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A contextual note: The American patriot Thomas Payne wrote “The Liberty Tree” early in the American Revolution; it was published in the Pennsylvania Magazine in July 1775. Payne wrote the song to be sung to the tune “The Gods of Greece.” I was unable to find the tune, and I did not particularly like any of the tunes for Payne’s song that I did find, so I decided to write my own.

The Liberty Tree was an actual elm tree that grew in Boston. It was an important rallying point for the Sons of Liberty in the years before the American Revolution. Patriots gathered there to hold demonstrations and even hang British officials in effigy on the tree’s branches. So great was the power of this symbol that the British chopped it down in 1775.

In light of the song’s unfortunate relevance today (I’ll leave it up to the listener to determine who the “Kings, Commons, and Lords” of 21st-century America are), I’ve added the implied rallying cry to the final lines of the song, and I invite the listener to join in a cheer for freedom.

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Here’s the song text:

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The Liberty Tree

In a chariot of light, from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came,
Ten thousand celestials directed her way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic stuck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate,
Unvexed with the troubles of silver or gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea:
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains (’tis a tale most profane),
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons, and Lords, are uniting amain
To cut down this guardian of ours.
From the East to the West blow the trumpet to arms,
Thro’ the land let the sound of it flee :
Let the far and the near all unite with a cheer,
In defense of our Liberty Tree.

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Jack DesBois is a singer, actor, and storyteller. He gives annual Epiphany season performances of The Western Star, which he wrote in 2016. He self-published a chapbook of short poems in 2018. As a singer, Jack has had the good fortune to solo in several of the great works of Baroque Oratorio, including Handel’s Messiah (Bass) and Esther (Haman) and J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (Jesus). Jack lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts. 


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7 Responses

  1. Yael

    Sweet, this is a nice tune, good job. I really enjoy your voice, it’s very listenable.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thanks, Yael! I tried to imagine a tune that might have been sung in the public houses of colonial Boston – as this song very likely was.

      Reply
  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jack, I love this intriguing piece of American history. Thank you for bringing it to a wider audience carried on a beautiful new tune by your thoroughly enjoyable voice – a mellifluous treat.

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Susan. I enjoy the ease with which Paine, and the poets of his generation, play with words. There seems to have been a better natural understanding of language in bygone eras, perhaps because people wrote and read more – letters, especially – than we do now. At any rate, Paine’s song lends itself well to singing, and it was begging for a tune!

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        … and you responded to the plea for a song beautifully with your unique creation. I agree on the language front. We live in a visual age where the magic of language that has the power to fire the imagination and to paint linguistic pictures in vivid color before the reader’s eyes, has been dumbed down to a vague mumble on the screen and a shadow of its former self in post-modern literature. That’s why I love this site and the beautiful creations of those published on it. Thank you, Jack!

  3. Margaret Coats

    Good work in creating a lively original tune. I imagine you were inspired both by your historical research on the song, and by your knowledge of how American folk music has developed. Powerful performance in the serious American manner that provides a common touch to strongly-felt exuberance!

    Reply
    • Jack DesBois

      Thank you, Margaret. I did indeed draw on both historical research and my general immersion in American folk music to create the tune. For example, the 4/4 dotted rhythm of the main melody echoes the rhythms of Revolutionary War fife and drum music, and slowing down halfway through the verse struck me as a tavern-song sort of thing to do. I’m glad you felt my exuberance!

      Reply

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