By Ken Krayeske • 12:00 AM EST
A leaf from the scion of the Charter Oak in Bushnell Park, collected a few weeks back, early November. h/t to Pedro for guiding me on how to save the leaf as a path.
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Charter Oak, and I went looking through my site for this story, but I had never posted it. So, from Nov. 29, 2004, here is a column about Connecticut history.
Nestled in a spectacular frame inside the state museum on Capital Avenue sits the Royal Charter of 1662, the one legendarily hidden in the famous oak tree.
"The restoration of the English monarchy under King Charles II in 1660 forced the Connecticut General Court to take action regarding the legal status of the colony," says a plaque next to the Charter.
Next to an etching of the long-haired King, the words "King Charles II, by the grace of God king of England, Scotland and Ireland, defender of the Faith," establish the charter. It is about five feet tall, three feet wide, and within those 15 square feet, difficult to decipher old Engish calligraphy enumerates Connecticut's powers of self-government, enjoyed by our state since 1639.
The Royal Charter, says the museum plaque, "renamed the General Court the General Assembly and increased from six to twelve the number of magistrates, now known as assistants. Two representatives, known as deputies, acted on behalf of each town. All members of the bicameral Genral Assembly, as well as the Governor and Deputy Governor, were elected by the freemen. The General Assembly continued to conduct all the judicial, legislative and execuative affairs of the colony."
Some 25 years later, Charles II's younger brother King James II sent a representative to take the charter. Charles II was beheaed in February 1685. On October 26, 1687, Sir Edmund Andros, the Crown's New England governor, strolled into Hartford Butler's Tavern demanding the charter. A long deliberation culminated in a speech by Guilford's Andrew Leete.
Once Leete prophesized that "measures obtained by force do not endure," he fell. Whether by illness or conspiracy, his fall knocked over the candles. In the ensuing darkness, the Charter was passed out the window to Captain Joseph Wadsworth, who hid it in the famous Oak tree on the nearby Wyllys estate.
While the charter and the oak became intertwined symbols of liberty, James II oppressed the people of Connecticut for a year, until William the Orange chased James II from the throne in 1688. When a storm felled the Charter Oak August 21, 1856, citizens mourned and rejoiced, sad to see the ancient oak go, but glad to celebrate the liberties that it helped secure.
As I stood before the Charter, I thought about how America approaches a return to proclomations beginning “by the grace of God king,” I took comfort in the history surrounding me. Studying the oil paintings of state governors (starting with Charles II), I identified the faces with state landmarks bearing their names, Gurdon Saltonstall, Oliver Wolcott, Clark Bissell, Morgan Bulkeley, etc.
The white men on the walls wear faces grave with responibilty, like the countenance of William Buckingham, who governed during the Civil War. At the dawn of Connecticut’s self-government, only white land-holding freemen participated. In the 365 years since, those rights have expanded to include men, women, blacks and young people.
For the next 40 years - one-ninth of the time since 1639 - we should set two main goals: to advance the rights so courageously defended by our forbears, and to learn more of our history so we do not repeat it.