The Liberty Pole Struggle and Riot 1766-1776
MAY 20, 1766, news reached New York of the repeal of the stamp act, and on the following day, the people gathered in the Fields to show their delight in every possible way.
Still further to show their loyalty and gratitude to the king, they assembled again on his birthday, June fourth, and celebrated the event with feasting and drinking.
1A 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.
A second liberty-pole was erected and the soldiers allowed it to stand for a few days and then cut it down, on September twenty-third. Within two days, a third pole was raised; and this time the pole was allowed to stand, as the soldiers were restrained by the orders of Governor Moore, who was believed to have been instigator of the previous attacks.
On the eighteenth of March, 1767, the citizens assembled on the Commons to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The celebration aroused the anger of the soldiers, and that night the pole was again
leveled to the ground. The next day the Sons of Liberty set up another and more substantial one, well secured with iron bands. An unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy it that night. The following night another attempt to blow it up (or down) with gun-powder was made, but this, also, was unsuccessful. Then the Sons of Liberty set a strong guard about the pole; and for three successive nights attempts were made to destroy it, but the soldiers were beaten off. The peremptory orders of the governor compelled the soldiers to desist from their attacks, and the pole stood undisturbed for three years.
During these years, affairs were moving in the direction of armed resistance to the impositions of the British Parliament, and frequent were the meetings on the Commons and burnings in effigy of offensive individuals. At last, on January 13, 1770, attacks were renewed upon the liberty-pole by a party of the 16th Regiment, who attempted to blow it down with gun-powder. In this they were unsuccessful, and they then attacked a party of citizens
in front of Montagnie' tavern in Broadway opposite the
Fields, at that time the headquarters of the Sons of Liberty.
The citizens were driven indoors and attempted to barricade themselves from the unruly mob; but the soldiers broke in with drawn swords and wrecked the building and furniture. In the midst of the destruction, their officers came up and ordered them back to their barracks. On the two succeeding nights, the attacks were resumed against the pole without success; but the third night, the pole was
leveled to the ground and sawed into pieces which were piled up in front of Montagnie's in derision of the patriotic club.
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.
Amid the shouts of the people and the sound of music, it was stepped into its place. It bore the inscription, "Liberty and Property," and was surmounted by a gilt vane bearing the same inscription in large letters. This inscription was not of so loyal a tenor as that
placed upon the first pole and shows how the feelings of the people were changing. The concluding paragraph of the handbill distributed by the Liberty Boys reads as follows:
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