Background: The Pine Tree Riot - Weare,
NH, April 1772
Summarized by Betty Ann
Sutton from History of the Town of Weare, New Hampshire
There's a white pine tree
in the town of Somersworth, New Hampshire that is 128 feet tall. That's
as tall as an eight-story building. The trunk of this white pine is six
and one-half feet across at the base. It's the tallest white pine in New
Hampshire and one of the very few white pines left in our state
that would be considered
large enough to be used as a mast for one of the wooden sailing ships built
for the Royal Navy of King George III in the 1700s.
In the early 1700s more and
more people were leaving England and Europe and coming to the American
Colonies. The towns along the coast of New Hampshire were developing into
trading centers for the supplies that the colonists needed to buy from
England. The colonists also had materials to sell to the ships that were
sailing back to England.
One of our most abundant
resources was trees. By the late 1600s, England had few forests left that
could provide suitable trees for the giant masts, support timbers, and
lumber for their growing Royal Navy and merchant ships. Tall, straight
white pines were needed for "single- stick" masts. A single stick mast
was hewn from one tree, rather than fastening two or more trees together
with wooden pegs. A single-stick mast was by far the superior mast. It
could hold full sail in the heaviest gales. The colonists soon started
moving away from the farms and towns along the coast. In the mid- 1700s.
Governor Benning Wentworth granted huge parcels of land to many of his
friends and granted charters for incorporation to newly developing towns
west of the Merrimack River. Families made the
dangerous trip from the
coastal towns to the forests. They cleared the land for farms and built
roads for travel.
No matter who owned or cleared
the land, the white pines on the land belonged to the King of England.
In 1772 the British Parliament and King George III made a law protecting
"any white pine tree of the growth of twelve inches in diameter." There
was already a law protecting the larger white pine trees. All of these
laws meant that the settlers couldn't cut any white pines unless they had
the Deputy Surveyor come to mark the trees with the broad arrow, saving
them for masts. Then the settlers had to pay
a tidy sum of money to get
a royal license to cut the rest of the white pines from their own land.
Deputy surveyors of the King's
Woods were appointed by the governor. The Deputy Surveyor and his crew
had the authority to mark any and all suitable white pines with the broad
arrow mark of the king. The Deputy Surveyor also had the authority to check
the sawmills run by the settlers. If he found any white pine logs or lumber
that had been cut without a royal license, he could mark each piece with
a broad arrow. The logs and lumber could then be seized by the sheriff
and the owner of the sawmill had to
pay a huge fine or go to
While Benning Wentworth was
governor of New Hampshire, he did little to enforce the pine tree laws.
He rarely sent the Deputy Surveyor to the new towns, like Dunbarton, Weare,
and Henniker, that were so far away from Portsmouth. And the governor saw
little reason to deny the settlers their trees as long as there were enough
masts being hauled to Portsmouth for the Royal Navy.
Benning's nephew, John Wentworth.
became governor in 1766. John Wentworth soon saw how much money was being
lost by not enforcing the license fees and fines for the pine tree laws
in the new towns, so he instructed the Deputy Surveyors to attend to their
In the winter of 1771-72,
John Sherburn, a Deputy Surveyor of the King's Woods, visited the sawmills
in the towns of the Piscataquog Valley. Sherburn found just what he hoped
he would discover - white pine logs that measured 15 to 36 inches in diameter
at six different mills in Goffstown and Weare. He claimed them as "The
King's White Pine Trees" and chopped the mark of the broad arrow in every
log. The owners of the mills were warned not to touch the logs and to appear
before the Court of Vice
Admiralty in Portsmouth
on February 7, 1772 to pay their fines.
The sawmill owners hired
Samuel Blodget, Esquire, a lawyer from Goffstown to represent them at court
in Portsmouth. Blodget didn't represent them very well. He forgot his loyalty
to them when the
governor offered him a job
as a Surveyor of the King's Woods. But Blodget did arrange for the sawmill
owners to pay their fines and to get their logs back.
The mill owners from Goffstown
paid their fines at once and had their logs returned to them. But the sawmill
owners from Weare did not. They decided to be "obstinate and notorious"
even though Blodget had sent them letters warning them against it.
On April 13, Benjamin Whiting, the Sheriff of the County, and his deputy,
John Quigly, rode to South Weare. They came with a warrant for the arrest
of sawmill owner Ebenezer Mudgett. Mudgett was the leader of the Weare
mill owners. The sheriff thought that if he arrested Mudgett, the other
mill owners would give in and pay their fines.
It was nearly dark when Sheriff
Whiting and Deputy Quigly found Ebenezer Mudgett. Mudgett agreed
to meet the sheriff at Aaron Quimby's inn in the morning and pay his fine.
News of the sheriff's arrival spread quickly through Weare. That night
scores of men gathered at Mudgett's house to work out a plan for paying
the sheriff in a way that he wouldn't soon forget.
Mudgett rode to Quimby's
Inn at dawn and burst in on the sheriff, who was still in bed. Then more
than twenty townsmen, with their faces blackened for disguise, rushed into
the sheriffs room and began to beat him with tree branch switches. Sheriff
Whiting tried to grab his guns so he could defend
himself, but he was thoroughly
outnumbered. Men grabbed him by his arms and legs, hoisted him up, face
to the floor, while others continued to switch him mercilessly. Whiting
later reported that he thought the men would surely kill him. Deputy Quigly
was also pulled from his room and received the same treatment from another
group of townsmen.
The sheriff and deputy's
horses were brought around to the inn door. The soot-blackened townsmen
cropped off the horses' ears and sheared off their manes and tails - ruining
the value of the animals. The two men were forced to mount and were shouted
and slapped down the road toward
At this point the sheriff
was not about to admit defeat. He went to Colonel John Goffe and Colonel
Edward Goldstone Lutwytche and arranged for them to bring a posse of soldiers
to Weare to arrest Mudgett and the other rioters. By the time the posse
arrived, the rioters were long gone. They had
disappeared into the woods
without a trace.
But Sheriff Whiting didn't
give up on the whole matter. Later in the spring he was able to capture
one of the rioters, so the rest of the men agreed to pay the bail money
and appear in court to accept their punishment.
In September, eight men from
Weare were brought before His Majesty's Superior Court. They were Timothy
Worthley, Jonathan Worthley, Caleb Atwood, William Dustin, Abraham Johnson,
Jotham Tuttle, William Quimby, and Ebenezer Mudgett. They were charged
with being rioters and disturbers of the peace and with "making an assault
upon the body of Benjamin Whiting, Esq., Sheriff, and that they beat, wounded
and evilly intreated him and other injuries did so that his life was despaired
were also charged with going
"against the peace of our Lord the King, his crown and dignity."
Four judges heard the case
in the Superior Court in Amherst. They were Theodore Atkinson, Meshech
Weare, Leverett Hubbard and William Parker. The rioters were very humble
and submitted themselves to the grace of the court and king. They were
lucky. The judges fined each of the men 20
shillings and ordered them
to pay the cost of the court hearing.
It was certainly a light
punishment for the crimes they had committed. The small fine ordered
by the judges showed that they understood why the men from Weare attacked
the sheriff and deputy. The judges, like many other citizens of New Hampshire,
thought the pine tree laws were oppressive and unfair. The pine tree laws
were just another way of making the colonists pay taxes to the British
The Pine Tree Riot, the raid
on Fort William and Mary in Newcastle, the threats to the Tax Stamp Master
in Portsmouth, and many other acts of rebellion grew from the anger that
the citizens of New Hampshire felt over these laws. They all helped to
bring New Hampshire into the Revolutionary
War against Great Britain.