WEARE – Around sixty people gathered in the Weare Town Hall this evening for a Tax Day event to commemorate the Pine Tree Riot, one of the earliest tax protests in American history. The event was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a national organization whose mission is to recruit, educate, and mobilize citizens in support of the policies and goals of a free society. Attendees included town residents, several State Representatives, and liberty activists from across the southern part of the state. After mingling and enjoying complimentary snacks in the 180-year-old town hall, AFP’s New Hampshire State Director Greg Moore introduced the evening’s slate of speakers.
First up was Charlie Arlinghaus, President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. JBC is a non-profit, non-partisan, independent think tank focused on state and local public policy issues that affect the quality of life for New Hampshire’s citizens. The Center has as its core beliefs individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government, and an appreciation of the role of the free enterprise system.
Arlinghaus gave a highly entertaining history lesson on both the Pine Tree Riot of 1772, and its predecessor, the Mast Tree Riot of 1734 in Exeter. He began his presentation by stating “We are a state full of drunks.” Apparently, alcohol played a significant role in both riots.
In the 18th century, timber was the top industry in New Hampshire; many people’s livelihoods depended on it. The King of England had long imposed a tax on all pine trees 24” or greater in diameter. The law was then modified to apply to trees 12” or greater, which would have posed a severe economic hardship on many state residents. However, the law was not generally enforced until 1766, when John Wentworth became Governor.
The Pine Tree Riot, which took place just a couple of miles from the present-day town hall, began on either April 13th or 14th, 1772. (The exact time is unknown; historians agree that it was late enough for drunken tax protesters to awaken the county sheriff and deputy, who were staying at the town inn.) A group of 20-40 rioters woke Hillsborough County Sheriff Whiting, grabbed him, stripped him, and beat him to within an inch of his life. They beat the Deputy, too. They then cut the manes, tails and ears off the two mens’ horses. (This was both a form of humiliation, and a way to cause them economic harm.)
Following Arlinghaus’ presentation (in which he stressed that he does not condone violence, particularly to innocent horses), Rep. Dan Itse discussed the Battle of Fort William and Mary of Dec. 1774. This was another pivotal moment in the American Revolution that took place in New Hampshire. He also discussed the history of the state constitution, which predates the U.S. constitution.
Rep. Neal Kurk is one of Weare’s four state representatives, and has also been very active in the town government, serving on numerous committees. He added more details to the history of the Pine Tree Riot and the economic conditions which triggered it.
The next speaker was Carl Soderberg, co-founder of the Able Ebenezer Brewing Company in Merrimack, NH. Soderberg and his partner named their business after Ebenezer Mudgett, leader of the Pine Tree Riot, because they were inspired by his courage, and by his willingness to fight to defend his economic livelihood. They educate their customers, both on their website and in their brewery, about this historical event. Soderberg considers the riot to be the beginning of a “domino effect” leading to the American Revolution. He also pointed out the significance of the aftermath of the riot. Mudgett and all of his co-conspirators were arrested and brought to Portsmouth (then the seat of local government) for trial. However, four New Hampshire judges let all of them off with minimal punishment. The admittedly violent riot then became one of the first official acts of civil disobedience against British rule.
Soderberg was followed by Howard Kaloogian, a Weare resident who moved from San Diego less than a year ago. He emphasized the importance of New Hampshire residents banding together to fulfill societal needs, rather than entrusting them to an ever-encroaching government. He also discussed how U.S. government is based on the idea of the consent of the governed, as opposed to the Divine Right of Kings.
The final speaker of the evening was Tom Thompson, Honorary Chairman of AFP. Thompson is a second generation New Hampshire tree farmer and owns ~3000 acres of natural growth trees. He thanked all of the State Representatives in attendance for being willing to “roll up their sleeves and serve the people of New Hampshire”. Thompson paid homage to the brave patriots of the Pine Tree Riot, and encouraged those in attendance to get engaged and involved in the political process. He was careful to add “But leave the horses alone!”