Essay 43 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Samuel Huntington was a patriot who devoted most of his life to serving his country. Moreover, he was a self-educated man who rose to some of the highest offices in the land by hard work and dedication.

Samuel was born on July 16, 1731 in Scotland Parish in the Town of Windham, Connecticut (today the Town of Scotland). His father, Nathaniel Huntington, had a 180-acre farm bordering Merrick Brook and was a successful, but not overly wealthy, farmer. His mother was Mehetabel Thurston, a very pious and virtuous woman. Together they raised ten children, four boys and six girls.

As the second son, Samuel saw his older brother sent off to Yale, while he stayed home to help on the farm. At age 16, his father apprenticed him to a cooper (a maker of barrels and casks) to learn the trade. Although he completed his training, his true interest lay in the study of law.

The only formal schooling Samuel received was from the common schools (community funded schools in early New England) in the immediate area. Not one to be put off, Samuel devoted his free time to reading as many law books as he could find, many supplied by two local attorneys, Eliphalet Dyer and Jedediah Elderkin.

On December 2, 1754, at the age of 23 and despite no formal schooling, Huntington was admitted to the bar in Windham. Six years later, Samuel moved to nearby Norwich, Connecticut to seek greater opportunities for his law practice. The next year, he married Martha Devotion, the daughter of his minister, and settled into domestic life. The couple did not have any children of their own, but when Martha’s sister Hannah, who had married Samuel’s brother, died in 1771, they raised their two children.

Huntington soon acquired a solid reputation and his legal practice flourished. By 1764, Norwich had selected him to represent their interests in the state General Assembly, an honor he held for the next decade.

The next year, Samuel was appointed the King’s Attorney (today’s District Attorney) for his area. In 1774, Governor Trumbull appointed Huntington to the Connecticut Superior Court, a post he held until 1784 when he was named to the Supreme Court.

After the battles at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, colonial leaders convened the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Connecticut chose Huntington to be one of its delegates to the conference. He took his seat in January 1776 and was a strong advocate for independence. Along with Oliver Wolcott and Roger Sherman, the other two delegates from Connecticut, he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence.

Huntington went home in 1777 and did not return to Congress until February 1778. In September 1779, when John Jay left for a diplomatic mission to Spain, Congress chose Huntington to replace him as President of Congress, a position of little power but indicative of the great respect his peers had for him.

His steady temperament and diplomatic personality had impressed his fellow delegates. Benjamin Rush considered Huntington “a sensible, candid and worthy man, and wholly free from State prejudices.”

In 1780, despite his wishes to the contrary, Congress selected him to be their President for another year. During this time, Huntington worked tirelessly to convince skeptical states of the need to adopt the Articles of Confederation, our first real constitution. That was accomplished on March 1, 1781 when the Articles officially became the law of the land.

In November 1783, Huntington left Congress for the last time, and returned home to Connecticut, but his public work was not done. He was chosen to be the state’s Lieutenant Governor in 1784 and 1785. Then, in 1786, Huntington was elected as Governor, a position he held until his death on January 5, 1796.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Samuel Huntington and what he did for America matter to us today?

Samuel Huntington was a man who devoted much of his life to the service of his country. From the age of 33 until he passed away in his 64th year, Huntington served in some public capacity, including state assemblyman, Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, President of the Continental Congress, and Governor of his home state of Connecticut.

During his time, this Signer of the Declaration of Independence was so highly regarded that he was awarded honorary degrees from Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale. Additionally, his acquaintances included George Washington, John Adams, and Ben Franklin. That is impressive for any man, let alone one who was self-educated and began life as a farmer. A man like that deserves to be remembered by us today.

SUGGESTED READING: Connecticut Congressman: Samuel Huntington by Larry Gerlach is a book published in 1976 as part of Connecticut’s Bicentennial Commission. It covers the entire life of this remarkable man.

PLACES TO VISIT: Samuel Huntington’s birthplace and childhood home in Scotland, Connecticut is open for tours. The beautiful grounds include the 18th century house, museum, and acres of farmland bordering Merrick Brook.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



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