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Title: Some Historic Trees

Creator: Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County

Release date: March 9, 2021 [eBook #64762]

Language: English

Credits: Stephen Hutcheson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

Some Historic Trees

Some Historic Trees

Boards of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County

One of a historical series, this pamphlet is published under the direction of the governing Boards of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County.


B.F. Geyer, President
Joseph E. Kramer, Secretary
W. Page Yarnelle, Treasurer
Mrs. Sadie Fulk Roehrs
Willard Shambaugh


The members of this Board include the members of the Board of Trustees of the School City of Fort Wayne (with the same officers) together with the following citizens chosen from Allen County outside the corporate City of Fort Wayne:

James E. Graham
Arthur Nieneier
Mrs. Glenn Henderson
Mrs. Charles Reynolds


From earliest times, trees have served and interested man. Primitive man found trees to be a source of food, fuel, clothing, and building material. In the dim, distant past certain trees were considered sacred as the habitat of woodland deities. Today, some giants of the forest are known for their great age and as landmarks; they are often associated with historical events.

The first portion of this pamphlet was published in the FORT WAYNE SENTINEL on July 11, 1891, and describes historic trees of the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation have been changed to correspond with current usage. The second part was written by the Library Staff; stories of notable trees of the Old Northwest are related.

The Boards and the Staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County present this publication in the hope that it will prove entertaining and informative to citizens of the Summit City.


There has been no Methuselah since the flood. Man seldom lives longer than one hundred years. Only the elephant and the tortoise feebly imitate the longevity of the antediluvians. But there are living things that outlive them all—things far more stately than the tallest man or largest quadruped—living things that were companions of the gray beards before the flood and lived to bless their grandchildren.

The only living links between us and the remote past are trees—grand old trees with clustering memories like trailing vines. In the shadows of the dark forest, in the light of the lofty hills, in the warmth and beauty of the broad plains of the great globe, they stand in matchless dignity. But they are few. They are patriarchs of the vegetable kingdom, receiving the homage of myriads of children. With what mute eloquence do they address us? With what moving pathos do the trees of Olivet discourse of Jesus, his “beautiful life and sublime death”? How the cedars of Lebanon talk of Solomon and Hiram, and the great temple of Jerusalem! In our own country and in our own time, ancient trees have been, and still are, intimately connected with our history as colonies and as a nation; they command the reverence of every heart.

Probably the most ancient of these living links connecting the present and the past was the Big Tree that stood on the bank of the Genesee River, near the village of Geneseo, New York. When first seen by the white man, it was the patriarch of the Geneseo Valley and was so revered by the Senecas that they named their village “Big Tree.” It also gave name to an eminent Seneca chief, who was the friend of Washington and his cause. During a great flood in the Geneseo Valley in 1857, the Big Tree was swept away and buried in the bottom of Lake Ontario. The trunk measured twenty-five feet, nine inches in circumference.

Probably next in age to the Big Tree was the famous Charter Oak in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. It was standing at the height of its glory and was estimated to be six hundred years old when the seeds of the commonwealth were planted there. Connected with it is a curious episode. When James II ascended the English throne, he took measures to suppress the growth of free government in America; 2 he sent over Edmond Andros to take away the charters from the colonies and to rule over them as governor general. Connecticut refused to give up her charter. When Andros attempted to seize it during a night session of the Assembly, Captain Wadsworth bore the charter away and secreted it in a hollow of the old oak. After James II had been deposed and Andros had been banished from New England, the charter was taken from its hiding place and the government re-established. On a stormy night in August, 1854, the old oak was prostrated.

In the Kensington area of Philadelphia, an old elm stood until 1810, known as Penn’s Treaty Tree, because under it the renowned Quaker made his compact with the Indians. “I will not do as the Marylanders did, that is, call you children or brothers only,” said Penn, addressing the Indians, “for parents are apt to whip their children too severely, and brothers sometimes will differ; neither will I compare the friendship between us to a chain for the rain may rust it or a tree may fall and break it, but I will consider you as the same flesh and blood with the Christians, and the same as if one man’s body were to be divided into two parts.”

Until 1860 a venerable willow tree stood in New York City and it has an interesting history. When Alexander Pope, the English poet, built his villa at Twickenham, he planted a small twig that a friend had sent him from Smyrna. This little twig of the Salix babylonica, or weeping willow, became the parent of all its kind in England and in the United States. One of the British officers who came to Boston in 1775 to crush the American Revolution carried with him a twig from Pope’s willow to plant on American soil. The twig was presented to John Parke Custis, Washington’s stepson, and was planted at Abingdon, Virginia. In 1790 General Gates planted a shoot from it on his farm on Manhattan Island, where it became in time a beautiful willow, the grandchild of Pope’s willow at Twickenham.

Soon after the great conflict for American independence had begun, Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the continental forces; on July 2, 1775, he took up his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The following morning he proceeded to a great elm tree at the north end of Cambridge Common and drawing his sword, he formally took command of the army. The old elm tree was known afterward as Washington’s Elm.


