« AnteriorContinuar »
this memoir, returned to Lebanon, where he resolved to fix his permanent residence. In 1756, at the age of twenty-five years, he was chosen clerk of the town of Lebanon, an office which he continued to hold for the space of forty-five years. About the same time, he was appointed to represent the town in the general assembly of Connecticut. In this latter capacity, he served a long succession of years, during which he was often chosen clerk of the house, and not unfrequently filled, and always with dignity and reputation, the speaker's chair. In 1780, he was transferred to the upper house, being elected an assistant; an office to which he was annually reelected for twenty-four years. It was recorded of him, what can probably be recorded of few, and perhaps of no other man, that for more than ninety sessions, he was scarcely absent from his seat in the legislature, excepting when he was a member of the continental congress, in 1776 and 1777. During the years last mentioned, he was a member of the national council; and in the deliberations of that body took a part, during the memorable period, when the charter of our independence received the final approbation of congress. At an early period of the revolution, he embarked with great zeal in the cause of his country. During the campaign of 1755, while at the north, he had learned a lesson, which he did not forget. He was at that time disgusted with the British commanders, on account of the haughtiness of their conduct, and the little attachment which they manifested for his native country. The impression was powerful and lasting. At that time he adopted the opinion, that America would see no days of prosperity and peace, so long as British officers should manage her affairs. On the arrival of the day, therefore, when the revolutionary struggle commenced, and a chance was presented of release from the British yoke, Mr. Williams was ready to engage with ardour, in bringing about this happy state of things. He had for several years been interested in mercantile pursuits. These he now relinquished, that he might devote himself to the cause of his country. He powerfully contributed to awaken public feeling, by several *says on political subjects and when an occasion called him to speak in public, his patriotic zeal and independent spirit were manifested, in a powerful and impressive eloquence. Nor was Mr. Williams one of those patriots with whom words are all. He was ready to make sacrifices, whenever occasion required. An instance of his public spirit is recorded, in the early part of the revolution. At this time the paper money of the country was of so little value, that military services could not be procured for it, Mr. Williams, with great liberality, exchanged more than two thousand dollars in specie, for this paper, for the benefit of his country. In the issue, he lost the whole sum. A similar spirit of liberality marked his dealings, in the settlement of his affairs, on the eve and during the course of the revolution. He was peculiarly kind to debtors impover
ished by the war; and from the widow and the fatherless,
made so by the struggle for freedom, he seldom made any exactions, even though he himself suffered by his kindness. At the commencement of the war, it is well known, there was little provision made for the support of an army. There were no public stores, no arsenals filled with warlike instruments, and no clothing prepared for the soldiers. For many articles of the first necessity, resort was had to private contributions. The selectmen in many of the towns of Connecticut volunteered their services, to obtain articles for the necessary outfit of new recruits, for the maintenance of the families of indigent soldiers, and to furnish supplies even for the army itself. Mr. Williams was, at this time, one of the selectmen of the town of Lebanon, an office which he continued to hold during the whole revolutionary war. No man was better fitted for such a station, and none could have manifested more unwearied zeal than he did, in soliciting the benefactions of private families for the above objects. Such was his success, that he forwarded to the army more than one thousand blankets. In many instances, families parted with their last blanket, for the use of the soldiers in the camp; and bullets were made from the lead taken from the weights of clocks. Such was the patriotism of the fathers and mothers of the Z
land, in those days of trial. There were no comforts, which they could not cheerfully forego, and no sacrifices which they did not joyfully make, that the blessings of freedom might be theirs, and might descend to their posterity.
In confirmation of the above evidence of the firmness and patriotism of Mr. Williams, the following anecdote may be added. Towards the close of the year 1776, the military affairs of the colonies wore a gloomy aspect, and strong fears began to prevail that the contest would go against them. In this dubious state of things, the council of safety for Connecticut was called to sit at Lebanon. Two of the members of this council, William Hillhouse and Benjamin Huntington, quartered with Mr. Williams.
