Oliver Wolcott, Sr.

By: Frederick Calvin Norton
The Governors of Connecticut,
Connecticut Magazine, Vol. 7, 1901.

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"Oliver Wolcott, the second member of that famous family to occupy the office of governor, was a distinguished soldier, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of Congress. He was the son of Governor Roger Wolcott, and was born in Windsor on Nov. 25, 1726. Entering Yale College in 1743, he was graduated in the class of 1747. Almost immediately after graduation the young man entered the army, received a caption's commission, and recruited a company at once. Marching his men to the northern frontier he took an active part in the French and Indian War which was then raging. The following year, 1748, the treaty of Aixle-Chapelle was concluded and as that put to an end to further hostilities, Wolcott's services were no longer needed, so he returned to Connecticut.

"As a proof of his great ability as a military officer may be instanced the fact that he left this state as a captain and returned a major general. He returned to private life and began the study of medicine under the direction of Dr. Alexander Wolcott, a brother, and one of the celebrated practitioners of the day. Upon the completion of his studies, Wolcott began to practice in Goshen, but soon received the appointment as sheriff of the recently organized Litchfield County. In 1774 he was elected a member of the Council and continued holding the office until 1786, notwithstanding the fact that he was, during the same period, a delegate to the Continental Congress, judge of he Litchfield County Court, and judge of probate for the district. He did excellent service also as a member of the Commission on Indian Affairs appointed by the first Congress. Much of his time was devoted toward bringing about a satisfactory settlement between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming controversy.

"General Wolcott first took his seat in the second Congress in January, 1776, and was in attendance throughout the famous debates over the Declaration of Independence. During this critical period he distinguished himself by upholding the cause of the colonies with a spirit of lofty patriotism. He signed the Declaration of Independence and then returned to Connecticut, where his valuable services were needed in the field. The governor placed him in command of a detachment of Connecticut militia embracing fourteen regiments raised for the defense of New York. He thoroughly organized those troops, divided them into brigades, and participated in the actions about New York; but returned to his home in Litchfield after the battle of Long Island had been fought. In November of that year he resumed his seat in Congress and was with that body when in December, 1776, Congress fled to Baltimore from Philadelphia on account of the occupation of the latter place by the British.

"Having raised several thousand recruits during the summer of 1777, General Wolcott reinforced General Putnam on the Hudson River, and rendered valuable assistance to the latter officer. During this period he was corresponding with leaders throughout the colonies on matters of military importance. In the fall he joined General Horatio Gates, in the northern department, and took an active part in the capture of Burgoyne’s army. In October of that year during these operations General Wolcott was in command of a brigade.

"Returning to Congress, which was then assembled at York. Pa.. Wolcott resumed his seat in that body and remained until July, 1778.

"When General Tryon began his expedition of plunder and devastation of Connecticut towns during the summer of 1779, General Wolcott took command of a division of state militia and defended the southwestern coast in a successful manner, Fairfield and Norwalk were laid in ashes, and other towns plundered in a barbarous manner, but the heroic work of General Wolcott’s command thwarted many plans of the British.

"In 1780 Wolcott was again elected a member of Congress, which office he held for the next four years, although he did not attend the sessions regularly. During these years his time was divided, attending to civil and military affairs in Connecticut. He also acted as an Indian agent during a portion of this period.

"General Wolcott was one of the commissioners who settled terms of peace with the famous six Nations, a group of Indian tribes who lived in the western portion of New York, and had spread terror and desolation among the white inhabitants for years. In 1786, General Wolcott was chosen lieutenant-governor of Connecticut and was re-elected to the office every year until 1796, when he was chosen governor of his native state. He served one year and was then re-elected, but did not complete the term, as he died while in office on Dec. 1, 1797, in the seventy-second year of his age.

"Governor Wolcott’s patriotism, was of the highest type, and he was always looked upon by the leaders of the Revolution as a brave defender of the cause.

"In 1776 Governor Wolcott’s home in Litchfield was the scene of an escapade which has been recalled many times. For a time, one of the principal ornaments of lower New York was an equestrian statue of George III. This was cast in lead and stood on Bowling Green where it attracted much attention. Exactly one week after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence this statue of King George was taken down and carried by night to the home of General Wolcott in Litchfield. Here a sort of celebration was held and then the statue was cast into bullets, making 42,088 cartridges, which were used by the Continental soldiers.

"The historian of Litchfield pays this tribute to his public career: He was singularly modest and even diffident with men in the common walks of life Those who best knew this gentleman well knew that the highest trust was never improperly placed in him. He possessed a benevolent heart and was warm in his friendship, a firm friend to order, a promoter of peace; a lover of religion; and a tried, unshaken friend to the institution of the Gospel. He was an indefatigable student and neither wasted his time nor his words. His mind was clear and penetrating; in his views of political subjects, just and comprehensive In discernment of the wisest means to promote the best ends, ready and exact; and his acquaintance with science extensive. He had a remarkable talent at investigation. He has left a name which is a sweet savor to his surviving friends; and a lively hope that be is enjoying the rewards of the faithful in immortal bliss.’

"Lossing says of Governor Wolcott, ‘As a patriot and statesman, a Christian and a man, Governor Wolcott presented a bright example for inflexibility, virtue, piety, and integrity were his prominent characteristics.’

"A son, Oliver Wolcott, J secretary of the United States and the first governor of Connecticut under the Constitution."

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