The Pine Tree Riot
John Sherman, Deputy Surveyor of New Hampshire, ordered a search of sawmills in 1771-1772 for white pine marked for the Crown. His men found that six mills in Goffstown and Weare possessed large white pines and marked them with the broad arrow to indicate that they were Crown property. The owners of the mills were named as offenders in the February 7, 1772, edition of The New Hampshire Gazette. The mill owners hired lawyer Samuel Blodgett to represent them, who met with Governor Wentworth. When the governor offered Blodgett the job of Surveyor of the King’s Woods, he accepted, and rather than getting the charges dropped instructed his clients to pay a settlement. The mill owners from Goffstown paid their fines at once and had their logs returned to them. Those from Weare refused to pay.
On April 13, 1772, Benjamin Whiting, Sheriff of Hillsborough County, and his Deputy John Quigley were sent to South Weare with a warrant to arrest the leader of the Weare mill owners, Ebenezer Mudgett. Mudgett was subsequently released with the understanding that he would provide bail in the morning. The sheriff and deputy spent the night at Aaron Quimby’s inn, the Pine Tree Tavern. That night, many of the townsmen gathered at Mudgett’s house. A few offered to help pay his bail, but the majority wanted to run the sheriff and deputy out of town. They finally decided to teach Whiting a lesson that he would never forget.
At dawn the next day Mudgett led between 20 and 30-40 men to the tavern. Whiting was still in bed, and Mudgett burst in on him. With their faces blackened with soot for disguise, more than 20 townsmen rushed into Whiting’s room. They began to beat him with tree branch switches, giving one lash for every tree being contested. The sheriff tried to grab his pistols, but he was thoroughly outnumbered. Rioters grabbed him by his arms and legs, hoisted him up, face to the floor, while others continued to mercilessly assault him with tree switches. Whiting later reported that he thought the men would surely kill him. Quigley was also pulled from his room and received the same treatment from another group of townsmen. The sheriff and deputy’s horses were brought around to the inn door. The rioters then cut off the ears and shaved the manes and tails of the horses, after which Whiting and Quigley were forced to ride out of town through a gauntlet of jeering townspeople, shouted at and slapped down the road towards Goffstown.
Whiting engaged Colonel Moore of Bedford and Edward Goldstone Lutwyche of Merrimack, who assembled a posse of soldiers to arrest the perpetrators. By the time the posse arrived, the townspeople had fled into the woods without a trace a long while ago. After searching, one of the men involved in the assault was arrested, and the others were named, ordered to post bail and appear in court. Eight men were charged with rioting, disturbing the peace, and “making an assault upon the body of Benjamin Whiting.” Four judges, Theodore Atkinson, Meshech Weare, Leverett Hubbard, and William Parker, heard the case in the Superior Court in Amherst in September 1772. The rioters pleaded guilty, and the judges fined them 20 shillings each and ordered them to pay the cost of the court hearing.
A great resource on the subject of pine tree milling in the 18th century – Samuel F. Manning’s New England Masts and the King’s Broad Arrow.