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The New Hampshire Pine Tree Riot of 1772

New Hampshire’s oppressive pine tree laws sparked a little-known colonial uprising in 1772 called the Pine Tree Riot. It was an early test of British Royal authority and may have encouraged the Boston Tea Party a year and a half later.

Pine Tree Flag

Pine Tree Flag

There were few trees big enough for the Royal Navy’s ships in Britain, and so the tall white pines of northern New England were reserved for the Crown. The king’s surveyors traveled the woods, scoring the king’s trees with three slashes shaped like an arrow – the King’s Broad Arrow.

The laws were honored far more in the breach than in the observance.  In 1721, one of the king’s surveyors counted 25,000 logs in New Hampshire, all big enough to be masts.

In 1722, another pine tree law decreed settlers couldn’t cut any white pines bigger than a foot in diameter. The colonists then had to pay for a royal license to cut white pine trees on their own land.

The law wasn’t enforced much, probably because it wasn’t easy to. In 1736, one of the king’s surveyors seized the king’s white pine logs in Exeter. The enraged residents disguised themselves as Indians, beat up the surveying party, sank their boat and chased them into the woods, where they hid all night.

Then in 1766, John Wentworth was appointed governor of New Hampshire. He sent his deputy surveyor, John Sherburn, to search the sawmills of New Hampshire to find white pine trees marked for the Crown.

HMS Barfleur (left) fights the French ship Ville de Paris in the Battle of the Saintes.

HMS Barfleur (left) fights the French ship Ville de Paris in the Battle of the Saintes.

Sherburn found six mill owners in Goffstown and Weare who broke the law. The Goffstown mill owners paid their fines and got their logs back. The Weare mill owners refused.

On April 13, 1772, the leader of the Weare mill owners, Ebenezer Mudgett, was arrested by Sheriff Benjamin Whiting and Deputy John Quigley. Mudgett said he’d bring bail in the morning and they let him go. The sheriff and his deputy spent the night at Quimby's Inn.

According to William Little’s The history of Weare, New Hampshire, 1735-1888, Mudgett spent a busy evening with the townspeople. At dawn the next morning he burst into Whiting’s room and told him he had his bail. As Whiting chided him for waking him so early, 20 men with soot-blackened faces rushed into the room. They held him down on the floor, two men on each side, and beat him to their heart’s content. Wrote Little:

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5 comments

  1. Bill Jones

    Fritz Wetherbee did a WMUR “New Hampshire Chronicle””piece on this years ago.

  2. I recently was accepted in to The New England Genealogical and History group. Right after my acceptance they closed the group and I have not been able to correspond with them. I know very little about my connection to the Kimball family, so I was interested in telling them what I know and to see if they could help me. I was also interested in buying the Kimball Family book listed for $35.00. The Chandler father and son that were Minute Men were also my fourth and fifth great-grandfathers. I have a lot more information on that family but I would be interested in buying the book that tells the Chandler family history. I however do not know the name of the book or if it is still in print.
    If there is any way you can help me I would really appreciate it.

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