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Why The Name King's Mark?



The name "King's Mark" was chosen because of the significance of the term in American history and the history of forestry.


The King's Broad Arrow and Eastern White Pine


The majestic Eastern White Pine is the tallest of the pine species in North America with a rich history that played a crucial historical role in the colonial America, yet unknown to many. The white pine tree (Pinus Strobus) was especially important in Colonial America. These tall trees were perfect for the masts of sailing ships.


Trees 150 to 240 feet tall and trunks free of branches to heights of 80 feet or more were plentiful in the new world.  Lumber from these trees was very light, yet strong. The woodworking properties of the species made it very easy for a carpenter to shape and finish.  As added value due to its characteristics and slow growth, it was very resistant to rot. Houses, businesses, bridges and countless other structures, along with day-to-day utility items were built from the wood of Eastern White Pine.  This species truly shaped early America.


Great Britain had depleted its forests by the 17th century and looked to the tall, straight white pines the colonies to supply its appetite for timber for wooden ships, especially the old-growth pines for masts.


Twenty years after their arrival, the Pilgrims began exporting Eastern White Pine as far as Madagascar in ships also built of these native North American trees. They were so big that ships with extra-long special decks were built to accommodate them for transport to the shipbuilding ports owned by Great Britain.  Due to its height and straightness, Eastern White Pine quickly became the choice material for ship mast production. Of all the species of wood used for masts around the world, these were the lightest in weight and the largest in size. Other critical shipbuiliding components such as frames, planking and knees, pitch and tar for seaming, resins and turpentine for paint and varnish, and spars to hold sails aloft were produced from the wood. To maintain its world dominance of the seas, Great Britain needed the strongest and fastest ships. Eastern White Pine made these ships the greyhounds of their day and a force to reckon with in any battle.


As a result, King George I of England wanted to ensure that the very best of the trees were kept for official use.  Since all of New England was considered "Crown Land" of the British Empire, the King took control of the the tallest and largest of these great trees. 


To ensure that the best of the mast trees remained available for the Royal Navy and British ship builders, England declared the largest white pines to be the property of the King, marked, protected, and harvested for the government's use.


Written In The Charter


The preservation of trees for the mast trade was so important to England that it was even written into the Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1691.


Use of the broad arrow mark commenced in earnest in 1691 with the Massachusetts Bay Charter which contained a "Mast-Preservation" Clause specifying, in part:


"For better providing and furnishing of Masts for our Royal Navy wee do hereby reserve to us Our Heires and Successors ALL trees of the diameter of 24 inches and upward of 12 inches from the ground, growing upon any soils or tracts of land within our said Province or Territory not heretofore granted to any private persons. We doe restrains forbid all persons whatsoever from felling, cutting or destroying any such trees without the the Royall Lycence from us Our Heires and Successors first had and obteyned vpon penalty of Forfeiting One Hundred Pounds sterling vnto Ous Our Heires and Successors for every such Tree soe felled cult or destroyed without such Lycence " - The Charter of Massachusetts Bay - 1691


Every winter representatives of the King of England would mark white pines trees with a mark called the "King's Broad Arrow." The colonists were not allowed to cut down these trees for their own use; they were reserved for the crown. Trees marked with the arrow were cut down, hauled down to a nearby river, and then floated to the sea where they would eventually be made into masts for the Royal Navy.


Each one was emblazoned (three hatchet slashes) by the the King's Royal Surveyors with a mark that became known as the King's Broad Arrow. This signified property of the King and the trees were to be harvested and used solely for building ships for the Royal British Navy.


King George's broad arrow was marked into the chosen trees, a vertical line topped with an upside-down "V," slashed with a hatch onto the surface of a the straightest and tallest white pines warned others away.


To protect the marked trees, the King’s government appointed surveyor-generals for large tracts of land. Working in tandem with the surveyors, sometimes with a conflicting agenda, were the mast agents, who represented the interests of British firms that contracted to provide masts to the crown. The agents figured prominently in the local economy and society.


This move greatly upset the colonists who made a great deal of money from the wood products they produced and sold from these native giants. One can easily understand why the early American colonists, shipbuilders, and other craftsmen were more than a little irritated. The early American pioneers had this timber on their properties, within their grasp, yet they were not to touch it.  “Swamp Law” was exercised by many of the colonists, whereby many of the "King's" pines were cut illegally, the “Kings Broad Arrow” mark obliterated and the wood was put to use.  So the colonists cut down all the trees marked with the king's broad arrow and then placed the broad arrow on smaller trees. This rebellion led to numerous skirmishes between the locals settlers and the British and became known as "The White Pine War".


