Liberty Tree and American Patriotism


Liberty Tree, St. John's College, AnnapolisThe idea of Liberty embodied in a living tree comes from Boston in 1765, when the Sons of Liberty chose a stately elm under which to voice their opposition to the Stamp Act, a British imposed tax on newspapers and official documents. They also commissioned Paul Revere to design a medal that each member wore that bore the image and the caption "Liberty Tree."  Led in Maryland by the prominent attorney Daniel Dulany who wrote a persuasive pamphlet on the evils of the tax, and by Jonas Green the publisher of the Maryland Gazette, the colonists burned the tax collector in effigy on a gallows erected near the Liberty Tree on what is today St. John's College campus, and tore down his office.  The tax, which was to paid on all public documents and newspapers, led Jonas Green to publish his paper as a supplement to the last issue before the tax was imposed, thus technically avoiding the tax. 

The Liberty Tree at St. John's College was the last surviving Liberty Tree in the United States. The tree served as an integral part of the campus and commencement exercises had been held under the Liberty Tree since the 1920s.  On September 16, 1999, the tree was seriously damaged during Hurricane Floyd. Consultants examining the tree found that the tree was dangerous in its current condition and could not be saved through traditional methods such as bracing or wiring.  On October 25, 1999, workmen began removing the tree after a memorial ceremony. A descendant of the Liberty Tree, planted in 1889, stands in front of the college library. The Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000 arranged for cuttings to be taken from the tree and cloning experiments are underway at the University of Maryland.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

Topic 2: The History of Students’ Own State or Region 

Standard 3E: The student understands the ideas that were significant in the development of the state and that helped to forge its unique identity. 

K-4: Research in order to explain why important buildings, statues, monuments, and place names are associated with the state’s history. [Obtain historical data] 

Topic 3: The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the Peoples from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic and Political Heritage 

Standard 4C: The student understands historic figures who have exemplified values and principles of American democracy. 

K-4: Identify historical figures who believed in the fundamental democratic values such as justice, truth, equality, the rights of the individual, and responsibility for the common good, and explain their significance in their historical context and today. [Assess the importance of the individual in history] 

K-4: Describe how historical figures in the United States and other parts of the world have advanced the rights of individuals and promoted the common good, and identify character traits such as persistence, problem solving, moral responsibility, and respect for others that made them successful. [Assess the importance of the individual in history] 

Standard 4E: The student understands national symbols through which American values and principles are expressed. 

K-4: Explain why important buildings, statues, and monuments are associated with state and national history, such as the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Angel Island, Mt. Rushmore, and veterans memorials. [Obtain historical data] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: Daniel Dulany, "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of rasing a Revenue, by Act of Parliament"
    SOURCE: From Revolution to Reconstruction and What Happened Afterwards
  2. DESCRIPTION: Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 19, 1765
    SOURCE: From Revolution to Reconstruction and What Happened Afterwards
  3. DESCRIPTION: Publication of details of the Stamp Act. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: May 2, 1765 in Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-7
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  4. DESCRIPTION: Gazette to cease publication due to Stamp Act. MSA SC 2311-1-7. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: October 10, 1765 in Maryland Gazette (Annapolis).
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-7
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  5. DESCRIPTION: First public notice of repeal of Stamp Act. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: April 10, 1766 in Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-11
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  6. DESCRIPTION: Parliament explains business or legal transactions conducted during period of Stamp Act are legal with or without stamps. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: September 4, 1766
    SOURCE: Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) Collection, MSA SC 2311-1-11
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  7. DESCRIPTION: St. John's College. Liberty tree with Mayor Claude and children
    SOURCE: MSA SC 182-1-607
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  8. DESCRIPTION: St. John's College -- the Liberty Tree, McDowell Hall on the left and Pinkney Hall on the right in the background
    SOURCE: MSA SC 985-1-247
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resources

The Liberty Tree. From St. John's College, Annapolis. Includes a history of the Liberty Tree and press releases concerning the damage and removal of the tree. 

Additional Instructional Resources

From Indignant Protest to Hesitant Revolutionaries: Maryland and the American Revolution, 1765-1776, MSA SC 2221-1-2: Includes issues of the Maryland Gazette at the time of the Stamp Act Crisis. Also includes the account of the burning of the Peggy Stewart, the Olive Branch Petition signed by three of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence, and letters from a Maryland soldier at the Battle of Long Island.

The Stamp Act Riots and Tar and Feathering -- From PBS

Secondary Resources

"Big Trees on Life Support" American Forests (Winter 2000): 14. 

"Taylor Guitars Buys Last "Liberty Tree." Music Trades. 148, no. 7, (August 01, 2000): 64.

Hay, Robert P. "The Liberty Tree: A Symbol for American Patriots" Quarterly Journal of Speech 1969 55(4): 414-424.

Papenfuse, Edward C. "What's In a Name? Why Should We Remember? The Liberty Tree on St. John's College Campus, Annapolis, Maryland." Remarks on the occasion of designating the Liberty Tree a Maryland Treasure
by the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000

Robbins, Michelle, "The Sweet Sound of Liberty" American Forests (Summer 2002): 25. 

Schlesinger, Arthur M. "Liberty Tree: A Genealogy" The New England Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4. (Dec., 1952), pp. 435-458. 

Spencer, Richard Henry.  "Hon. Daniel Dulany, 1722-1797 (The Younger)," Maryland Historical Magazine.  Volume XIII.  Baltimore, 1918.

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.


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