Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington, Connecticut (1731-1796)

Samuel Huntington was born in the town of Scotland, Windham County, Connecticut on July 5, 1731, the 4th of ten children, and second son of Nathaniel Huntington and Mehetable Thurston. Nathaniel was a farmer and clothier at Scotland, and built a home there in 1732 that still stands to this day.

Samuel’s great-grandfather was Simon Huntington, who was born in England and arrived in Boston in 1633. The family settled in Roxbury and subsequently moved to Norwich, Connecticut. Matthew Marvin, a great-grandfather of Samuel Huntington, came to America in the Increase in 1635 and was one of the first settlers of Hartford in 1638.

Young Samuel did not acquire a formal education, except that provided by the “common schools.” At age 16 Samuel was apprenticed to a cooper, although he continued to help his father on the farm. Interested in learning, Samuel borrowed books from the library of the Rev. Ebenezer Devotion and from local lawyers, and began to study history, Latin and the law. He was admitted to the bar at Windham in 1754 at the age 23, and moved to Norwich, Connecticut to begin his practice.

At the age of 29, Samuel Huntington married Martha Devotion on April 17, 1761. She was the daughter of the Rev. Ebenezer Devotion and Martha Lothrop in Norwich.

Martha Devotion was born in Windham, Connecticut on June3, 1739. Her great-grandfather, Edward Devotion, came from France fleeing persecution there. Martha’s great-great grandfather, Samuel Lothrop, was brought from England by his father, the Reverend John Lothrop, when he was about 14 years old. Samuel Lothrop and his wife Elizabeth lived at Boston for a time, moved to New London, Connecitcut in 1648, then to Norwich in 1668. Like her husband, Martha was also a descendant of Matthew Marvin, one of the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut. Her great-great grandparents, William and Sarah Curtis, arrived on the Lion on September 16, 1632 and settled in Roxbury.

The couple remained together until she died on June 3, 1794 in Norwich. They had no children of their own, but when the Rev. Joseph Huntington, the brother of Samuel, died, they adopted and raised his two children: the nephew, Samuel H. Huntington, who became Governor of Ohio in 1810, and the niece, Frances Huntington, who married the Rev. Edward Door Griffin, a President of Williams College.

Samuel Huntington was elected by the Norwich leaders to be one of their representatives to the Connecticut Assembly in 1764. Being well-received by his fellow representatives and accepted by the townspeople of Norwich, Huntington was returned to that office each year for the next ten years until 1774. In his practice of the law, and as a representative in the assembly, Samuel made a very fine presence, and was named by the then Royal Governor, Jonathan Trumbull, as King’s Attorney in 1765. Huntington remained in that office until 1774, at which time Governor Trumbull appointed him to the Connecticut Superior Court.

The position of justice on the Superior Court carried with it a seat on the Governor’s Council, which served as an upper legislative house to the Connecticut Assembly. Huntington held this office until 1778, at which time he was named Chief Justice. Meanwhile, as the difficulties with Britain deepened, Huntington spoke out against the Coercive Acts of Parliament. His views on the emerging crisis agreed with the majority of the Members of the Connecticut Assembly, and they elected him in October 1775 to become one of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress. He presented his credentials and took his place in Philadelphia in January 1776. Samuel Huntington was present on June 7, 1776 when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed a resolution that “These colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” The matter was tabled until brought back to the floor on July 2, 1776 at which time Huntington voted for the resolution, and also for the language in the Declaration on July 4th. He signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration on August 2, 1776.

Samuel Huntington continued as a delegate to the Continental Congress from Connecticut, being returned by the Assembly each year through 1781. Serving on several committees during his years in the Congress, Huntington was always supportive of encouraging the states to fully comply with levies for men, supplies and money. Not an alarmist, nor a defeatist, Huntington was a steady, faithful, calm patriot, well respected and admired by his colleagues. His steady hand helped keep the Congress together as the infant nation faced military reverses in the field, following the euphoria of the surrender of the British Army under General Burgoyne at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.

When John Jay was named minister plenipotentiary to the Court of Spain, and thus had to vacate the office of President of the Continental Congress, Samuel Huntington was elected President of that body on September 28, 1779.

His accomplishments as President were significant. One of the most difficult problems facing the young nation was the principle of unity The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union had been debated, modified, and adopted by the Congress in 1777. All the states had ratified this document at the time of Huntington’s Presidency, except Maryland. The objection Maryland had with the Articles was the issue of western lands, particularly in the Ohio country, which were held by several states. Huntington sat down with the leaders of the states of New York, Virginia and Connecticut to convince them that holding onto such feeble grants from a King, now no longer in power, was absurd and therefore, should be ceded over to the national government. Slowly each state became convinced that this was in the best interests of the new nati9ona at large, and did cede these lands. Maryland then agreed, and ratified the Articles on March 1, 1781.

