In the Footsteps of Wolcott and Washington
Representing 16 Signers, we were delighted that almost 50 members and guests attended the Fall 2018 meeting in Connecticut, traveling from 11 states and the District of Columbia.
An overcast Friday did not dampen our spirits as we gathered at the Windsor Historical Society on Palisado Avenue. Our two docents showed us through the Strong-Howard house (1810), where three generations lived and worked, and across the street to the 1767 brick mansion which Dr. Chaffee called home. His office was in a small adjoining room.
On the Green was the Founders Memorial to the 125 early settlers of Windsor who had sailed from Plymouth, England, on theMary and Johnin 1630 to Dorchester, Massachusetts. Henry Wolcott, his wife Elizabeth and their children were part of Rev. Warham’s congregation that trekked overland from Massachusetts to Windsor in 1635. They settled along the Connecticut River and established a farming and trading community. In 1639, the founders of Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford helped to organize the first Connecticut colonial government.
For the rest of the afternoon, we toured the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, heard tales and family lore, and viewed the large portrait of Judge Oliver and Mrs. Abigail Wolcott Ellsworth. Oliver Ellsworth was the third Chief Justice of the United States. We saw the chair in which President George Washington sat when he visited Elmwood on October 21, 1789.
Afterward, we met in Matthies Hall for hors d’oeuvres and dinner followed by a fascinating talk given by Elizabeth O’Brien, a docent at the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield. She told us stories about General Washington’s two visits to Wethersfield and wrote the following: “He dined at the Silas Deane house in late June of 1775 when he was enroute from Philadelphia to Boston to take command of the Continental Army for the first time. At the end of the war, in May of 1781, he used the Joseph Webb house as his headquarters for five days. During that time, he met with French General Rochambeau. What President Washington and General Rochambeau discussed and developed at this meeting in the Webb house was a strategy to go after British General Cornwallis and his troops at Yorktown. And that is what they did, which ended the Revolution in October of 1781.”
At the General Meeting Saturday morning, DSDI President-General Bruce Laubach brought us up to date on the activities of the Society, including the merit scholarship program. We welcomed several first-time attendees. During the Roll Call, Nancy Wark and Gene Mayhew (John Hart descendants) graciously conceded ‘defeat’ as 12 descendants of Oliver Wolcott stood. In keeping with the Paul Revere poem read during the Concord and Lexington meeting, five Wolcott cousins presented an animated rendition of “Sybil Ludington’s Ride,” penned in 1940 by Berton Braley. It tells the story of 16-year-old Sybil who, in April 1777, rode 40 miles on her horse Star, at night, to awaken the men in her father’s command. When she returned home, about 400 men had arrived. One account states that General Washington later thanked her personally.
We boarded our coach for a delightful scenic drive over lovely back roads, via the Saville Dam and the Barkhamsted Reservoir (built 1940), to Litchfield. We paused and paid our respects at the East Cemetery to Oliver Wolcott Sr. (the Signer) and his wife, Laura; Oliver Wolcott Jr. (Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Washington and Adams) and his wife, Elizabeth; and Col. Tallmadge and his wife, Mary Floyd Tallmadge, before reaching the Oliver Wolcott Library, where our lunches were waiting. The head librarian, Mrs. White, and her weekend technical assistant, Audra MacLaren, were so kind and welcoming. We were able to tour the Oliver Wolcott Jr. house into which the town library had been incorporated. In the second floor ballroom, we learned that General Washington danced a minuet in the 1780s, and had stayed at the Sheldon Tavern on North Street.
After leaving the library we had the perfect fall day to stroll down South Street. Several options were available for visiting – Tapping Reeve Law School, Litchfield Historical Museum, First Congregational Church and the Apple Festival – as well as a walking tour of North and South Streets (provided by the library). The Wolcott descendants were invited to see the grounds of the Wolcott house.
We boarded our bus at 4:30 p.m. and returned to Windsor. A cash bar and buffet dinner completed our day, and we concluded with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Andy Keller, Laurie Croft, and President-General Bruce Laubach.