As you are sitting back in the blazing summer heat, mowing down on brats and burgers, and watching fireworks explode above, I want you to take a moment to thank White Pines. Yes, White Pines played a critical role in securing the victory we celebrate on the Fourth of July every year. Upon a closer look at the history of the Revolutionary War, White Pines are found almost everywhere in some way, shape, or form. They were emblazoned on flags, used to build mighty war ships, and served as metaphorical tinder to start the flames of revolution.
To Start a War: Pine Tree Riot
The White Pines of Colonial North America were world-renown for their lightness, strength, and straightness. Even in the 15th century, White Pines were being shipped as far as Madagascar for mast-building. These pines were often several hundred feet old, five feet in diameter, 120 feet tall, and weighing up to 10 tons. Such trees were nowhere to be found in England, as much of England had been deforested by the end of the Middle Ages. King George I took note of this resource and included a “Mast Preservation Clause” in the Massachusetts Bay Charter, which forbade colonists from cutting trees marked with his broad arrow brand. The colonists did not take kindly to this restriction and viewed it as yet another form of taxation and unjust rule.
These laws went largely unenforced until 1766, when the new Governor started to inspect mills for violations. Six offending mills were found on February 2, 1772, and only a few mill owners paid the corresponding fines for cutting the Crown’s Pines. On April 13, 1772 the leader of the offending mill owners was arrested and the community’s tensions came to a boil. The following morning, more than 20 men rushed into the Sherriff’s room and “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.” The sheriff and his deputy never returned to town. This localized act of resistance against British Authority was a significant, symbolic precursor to the Revolution.
Symbol of Revolution: White Pine Flags
The Pine Tree Riot added a dimension to the meaning of White Pine trees. They now carried an air of rebellion, independence, and self-authority. It’s no surprise that militia carried red flags stamped with pines at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. In 1776, the Massachusetts Navy flew a white flag with a White Pine, accompanied by the words “An Appeal to Heaven.” These flags topped masts of white pine on a small fleet of ships commissioned by George Washington. To this day, the Maine flag bears a White Pine tree in its center. With this said, the White Pine had been a symbol of New England and the revolutionary spirit for over 200 years.
Weapon of War: White Pine Masts
As mentioned before, White Pines were highly coveted for their straightness, size, and strength, making them ideal for ship masts. While many British Navy vessels built before the Revolutionary war boasted white pine masts, the United States began to build a fleet of their own once they declared independence. Their boats had masts of White Pine and Red Oak. From the first 13 frigates commissioned for the Continental Navy in 1775 to the USS Alliance that fired the last shots of the Revolutionary War in 1783, ships with White Pine masts secured dozens of victories for the Continental Navy.
White Pines, the Future, and You
These magnificent trees have shaped American history and played a major role in winning the Revolutionary War. White Pines have been a part of this nation since its beginning and is still used today for carpentry, interior finishes, and exterior finishes. However, these trees are not immortal and their local populations are facing major threats from climate change. Many models predict that these trees will move northward and leave the state entirely. You can follow this link to view these models. Severson Dells is known to have three white pines on the property, but aren’t easily found. You can make sure that White Pines continue to play a role in the American story by reducing your carbon footprint. To learn more about reducing your carbon footprint, check out our “It’s Easy Being Green” blog posts!