mark, was required on trees reserved for the Royal Navy. The deputies charged them a “good, round sum” to mark the trees and for the license required to cut the rest. Small wonder the law was unpopular. The consequences involved arrest and fines. Contraband white pine already sawed into logs could be seized and a large settlement required; if not paid, authorities sold them at public auction.

In the winter of 1771-72, a deputy Surveyor of the King’s Woods found and marked for seizure 270 mast-worthy logs at Clement’s mill in Oil Mill (now called Riverdale), in South Weare, New Hampshire. He fined the log-cutters from Weare and those from nearby towns where illegal logs were also found. Men from other towns paid the fines, but those from Weare refused. Consequently, the Weare men were labeled “notorious offenders.”

The county sheriff, Benjamin Whiting, Esq., of Hollis, N.H., and his deputy, John Quigley, Esq., of Francestown, N.H. were charged with delivering warrants and making arrests in the king’s name. On April 13, 1772, the sheriff and his deputy galloped into Weare and found “Major Offender” Ebenezer Mudgett, who promised to pay his fine the next day. The officials then retired to nearby Quimby’s Inn for an overnight stay.

News that they had come for Mudgett flew through town, and a plan was hatched. The following morning more than twenty men with blackened faces and switches in hand rushed into Whiting’s room led by Mudgett:

Whiting seized his pistols and would have shot some of them, but they caught him, took away his small guns, held him by his arms and legs up from the floor, his face down, two men on each side, and with their rods beat him to their hearts’ content. They crossed out the account against them of all logs cut, drawn and forfeited, on his bare back….They made him wish he had never heard of pine trees fit for masting the royal navy. Whiting said: “They almost killed me.”

As for Deputy Quigley, the Weare men wrested the floorboards from the room above his, and proceeded to beat him with long poles. With “jeers, jokes and shouts ringing in their ears” the sheriff and deputy rode toward Goffstown and Mast Road (about a mile from my office, I might add), named for the logs that were moved overland to the sea and off to England for the king’s ships.

The Weare men were ultimately arraigned and paid a light fine, but their rebellion against the crown, which preceded the Boston Tea Party (1773), helped set the stage for the Revolution.

And thus the event became known as the Pine Tree Riot, April 14, 1772.

Attribution:  Weare Historical Society, William Little’s History of Weare, New Hampshire 1735-1888 (Lowell, MA: published by the town, 1888), 185-191.
Information about the masting trade came from New Hampshire Crosscurrents in Its Development by Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker
(Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1996), 32-36

Go South Young Man…150 Feet

It may only have been a tiny error by surveyors 277 years ago, but it could have stirred up major problems.

Part of the small community of Lake Wylie, South Carolina could today find themselves reclassified as being in neighboring North Carolina.

Modern surveyors – using state of the art GPS – have redrawn the state border to within a few inches of where it had originally meant to be in 1735 – some 150ft further south of where it is today.

But the change could be a monumental upheaval for the hundred or so residents who would find themselves residents of North Carolina – where fuel prices are 30 cents more expensive and fireworks are illegal.

Victor Boulware, owner of a small convenience store, the Lake Wylie Minimarket, says a change would destroy his business, stopping the flow of traffic from the more expensive north who flock to his shop for the cheaper fuel.

He said: ‘If I end up across the line, it is going to shut this business down.’

For the owners of 93 properties who suddenly find themselves in another state, it is also a bureaucratic nightmare.

The state line determines so much in their lives – what schools they go to, what area code their phone number starts with and even who provides them gas and electricity.

Small utility cooperatives in South Carolina are banned from extending services across the state line. Most of the properties in question are near Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m having a hard time being funny about this when mysterious forces bigger than you are shoving you around,” said Frederick Berlinger, who suddenly has been told that he goes to bed at night in Spartanburg County, S.C. after 15 years in what he thought was Polk County, N.C.

The seeds of the current problem were sown when the King of England sent surveyors to draw a boundary between the two Carolinas.

His instructions in 1735 were explicit: Start 30 miles south of the mouth of the Cape Fear River and have surveyors head northwest until they reached 35 degrees latitude.

Then the border would head west across the country to the Pacific Ocean. But the surveyors didn’t follow the instructions exactly, and future instructions led to the state line’s twists and turns around Charlotte and in the mountains.

The surveyors used poles and measured chains, determining what direction to head from the sun and stars, doing math in their heads, and putting hatchet blows on trees to mark the boundary. Over time, those trees disappeared, but the state line still needed to show up on maps.

The survey, which is about to draw to an end, was designed to put almost all questions about where the line is drawn to rest.

North and South Carolina wanted to solve their problems with a little Southern cooperation, so they created the Joint Boundary Commission nearly two decades ago.

The commission meets in Rock Hill, S.C.

Members are expected to work on proposals that they hope will be passed in each state to solve problems that arise from any changes – including an amnesty for any back taxes owed to the other state and allow utilities to cross state lines to serve customers without disruption.

Once both Carolinas take action to make the transition easier for the 93 property owners, the commission will submit the new state line to the Legislature in South Carolina and the North Carolina Council of State for approval.

Not approving the border could open either state up to a number of lawsuits.

The survey work is not finished. The team is preparing to draw the rest of the state line all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Fewer problems are expected because the area is more rural.

Attribution: Daily Mail