In Annapolis, a bell tolls as the last of the Liberty Trees is felled

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer [via AP]
Published: October 26, 1999
Author: Tom Stuckey
Posted on 10/26/1999 13:10:06 PDT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A bell tolled 13 times yesterday - once for each of the original colonies - as a crew with chain saws began cutting down the last of the Liberty Trees, where American patriots gathered to plot against the British.

The 400-year-old tulip poplar fell victim to years of disease and decay and a final blow from the winds of Hurricane Floyd.

Experts who examined the tree on the campus of St. John's College said it was in danger of collapsing and had to be cut down.

"The Liberty Tree has lived a long and valiant life and has been on life support for a century," said college president Christopher Nelson. For 200 years, the St. John's commencement has been held under the tree, and Nelson said cutting it down was a sad duty.

Before the Revolutionary War, the Liberty Trees were meeting places for chapters of the Sons of Liberty throughout the colonies.

Historical records show that British forces destroyed trees in Boston and Charleston, S.C., said Edward Papenfuse, Maryland state archivist; the others were cut down or died of disease and old age.

The end of Maryland's liberty tree was commemorated with a solemn ceremony on the campus of the nation's third-oldest college. Wreaths were laid at the base of the tree and of a 100-year-old offspring that stands about 100 yards away.

After the singing of the national anthem - written by St. John's graduate Francis Scott Key - and the tolling of a bell, a worker riding in a cage was pulled about two-thirds of the way up the tree and began cutting the first branch.

Among those watching was Gary Coleman, a University of Maryland scientist who is trying to clone samples of the tree's DNA taken about four months ago. He said it would be midwinter before he knew whether the effort would succeed.

If it does, a clone will be planted at the site of the Liberty Tree and others will be presented to the 49 other states.

Dennis Claude, a 70-year-old Annapolis resident who played under the tree's branches as a child, recorded the ceremony with his camera.

"It's a sad day. It really is," he said. "I thought it would be here as long as I was."

Liberty Tree

by Thomas Paine

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.
The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinction they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.
Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate,
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.
But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons, and Lords, are uniting amain
To cut down this guardian of ours;
From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defence of our Liberty Tree.

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