Although the Broad Arrow Policy could never be effectively enforced and the colonists continued to cut mast trees for sale on the black market, the supply of great pines was sufficient to provide a crucial resource for the Royal Navy for 125 years, until the monopoly was finally ended by the American Revolution.


The Revolutionary War was about many things, and Eastern White Pine weighed heavy on the minds and hearts of the colonists desire for independence. Some historians believe that denial of use of these trees was at least as instrumental as taxation of tea in bringing about the American Revolution. In fact, the Eastern White Pine was the emblem emblazoned on the first colonial flag.



The Broad Arrow Mark

Use Of The Broad Arrow Mark In The Colonies

Why The White Pine?

The King's Pines

Logging The King's Pines



The Broad Arrow Mark



The 'Broad Arrow', the Government property mark, originates back to 1330.


Origin Of Use For Government Property


The Office of Ordnance was created by Henry VIII in 1544. The Office became the Board of Ordnance in 1597, its principal duties being to supply guns, ammunition, stores and equipment to the King's Navy. The broad arrow mark was used over the years by the Office and Board to signify at first objects purchased from the monarch's money and later to indicate government property.


The Broad Mark on any object ensured that ownership could be readily established as King's property. It is still currently a criminal offence to reproduce the broad arrow without authority. Section 4 of the Public Stores Act 1875 makes it illegal to use the "broad arrow" on any goods without permission


Use Of The Broad Arrow In The American Colonies


The Broad Arrow was an emblem used by the British to mark the King's property.


One of the more onerous uses of the broad arrow was to mark timber in North America during colonial times. During those times, the abundance of large shipbuilding-grade timber in North America was exploited by the British Royal Navy who exercised a form of eminent domain power by emblazoning the broad arrow mark, essentially three axe strikes resembling an arrowhead and shaft, on large “mast-grade” trees destined for delivery to shipbuilders in England.


Why The White Pine?


Softwoods such as firs and pines are superior to hardwoods for use as masts since they are far more flexible and carry less weight aloft.


The King’s Pines


Pines trees can live a long time, sometimes for more than 200 years, and grow to heights upward of 120 feet. Eastern White Pine is the tallest tree in eastern North America. In natural pre-colonial stands it grew to about 70 m (230 ft) tall, but current trees typically reach 30-50 m (100 - 160 ft) tall with a diameter of 1-1.6 m (3-5 ft). Very few of the original trees remain untouched by extensive logging operations in the 1700s and 1800s to harvest the valuable wood.  We very really see pines about 80 feet these days, since reforestation has only been going on in the Eastern US within the past hundred years.


The white pine is an excellent tree of many virtues, but to the Europeans arriving on the east coast of North America during colonial times, it was an amazing tree- twice as tall as other trees back in England and continental Europe. Huge, straight, lightweight, durable, the least resinous of all pines, it provided the lumber for houses, furniture, coffins, and boats as well as masts for the tall ships.


The first English language account of Pinus Strobus was in John Josselyn’s Two Voyages to New England, 1674. He wrote, “The Pine Tree is a very large tree, very tall….”. In fact, it was at least twice as tall as the Pines (Pinus sylvestris) back home in England, and this made it very noteworthy indeed.


In 1605, Captain George Weymouth of The British Royal Navy took seeds and logs to England, where the Naval Board realized what an important asset this tree could be. In the 1750’s, King George I claimed exclusive rights on the best of these pines in New England, which was the “ which were called “King Pines”, and marked with a blaze called The King’s Broad Arrow. Since all of New England was considered "Crown Land" of the British Empire, King George I took control of the tallest and largest of these great trees.  This signified property of the King and the trees were to be harvested and used solely for building ships for the Royal British Navy.





Marking tall white pines in New England with a "broad arrow" to reserve them for the British Royal Navy. This imposition was one of many that led American colonists to revolt against Britain


In 1761, the Crown decided that future land grants restricted the cutting of timber over 24 inches in diameter. The colonists considered the White Pine on their land their own important economic asset, and ignored, circumvented or in one case rebelled against this. In New Hampshire, The Pine Tree Riot of 1772 protested the law that made settlers pay for the right to cut pines on there own land. It was considered a form of taxation, and we know how New Hampshire people have always felt about that.


The majestic White Pine, symbolic of the unique riches offered in North America, was depicted on the first New England Flag in 1686, and again appeared on the Massachusetts Coat of Arms and Naval Flag, the first seal of New Hampshire, and the current flag of Vermont. Perhaps the Arboretum should fly a flag at the entrance to our new Pine Collection, to celebrate the historic and economic heritage of the majestic pine.



