Saturday, August 20, 2011

Oliver Wolcott (1726 - 1797)

He signed the Declaration of Independence.  Oliver Wolcott was an American Patriot and soldier of the American Revolution, born in Windsor, Connecticut, and educated at Yale College (now Yale University).  He graduated in 1747.  He was the youngest son of Roger Wolcott, colonial governor of Connecticut from 1751 - 1754.

In his late 20's he married Laura Collins, with whom he would have five children. 

The following notices of the life of Gov. Oliver Wolcott, Sr.  (1726-1797), are copied from family documents.  The original sketch, published in Sanderson's Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (III, 63-67), is among these papers, having been drawn up by his son, the late Gov. Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

On leaving College, he received a commission as Captain in the Army, from Gov. George Clinton, of New York, and immediately raised a company of volunteers and served on the northwestern frontier in the French & Indian War.  He was promoted to major general.  He marched to the defense of the Northern Frontiers, where he served until the Regiment to which he was attached was disbanded, in consequence of the piece of Alix-la-Chapelle.After partic-ipating (1747-1748) in King George's War, Oliver returned to Connecticut and studied medicine, under the direction of his Brother, Dr. Alexander Wolcott, then a distinguished practitioner.  Before he was established in practice, the County of Litchfield was organized, and he was appointed the first sheriff of the county, in 1751.  He settled in Litchfield, and was a representative of the Town in the General Assembly.  In the year 1774, he was chosen an Assistant or Councilor, to which station he was annually elected till the year 1786.  While a member of the Council, he was also Chief Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the County, and for many years Judge of the court of Probate for Litchfield.  Wolcott was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775-1778 and 1780-1784, but was absent much of the time on military duty as major general in charge of Connecticut's militia.  On all the questions preliminary to the world-shattering War he was a firm advocate of the American cause.

At the Town Meeting held in Litchfield, Aug 17, 1774, to consider the Resolutions of the Legislature, on the subject of the Boston Port Bill, he presided, and drew up the eloquent preamble and resolutions then adopted, which we give in their place.  In July 1775, he was appointed by the Continental Congress as one of the Commissioners of Indian affairs for the Northern Department, -- a trust of great importance, its object being to induce the Indian nations to remain neutral during the war.  While he was engaged in this business, the controversies respecting the boundaries between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and between New York and Vermont, menaced the tranquility of the Colonies, and exposed them to the seductions of British partisans.  His influence was exerted with great effect to compromise these disputes, and to unite the New England settlers in support of the American cause.

In 1776 he took ill and left Congress to return home.  John Hancock, as the elected President of Congress, was the only person to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4th.  It was not until the following month on August 2nd that the remaining 54 other delegates began to sign the document.  George Washington ordered the newly adopted Declaration of Independence to be read to the troops on July 9th.  Recovering from his illness, Wolcott returned to Congress in October of 1776 at which time he signed the Declaration.  Also in 1776, Gov. Wolcott's home in Litchfield was the scene of a famous episode.  Exactly one week after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, an equestrian statue of King George III, which stood on Bowling Green in lower New York was taken down and carried by night to the general's home.  Wolcott placed the remaining pieces of the statue into a wagon and shipped the pieces to his home in Litchfield.  Here a celebration was held.  The lead statue was melted down and cast into bullets, making 42,088 cartridges, which were used by Continental soldiers.  Some fragments of the statue escaped the bullet mold and, having gone through various adventures, remain today - some in private hands and others in museums.  It is possible that other pieces will turn up and that even the head, last seen in London in 1777, still exists. 

During the American Revolution, he served with the Connecticut militia in several important campaigns. Wolcott led 14 Connecticut regiments to the defense of New York in 1776.  After the battle of Long Island, he resumed his seat in Congress and was with that body when, in December 1776, Congress fled to Baltimore to avoid British troops which occupied Philadelphia.    Having raised several thousand troops during the summer of 1777, General Wolcott reinforced General Putnam's forces on the Hudson River and in the fall of that year he joined General Horatio Gates, commanding a brigade of militia that took part in the defeat of General Burgoyne at Saratoga in Oct. of 1777. Returning to Congress, then assembled in York, Penn, he resumed his seat and remained until July 1778.  He served 10 years, 1786-1796, as lieutenant governor of Connecticut and governor from 1796 until his death in 1797 at the age of 72.  His son Oliver Wolcott, Jr. became secretary of the United States Treasury in 1795-1800 and the first Governor of Connecticut (1817 - 1827) under the Constitution.

While Oliver Wolcott was Lt. Governor of Connecticut (1796), the town of Farmingbury was changed to "Wolcott", Conn.  His vote broke the tie creating the Town of Wolcott and therefore in gratitude the townspeople named the town Wolcott.

On the 17th of January, 1777 he was appointed by the General Assembly of Connecticut Brigadier - General, and was constantly employed, the ensuing summer, in superintending detachments of militia, and corresponding on military subjects.  After detaching several thousand men to the assistance of General Putnam on the North River, he headed a corps of between three and four hundred volunteers, who joined the Northern Army under General Gates, and took command of a Brigade of Militia, and aided in reducing the British Army under General Burgoyne.  From February to July 1778, he attended Congress at Yorktown.

In 1786, he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Connecticut, and annually thereafter, until he was chosen Governor.  In November 1787, he was chosen a member of the State Convention, which adopted the Constitution of the United States.  In November 1789, he was further appointed by the State, in connection with Samuel H. Parsons and James Davenport, to hold a treaty with the Wyandotte's and other Indians, for extinguishing their title to the Western Reserve of Connecticut.

