The Pine Tree Riot of 1772
Three years before the start of the American Revolution, tensions between colonists and Britain were becoming increasingly intense. As the colonists felt the unwanted political and economic restrictions by British forces they began to rebel. One such restriction was on the use of timber from white pine trees that became the impetus for the famous riot in Weare, New Hampshire in the spring of 1772. The riot began when two officials sought out the leader of the local sawmills in Weare for the payment of the white pine trees they had chopped down. A series of events led to a group of approximately twenty men, their faces disguised with soot, attacking the officials and refusing payment. The use of soot during the Pine Tree Riot is thought to have influenced the idea of disguise for another famous riot a year later, the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
Backstory and Context
At this time, tensions in the colonies between British forces and colonists were growing. The restrictions on white pine trees did not stop the local sawmills from cutting them down. For decades wood from these trees was used for different purposes, such as hard wood flooring. People who used white pine for flooring would proudly welcome their guests to marvel at the luxurious commodity, and make their rebellion against strict British laws known. This was easy to do until 1766 when John Wentworth was appointed governor of New Hampshire, and began cracking down on the laissez faire attitude colonists and officials alike had toward the law. Wentworth strictly enforced the restrictions placed on white pine trees, but was initially unsuccessful. Local sawmills continued to cut them down, and Wentworth took notice.
During the winter of 1771-72, John Sherborn, the Deputy Surveyor of New Hampshire, ordered that all local sawmills be searched to find illegal lumber. As officials searched they found logs marked with the white arrow in the possession of sawmills from several towns, including Weare. Owners of the mills were sent to court and ordered to pay fines for the trees they had cut down. All of the men did so, with the exception of the owners of the mills in Weare.
On April 13 1772, Benjamin Whiting and John Quigly, two county officials, were sent to Weare to arrest Ebenezer Mudgett, the leader of the mill owners in town. Mudgett negotiated with the men and agreed that he would pay his bail the next morning and all would be settled. The two officials then made their way to the Pine Tree Tavern in Weare to stay the night. Whiting and Quigly were not aware that supporters of Mudgett were gathering with him and offering assistance to pay his bail. The gathering quickly turned into an angry mob when it was decided that they would attack the two officials.
Early the next morning, April 14, a group of about twenty men with their faces disguised in soot made their way to the Pine Tree Tavern. Mudgett woke the two sleeping men and pretended to offer his bail. As the two awoke, they were attacked by the mob with canes made form white pine trees. After being badly beaten and dragged outside, the mob cut the manes, tails, and ears off of their horses, and instructed them to leave town. Whiting and Quigly rode to Bedford and assembled a group of armed men to take down the mob. Upon their return to Weare they found that almost all of the attackers had fled town. They hunted down one man, whom was part of the attack, and were able to get the names of the others out of him.
Eight men were eventually charged, one of them being Ebenezer Mudgett. In September 1772, the eight men plead guilty at the Superior Court in Amherst, New Hampshire. Each were fined twenty shillings for their part in the events earlier that year. Today, the Pine Tree Tavern no longer exists, but in its place stands a memorial remembering the events of the Pine Tree Riot. The site sits on Rte. 114, South John Stark Byway near the Avon store on Eastman Hill, and you can visit it anytime.