Articles from the Boston Compass



Written by Neil Horsky, this article was originally published in the August Boston Compass
In 1765 British Parliament passed the Stamp Act imposing a tax on all printed materials produced in the 13 Colonies, including newspapers, permits and legal documents. Colonists considered the tax a form of censorship and oppression that limited free expression, trade and justice to only those who could afford the tax.
On August 14 1765 the first public protest of the Stamp Act occurred in Boston at what is now the corner of Washington and Essex Streets. There stood a tall and broad elm tree from which the protesters hung an effigy of local Stamp Officer Andrew Oliver and a British cavalry boot painted as a grimacing devil, within which was a scroll labeled “Stamp Act.”
Following the protest an organized mob ransacked Oliver’s house, threatened his life and forced him to resign his position publicly at the same tree, effectively making the Stamp Act unenforceable. With this victory the tree was heralded as the Liberty Tree, and became the primary outdoor public meeting place and site for protests and broadsides in the years leading to revolution.
During the British occupation and siege of Boston in 1775 a group of Loyalists led by Job Williams cut down the Liberty Tree for firewood to signify the Revolution’s failure. Nevertheless, the symbol of Liberty endured. Trees in cities and towns throughout the Colonies were given Liberty Tree status and functioned as rallying points for organized rebellion. Liberty Tree emblems adorned flags at Revolutionary battles and the remaining stump became known as the Liberty Stump.
In 1872 a banquet hall was built at the site of the Liberty Tree. Embedded into the third story Washington Street façade of this building, now the Registry of Motor Vehicles above the Chinatown T-stop, is an impressive painted bas-relief carving of the Liberty Tree with the text: Sons of Liberty 1766; Independence of their Country 1776.

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