Governors of Connecticut

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Samuel Huntington

From: The Governers of Connecticut
By: Frederick Calvin Norton
Published: 1905


IN many ways the career of Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the most remarkable of any of our governors. The story of his life is that of a plow-boy, who, by his own exertions, became a great lawyer, president of Congress, chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, and finally governor of his native state. It affords a brilliant example of what a man can do in attaining great honors through self-education.

Samuel Huntington was the son of a poor farmer living in Windharn, but whose ancestors were from the town of Saybrook, where they were early settlers. He was born on July 2, 1731, and his early life was characterized by industrious habits, a great desire to work and to obtain knowledge. His father, a hard working farmer struggled to give his son the education he desired, but apprenticed him early in life to learn the cooper’s trade. He also worked on the farm at odd times, and attended the district school irregularly. All his youthful energies were bent in one direction, and that object was the advancement of his mind. The numberless obstacles which present themselves to every poor boy were bravely
brushed aside in his case. By unremitting study during his spare hours Huntington acquired a fairly good knowledge of Latin and several other studies, so that at the age of twenty-two he decided to study law.

With only borrowed books and no instructors whatever lie set about the task with a grim determination that meant success. He was indefatigable in his labor, and in due time mastered the law sufficiently, so that he commenced the practice of his chosen profession. Clients were plentiful, and he soon acquired so good a reputation that he decided to move to Norwich, a much larger field. This was in 1760, and his public career commenced soon afterward; for his uncommon ability was recognized at once, and honors heaped upon him.

In 1764 he was elected a representative from the town of Norwich to the General Assembly, and the following year was chosen a member of the governor’s council. As king’s attorney in 1765 he served with distinction; in 1774 he was appointed an associate judge of the Superior Court, and in 1775 a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress.

In Congress Huntington displayed his fine talents and his great learning to good effect. He was a zealous supporter and signer of the Declaration of independence, and a man whose loyalty and patriotism was of the most sturdy type. Continued in Congress for about five consecutive terms, Huntington was a valued member, highly esteemed by his colleagues. In 1779 he was honored by being elected president of Congress, then the highest office in the land. He held this position from September 28, 1779, to July 6, 1781, succeeding John Jay who had been appointed minister to Spain. In 1781 his health failed to such an extent that he retired from Congress, and his resignation was accepted with reluctance on July 6th of that year. In parting he received the unanimous thanks of Congress “in testimony of appreciation of his conduct in the chair and in the execution of public business.”

Returning to Connecticut he resumed his duties in the governor’s council and on the bench, having been continued in both offices during his congressional career. Two years later he returned to Congress and soon became actively engaged in its deliberations. He again retired during the same year and went to Norwich; but he was not destined to remain out of office long, for in 1784 he received the appointment as chiefjustice of the Supreme Court. During the same year he was elected lieutenant governor, and in 1786 was advanced to the office of governor. He held the position until his death, which occurred on January 5, 1796, at his home in Norwich. As governor of his native state, he displayed that superior judgment for which he was famous throughout his life.

As an instance of the repute in which Governor Huntington was held as a statesman may be noted the fact that each of the corporations of Yale and Dartmouth colleges, in 1787 and 1785 respectively, conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. A biographer has written: “He was a thoughtful man and talked but little—the expression of his mind and heart was put forth in his actions. He seemed to have a natural timidity, or modesty, which some mistook for the reserve of haughtiness; yet with those with whom he was familiar he was free and winning in his manner. As a devoted Christian and a true patriot he never swerved from his duty or looked back after he had placed his hand to the work.” A nephew of the governor, adopted and educated by him, was governor of Ohio from 1808 to 1810, and one of the most prominent citizens of that state.

Governor Samuel Huntington of CT.

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