Parliament Acts of 1711, 1722 and 1772 extended protection finally to 12 inch diameter trees and resulted in the Pine Tree Riots of New Hampshire that same year.


This was one of the first acts of rebellion by the American colonists leading to the American Revolution in 1775 and a flag bearing a white pine is said to have been flown at the Battle of Bunker Hill.


Property Of The King


No matter who owned or cleared the land, the white pines on the land belonged to the King of England. In 1772 the British Parliament and King George III made a law protecting "any white pine tree of the growth of twelve inches in diameter." There was already a law protecting the larger white pine trees. All of these laws meant that the settlers couldn't cut any white pines unless they had the Deputy Surveyor come to mark the trees with the broad arrow, saving them for masts. Then the settlers had to pay a tidy sum of money to get a royal license to cut the rest of the white pines from their own land.


Deputy surveyors of the King's Woods were appointed by the governor. The Deputy Surveyor and his crew had the authority to mark any and all suitable white pines with the broad arrow mark of the king. The Deputy Surveyor also had the authority to check the sawmills run by the settlers. If he found any white pine logs or lumber that had been cut without a royal license, he could mark each piece with a broad arrow. The logs and lumber could then be seized by the sheriff and the owner of the sawmill had to pay a huge fine or go to jail.


It is said that one, and probably the only, great thing the English king did was to place the "mast-trade" upon a broad and firm foundation. The government created a fleet whose sails whitened every nook and corner of the globe, a fleet which conquered the Dutch, outstripped the French, and which has commanded the seas ever since the establishment of the mast trade in our New England colonies. Industrious, skilful and energetic men came to this country to help promote this trade. Not only did New England supply the immense Royal Navy with masts, spars, and bowsprits, but the merchant marine was fitted out here also. We find that, in the later development of the trade, ships were built right on the New England shores for the express purpose of transporting the huge sticks hewn from the virgin forests.


Logging The King’s Pines


How were these long, straight trees was felled.  There were certain details which had to be observed when cutting an "approved tree" (Broad Arrow) necessary to fell a tall pine and avoid damage to it when it fell to ground.


A mast tree would have no limbs within eighty or more feet of the ground and would be in danger of splitting when it fell. A path was cleared from the base of the tree in the direction it was to be felled, for the same distance as the height of the tree. The ground had to be nearly level.


All the large branches were cut from the Broad Arrow tree before it was felled. Also, all nearby trees were cut to prevent damage to the mast tree as it fell. The small branches were left on to help reduce the force of the fall. Therefore, a bed or cradle was carefully prepared to receive it.


In the winter snow helped, being so deep in that it not only covered all the rocks and boulders, but presented a soft bed for the tree to fall upon. If there was snow on the ground, the path of the fall was thoroughly probed to discover hidden rocks and stumps. One of these under the tree as it fell might break it, especially in the upper part, which had the longest fall and hit the ground with the greatest force. Frequently snow and brush were brought in to smooth out the area where the mast tree was to fall.


Every reasonable precaution was taken to see that damage to the tree would be avoided. When the tree was on the ground, the task was less than half done. Most of the masts were cut and carried out in winter. But in other seasons, when the ground was bare and stony, the lumbermen would cut down scores of small trees, and so pile them that, when the giant mast crashed down, it would nestle among the upright branches of the smaller trees. Thus the great tree was safely brought to earth. The log was then cut off in the proportion of a yard in length for every inch of diameter. Since each mast was at least twenty-four inches in diameter, it must be at least twenty-four yards, or seventy-two feet, long. If the slightest defect was found, the log might be cut shorter for yards or bow-sprits. If it proved to be unsound, it was either left or sawed up into logs.


Great pines weighed many tons and usually could not be dragged. When possible they were floated down rivers but with great care to avoid rapids and falls. If moved overland, they were laced on several pair of wheels. and pulled by many yoke of oxen at the front and along each side of the mast log.


The transportation of these logs was a Herculean task for the engineers of those days. All the men for miles around were summoned and great crowds gathered to see the feat. The mast was rigged upon two pairs of wheels; sixteen and sometimes even forty yoke of oxen were chained in front; on each side, between the fore and hind wheels, two additional yoke tugged and strained. In this fashion the forty (or eighty-eight) animals, under the guidance of noted drivers, pulled and strained as one machine, the huge mast was put in motion and was slowly but surely dragged to the coast.


