Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dec. 1: Oliver Wolcott: Soldier Statesman

His fore bearers had been leaders in their colony, and his children would continue that heritage. He was a man who provided political and military leadership during a time of international warfare and civil war. He risked his property and livelihood in politically backing American Independence while he risked his life in leading men in battle for that independence.

Oliver Wolcott was born on December 1, 1726, as the youngest son (and of fifteen children) of Roger and Sarah Wolcott. Wolcott’s father was a leading political figure in the colony of Connecticut, holding the post of governor from 1751 - 1754. The Wolcott family had been involved in the politics of New England since their arrival in 1630.

Young Wolcott attended Yale College, graduating at the top of his class at the age of twenty-one in 1747. He was appointed a captain in the Connecticut militia during King George’s War, and recruited a company to serve in the British expedition against the French in New France – an expedition that, as it turned out, was unsuccessful. His company then guarded against incursions into the northern parts of the British colonies.

After King George’s War ended in 1748, Wolcott returned home – to first study medicine with Dr. Alexander Wolcott - his brother. However, he never had the opportunity to practice medicine. He turned to the study of law when he was appointed the sheriff of newly created Litchfield county in 1751. Wolcott held the position of county sheriff for twenty years while simultaneously being a member of the lower house of the Connecticut colonial legislature in 1764, 1767-68, and 1770. He was a member of the upper house of the colonial and, later, state legislature from 1771 – 1786. He also held the job of both probate judge (1772 - 1781) and county judge (1774 - 1778).

In January 1759 Wolcott married Laura Collins, whose ancestors were among the first settlers of New England and Connecticut. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography stated that...
"She was a woman of almost masculine strength of mind, energetic and thrifty; and while Governor Wolcott was away from home, attended to the management of their farm, educated their younger children, and made it possible for her husband to devote his energies to his country."
Their marriage would last until her death in 1794, which was followed by his three years later. They had five children – three boys and two girls – though one of the boys died in infancy.

Wolcott found that having Laura as his wife freed him for his public interests. Yet he was compassionate enough to express concern for her. He would write to her from Philadelphia in 1776:
"MY DEAR--I feel much concerned for the Burden which necessarily devolves upon you. I hope you will make it as light as possible.... You may easily believe that the situation of publick Affairs is such that the critical Moment is near which will perhaps decide the Fate of the Country; and that the business of Congress is very interesting. Yet if any excuse can reasonably be allowed for my returning, I shall think myself justified in doing so. The circumstances of my affairs demand it."
Wolcott remained involved in the state militia, rising to the rank of colonel by 1774. It was, in part, because of this that the Connecticut legislature named him as a commissary for Connecticut troops and in 1775 the Continental Congress designated him as a commissioner of Indian affairs for the northern department. He worked with the Iroquois in New York to try and gain their neutrality in the escalating conflict with England. He also dealt with arbitrating land disputes between Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

In 1775 Wolcott was sent as a representative of Connecticut to the Continental Congress. Wolcott, a strong supporter for independence, would be absent at both the voting for independence and the formal signing of the Declaration in August. However, he added his signature sometime after his return to Congress in October 1776.

Wolcott devoted part of each year to militia duty, being promoted to Brigadier General in the New York campaigns of 1776-1777, which culminated with the surrender of British general John Burgoyne at Saratoga to Continental general Horatio Gates. In 1779 Major General Wolcott defended the Connecticut seacoast against raids led by the Royal Governor of New York, William Tryon.

After the war was over, Wolcott remained active on the national and state level. He helped to negotiate the Second Treaty of Fort Stanwix, New York, in 1784. In that treaty the Iroquois ceded to the new United States some of the New York and Pennsylvania lands. He also negotiated a treaty where the Wyandottes gave up their lands in Ohio. On the state level Wolcott was elected annually as Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut from 1787 to 1796. In 1796 he was elected to the office of Governor. He would die prior to completing his term as governor.

He died on December 1, 1797 - his 71st birthday - and was buried in East Cemetery, Litchfield.


Colonial Hall
Connecticut Magazine
Connecticut Society SAR
Find A Grave
National Park Service


Portrait: Wikipedia
Portrait of Laura Collins Wolcott, by Ralph Earl
Gravesite, Find A Grave, by Eric Landers

No comments:

Post a Comment