On March 2, Huntington wrote to each of the 13 states as follows: “By the Act of Congress herewith enclosed your Excellency will be informed that the Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union between the thirteen United State are formally &finally ratified by all the states. We are happy to congratulate our Constituents on this important Event, desired by our Friends but dreaded by our Enemies.”

Samuel Huntington, who was the fifth President of the Continental Congress, was allowed to continue in the new office with a new title, “first President of the United States in Congress Assembled” under the Articles of Confederation.

He held this office until illness forced him to resign and return to Connecticut on Jul 9, 1781. Upon returning to Norwich he received a letter from John Witherspoon as follows: “With great satisfaction I observe by the public papers, the joyful and honorable reception you met with on your arrival, so expressive of that affection and approbation which to you will be the most grateful tribute of praise your country can bestow, and next to your consciousness of your having labored how to establish liberties of America, will be the greatest happiness you can enjoy.”

Three months after Huntington left office, on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered to the American and French armed forces at Yorktown, effectively ending hostilities. Huntington wrote to the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, giving full recognition to the French contribution to the American success: “I cannot deny myself the pleasure of congratulating you Sir on the important & Glorious Success of our Combined Forces on the compleat Capture of Lord Cornwallis and all his Army. The conduct of the Comte de Grasse so far as it hath come to my knowledge charms me: his drubbing the British fleet Sufficient to teach them to stay at due distance not again attempt to Interrupt the Siege & main object…..May our Successes this Campaign be in proportion to the Generous and unparallel Aids received from his most Christian majesty and prove Eventually productive of the Happiest Consequenses to the perpetual advantage of both nations.”

During 1780-1781, Samuel Huntington received honorary degrees from Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton in recognition of his service to the country.

In 1782 Connecticut again elected Huntington as a delegate to the Congress, but his health and the judicial duties in the superior Court of Connecticut kept him from accepting. He did, however, accept election and a return to the Congress in the July 1783 session in time to see the success of the revolution, when the definitive Treaty of Peace was concluded in Paris on September 3 of that year.

In 1785 Samuel Huntington was selected as Lieutenant Governor of the State of Connecticut, serving under Governor Matthew Griswold, and the following year he was elected Governor. In 1786 he brokered the Treaty of Hartford that resolved the western land claims between New York and Massachusetts. Huntington supported the Northwest Ordinance that set up the means by which new states would be created from national lands north and west of the Ohio River, and the ways by which they entered the union. He was re-elected every year until his death in 1796 to the high office of Governor.

As Governor, Huntington dealt with several critical issues, one of which was the resolution of the permanent site for the State Capitol at Hartford. He also oversaw the construction of the state house there. In 1788 he presided over the convention called to debate and ratify the newly completed United States Constitution, which he strongly supported. Connecticut became the fifth state to ratify the Constitution.

Huntington had the great good fortune to know that his efforts to secure a firm union into a new nation had succeeded when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution. Elections were soon held and the newly elected officials gathered in New York City to begin a new era in republican government. In the election of 1789, Huntington received two electoral votes for President.

Samuel Huntington died in Norwich, Connecticut while in the office of Governor on January 5, 1796. He was buried in the Norwichtown Burial Ground in Norwich, Connecticut. His grave monument is a marble slab installed into a brick wall. The monument also honors his wife, Martha Huntington.

The 1732 Huntington Homestead in Scotland, where Samuel was born, is owned by the Governor Samuel Huntington Trust, Inc., and is open to the public. The remarkably well-preserved site includes an 18th century house on its original foundation surrounded by acres of farmland. It includes old-growth trees and stone walls. Restoration work continues on the house itself.

Frederick W. Pyne

Sources

  • Bakeless, John, The Signers of the Declaration, (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA, 1969), p. 147
  • Barthelmas, Della Gray, The Signers of the Declaration of Independence, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1997.
  • Gerlach, Larry R., Connecticut Congressman: Samuel Huntington, 1731 – 1796, (Hartford Bicentennial Commission, 1977)
  • Klos, Stanley L., President Who? Forgotten Founders, (Evisum, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, 2004)
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2 Responses to Samuel Huntington

  1. George E. Huntington says:

    My Grand Father was George Harris Huntington and a decendent Of Samuel! I believe he was the son of Samuel Harris Huntington a son of Joseph ,Samuel ‘s brother!

    • jim says:

      George, Samuel Huntington, the Signer had no children, therefore there can be no descendants So your Grandfather George Harris in not a descendant of Samuel the Signer. however, Samuel the Signer and his wife Martha did adopt two of his brother Joseph’s children; Samuel Huntington (gov. of Ohio) and Frances, who married Rev. Griffin, the President of Williams College. You and your Grand father would be related to the Signer, but not descended from the Signer. Note that this genealogical misunderstanding is not uncommon. Jim

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