Samuel Huntington (Connecticut politician)
|18th Governor of Connecticut|
May 11, 1786 – January 5, 1796
|Preceded by||Matthew Griswold|
|Succeeded by||Oliver Wolcott|
|22nd Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut|
|Preceded by||Matthew Griswold|
|Succeeded by||Oliver Wolcott|
|7th President of the Continental Congress|
September 28, 1779 – July 10, 1781
|Preceded by||John Jay|
|Succeeded by||Thomas McKean|
|Born||July 16, 1731|
Windham, Connecticut, British America (now Scotland, Connecticut)
|Died||January 5, 1796 (aged 64)|
Norwich, Connecticut, U.S.
|Resting place||Old Norwichtown Cemetery, Norwich|
Samuel Huntington (July 16, 1731 [O.S. July 5, 1731] – January 5, 1796) was a Founding Father of the United States and a jurist, statesman, and Patriot in the American Revolution from Connecticut. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, he signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He also served as President of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1781, President of the United States in Congress Assembled in 1781, chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1784 to 1785, and the 18th Governor of Connecticut from 1786 until his death. He was the first United States governor to have died while in office.
Huntington was born to Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington on July 16, 1731, in Windham, Connecticut Colony (his birthplace is now in Scotland, Connecticut, which broke off from Windham in 1857). His house is currently accessible off Route 14. He was the fourth of ten children and the oldest son. He had a limited education in the common schools, then was self-educated. When he was 16 he was apprenticed to a cooper but also continued to help his father on the farm. His education came from the library of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion and books borrowed from local lawyers.
In 1754 Huntington was admitted to the bar, and moved to Norwich, Connecticut, to begin practicing law. He married Martha Devotion (Rev. Devotion's daughter) in 1761. They remained together until her death in 1794. The couple did not birth any children, but when his brother (Rev. Joseph Huntington) died they adopted their nephew and niece. They raised Samuel Huntington "Jr." and Frances as their own. Samuel Huntington never owned slaves.
After brief service as a selectman, Huntington began his political career in earnest in 1764 when Norwich sent him as one of their representatives to the lower house of the Connecticut Assembly, where he served until 1774. In 1775, he was elected to the upper house, the Governor's Council, where he served until 1784. In addition to serving in the legislature, he was appointed king's attorney for Connecticut in 1768 and in 1773 was appointed to the colony's supreme court, then known as the Supreme Court of Errors. He was chief justice of the Superior Court from 1784 until 1787.
Huntington was an outspoken critic of the Coercive Acts of the British Parliament. As a result, the assembly elected him in October 1775 to become one of their delegates to the Second Continental Congress. In January 1776 he took his place with Roger Sherman and Oliver Wolcott as the Connecticut delegation in Philadelphia. He voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. His served in the Congress in the years 1776, 1778-1781, and 1783. He suffered from an attack of smallpox while in Congress.
President of the Continental Congress
While not known for extensive learning or brilliant speech, Huntington's steady hard work and unfailing calm manner earned him the respect of his fellow delegates. As a result, when John Jay left to become minister to Spain, Huntington was elected to succeed him as President of the Continental Congress on September 28, 1779, which is one reason why he is sometimes considered the first president. The President of Congress was a mostly ceremonial position with no real authority, but the office did require Huntington to handle a good deal of correspondence and sign official documents. He spent his time as president urging the states and their legislatures to support the levies for men, supplies, and money needed to fight the Revolutionary War. The Articles of Confederation were ratified during his term.
Huntington remained as President of Congress until July 9, 1781, when ill health forced him to resign and return to Connecticut. In 1782, Connecticut again named him as a delegate, but his health and judicial duties kept him from accepting. He returned to the Congress as a delegate for the 1783 session to see the success of the revolution embodied in the Treaty of Paris. In that same year, he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.
Governor of Connecticut
In 1785 he built his mansion house just off the Norwichtown Green at what is now 34 East Town Street and the current headquarters of United and Community Family Services, Inc. In 1785, he was elected as lieutenant governor of Connecticut, serving with Governor Matthew Griswold. In 1786, he became governor. He remained in charge of the Supreme Court during his tenure as lieutenant governor but vacated that position upon election to governor.
In his first year as governor, in a reprise of his efforts in Congress, he brokered the Treaty of Hartford that resolved western land claims between New York and Massachusetts. In 1787, he lent his support to the Northwest Ordinance that completed the national resolution of these issues. In 1788, he presided over the Connecticut Convention that was called to ratify the United States Constitution. In later years he saw the transition of Connecticut into a U.S. state. He resolved the issue of a permanent state capital at Hartford and oversaw the construction of the state house.
Death and legacy
Huntington died while in office at his home in Norwich on January 5, 1796. His tomb, which was extensively restored in 2003, is located in the Old Norwichtown Cemetery behind his mansion house. Both Samuel and his wife Martha's remains were disinterred during the course of the project and then reinterred in a formal ceremony on November 23, 2003.
Huntington, Connecticut, was named in his honor in 1789 but was later renamed to Shelton when the town incorporated with Shelton to form a city in 1919. He is the namesake of Huntington County, Indiana. Huntington Mills is a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania which also derives its name in honor of Samuel Huntington.
The home that Samuel was born in was built by his father, Nathaniel, around 1732 and still stands. The area is now within the borders of the town of Scotland, Connecticut. In 1994, the home and some grounds were purchased by a local historic trust. The Samuel Huntington Birthplace is a National Historic Landmark.
Because Huntington was the president of the Continental Congress when the Articles of Confederation were ratified, some unconventional biographers and civic groups in Connecticut claim that Huntington was actually the first President of the United States.
- Huntington, II, Channing M. (January 19, 2004). "Samuel Huntington's Birth Date – New Evidence Revealed". The Huntington Homestead. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
- "Governor Samuel Huntington". Connecticut State Library. December 4, 2007. Retrieved March 1, 2008.
- "Fact-check: They signed the Declaration of Independence — but nearly three-quarters also owned slaves". September 10, 2019.
- Gilbert M. Cuthbertson. "Huntington, Samuel", American National Biography Online, February 2000.
- Day, Thomas (1809). Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of Errors of the state of Connecticut. Hudson and Goodwin. p. viii.
- Jillson, Calvin C.; Wilson, Rick K. (1994). Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 76–80. ISBN 0-8047-2293-5.
- "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
- The Irish-American Almanac for the Year of Our Lord ... Lynch, Cole & Meehan. 1877. p. 86.
- "Facts About Connecticut Governors". Connecticut State Library. 2006.
- Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 163.
- Gillespie, Noreen (January 27, 2004). "Group Insists Washington Not First Prez". Associated Press. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
- Straszheim, Deborah (July 12, 2009). "Norwich honors Samuel Huntington with wreath-laying". Norwich Bulletin. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
- Gerlach, Larry R. (1977). Connecticut Congressman: Samuel Huntington, 1731–1796. Hartford: Bicentennial Commission. ISBN 0-918676-04-5.
- Dreher, George Kelsey (1995). Longer Than Expected. Midland, Texas: Iron Horse Free Press. ISBN 0-9601000-6-7.
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