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New York's Liberty Pole Struggle and Riot

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posted on Apr, 29 2016 @ 03:20 PM
Liberty poles are something I had never heard of until taking a walking tour of Revolution-era Lower Manhattan in March.

What is a liberty pole? Wikipedia has this to say:

A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, surmounted by a Phrygian cap. The symbol originated in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Roman dictator Julius Caesar by a group of Rome's Senators in 44 BC. Immediately after Caesar was killed, the leaders of the assassination plot went to meet a crowd of Romans at the Roman Forum; a pileus (a kind of skullcap that identified a freed slave) was placed atop a pole to symbolize that the Roman people had been freed from the rule of Caesar, which the assassins claimed had become a tyranny because it overstepped the authority of the Senate and thus betrayed the Republic.

Well, that is an interesting concept. As you may know, quite a few of our Founding Fathers were pretty well versed in the happenings (and especially philosophy) of the Roman and Greek cultures. I suppose it makes sense, then, that they knew about the concept of a liberty pole. Apparently, such poles were erected all over Colonial America in places including but not limited to: New York, Concord, Massachusetts, and Savannah, GA. I plan to talk about New York's.

It was May 20, 1766 when news of the repeal of the Stamp Act reached New York. On the 21st, people gathered on the Fields to celebrate, feasting and drinking in delight.

A great pole with twelve tar barrels at its top was erected, and twenty-five cords of wood were placed at its base. Then while a salute of twenty-five guns was fired in another part of the fields, the great bonfire was kindled and the royal standard raised amid the cheers of the crowd. Still another pole was raised on this memorable day, bearing the inscription, "The King, Pitt, and Liberty", the first liberty-pole, which was to serve as the rallying point of the citizens for several years, the visible sign of the principle of no taxation without representation.

This liberty-pole stood not far from the barracks of the soldiers, on the north side of Chambers Street. On the tenth of August, a party belonging to the 28th Regiment cut the pole down. The next day, while the citizens were assembled on the Commons preparing to erect another, they were attacked by the soldiers, and several of the Sons of Liberty, among whom were Isaac Sears and John Berrien, were severely hurt. Though complaints were made by the citizens, the British officers declared that the affidavits submitted were falsehoods and refused to reprimand or punish the offenders.

So what do our Sons of Liberty do? They erect another pole. The British left this pole up for a few days but cut it down as well on September 23rd. Not two days later, a third pole had appeared in what is now City Hall Park in Manhattan. The British Governor Moore ordered his men to leave this pole be, presumably to avoid instigating aggression with the Colonials.

A few months pass and it is now March 18th, 1767. New Yorkers again meet on the Commons to celebrate the first anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. This angered some British soldiers who, that night, again levelled the liberty pole. The very next day, the Sons of Liberty erected a 4th pole, this one much more substantial and with its bottom third surrounded in iron bands. The British were unsuccessful in destroying this pole, trying the next night to blow it with gunpowder and upon hearing of the attempt, the Sons of Liberty had a few men stand guard over it.

For three consecutive nights, the British made attempts to destroy the latest incarnation of the pole, and for three consecutive nights, the Sons of Liberty held them off. Again, on orders from Governor Moore, the British gave up and left the pole standing for the next 3 years.

In the rest of the colonies (New York included) events were unfolding that would eventually lead to the American Revolution. On the Commons, offending Brits would be burned in effigy near the liberty pole. The British 16th Regiment finally taking offense to this on January 13th, 1770, again attempted unsuccessfully to use gunpowder to blow the pole to the ground. A group of citizens were then attacked in front of Montagnie's Tavern, where the Sons of Liberty were known to meet.

The citizens attempted to barricade themselves in the tavern, but the British were successful in breaking in, swords drawn, and trashed the place. A group of British officers arrived and ordered the men back to barracks. For two more nights, the British tried to bring the pole down, then on the third night they had success. The pole was chopped into pieces which were stacked in front of the door of Montagnie's Tavern.

This insult aroused the Sons of Liberty; and on the evening of the seventeenth, handbills were circulated calling a meeting that night upon the Commons. Three thousand citizens assembled and passed strong resolutions in regard to the daily outrages committed by the soldiery and threatened to regard those found outside their barracks after roll-call as enemies of the city. The next day there began a two days' conflict with the soldiers in which several lives were lost. Since the various affrays occurred in the neighborhood of John and William streets--a locality known at that time as Golden Hill, the conflict has been termed the "Battle of Golden Hill." It occurred two months before the Boston Massacre, and it was here that the first blood of the coming conflict was shed.

The Sons of Liberty requested permission to erect another liberty-pole, but the Common Council refused permission. While the council was considering the request, Lamb and several others of the club purchased a plot of ground eleven feet wide and one hundred feet deep near the site of the former pole. Here, on February 6, 1770, the last of the liberty-poles
was raised. It was a mast of great length, sunk twelve feet into the ground, and encased for two thirds of its height with iron bands and hoops firmly riveted together.

Today, in City Hall Park, New York, New York, there stands a replica of this final liberty pole. It remains a point of pride to many New Yorkers that there, on the Common, was the first real bloodshed of the American Revolution and not in Boston as most people believe.

posted on Apr, 29 2016 @ 04:51 PM
a reply to: Excallibacca
I'm sure I've seen a picture of a liberty pole on some country's flag. Liberia? I must try to look it up.

No, apparently not Liberia. I think this is probably a memory from "The Observer Book of Flags", which I had as a child and don't have any more. Perhaps one of the former British Caribbean islands. (Or it might have been the coat of arms, not the flag) This is going to bug me now.

edit on 29-4-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 29 2016 @ 06:28 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Not too sure. Like I said, I had only heard of liberty poles about a month ago.

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