Penn’s Treaty Tree


Near the dividing line between North and South Carolina stood a famous tulip tree, marking the spot where the Americans defeated a part of Lord Cornwallis’ army in October, 1780. Because ten Tories were hanged from its branches after the battle, the tree was called afterward the Tory Tulip Tree.

Until about 1852, a majestic pine tree stood by the highway between the villages of Fort Edward and Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls) on the Hudson in upstate New York. Upon its trunk was carved “Jane McCrea, 1777.” The inscription memorialized the tragic fate of Jane McCrea. The daughter of a New Jersey clergyman, she moved, after her father’s death, to her brother’s home near Fort Edward. Here she became engaged to a neighbor’s son. He was a loyalist who entered the army of Burgoyne. In 1777, Jane was captured by Indians and was killed instantly when a bullet intended for the savages pierced her heart. Her lover purchased the locks of his beloved, deserted the army, and retired to Canada, where he bewailed his betrothed’s fate until the end of his life.

In 1779 Washington sent Mad Anthony Wayne to storm the fort on Stony Point in the Hudson highlands. When asked by Washington whether he could carry the fort, Wayne replied: “I’ll storm hell if you will only plan it!” Under a black walnut tree, in the stillness of the night, Wayne gave orders to his men, and as stealthily as tigers they approached the fort and surprised it. In the early morning Wayne wrote to the Commander in Chief, “The fort and garrison and Colonel Johnston are ours.” The walnut tree has perished.


a black walnut tree at Stony Point


Near Seaconnet, Rhode Island, stood a venerable sycamore tree, the only great tree left in that section of the state by the British when they evacuated it in October, 1779. Seaconnet Channel was the scene of one of the most dashing exploits of the War of Independence. The British had blocked the channel with the warship, “Pigot,” which was armed with twelve eight-pounders and ten swivels. Captain Silas Talbot undertook the capture of the “Pigot.” Embarking sixty men on the coasting schooner “Hawke” which was armed with only three three-pounders and small arms, he sailed under cover of darkness. Grappling the enemy, he boarded, drove the crew below, coiled the cables over the hatchway to secure his prisoners, and carried off his prize to Stonington.

In Charleston until 1849 there was a beautiful magnolia tree which spread its branches over more than two hundred square feet. Under this tree General Benjamin Lincoln held a council in 1780 to determine whether Charleston, then besieged by Sir Henry Clinton, should be evacuated. It was resolved to remain, but a few weeks later the Americans surrendered to the British, who had been reinforced by Lord Cornwallis.

At Lake Drummond in the Dismal Swamp in Virginia, there is a tall tree under which Washington is reputed to have passed a night in Colonial times.

When Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, visited Norfolk in 1834, he heard the story of a young man who became mentally unbalanced on the death of his beloved. Refusing to admit her death, he believed that she was living deep within the swamp. Under that impression he wandered into its solitudes and perished. Moore used this legend as the basis for his touching ballad “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp,” which commences:

“They made her a grave, too cold and damp

For a soul so warm and true;

And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,

Where, all night long, by a fire-fly lamp,

She paddles her white canoe.

And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see,

And her paddle I soon shall hear;

Long and loving our life shall be,

And I’ll hide the maid in a cypress tree,

When the footstep of death is near.”


The last of our historical trees is a white oak in the eastern part of the village of Flushing on Long Island a few miles from New York. George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, preached under it in 1672, and afterward it was held in deep regard by the Quakers.



Hoosiers and other Midwesterners may well be proud of the interesting trees of their states. These giants of the forest are interesting because of closely connected historical events or because of special facets of their own histories. Indiana and her neighboring states have produced great trees worthy of special mention.

The fame of a tree is perpetuated and frequently exaggerated or altered during its lifetime. The natives consider the tree as a landmark; they proudly point it out and relate its history to strangers. All too often when the tree dies and is felled, it is unfortunately forgotten. The legend also dies for succeeding generations.

The citizens of Indiana are indeed fortunate that their most famous tree, the Constitution Elm, has not been allowed to sink into oblivion. Delegates met at Corydon, Indiana’s first capitol, on June 10, 1816, to draft the first state constitution. The weather was unseasonably warm; the heat may have influenced the committee to adjourn to the shade of a huge elm on the lawn of the Statehouse. Under these sheltering branches spreading over one hundred feet, the delegates met each day until they had completed that historic document on the twenty-ninth of June in that memorable summer. The elm perished in 1925 from a fatal root disease, phloem necrosis, but the trunk was preserved and set in a sandstone monument.

Another elm connected with the political history of Indiana grew at Plainfield. In 1842 Martin Van Buren toured the West, and his itinerary included Indianapolis and Terre Haute with a stop en route at Plainfield. Although 1842 was not a presidential election year, Van Buren undoubtedly had in mind the coming nominations of 1844, for he made speeches at every stop and gave his political opinions freely. In Indianapolis he was given an enthusiastic reception by his friends and admirers. But he also had political enemies in Indiana. The owners of the stage coach lines were incensed because he had not favorably received legislation for road improvement.


the Constitution Elm ... Corydon, Indiana


These enemies planned to mar his arrival at Plainfield and had little trouble bribing the driver of Van Buren’s coach to effect it. The National Road led into Plainfield, and beside it towered an ancient elm. The massive roots of the tree extended across the road. As the coach approached the tree, the driver whipped up the horses instead of slowing them down. The wheels struck the obstacle; the impact upset the coach, and Van Buren landed in the muddy road. His political foes succeeded in spoiling his arrival at Plainfield and doubtlessly impressed him with the urgent need for highway improvement! The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution has since marked this elm with a plaque.

