About St. John's College
Annapolis Campus Tour
The Liberty Tree
The St. John's College Liberty Tree has a history as old as that of the Maryland colony. It was already a mature tree, green and flourishing, when Annapolis residents staged their own tea party and burned the vessel Peggy Stewart. It was in yellow leaf when 4,000 French troops marched through the city to join General Washington at Yorktown in 1781. And it stood in wintry silhouette when Lafayette, watching from a specially erected pavilion, attended a review of soldiers on the college green during two days of festivities honoring him in December 1824.
Reputed to be the last of the so-called Liberty Trees in the United States, the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) survived a bolt of lightning and an explosion of gunpowder within its trunk, plus the vagaries of wind and weather during four centuries. In 1961 it was featured in Ripley's "Believe it or Not" cartoon strip as "The Poplar That Would Not Die!"
It was under the Liberty Tree's branches that the Sons of Liberty met to hear Samuel Chase and other patriot-orators. Annapolis residents also gathered there to determine whether or not people who had not joined the association of patriots should be driven out of the colony.
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.
When the tree finally succumbed to age and weather, its diameter was 102 inches, measured four and a half feet from the ground. The tree was about 96 feet tall and had a total spread of 60 feet.
The Liberty Tree received special care from a local horticultural expert, but, after 400 years, the tree was too old to withstand the beating it took during Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. On October 25, the Liberty Tree was taken down following a ceremony celebrating its long life.
Under a clear Annapolis sky the morning of March 30, 2007, the St. John's College Class of 2007 made a deeply sentimental and symbolic gift to the college. On the site where the Liberty Tree once stood, a new tree--a 25 foot tall tulip poplar--was planted.