Samuel Huntington Biography
Samuel Huntington was born in Windham, Connecticut, on the 2d day of July, 1732. His ancestors were respectable; they came to America at an early period of the country, and settled in Connecticut.
The father of the subject of the present memoir was Nathaniel Huntington, who resided in the town of Windham, where he was a plain but worthy farmer. His mother was distinguished for her many virtues. She was a pious, discreet woman, and endued with a more than ordinary share of mental vigor. A numerous family of children cemented the affection of this worthy pair. Several of the sons devoted themselves to the gospel ministry, and attained to a higher respectable standing in their profession. Of those who thus devoted themselves to the clerical profession, Dr. Joseph Huntington was one. He is well known as the author of a posthumous work, on universal salvation. It was entitled "Calvinism Improved, or the Gospel illustrated as a system, of real Grace, issuing in the salvation of all men." This work was afterwards ably answered by Dr. Nathan Strong, of Hartford.
In the benefits of a public education, which were thus conferred on several of his brothers, Samuel Huntington did not share. He was the eldest son, and his father needed his assistance on the farm. Indeed, his opportunities for obtaining knowledge were extremely limited, not extending beyond those furnished by the common schools of that day.
Mr. Huntington, however, possessed a vigorous understanding, and, when released from the toils of the field, he devoted himself with great assiduity to reading and study. Thus, the deficiencies of the common school were more than, supplied. He became possessed of an extensive fund of information upon various subjects, and by the time be was twenty-one years of age, he probably fell little short in his acquisitions of those who had received a collegiate education, except in some particular branches. His knowledge was less scientific, but more practical and useful.
Although not averse to husbandry, he early manifested a fondness for legal pursuits, and at the age of twenty-two he relinquished the labors of the field, for the more agreeable study of the law. Pecuniary circumstances prevented his availing himself of legal tuition in the office of a lawyer. But he was contented to explore the labyrinths of the profession unaided, except by his own judgment. The library of a respectable lawyer in a neighboring town, furnished him with the necessary books, and his diligence and perseverance accomplished the rest.
Mr. Huntington soon obtained a competent knowledge of the principles of law, to commence the practice of the profession. He opened an office in his native town, but in 1760, removed to Norwich, where a wider field presented itself, for the exercise of his talents. Here, he soon became eminent in his profession. He was distinguished by a strict integrity, and no man exceeded him in punctuality. These traits of character, united to no ordinary legal attainments, and strong common sense, insured him the respect of the community, and a large share of professional business.
In 1764, Mr. Huntington represented the town of Norwich in the general assembly. This was the commencement of his political career. In the year following he was appointed to the office of king's attorney, the duties of which he continued to discharge, with great fidelity, for several years. In 1774, he became an associate judge in the superior court, and soon after an assistant in the council of Connecticut.
Mr. Huntington was among those who early and strongly set themselves in opposition to the claims and oppressions of the British parliament. In his opinions on national subjects, he was eminently independent; nor was he backward in expressing those opinions, on every suitable occasion. His talents and patriotism recommended him to public favor, and in October, 1775, he was appointed by the general assembly of Connecticut to represent that colony in the Continental Congress. In the January following, in conjunction with his distinguished colleagues, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, &c. he took his seat in that venerable body. In the subsequent July he voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence.
Of the Continental Congress, Mr. Huntington continued a member until the year 1781, when the ill state of his health required the relinquishment of the arduous services in which he had been engaged for several years. These services had been rendered still more onerous by an appointment, in 1779, to the presidency of the congress, in which station he succeeded Mr. Jay, on the appointment of the latter as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Madrid. The honorable station of president, Mr. Huntington filled with great dignity and distinguished ability. "In testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business," congress, soon after his retirement, accorded to him the expression of their public thanks.
Thus relieved from the toils which his high official station in congress had imposed upon him, Mr. Huntington was soon able to resume his judicial functions in the superior court of Connecticut, and his duties as an assistant in the council of that state, both of which offices had been kept vacant during his absence.
The public, however, were unwilling long to dispense with his services in the great national assembly. Accordingly, in 1782, he was re-elected a delegate to congress; but either feeble health, or his duties as a judge, prevented his attendance for that year. He was re-appointed the following year to the same office, and in July resumed his seat in congress, where he continued a conspicuous and influential member, until November, when he finally retired from the national assembly.
Soon after his return to his native state, he was placed at the head of the superior court, and the following year, 1785, was, elected lieutenant governor of the state. The next year he succeeded Governor Griswold in the office of chief magistrate of the state, and to this office he was annually re-elected during the remainder of his life.
The death of this excellent and distinguished man occurred on the 5th of January, 1796, in the 64th year of his age. His departure from the world, as might be expected, from the even tenor of his life, and from the decided Christian character and conversation which he had manifested, was tranquil. He had for many years been a professor of religion, and a devoted attendant upon the ordinances of the gospel. His seat in the house of God was seldom vacant, and when occasion required, he was ready to lead in an address to the throne of grace, and was able to impart instruction to the people, drawn from the pure oracles of God.
Such, in few words, was the religious character of Governor Huntington. His domestic character was not less excellent. To strangers, be might appear formal. He possessed a dignity, and a natural reserve, which repressed the advances of all, except his intimate friends; but to these he was ever accessible and pleasant. Few men ever possessed a greater share of mildness and equanimity of temper. Sentiments of anger seem to have found no place in his breast; nor was he scarcely ever known to utter a word which could wound the feelings of another, or. asperse the good name of an absent person.
To show and parade, Mr. Huntington was singularly averse. In early life he had acquired rigid habits of economy, which appear to have continued during his life. Hence, in his domestic arrangements, in his diet, in his dress, his simplicity was such as to bring upon him the charge of parsimony. The justice or injustice of this charge, we have not the means of determining, but the private beneficence of Mr. Huntington is so amply attested to, that the charge of parsimony was probably brought against him only by the profuse.
Mr. Huntington was not connected in life until the 30th year of his age. At that time he married a daughter of Ebenezer Devotion, the worthy minister of the town of Windham. Having no children, Mr. Huntington adopted two of the children of his brother, the Reverend Joseph Huntington, one of whom afterwards became governor of Ohio; and the other is at present the wife of the Reverend Doctor Griffin, president of Williams' College, in Massachusetts. The death of Mrs. Huntington preceded that of her husband about two years.
On the public character, or the public services of Governor Huntington, it is unnecessary to enlarge. It is pleasant, however, to mark the progress of such a man, from obscurity to the exalted and dignified walks of life, and from the humble occupation of a plough boy, to the deep and learned investigations of the judge, and to the wise and sagacious plans of the statesman. What was true of Mr. Huntington, in this respect, was true of a great proportion of that phalanx of patriots who, during the days of our revolutionary struggle, opposed themselves with success to British exactions and British oppressions. They came from humble life. They rose by the force of their native genius. Obstacles served only to rouse their latent strength, They threw aside discouragements, as the skilful swimmer dashes aside the waters which impede his course.
Mr. Huntington was one of these men. He had not the advantage of family patronage, or the benefit of a liberal education; nor did hereditary wealth lend him her aid. But, instead of these, he had genius, courage, and perseverance, With the united assistance of these, he entered upon his professional course, and afterwards, on his political career. He rendered services to his country, which will long be remembered with gratitude; be attained to honors with which a high ambition might have been satisfied; and, at length, went down to the grave, cheered with the prospect of a happy immortality.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich