NH Liberty Pole Guide for Idiots
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Liberty Pole (c) SeacoastNH.com by J. Dennis Robinson

You’ve seen that pole in Prescott Park, the one with the eagle and the shield. It’ been there now going on 200 years, but why? Sure it stands for "Liberty" Duh! But who put there and what great rebellion in New Hampshire history does it memorialize?




Three Eagles and Counting

The idiot mentioned in the title is me. Despite decades of passing by the Liberty Pole that stands at Prescott Park, I’m only now coming to put the puzzle pieces together. You’ve likely seen the early photographs of Liberty Bridge on Marcy Street that runs between the park and Strawbery Banke Museum. Well, the only bridge on Marcy (formerly Water Street) is at the bottom of the hill by the fish market. I got it into my head long ago that the Liberty Pole used to be down there by the former mill dam that leads to South Mill Pond. I figured the pole was later moved.

Wrong. As you probably know, where the pole now stands was a tidal inlet called the Cove that ran all the way from the river into what is now Strawbery Banke. It all makes much more sense from the air where one can see how the flat lower half of the park (where the flower beds are) flow into the flat empty field at the museum. The pole stands near where the old "swing" bridge used to be. Originally it was possible to take a small boat into the inlet and, at high tide, further on up to South Mill Pond. But activity at the cove got choked with silt and refuse. Eventually the inlet in the Puddle Dock area was filled in with 25 tons of ash and debris around the start of the 20th century and Liberty Bridge ceased to exist. But the pole stayed.

Prescott Park and Liberty Pole (c) Peter E. Randa;; on SeacoastNH.com



Here is the rest of the story. This is not deep research, just data I cobbled together to understand what that largely unnoticed memorial stands for.

 -- Liberty Bridge was first built across the tidal inlet at Puddle Dock around 1731. In those days the waterfront was the hub of Portsmouth activity.

 -- Colonists were really ticked off by King George’s Stamp Act that imposed taxes on newspapers, stationery and documents. On September 12, 1765 a mob of Portsmouth, NH citizens hung colonial tax collector George Meserve in effigy in Haymarket Square. Meserve was not in town at the time and, sensing public outrage, quickly resigned his lucrative royal position.

Liberty Bridge and Pole/ SeacoastNH.com -- Locals demanded a public resignation and later surrounded Meserve’s house. They reportedly paraded his royal commission through town on the tip of a sword and shipped it back to King George in England. 

 -- In memory of their act of civil disobedience, a group of local insurgents called the Sons of Liberty unfurled a banner here on a pole in the Puddle Dock area in 1766. The note read "Liberty, Property and No Stamp". Remember, this is almost a decade before the American Revolution.

So those who love Portsmouth history can now visit all three eagles and both Liberty Shields. And yes, that is the "real" Liberty Pole, except we’ve had to replace it a few times along the way. It is every bit as authentic as the rebuilt Old Ironsides and ten times more real than Plymouth Rock.

Copyright 2007 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

PHOTO CREDITS: Top photo of Liberty Pole by J. Dennis Robinson © SeacoastNH.com. Image of eagle and liberty cap by Jim Cerny © Jim Cerny, all rights reserved. Aerial view by Peter Randalland (c) Peter E. Randall/ All tights reserved. Historical images (c) Strawbery Banke Museum archive. .

J. Dennis Robinson is the editor and owner of the popular regional web site SeacoastNH.com. His book Jesse James: Legendary Outlaw has just been released in paperback and is available on Amazon.com.