Oliver Wolcott

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This article is about the signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. For the Secretary of the Treasury under Washington and Adams, see Oliver Wolcott Jr.
Oliver Wolcott
Oliver Wolcott Ralph Earl.jpeg
19th Governor of Connecticut
In office
January 5, 1796 – December 1, 1797
Lieutenant Jonathan Trumbull Jr.
Preceded by Samuel Huntington
Succeeded by Jonathan Trumbull Jr.
3rd Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut
In office
Governor Samuel Huntington
Preceded by Samuel Huntington
Succeeded by Jonathan Trumbull Jr.
Personal details
Born November 20, 1726
Windsor, Connecticut
Died December 1, 1797(1797-12-01) (aged 71)
Farmington, Connecticut
Resting place East Cemetery, Litchfield, Connecticut
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Laura Collins Wolcott
Children Oliver Wolcott (died young), Oliver Wolcott Jr., Laura Wolcott Moseley, Mariann Wolcott Goodrich, Frederick Wolcott
Profession Militia Officer, Politician

Oliver Wolcott (November 20, 1726–December 1, 1797) was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and also the Articles of Confederation as a representative of Connecticut and the nineteenth Governor of Connecticut. He was a major general for the Connecticut Militia in the Revolutionary War serving under George Washington.

Early life[edit]

Wolcott was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the youngest of fourteen children of the colonial governor Roger Wolcott and Sarah Drake. He attended Yale College, graduating in 1747 as the top scholar in his class.[1] Upon graduation, New York governor George Clinton granted Wolcott a captain’s commission to raise a militia company to fight in the French and Indian War. Serving as captain, Wolcott served on the northern frontier defending the Canadian border against the French until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. At the end of the war, Wolcott moved to newly settled Goshen in northwestern Connecticut to practice and study medicine with his brother, Alexander.[2] He then moved to Litchfield and became a merchant and was appointed by his father sheriff of the newly created Litchfield County, Connecticut, serving from 1751 to 1771. He married Lorraine (Laura) Collins of Guilford, Connecticut, on January 21, 1755.[3] They had five children, Oliver (who died young), Oliver Jr., Laura, Mariann, and Frederick.


Revolutionary War Years[edit]

Wolcott had two careers during the war years, one of Connecticut’s principal delegates to the Continental Congress and a militia officer.[4] Wolcott participated in the American Revolutionary War as brigadier general and then major general in the Connecticut militia. As a representative in the Continental Congress, Wolcott was a strong advocate for independence. Early in the growing struggle with Great Britain, Wolcott made it clear that the colonists would not give up their rights and privileges.[5] In February 1776, Wolcott himself stated, “Our difference with Great Britain has become very great… What matters will issue in, I cannot say, but perhaps in a total disseverance from Great Britain.”[6] This early support for independence led Wolcott into important roles during the War as both a military leader and member of the Continental Congress.

Wolcott saw extensive militia service during the American Revolution. On August 11, 1776, Connecticut officials ordered him to march the Seventeenth Regiment of militia to New York and join George Washington's army. Upon arriving at Washington’s camp, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull appointed Wolcott brigadier general in command of all the state’s militia regiments in New York. Along with support to Washington, Wolcott led 300—400 volunteers from his brigade to help General Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold defeat Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga.[7] In May 1779, Wolcott was promoted to major general in command of all Connecticut Militia.[8] That summer he saw combat in protecting the coastline from Tryon’s raids.[9] He was largely unsuccessful in his combat with Major General William Tryon. Over the course of the war he showed great disdain towards his opposition describing the British in his memoirs as, “a foe who have not only insulted every principle which governs civilized nations but by their barbarities offered the grossest indignities to human nature.”[10]

Apart from his role as a militia officer, he was active in congress and his home was extremely busy during the war. General George Washington at Woloctt's home and bullets were manufactured for the war efforts, some from the melted down body of the statue of King George III.[11] The Continental Congress appointed Wolcott Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and he was elected to the Congress in 1775. He became seriously ill in 1776 and did not sign the Declaration of Independence until some time later.

Post Revolutionary War[edit]

At the beginning of the Revolution, Congress had made Wolcott a commissioner of Indian affairs to persuade the northern Indian nations to remain neutral. His qualifications for this role came from his early experience on the northern front of the French and Indian War. Now he was asked along with Richard Butler and Arthur Lee, to negotiate a peace treaty with the Six Nations at Fort Schuyler.[9]

Beyond his post war diplomatic role, Wolcott aspired to higher office. He was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut as a Federalist in 1786, and served in this position for ten years. He was reelected to the position, holding the office until his death at the age of seventy-one.[12]

Death and legacy[edit]

Wolcott died on December 1, 1797, in Farmington, Connecticut. He is interred at East Cemetery, in Litchfield, Connecticut.[13] Historian Ellsworth Grant remembers Wolcott's Revolutionary war efforts in stating that, "It is doubful if any other official in Connecticut during this period carried so many public duties on his shoulders."[9]

The Grave of Oliver Wolcott Sr.

Oliver Wolcott Jr., his son, served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents George Washington and John Adams and as Governor of Connecticut. The town of Wolcott, Connecticut was named in honor of Oliver and his son, Oliver Jr. His home in Litchfield was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. In Torrington, Connecticut there is a school named after him, The Oliver Wolcott Technical High School.

In 1798, Fort Washington on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island was renamed Fort Wolcott. Fort Wolcott was an active fortification until 1836. It later became the site of the United States Naval Torpedo Station.

Oliver Wolcott Sr. is part of a unique story in American family history, as he is in the middle of a three generational line of governors. Both his father, Roger, and his son Oliver Jr. were governors of Connecticut making the Wolcott family the only American family with three consecutive generations of governors.


  1. ^ Ellsworth S. Grant, "From Governor to Governor in Three Generations," (The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 39 no.3, Hartford, July 1974), 65—66.
  2. ^ Bruce Stark, "Signers of the Declaration of Independence, State Governors"," American National Biography Online, 1.
  3. ^ Stark, "Signers of the Declaration of Independence, State Governors," American National Biography Online, 1.
  4. ^ Stark, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, State Governors, American National Biography Online, 1.
  5. ^ Grant, “From Governor to Governor in Three Generations,” 68.
  6. ^ Edmund C. Burnett, ed., "Letters of Members of the Continental Congress," vols. 1—3, 5—7 (8 vols., 1921—1936), vol. 1, 163.
  7. ^ Grant, “From Governor to Governor in Three Generations,” 68—69.
  8. ^ Stark, "Signers of the Delectation of Independence," 1.
  9. ^ a b c Grant, “From Governor to Governor in Three Generations,” 69.
  10. ^ Wolcott Papers, vol.1, (Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut), 240.
  11. ^ "Oliver Wolcott". Find A Grave. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  12. ^ "Oliver Wolcott". National Governors Association. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Oliver Wolcott Sr at Find a Grave


  • A Guide to the Oliver Wolcott, Sr. Papers, from 1638-1834.” Connecticut Historical Society, 2016.
  • Grant, Ellsworth. "From Governor to Governor In Three Generations," (The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 39 no.3, Hartford, July 1974), 65—77". 
  • Jensen, Merrill (1978). The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution: Volume III Ratification of the Constitution by the Sates Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin. 
  • Mahoney, Patrick. "Soldier, Patriot, and Politician: The Life of Oliver Wolcott". Connecticut History.org. CThumanities. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  • Stark, Bruce. "Oliver Wolcott". American National Biography Online. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Huntington
Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Jonathan Trumbull Jr.
Preceded by
Samuel Huntington
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Jonathan Trumbull Jr.