Harvesting and distributing masts required a network of local workers, many of whom were involved in closely related forest industries that produced large quantities of boards for buildings and ships. The production of lumber supported many more people than did the masts, but to the crown, the masts were a priority.


Concerning the value of these huge sticks, considered by Europeans to be "the best in the world," we find that some New England masts, in 1644, were sold to the Royal Navy for from ninety-five to one hundred and fifteen pounds per mast. These masts measured from thirty-three to thirty-five inches in diameter at the butt. A premium of one pound per ton was usually paid on masts by the Royal Navy.


So extensive was this trade that an entire fleet was constructed in the Colonies for the purpose of carrying the great sticks to England. These ships carried about a half hundred masts each, and were manned by crews averaging twenty-five men. The mast-ships plowed the seas until the breaking out of the Revolution in 1775.


It has been estimated that around 4500 masts were shipped to the Royal Navy between 1694-1775. This was only one percent of the trees reserved for Navy use. After 1722 the cutting of white pine trees of over eight-inch diameter was forbidden unless a contract and license was obtained from the Royal Navy. Every attempt to enforce this restrictive policy resulted in ill feeling and real trouble between the Colonies and the Royal Navy.


In general there were three size groups for masts:

Small, 8-12 inches in diameter.

Middling, 12-18 inches in diameter.

Great. 18 inches and over in diameter.

Most New England mast logs were of the "great" variety.


Prices paid for trees delivered in England varied. Some examples of actual contracts:

24-inch diameter at base, 27 yards long - 35 pounds.

36-inch diameter at base, 35 yards long  - 135 pounds.

36-inch diameter at base, 36 yards long  - 153 pounds.


It appears that the diameter in inches about equaled the height of the tree in yards. The white pine trees cut down in New England and used for masts were considered as the most durable.


Colonial Economy - The Need For Lumber


Most of the early settlers were hardy pioneers who came here direct from England. All were struggling to make a living under difficult conditions, not the least of which were the problems they were having with native American. A few had connections with merchants in the Old Country. All were ambitious to make money and trees were the one product ready for use, in all sizes and in great quantity. Sawmills became the prime necessity.


England depended on the Colonies for its lumber because it had no large forests of its own. England's forests had been cut down and made into farmland. Traditionally, England got Scotch fir (Pinus sylvestris) from Russia, Sweden, and other countries across the Baltic sea, but access to these countries could be cut off by its enemies and the wood of the Scotch fir wasn't as strong as the wood of the white pine. One of the things England looked to the Colonies for was a steady supply of lumber to build ships for the Royal Navy.

In the early 1700s more and more people were leaving England and Europe and coming to the American Colonies. The towns along the coast were developing into trading centers for the supplies that the colonists needed to buy from England. The colonists also had materials to sell to the ships that were sailing back to England.


One of our most abundant resources was trees. By the late 1600s, England had few forests left that could provide suitable trees for the giant masts, support timbers, and lumber for their growing Royal Navy and merchant ships. Tall, straight white pines were needed for "single- stick" masts. A single stick mast was hewn from one tree, rather than fastening two or more trees together with wooden pegs. A single-stick mast was by far the superior mast. It could hold full sail in the heaviest gales. The colonists soon started moving away from the farms and towns along the coast. In the mid- 1700s regional governors granted huge parcels of land to many of their  friends and granted charters for incorporation to newly developing towns. Families made the dangerous trip from the coastal towns to the forests. They cleared the land for farms and built roads for travel.


The Connecticut River was an area where tall trees grew, and were cut and floated down the river to be shipped from Connecticut to England for the Royal Navy.


From the earliest days, colonists recognized the great value of their tall white pine trees as lumber for building material, for construction of boats and of houses to live in, for exporting to other lands in exchange for needed commodities, and for tall masts for big ships. The Privy Council claimed all tall pines suitable for masts under existing trade agreements imposed on the colonies. However, it was often much less profitable to sell long trees for masts, due to cost of cutting, getting to boat for shipping, and the price paid for the delivered product, than to convert them into boards and plank, especially when shipped to places other than England. The Privy Council became convinced that thousands of excellent mast pines were being destroyed, and this feeling was undoubtedly well founded.


In 1674 one Edward Randolph was sent to see how the trade agreements and navigation acts were being observed. He reported many and serious violations but stressed the vast timber trade possibilities. Also he reported that the pine for masts here were the "best in the world." This quickened the interest of the London trading community in New England. Pinus Strobus (white pine) must be protected in New England to advance the sea power of England. Scotch fir (Pinus Sylvestris), found in abundance in the north European forests, was inferior, less durable, more difficult to obtain and transport. These are some of the reasons and causes for the 1691 Massachusetts Bay Charter which reserved "ALL trees of the diameter of 24 inches and upward at 12 inches from the ground" for the Royal Navy in the mast-preservation clause (quoted above).