In the summer of 1779, he was in the field at the head of a Division of Militia, for the defense of the seacoast.  During the severe winter of 1779-80, famine added its terrors to excessive cold.  The deep snows in the mountain region of the State, and the explosion of the paper system, rendered it almost impossible to procure the necessaries of life.  Connecticut had been in the foremost ranks of the supporters of the war; she had contributed freely from her narrow resources, and the blood of her sons had moistened every battlefield.  And now, when cold and hunger threatened their utmost rigors, and a dark cloud hung over the fate of the country, the courage of her citizens failed not.  The records of her Towns -- the votes of recruits to the army and of bread to the suffering -- showed that she had counted the cost of the struggle, and was ready to meet it.  It may well be supposed that the resources of so zealous an advocate for the war as General Wolcott were not withheld. 

Of the many letters written to Oliver Wolcott and received by him from prominent men of his day we present a facsimile of one from General Washington.  (This is located in the Wolcott Family History Book, between page 154 and 155.

Every dollar that could be spared from the maintenance of the family was expended in raising and supplying men; every blanket not in actual use was sent to the Army, and the sheets were torn into bandages or cut into lint by the hands of his wife and daughters.  From 1781 to 1783, he occasionally attended Congress.  In 1784 and 1785, he was one of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs for the Northern Department, and in concert with Richard Butler and Arthur Lee prescribed the term of peace to the Six Nations of Indians.  His military services, his known probity and judgment, his ardent attachment to the Republican cause, and his social standing, all contributed to give him an extended influence, which was faithfully exerted for the public good. 

From the beginning to the end of the Revolutionary War, he was constantly engaged, either in the Council or in the field.
In the fall of 1796, he was chosen a Presidential Elector, in which capacity he voted for John Adams and Thomas Pickney.  The same year, he was chosen Governor, which office he held until his death, in the seventy-second year of his age.

Such is a brief catalogue of the more important political offices and services of Oliver Wolcott, the elder.  During a long and laborious life devoted to public service, he enjoyed the unmerited confidence of his fellow-citizens.

The account in the handwriting of General Wolcott, referring to the statue of George the Third previously mentioned, follows:
Mrs. Marvin............................................................... 3456
"        "        ,  on former account ................................       2602
Ruth Marvin, on former account ...............................       6204
Not sent to court house, 449 packs...........................     5388
Laura, on former account .........................................        4250
Not sent to courthouse, 344 packs ..........................      4128
Mary Ann, on former account ..................................         5762
Not sent to the court house, 119 packs, out of
which I let Colonel Parley Howe have 3 packs.........       5028
Frederick, on former account ..................................            708
Not sent to court house, 19 packs ...........................           228
Mrs. Beach's two accounts......................................            2002
Made by sundry persons ........................................             2182
Gave Litchfield militia, on alarm ...........................                50
Let the regiment of Col. Wigglesworthe have ..........                      300
            Cartridges, No ........................................................                    42288
            Overcharged to Mrs. Beach's account ...................            200

On the back of this account is written in the same handwriting, this brief explanation:  "An account of the number of cartridges made."

The following additional memorandum is in the handwriting of his son, Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

N. B. An equestrian statue of George the Third, of Great Britain, was erected in the city of New York on the Bowling Green, at the lower end of Broadway; most of the materials were lead, but richly gilded to resemble gold.  At the beginning of the revolution this statue was overthrown.  Lead being then scarce and dear, the statue was broken in pieces, and the metal transported to Litchfield as a place of safety.  The ladies of this village converted the lead into cartridges, of which the preceding is an account.
The following is a letter freeing his slave: Deed of Emancipation - Know all men by these presents, that I, Oliver Wolcott, of Litchfield, in the State of Connecticut, in expectation that my Negro servant man, Caesar, will by his industry be able to obtain a comfortable subsistence for himself, and that he will make a proper use of the Freedom which I hereby give him, do discharge, liberate and set free, him, the said Caesar, and do hereby exempt him from any further obligation of servitude to me, my heirs, and every other person claiming any authority over him, by, from, or under me.  And that my said servant, whom I now make free as aforesaid, may be known here-after by a proper cognomen, I hereby give him the name of Jamus -- so that here -after he is to be known and distinguished by the name of Caesar Jamus.  As witness my hand and seal in Litchfield, Nov. 23d A.D., 1786.
In presence of - Mariann Wolcott and Frederick Wolcott
            Signed by Oliver Wolcott, & a seal

Two portraits of him, duplicates, by Earle, have been preserved.  One of these is in the Capitol at Hartford, presented by his grandson, the late Dr. John S. Wolcott.  This has been engraved for Sanderson's Lives of the Signers, from a reduced copy of his granddaughter, Mrs. Laura W. Gibbs; the other is in the library of the Connecticut Historical Society, at Hartford, presented by Mrs. Gibbs.

In connection with the preceding sketch of General Wolcott, honorable mention is due to Mrs. Wolcott.  During his almost constant absence from home while engaged in the arduous service of the Revolutionary War, she educated their children and conducted the domestic concerns of the family, including the management of a small farm, with a degree of fortitude, perseverance, frugality, and intelligence, equal to which in the best days of ancient Rome distinguished her most illustrious matrons.  Without her aid, his public services could not have been rendered, without involving a total sacrifice of the interests of his family; with her aid, his house was a seat of comfort and hospitality and by means of her assistance he retained during life a small estate, a part of which was a patrimonial inheritance.

Her portrait, also by Earle, presents her as a woman of fine countenance and majestic figure, and authenticates the current tradition that in her day she was the most beautiful woman in the village.  Her remains lie beneath the same monument with her husband's in the east graveyard of Litchfield.  On the monument are inscribed the Arms of Wolcott, with the family motto, "Nullius jurare in verba."


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