The Eastern White Pine is an extraordinary tree. It can grow past 200 feet tall, and is straight, light and strong. And it was ideal for the masts of warships in the days of sail.
The British colonies in New England had forests full of such trees. Britain had few trees of that size left, and their supply from the Baltic region could be easily interrupted by wars. The Royal Navy coveted the trees. British officials worked to assure the supply by asserting crown ownership, sending men through the forests to mark trees and reserve them for the Navy.
Agents of the Crown cruised the forests, looking for especially tall, straight trees suitable for His Majesty’s ships. The trees were marked with three quick slashes of an axe, resembling an arrow or a bird’s footprint. This was the King’s Broad Arrow, and people in the colonies hated it.
The idea of a distant government asserting ownership of local resources, even trees on private property, riled up settlers. There were heavy fines for cutting the trees, but the trees often got cut anyway, sometimes apparently out of sheer spite at regulations. There were conflicts between settlers and government agents, with a good deal of violence.
Some historians claim that the conflicts over the pines contributed greatly to the American anger at the mother country, an anger which led to the American Revolution.
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