Wolcott, Oliver

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Wolcott, Oliver

WOLCOTT, OLIVER. (1726–1797). Signer, militia general. Connecticut. Oliver Wolcott, the youngest son of Governor Roger Wolcott (1679–1767), was a scion of one of Connecticut's most prominent families. He was graduated from Yale College in 1747 and immediately took up a commission to raise and command a volunteer company on the New York frontier during the French and Indian Wars. After the end of the war (1748) he studied medicine with his brother Alexander, but in October 1751 he became a merchant at Litchfield, the seat of a new county in northwest Connecticut where his father owned property. Over the next twenty-five years he became the most important man in the region. His father named him county sheriff in 1751, an office he held for twenty years. His neighbors elected him to the Connecticut Assembly in 1764, and voters across the colony elected him to the Governor's Council in 1771. Other important offices followed: judge of the local probate court in May 1772, and county judge and colonel of the local militia regiment in May 1774. A strong supporter of colonial rights, and ultimately of independence, he was moderator of the Litchfield town meeting that condemned the Intolerable Acts, and later served on town and county committees of inspection and safety.

Wolcott played a larger role in Connecticut than he did nationally. After serving as one of the nine commissioners to procure supplies for Connecticut forces, in July 1775 Congress appointed him as one of five commissioners of Indian affairs for the Northern Department. Elected to the Continental Congress in October 1775, he had to leave Philadelphia because of illness just before the Declaration of Independence was signed; he signed the document on 1 October 1776, after his return. On his way home in late June 1776 he brought to Litchfield the equestrian statue of George III that had been torn down by a New York City mob, and oversaw its transformation into over 42,000 lead bullets. Elected a delegate to Congress through 1783 (except in 1779), his participation was not noteworthy, in part because he was absent for six to nine months every year on other business. In August 1776 he commanded (as a brigadier general) the fourteen militia regiments sent to reinforce General Israel Putnam on the Hudson River. In December 1776 he was named to command the Litchfield county militia brigade, and in September 1777 he led several hundred volunteers to oppose General John Burgoyne's invasion. He was promoted to major general commanding the Connecticut militia in May 1779 and directed, with limited success, resistance to the Connecticut Coast Raids in July of that year. He was also a member of the state's Council of Safety (1780–1783).

After the war Wolcott helped to negotiate two treaties that opened Indian land to white settlement, with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix in 1784 and with the Wyandottes five years later, that cleared title to the Western Reserve. He supported the federal Constitution and voted for it as a member of Connecticut's ratifying convention. Lieutenant governor from May 1787, he became governor when Samuel Huntington died in January 1796. He died in office less than two years later.

His son and namesake (1760–1833) saw service as a volunteer in 1777 and 1779. Declining a commission in the army, he served in the Quartermaster Department as storekeeper in the depot at Litchfield. He was later U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1795–1800) and governor of Connecticut (1817–1827).

SEE ALSO Connecticut Coast Raid; Western Reserve.

                       revised by Harold E. Selesky