Revolution's new roots

St. John's plants Liberty Tree to replace original lost in 1999 storm

March 31, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun Reporter

Taking the place of a now-vanished Revolutionary War symbol is a tall order, especially in a town like Annapolis, where some people talk about "the signers" of the Declaration of Independence as if they were old friends.

But yesterday, a second Liberty Tree was planted on the St. John's College campus at the site of the original Annapolis Liberty Tree, which was damaged in a storm and cut down in 1999.

Colonial patriots -- and future signers -- known as the Sons of Liberty once met under the old tulip poplar's boughs to plot against the British crown.

Onlookers watched as a wild-cut tulip poplar was wheeled onto the college's lawn along College Avenue. Students playing croquet wondered how the new arrival, fresh from an Eastern Shore farm, might affect the college's annual spring match against the Naval Academy.

Several members of the senior class, which gave the young tree to the college, also watched as the 10-year-old tree was taken to the spot where the first Liberty Tree cast its shade for some 400 years.

Christopher Bea, a 23-year-old senior from Alexandria, Va., said he and other seniors -- there are only about 100 at the private liberal arts college -- had a sense of awe in seeing what they would leave behind when they graduate next month.

Witnessing it was worth taking a break from his study of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, he said.

"Twenty years from now, when I bring my children here, I can tell them I remember when it was planted," Bea said as he looked up at the still-bare branches.

"The Liberty Tree has helped make this a very historical school, and we should help the new classes into that tradition," he said. "This will help them remember that."

Don Jackson, the college director of operations who supervised the move, said that as a boy growing up in Annapolis, he counted the Liberty Tree as an excellent place to play, he said. The class has raised about $4,500, which covers the cost of the tree, a plaque and some protective measures. A dedication is planned April 21.

The original Annapolis tree gained more fame as it aged, living to be the last of the 13 Liberty Trees, each from one of the original 13 colonies.

Lawyer-poet Francis Scott Key, the St. John's graduate who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" lyrics in 1814, was known for cavorting near the Liberty Tree.

Many a St. John's yearbook has featured poems about the Liberty Tree and the birth of the United States.

When it came down, a formal farewell ceremony was held and the BBC called for interviews, raising international interest.

Barbara Goyette, St. John's vice president for advancement and a graduate of the college, said the community outpouring when the Liberty Tree was felled -- after a storm -- was moving.

"When we had to take it down, we realized it wasn't just our tree," she said. "People felt it was their tree."

Goyette added, "I graduated under this tree."

But the one she meant was gone.

Instead, she said, standing by the little Liberty Tree, "We hope new memories will be made."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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