The patriarch of Fort Wayne’s apple trees was bearing fruit long before General Wayne appeared on the scene. When Chief Richardville of the Miami Indians was born in a hut near the tree in 1761, the apple tree stood in the midst of the Miami village, Kekionga. The city grew and prospered; late in the nineteenth century the venerable tree perished at an estimated age of one hundred and fifty years. Although the exact location is unknown, it stood in the Lakeside residential district of Fort Wayne. An article in the May, 1862, issue of HARPER’S NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE reveals that the trunk of the ancient tree measured twenty feet in diameter in 1860.

New Harmony, Indiana, the scene of two remarkable social experiments, had two trees worthy of mention. In 1803 the Harmonists, under the leadership of George Rapp, separated from the Lutheran church in Germany and migrated to Pennsylvania. In 1815 the sect moved again; the members decided on a site which they called “Harmonie” on the Wabash River in Indiana. Upon disembarking at their destination, they slept under an oak tree, which was later named “The Rappite Oak.” Rapp built his own house near the tree. The Harmonists were so successful in their communal living experiment that jealous neighbors made life unpleasant for them, and they returned to Pennsylvania in 1824. But the oak survived until 1900 and outlived all of the Harmonists, whose numbers dwindled rapidly because of their strict adherence to celibacy.

Robert Owen (1771-1858), another social experimenter, 12 purchased the settlement from Rapp and renamed it “New Harmony.” Unlike the Harmonists, Owen and his followers were humanists. Their community did not flourish long, but while in existence it was the home of a brilliant group of scientists. Among them were Thomas Say, a noted zoologist, Thomas Nutthall, a botanist, and William Maclure, one of the world’s outstanding geologists. All three men are commemorated by an Osage Orange tree planted in New Harmony in 1826. Say planted the tree and Nutthall conferred its scientific name, “Maclura pomifera,” in honor of Maclure. The tree was still alive in the 1920’s, a memorial to an experiment, which, although short lived, has had a lasting influence upon American democracy.

Several trees in the Great Lakes area were famous for their connections with treaty negotiations between the white settlers and the Indians. Just two days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Alexander and William Macomb purchased Grosse Ile and several smaller islands at the mouth of the Detroit River. The Fox and Potawatomi Indians signed a treaty ceding the islands in return for tobacco, blankets, and a small sum of money. The document was signed under a linden tree, which survived the event a century and a quarter. It was felled by a violent storm on July 3, 1901; the site has been marked by a tablet.

Relations between the Indians and settlers were not distinguished by a high code of honor; the unprovoked murders occasionally committed by both white and red men are probably the ugliest testimony of that fact. Chief Logan of the Mingo tribe has immortalized an elm tree by his reply to just such a treacherous mass murder. In the course of Dunmore’s campaign against the Indians in 1774, Colonel Cresap had killed all of Logan’s relatives in spite of Logan’s unblemished record as a friend of the whites. After this unwarranted cruelty, the embittered chief joined the battle against the settlers. The Indians were finally forced to make peace. Logan, standing beneath an elm tree in Pickaway County, Ohio, made his famous and moving appeal to Dunmore’s representative:


patriarch of Fort Wayne’s apple trees


“I appeal to any white man to say if he ever entered Logan’s cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if he ever came cold and naked, and he clothed him not? During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his camp, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as I passed and said, ‘Logan is the friend of the white man.’ I had ever thought to have lived with you but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for vengeance. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country I rejoice at the beams of peace; but don’t harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”

In Webster County, Kentucky, a tree acquired a sinister reputation because of its association with an infamous criminal. Two notorious brothers, Micajah and Wiley Harpe, came to Kentucky from North Carolina in 1799. Commonly known as “Big Harpe” and “Little Harpe,” the men left a trail of murder and plunder as they moved across the state. Arrested and imprisoned for murder, the desperadoes escaped and killed a boy and three men. They finally climaxed their crimes by murdering an entire family of women and children.

The outraged citizens, led by Captain Leeper, organized a posse and rode in search of the outlaws. One of the party was Mr. Stigall, the husband and father of the last group of victims. The posse overtook the brothers in Webster County, at a point near the junction of Union and Henderson counties. Captain Leeper shot and wounded “Big Harpe,” and Mr. Stigall killed him; but “Little Harpe” escaped unharmed.

The incensed men decapitated Harpe, and impaled his head on a sharpened sapling growing nearby. The tree continued to grow, branching around its shortened trunk. Underneath the head, a face was later carved into the bole of 15 the tree. The sculptured effigy remained clearly visible until the landmark was hewn down nearly a century later. The tree grew beside the intersection of roads from Henderson, Hopkinsville, and Morganfield, and the crossroads became known as “Harpe’s Head.”

Transcriber’s Notes