THE DUXBURY LIBERTY POLE by Carol May

Were your ancestors Patriots or Tories (Loyalists)?  If your ancestors were Patriot they may have they rallied around the Liberty Pole, but if they were Tories they may have been taken forcibly to the pole and made to recant their beliefs.

There were Liberty poles all over the colonies.  As the Colonists chafed under British rule, British taxes and British troops, more poles began appearing.  Almost every town had one in Massachusetts, including Duxbury, and they could be found as far south as Savannah, Georgia. So what was a Liberty pole? For those of you who are a little hazy on this bit of history, here is a refresher:
The first known Liberty pole was erected in 1763 in protest of the Stamp Act.  It became a symbol of freedom and liberty and later revolution for the patriots.  Boston had a Liberty tree rather than a pole. Liberty poles were not exclusive to the colonists, but were also seen in Europe later on especially during the French Revolution.  There were also red Liberty caps which date back to early Greece where when slaves were granted their freedom they were given a “liberty cap.” Engravings of Liberty poles and topped with caps can still be seen on official seals.

During Colonial times, ensigns, usually red, or flags sometimes were flown from liberty poles and effigies of tax collectors were hung from them.
This was from ConcordMA.com:

“The Summer of 1765 in Boston was marked by militant citizens demonstrating against the Stamp Act. On 14 August, two tax officials were burned in effigy from the limbs of an old elm tree (planted 1645) near Hanover Square. The tree, now a gathering site for the Sons of Liberty and other patriots, soon was named the “Liberty Tree” and often decorated with banners and lanterns. Assemblies were regularly held to express views and vent emotions. A flagstaff or pole was raised within the Tree’s branches and when an ensign (usually red) was raised, the Sons of Liberty were to meet.

As word of the Liberty Tree spread, other towns from Worcester, MA and Newport, RI to New York City and Savannah, GA adopted the symbol of dissent against Great Britain. Whether trees or poles (choice of convenience or preference), the statement made was similar – not so much anti-British as pro-loyalty to King while demonstrating strong dedication to the rights and freedoms of Englishmen. When selected, the symbol had to be central to the town, accessible and visible, especially to Tories and Regulars.”

Below is the Honorable Seth Sprague’s (grandson of Nathaniel Chandler of Duxbury) account of Duxbury’s Liberty Pole.

“Previous to the war, there were Liberty poles raised in every town in the State. We had a very high one in Duxbury; it stood near, where The Gershom Bradford house now stands. There was a great gathering of people at the raising of it. It was somewhat of a terror to evil doers. If any one was suspected of being a Tory, he was threatened to be histed up on the Liberty Pole.”

The most famous Liberty pole was in New York City, where there was a battle of wills with the citizenry and the British soldiers. It became a pastime of the British soldiers to try to tear it down or try to blow it up then the Liberty boys would replace it and stand guard over it.  This battle lasted 10 years from 1766 to 1776. On February 6, 1770 the last New York City Liberty pole was raised, sunk twelve feet in the ground and encased in riveted iron bands two thirds the height of the very tall pole. The first blood shed in the American Revolution was in the defense of a Liberty pole that stood in what is now New York City’s City Hall Park.  This was on January 18, 1770.

When the Revolution began, Tories were marched to the pole and told to recant their Loyalist affiliation and even kiss the pole.  It was either that or get hoisted up the pole or tarred and feathered and run out of town.  Even women were taken to the Liberty pole and told to march around it and recant, or in the case of an outspoken Tory sympathizer named Abigail Freeman of Cape Cod, tarred and feathered and ridden around town on rail.

While Seth Sprague wrote that Duxbury’s pole was near Gershom Bradford’s house, it was actually atop the hill across the street from Gershom Bradford’s house at what is now 942 Tremont St. The Tremont St. house belonged to Gershom’s brother, Gamaliel Bradford. This was according to Duxbury researcher extraordinaire, Henry Fish.

On a map of Duxbury, this would be on the west side of Tremont St. across from Harrison. St. Many years before the Revolution, the area near there was used as a militia training area.  Nathaniel Chandler ran an inn in the “ell”, or addition portion, of what became the Gamaliel Bradford house and was licensed to sell liquor on training days.

This area was part of or next to the “old Chandler neighborhood” of the late 17th and early 18th century. Joseph Chandler, son of Edmund, the immigrant owned land on both sides of Tremont. St. His nephew, Benjamin Chandler owned land very near the training ground area.  Our member, Billie, who is doing research on the Duxbury land records, says that it was suspiciously close, so perhaps we will find out that it was once Benjamin’s land. Benjamin gave land for a school in 1715 in that area.  The hill where the Liberty Pole was is west of that.

Duxbury was a Patriot town, or Whig, as the Honorable Seth Sprague wrote, and no one from Duxbury was ever marched to the pole and forced to recant. According to Seth Sprague, early on Briggs Alden and the father of Col. Gamaliel Bradford, also named Gamaliel, were early supporters of the British but recanted and asked forgiveness in writing to the town after the Lexington battles. There was full complement of Patriot Chandlers who served in the military, some in the local militia and some in the Continental Army, opposing the British.

While Duxbury was thoroughly Patriot, next door Marshfield was not.  Marshfield was called the most Loyalist town in New England.  This town was the reverse of other New England towns as the Loyalists were the majority and ruled the town.  They were of the same Pilgrim stock as the rest of the Plymouth area, but some of them were very wealthy.  Their sons attended Harvard and served in the British Navy.  Most were loyal subjects of the king.

Joseph Winslow, a former Marshfield resident, was a wealthy tea importer affiliated with the British East India company tea whose tea was thrown overboard in the Boston Tea Party. There was even a “Marshfield Tea Party” where tea was taken from a warehouse and burned. So you can imagine the howl of protest from the Loyalists in Marshfield over that. In those days tea was very, very valuable. It would have been the almost the equivalent of dumping a load of new cars overboard today. In the face of the Patriots’ anger, the residents asked for and received British troops to protect them.

The citizens of Duxbury took note of what was going on over in Marshfield and were not pleased.  The Loyalists were in charge and were housing the hated British soldiers.  Something had to be done!

The Plymouth patriots were threatening to tar and feather the Tories or drive them off of their farms if they did not recant.  The Duxbury patriots planned to kidnap Nathaniel Phillips, “a principal Loyalist”, but he eluded them. They did kidnap Marshfield Loyalists, Paul White, Dr. Stockbridge and Elisha Ford and carted them to the Liberty Pole in Duxbury.  Probably in fear for their safety from the mob rather than a change of heart, they signed recantations of their Tory beliefs.

The Liberty pole appeared again after the Revolution, most notably in the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania as a protest against taxes, but its days of glory were during the Revolutionary War era. Celebrations and reenactments of raising the Liberty pole still take place in some New England towns today.

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