-One evening, the conversation turned upon the gloomy state of the country, and the probability that, after all, success would crown the British arms. “Well,” said Mr. Williams, with great calmness, “if they succeed, it is pretty evident what will be my sate. I have done much to prosecute the contest, and one thing I have done, which the British will never pardon—I have signed the Declaration of Independence. I shall be hung.” Mr. Hillhouse expressed his hope, that America would yet be successful, and his confidence that this would be her happy fortune. Mr. Huntington observed, that in case of ill success, he should be exempt
rom the gallows, as his signature was not attached to the declaration of independence, nor had he written any thing against the British government. To this Mr. Williams replied, his eye kindling as he spoke, “Then, sir, you deserve to be hanged, for not having done your duty.”
At the age of 41, he became settled in domestic life, having connected himself with the daughter of Jonathan Trumbull, at that time governor of the state. His lady, it is believed, is still living. Three children were the offspring of this marriage. Of these children, Solomon, the eldest, died in New-York, in 1810, a man greatly beloved by all who had the pleasure to know him. The only daughter is respectably connected in Woodstock, and the remaining son resides in Lebanon.
The demise of his eldest son was a great affliction to the aged and infirm father. The intelligence produced a shock from which he never recovered. From this time, he gradually declined. Four days before his death, he lost the power of utterance, nor was it expected that he would again speak on this side the grave. A short time, however, previously to his death, he called aloud for his deceased son, and requested him to attend his dying parent. In a few moments he closed his life. This event occurred on the 2d day of August, 1811, in the 81st year of his age.
To this biographical sketch of Mr. Williams, we have only to add a word, respecting his character as a Christian. He made a profession of religion at an early age, and through the long course of his life, he was distinguished for a humble and consistent conduct and conversation. While yet almost a youth, he was elected to the office of deacon, in the congregational church to which he belonged, an office which he retained during the remainder of his life. His latter days were chiefly devoted to reading, meditation, and prayer. At length the hour arrived, when God would take him to himself. He
gave up the ghost, in a good old age, and was gathered to his fathers.
Few families have been more distinguished in the annals of Connecticut, than the Wolcott family. The ancestor of this family was Henry Wolcott, an English gentleman of considerable fortune, who was born in the year 1578. During the progress of the Independents in England, he embraced the principles of that sect, and hence becoming obnoxious to the British government, he found it expedient to emigrate to America. His emigration, with his family, took place in 1630. They settled for a time at Dorchester, in Massachusetts. Mr. Wolcott is represented to have been a man of talents and enterprise. Possessing an ample fortune, he associated himself with John Mason, Roger Ludlow, Mr. Stoughton, and Mr. Newberry, who were also men of wealth, in the settlement of Windsor, in Connecticut. About the same time, as is well known, settlements were made at Hartford and Wethersfield. In 1639, the first general assembly of Connecticut was holden at Hartford. It was composed of delegates from the above towns. Among these delegates was Henry Wolcott. Since that date, down to the present time, some of the members of this distinguished family have been concerned in the civil government of the state. Simon Wolcott was the youngest son of Henry Wolcott. Roger Wolcott, who is distinguished both in the civil and military annals of the state, was the youngest son of Simon Wolcott. Oliver Wolcott, the subject of the present memoir, was the youngest son of Roger Wolcott. He was born in the year 1726, and graduated at Yale College in 1747. In this latter year he received a commission as captain in the army, in the French war. At the head of a company, which was raised by his own exertions, he proceeded to the defence of the northern frontiers, where he continued until the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. At this time he returned to Connecticut, and commenced the study of medicine. He, however, never entered into the practice of the profession, in consequence of receiving the appointment of sheriff of the county of Litchfield, which was organized about the year 1751. In 1774 he was appointed an assistant in the council of the state. This may be considered as the commencement of his political career. To the office of assistant, he continued to be annually re-elected till 1786. In the interval, he was for some time chief judge of the court of common pleas for the county, and judge of the court of probate for the district of Litchfield.