Founding Fathers - Oliver Wolcott

Oliver Wolcott

Born: November 20, 1726 (Windsor, Connecticut)

Died: December 1, 1797 (Litchfield, Connecticut)


My favorite baseball team took a painful loss in the playoffs today, so it seems appropriate somehow that the initials of this week's Founding Father spell out what I'm feeling right now - OW.  And the family he was born into could have easily fielded their own sports team, seeing how Oliver Wolcott was the 14th child of his parents, Roger and Sarah Wolcott.  Oliver had a privileged upbringing as the son of a high-ranking colonial official in Connecticut, and was an exceptional student when he studied at Yale College.  Before he could graduate in 1747, however, New York's Governor George Clinton commissioned the young man to raise a militia in preparation for the French and Indian War.  Oliver completed his studies and was granted the rank of captain.  He served along the northern frontier of New York to defend against invasion from Canada until the war's end in 1748, at which time he returned to Connecticut to study medicine in the town of Goshen with his uncle, Dr. Alexander Wolcott.

Becoming a doctor was not in Oliver Wolcott's future, however, as he soon decided to relocate to the town of Litchfield, CT, where his father already owned property.  Roger Wolcott became the governor in 1750 upon the death of his predecessor, Jonathan Law, and Oliver chose to pursue a legal career and became the sheriff of Litchfield the following year at the age of 25.  He held the office for the next 20 consecutive years.  In 1755 Wolcott married 22-year-old Laura Collins, the daughter of a sea captain who became known for her strength and ability in managing her husband's responsibilities during his absences, and the couple eventually had 5 children together.  They developed a reputation as being very generous and hospitable to visiting guests, and were both religious and patriotic.  Over time, Wolcott would serve terms in both the upper and lower houses of Connecticut's General Assembly, and developed a sympathy for the plight of those in neighboring Massachusetts who led opposition to British policies.

In 1771, Oliver Wolcott returned to military service by rejoining the Connecticut militia and being granted the rank of major.  By 1774 he had been promoted to colonel, and was elected to the Connecticut Council and then the Continental Congress a year later.  He was not present often with either body, as his time was divided between his military service and an Indian commission that was tasked with establishing peace and neutrality with many neighboring tribes.  Late in 1775 he helped arbitrate land disputes regarding the borders of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.  Although he was finally able to attend the meetings of the Continental Congress for the first time in January 1776, an illness forced him home before the vote for independence was taken.  By the time he recovered, he remained unable to return to Philadelphia because the new governor of Connecticut, John Trumble, ordered him to take command of the state's 14 militia regiments and march to New York.  When the Declaration was read there by George Washington on July 9, the troops who were present responded by tearing down a lead statue of King George.  Wolcott himself, who was elevated to the rank of major general, had the pieces collected and transported to his home, where he proceeded to melt it into more than 42,000 bullets for the Continental Army.  Because of his participation in the battles surrounding New York City, he was unable to sign the Declaration of Independence until sometime later that autumn.

Both the military and political careers of Oliver Wolcott continued successfully throughout the war.  He led the Connecticut militia alongside regular troops under Generals Gates and Arnold at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, and returned to Congress to sign the Articles of Confederation early the following year.  In 1779 he was forced to fight again, this time defending towns along the Connecticut coast against British pillaging expeditions against the population there.  His Congressional term ended in 1783, at which point he was again called upon to negotiate treaties with various Indian tribes.  At the age of 59, Connecticut voters elected Wolcott to the office of Lieutenant Governor, and he served on the state's committee that approved the Constitution.  After serving his state for ten years, during which time his beloved wife died in 1794, Wolcott followed in his father's footsteps at the beginning of 1796 by becoming the governor upon the death of his predecessor.  He won the following two popular elections, and during that time he was a presidential elector that cast his vote for John Adams.  Less than two years into his term, Oliver Wolcott died shortly after his 71st birthday and was buried in Litchfield's East Cemetery.

The signature of Oliver Wolcott can be found as the twelfth name on the sixth (farthest right) column beneath the Declaration of Independence.

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