For the first few years after 1691 New England paid little attention to the preservation clause. Licenses were issued freely upon assurance that the King's trees would not be molested. Sawmills continued with even greater activity, and with a growing disregard for the protection of ‘Broad Arrow’ tall white pines. England got much of its naval supplies from the Baltic during this period. Strict policing of New England seemed unnecessary. Thus little effort was made to enforce the restriction. This laxity led to much unlicensed cutting of marked pines.


The Broad Arrow Mark was made on the base of the tree by three blows with a marking hatchet. It was said to resemble a crow's track more than an arrow. Mast trade with England declined steadily. Surveyor-Generals and their agents were responsible for selecting, marking, policing, and enforcing. They became very unpopular and enforcement more difficult, as they stepped up the marking of more and more trees with the ‘Broad Arrow’.


To be a successful merchant in the mast business required much cash or financial backing. Most of them lived in England with agents in New England. The mast business was carried on in an unusual manner. First, the Navy Board would place an order for an entire year's requirements. This Board usually dealt with a "select few" contractors. Once a mast contractor got an order from the Navy Board, he sent a copy to his agent on the first vessel westbound for New England. The agent hired crews, prepared equipment, and selected the cutting area.


Also the contractor had to obtain a royal license from the Privy Council. This often involved much delay. Then the Surveyor-General was notified of each contract by the Navy Board. It was his duty to assist the agent, compare terms of contract with terms of license, approve selection of trees, watch the roasting teams to assure that only trees covered by license were felled.


The agents and contractors who carried on the great traffic amassed huge fortunes, but not so with the men who wielded the ax or the ox-goad. The felling of one mast would require scores of men, and thousands were employed by the agents; but because there was almost no business in the summer time, because the workers were supplied with the bare necessities of life and very poorly paid, the laborers were always anticipating their wages, and, as they themselves phrased it, "working for a dead horse." Thus they were kept in a poverty-stricken and dependent state. By such a system contractors heaped up enormous fortunes.


In the legislation of the time all white pines were accounted as the property of the King


No matter how rigidly the mast laws were enforced, the experienced woodsmen could, with little difficulty, avoid the penalty although they broke the laws. It does seem as though in some cases they cut down the "favorites of nature" just out of spite. Then, too, because of the great number of these forest monarchs, many a mast tree must necessarily rot in the woods before the contractors could reach it. Yet, if it bore the "broad arrow," it must not be touched. Many, too, after being felled, were found to be unsound and were left to decay.


By about 1650, the colonists in America had established a flourishing trade in masts, lumber, and other naval stores to Europe and the Caribbean. They were not pleased when the British Admiralty awoke to the fact that its supply of mast trees in North America was in danger. In 1685, a Surveyor of Pines and Timber was appointed to survey the Maine woods “within 10 miles of any navigable waterway” and mark all suitable trees with “the king’s broad arrow,” the symbol used since early times to designate Royal Navy property. Any “trees of the diameter of twenty-four inches and upwards at twelve inches from the ground” with a yard of height for each inch of diameter at the butt was blazed with the broad arrow. Woe to anyone who damaged or stole the king’s property. The fine was 100! The Broad Arrow Policy was observed with all the enthusiasm that greeted Prohibition more than two centuries later, and the same native ingenuity was applied to circumvent it.


Mast trees were partially burned in mysterious fires or splintered in unusual gales. Loopholes apparently excluded certain properties, whose great pines were promptly felled and sawn into profitable lumber. And never, under any circumstances, would the floorboards of any colonial home exceed 23 inches in width. The law was tightened again and again, but still the king’s pines continued to disappear.


Mast trees usually were cut in the fall, when they were full of resin. The trees were carefully felled on prepared beds, limbed, and squared. During the winter, the rough timbers, or baulks, were dragged by brute strength onto sleds and hauled out of the woods by teams of oxen. Since one great tree could weigh as much as 18 tons, this was a difficult and dangerous process, requiring great skill and the efforts of as many as 100 oxen


At the mast depot, the baulks were graded and hewn to the specified 16 sides. Then they were loaded aboard special mast ships through large stern ports for transportation to England, where the final trimming and fitting of the mast was done. Some of these mast ships were of 400 to 600 tons burden and could carry 30 to 50 of the enormous baulks below decks.





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