Although little is ever spoken of the liberty pole today, at the time of the American
Since it is so unknown, it’s helpful to understand exactly what a liberty pole looks like.
A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, topped with a liberty cap — a type of Phrygian cap. These standards, visible symbols of defiance to perceived British despotism, were planted throughout the colonies in the years after Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act in 1765.
As tensions between the colonies and the crown escalated, Sons of Liberty planted the liberty poles throughout the 13 would-be-independent republics, from upstate New York to Savannah, Georgia. British troops, savvy as to the purpose of the poles, would tear them down, only to see them piercing the patriot sky the next morning.
On Boston’s Prospect Hill, the liberty pole was 76 feet high and was a formerly a ship’s mast taken from the captured British warship HMS Diana.
The pole mentioned above that was raised in New York City on May 21 was topped with a golden vane with one word on it — Liberty!
Occasionally, the liberty poles were topped with flags (in many American towns, a red flag flying on the liberty pole meant it was time for the people to gather and vent their frustrations over British rule), but typically, a Phrygian cap was lofted atop these totems of republicanism.
A website devoted to the history of the liberty pole planted in Rochester, New York recites a brief chronology of the uses of the Phrygian cap:
The Phrygian cap is a soft, red, conical cap with the top pulled forward, worn in antiquity by the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anatolia. In paintings and caricatures it represents freedom and the pursuit of liberty.
The Phrygian cap has two connotations: for the Greeks as showing a distinctive Eastern influence of non-Greek “barbarism” (in the classical sense) and as a badge of liberty among the Romans. The Phrygian cap identifies Trojans like Paris in vase-paintings and sculpture, and it is worn by the syncretic Hellenistic and Roman saviour god Mithras and by the Anatolian god Attis. The twins Castor and Pollux wear a superficially similar round cap called the pileus.
In Byzantium, Anatolian Phrygia lay to the east of Constantinople, and thus in this late 6th-century mosaic from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna (which was part of the Eastern Empire), the three Magi wear Phrygian caps, identifying them as generic “easterners.”
The Macedonian, Thracian, Dacian and 12th century Norman military helmets had a forward peaked top design resembling the Phrygian cap. The same soft cap is seen worn by an attendant in the murals of a late 4th century Thracian tomb at Kazanlak, Bulgaria.
In late Republican Rome, the cap of freedmen served as a symbol of freedom from tyranny: a coin issued by Brutus in