Liberty Tree

Photo by the State of Maryland
Click on the image to see a larger Liberty Tree.

The Liberty Tree was as old as the Maryland colony. It was already a mature tree when the people of Annapolis held their own tea party and burned the ship Peggy Stewart .

It was under the Liberty Tree's branches that the Sons of Liberty met to hear Samuel Chase and other patriots. Annapolis residents also met under the tree and plotted the revolution from the British. "Under this tree, information was shared, resolutions made, and the seeds of revolution sewn," said Governor Parris N. Glendening.

In 1848, it is said, the tree was accidentally set on fire. On another occassion in the 1840s, school boys apparently could not resist the temptation to explode two pounds of gunpowder within its hollow. The tree seemed to be destroyed, but the prank had an opposite effect; the next year the tree put out lush new growth. It is thought that perhaps the explosion destroyed worms that were gnawing away at it.

In 1907, the Liberty Tree, in what was then thought to be the largest single accomplishment of tree surgery in the world, was restored. Decay, begun many years before, had continued to the point that the trunk was a shell 13 inches thick. The cavity extended 56 feet up the tree. The cavity was completely cleaned out, given an antiseptic wash, and the tree was filled with concrete reinforced with steel and iron. The job required 55 tons of concrete.

The tree's age has been subject of discussion. It was once thought to be 600 years old, but it may be closer to 400 years old. A Maryland Department of Forests and Parks counted 366 rings in 1971, indicating the tree's age in years.

The tree's diameter was 102 inches, measured four and a half feet from the ground. The tree was about 96 feet tall and had a total branchspread of 60 feet. In April 1975, winds opened up a six-foot-long crack in the upper trunk and widened it as much as four inches. To prevent damage by another storm, tree surgeons removed a number of branches to lighten the top and filled the crack with a pliable mastic, secured on either side by six bolts.

Tulip poplars customarily grow to be between 250 and 300 years of age if unattended by man and if no disaster such as insect damage or a weather catastrophe strikes. The Liberty Tree received special care from a local horticultural expert in the hope that it would remain a symbol of the national spirit for many years to come.

In a ceremony in June 1999, scientists from the University of Maryland took genetic material from the tree in an effort to clone it. Using advanced techniques, clones will be provided to the governors of the 12 other original colonies.

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd dealt a death blow to the Liberty Tree, leaving it with a five-inch-wide, 15-foot-long fracture in one of its central branches. College officials consulted with tree experts from around the world, searching for ways to save the tree all the time keeping in mind the possibility that it might be necessary to cut it down.

Without supporting cables that were installed in the 1970s, the Liberty Tree probably would have toppled during the hurricane. The college fenced off a large area around the tree while the situation was studied. If the safety of students and visitors could not be ensured, there would be no choice but to remove the tree.

Unfortunately, it was decided that the tree would present a danger to passersby and was removed in a sad ceremony in October 1999. The last of the Liberty Trees, this tulip poplar ( Liriodendron tulipifera ) had survived a bolt of lightning and an explosion of gunpowder within its trunk, as well as the damage of wind and weather during four centuries.

© Copyright October 27, 1999, Office of the Secretary of State.
Last Modified September 16, 2003.