Charter Oak

Coordinates: 41°45′33″N 72°40′25″W / 41.7593°N 72.6736°W / 41.7593; -72.6736
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

41°45′33″N 72°40′25″W / 41.7593°N 72.6736°W / 41.7593; -72.6736

The Charter Oak, oil on canvas, Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857. Wadsworth Atheneum
1935 Connecticut Commemorative half dollar depicting the Charter Oak
The Charter Oak on the 50 States Series Connecticut quarter (1999)

The Charter Oak was an enormous white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut in the United States, from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856. According to tradition, Connecticut's Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the tree's hollow to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak symbolized American independence and was commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter. In 1935, Connecticut's tercentennial, it was also depicted on both a commemorative half dollar[1] and a postage stamp.[2]

Early history[edit]

Connecticut tercentenary 1935 U.S. stamp

Dutch explorer Adrian Block described a tree, which is understood to be this one, at the future site of Hartford in his log in 1614. In the 1630s, a delegation of local Native Americans is said to have approached Samuel Wyllys—the early settler who owned and cleared much of the land around it—to encourage its preservation, describing it as having been planted ceremonially for the sake of peace when their tribe first settled in the area:

It has been the guide of our ancestors for centuries as to the time of planting our corn; when the leaves are the size of a mouse's ears, then is the time to put the seed into the ground.[3]


The name "Charter Oak" stems from the local legend that a cavity within the tree was used in late 1687 as a hiding place for the Charter of 1662.

This much regarding the charter is history:

  • King Charles II granted the Connecticut Colony an unusual degree of autonomy in 1662.[4]
  • His successor James II consolidated several colonies into the Dominion of New England in 1686, in part to take firmer control of them.[5]
  • He appointed Sir Edmund Andros as governor-general over it, who stated that his appointment had invalidated the charters of the various constituent colonies. He went to each colony to collect their charters, presumably seeing symbolic value in physically reclaiming the documents.
  • Andros arrived in Hartford late in October 1687, where his mission was at least as unwelcome as it had been in the other colonies.

According to the dominant tradition, the incident took place on October 31, 1687[6] in the upper room at Zachariah Sanford's tavern,[7] Andros demanded the document, and it was produced, but the candlelights were suddenly doused during the ensuing discussion.[8] The parchment was spirited out a window and thence to the Oak by Captain Joseph Wadsworth, ancestor of Elijah Wadsworth.[9]

In 1900, it was suggested that a copy was surreptitiously substituted for the original in June 1687 and the original secreted in the oak lest Andros find it in any search of buildings.[10]

The Museum of Connecticut History (a subdivision of the Connecticut State Library) credits the idea that Andros never got the original charter and displays a parchment that it regards as the original. (The Connecticut Historical Society is said to possess a "fragment" of it.[11])

Two years later, Andros was overthrown in Boston in the 1689 Boston revolt. The Dominion of New England was then dissolved.


The Charter Oak Chair shown on a postcard

The oak was blown down by a violent, tempestuous storm on August 21, 1856, and its timber was made into many chairs now displayed in the Hartford Capitol Building. The desk of the Governor of Connecticut and the chairs for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate in the state capitol were made from wood salvaged from the Charter Oak. Another chair was made by noted painter Frederic Church, a native of Hartford, and is still on display at his former home.[12]

A wooden baseball made from the Charter Oak was presented by the Charter Oak Engine Co. No. 1 on September 20, 1860, to the Charter Oak Base Ball Club of Brooklyn.[13]

As impeachment proceedings were underway, a cane made from a branch of the Charter Oak was presented to President Andrew Johnson by supporters in January 1868.[14]

In 1868, Mark Twain wrote of a trip he took to Hartford and mused on the pride his guide showed in the uses to which the lumber of the Charter Oak had been put:[15]

Anything that is made of its wood is deeply venerated by the inhabitants, and is regarded as very precious. I went all about the town with a citizen whose ancestors came over with the Pilgrims in the Quaker City -- in the Mayflower, I should say -- and he showed me all the historic relics of Hartford. He showed me a beautiful carved chair in the Senate Chamber, where the bewigged and awfully homely old-time Governors of the Commonwealth frown from their canvasse overhead. "Made from Charter Oak," he said. I gazed upon it with inexpressible solicitude. He showed me another carved chair in the House, "Charter Oak," he said. I gazed again with interest. Then we looked at the rusty, stained and famous old Charter, and presently I turned to move away. But he solemnly drew me back and pointed to the frame. "Charter Oak," said he. I worshipped. We went down to Wadsworth's Atheneum, and I wanted to look at the pictures, but he conveyed me silently to a corner and pointed to a log, rudely shaped somewhat like a chair, and whispered, "Charter Oak." I exhibited the accustomed reverence. He showed me a walking stick, a needlecase, a dog-collar, a three-legged stool, a boot-jack, a diner-table, a ten-pen alley, a tooth-pick, a ----

I interrupted him and said, "Never mind -- we'll bunch the whole lumber year, and call it ---"

"Charter Oak," he said.

"Well," I said, "now let us go and see some Charter Oak, for a change."

I meant that for a joke. But how was he to know that, being a stranger? He took me around and showed me Charter Oak enough to build a plank road from here to Great Salt Lake City.

In literature[edit]

Lydia Sigourney published her poem on this tree, Wyllys' Hill and the Charter Oak. in her 1827 collection of poetry. She remarks that this poem was occasioned by the death of the last proprietor of the name of Wyllys, in whose family this estate had remained since the country's first settlement.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "1935 Connecticut Tercentenary Half Dollar". 27 March 2011. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved 2017-05-24.
  2. ^ "Connecticut Tercentenary / Charter Oaks Stamp". Archived from the original on 2016-07-06. Retrieved 2017-05-24.
  3. ^ Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 328–332.
  4. ^ waltwould (2018-10-31). "October 31: Connecticut's Greatest Legend Happened Today…. or Did It?". Today in Connecticut History. Archived from the original on 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  5. ^ "The Legend of the Charter Oak". New England Historical Society. 2014-04-23. Archived from the original on 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  6. ^ "Hiding the Charter: Images of Joseph Wadsworth's Legendary Action" Archived 2022-01-16 at the Wayback Machine,
  7. ^ Sargent, Porter Edward (1916). A Handbook of New England. Boston. p. 117. Retrieved 10 Nov 2021.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ "Connecticut's "The Legend of the Charter Oak"". Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project. 2013-06-09. Archived from the original on 2021-04-21. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  9. ^ "The Legend of the Charter Oak". New England Historical Society. 2014-04-23. Archived from the original on 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  10. ^ Charter of the Colony of Connecticut: 1662 (PDF). Hartford: Case, Lockwood, & Brainard. 1900. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 September 2021. Retrieved 10 Nov 2021.
  11. ^ "The Charter of the Oak: Story of the Tree That Is Famous in the History of Our Country". The Silver Standard. 3: 6. 1907. Archived from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 10 Nov 2021.
  12. ^ Capozzola, Christopher (2006). "Review: Frederic Church and the Landscapes of Victorian America". The New England Quarterly. 70 (3): 479. JSTOR 20474469. When a storm felled Hartford's Charter Oak in 1856, Church rescued some branches from the famed tree, which he had twice depicted, and fashioned them into an armchair still on display at Olana…
  13. ^ New York Herald. September 21, 1860. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ The Tragic Era, Claude G. Bowers, page 171
  15. ^ Walsh, Willliam Shepard (1913). A Handy Book of Curious Information. Philadelphia: Lippincott. p. 195. Archived from the original on 12 April 2022. Retrieved 10 Nov 2021.


External links[edit]