Oliver Wolcott Biography
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 city 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 defense 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.
In the revolutionary contest, Mr. Wolcott was one of the strong pillars of the American cause. He inherited much of the independent feeling of the ancestor of the family, of whom we have spoken in the commencement of this memoir. In 1776, he was summoned by his native state to represent it in the national congress in Philadelphia. He had the honor of participating in the deliberations of that body, on the Declaration of Independence, and of recording his vote in favor of its adoption.
Immediately after the adoption of that instrument, he returned to Connecticut, and was now invested with the command of fourteen regiments of the state militia, which were raised for the defense of New-York. In November, he resumed his seat in congress, and on the adjournment of that, body to Baltimore, he accompanied them, and there spent the winter of 1777. In the ensuing summer, he was engaged in several military movements; after which, he joined the northern army, under General Gates, with a corps of several hundred volunteers, and assisted in the memorable defeat of the British army under General Burgoyne. From this period, until 1786, he was either in attendance upon congress, in the field in defense of his country, or, as a commissioner of Indian affairs for the northern department, he war, assisting in settling the terms of peace with the six nations. In 1786 he was elected lieutenant governor, an office to which he was, annually elected for ten years, when he was raised to the chief magistracy of the state. This latter office, however, he enjoyed but a little time, death putting an end to his active and laborious life, on the first of December, 1797, in the 72d year of his age. The life of Mr. Wolcott was extended beyond the common age of man, but it was well filled with honorable services for his country. He merited and received the confidence of his fellow citizens. In his person, he was tall, and had the appearance of great muscular strength. His manners were dignified. He had great resolution of character, and might be said to be tenacious of his own opinions; yet he could surrender them, in view of evidence, and was ready to alter, a course which he had prescribed for himself, when duty and propriety seemed to require it.
In 1755, he was married to a Miss Collins, of Guilford, with whom he enjoyed great domestic felicity, for the space of forty years. Few women were better qualified for the discharge of domestic duties, than was Mrs. Wolcott. During, the long absence of her husband, she superintended the education of her children, and by her prudence and frugality administered to the necessities of her family, and rendered her house the seat of comfort and hospitality.
Mr. Wolcott never pursued any of the learned professions, yet his reading was various and extensive. He cultivated an acquaintance with the sciences, through the works of some of the most learned men of Europe, and was intimately acquainted with history, both ancient and modern. He has the reputation, and it is believed justly, of having been an accomplished scholar.
Mr. Wolcott was also distinguished for his love of order and religion. In his last sickness he expressed, according to Dr. Backus, who preached his funeral sermon, a deep sense of his personal unworthiness and guilt. For several days before his departure, every breath seemed, to bring with it a prayer. At length, he fell asleep. He was an old man, and full of years, and went to his grave distinguished for a long series of services rendered both to his state and nation. The memory of his personal worth, of his patriotism, his integrity, his Christian walk and conversation, will go down to generations yet unborn.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich