Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.
The family of Samuel Huntington was among the earlier settlers of Connecticut, who located at Saybrook. He was born at Windham, Connecticut, on the second of July, 1732. His father was an industrious farmer, and the only education he was able to allow his son, was that to be derived from the common schools in his neighborhood. Samuel was very studious, and the active energies of his mind surmounted many obstacles that stood in the way of intellectual advancement. He acquired a tolerable knowledge of the Latin language, and at the age of twenty-two years he commenced the study of law. Like Sherman he was obliged to pursue it with borrowed books and, without, an instructor. He succeeded, however, in mastering its difficulties, and in obtaining a good practice in his native town, before he was thirty years of age. At the age of twenty-eight he removed to Norwich, where he had greater scope for his talents.
Mr. Huntington was elected to the General Assembly of Connecticut in I764, and the next year he was chosen a member of the Council. In the various duties of official station he always maintained the entire confidence and esteem of his constituents.
He was appointed Associate Judge of the Superior Court in 1774; and in 1775 he was appointed one of the delegates from Connecticut, in the General Congress. The following year he had the glorious privilege of voting for, and signing, the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the Congress nearly tive consecutive years, and was esteemed as one of the most active men there. His integrity and patriotism were stern and unbending; and so conspicuous became his sound judgment and untiring industry, that in 1779 he was appointed President of Congress, then the highest office in the nation. At length his impaired health demanded his resignation of the office, yet it was with great reluctance that Congress consented to dispense with his services.
On his return to Connecticut he resumed the duties of the offices he held in the Council and on the Bench, both of which had been continued while he was in Congress. He again took his scat in Congress in 1783, but left it again in November of that year, and retired to his family. Soon after his return, he was appointed Chief Justice of the Superior Court of his State. In 1785 he was elected Lieutenant Governor, and was promoted to the Chief Magistracy in 1786, which office he held until his death, which occurred at Norwich, on the fifth day of January, 1796, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.
Governor Huntington lived the life of the irreproachable and sincere Christian, and those who knew him most intimately, loved him the most affectionately. He was a thoughtful man, and talked but little-the expression of his mind and heart was put forth in his actions. He seemed to have a natural timidity, or modesty, which some mistook for the reserve of haughtiness, yet with those with whom he was familiar, he was free and winning in his manners. Investigation was a prominent characteristic of his mind, and when this faculty led him to a conclusion, it was difficult to turn him from the path of his determination. Hence as a devoted Christian and a true patriot, he never swerved from duty, or looked back after he had placed his hand to the work. The cultivation of this faculty of decision we would earnestly recommend to youth, for it is the strong arm that will lead them safely through many difficulties, and win for them that sentiment of reiiance in the minds of others, which is so essential in securing their esteem and confidence. It was this most important faculty which constituted the chief aid to Samuel Huntington in his progress from the humble calling of a ploughboy, to the acme of ofiicial station, where true greatness was essential, and to which none but the truly good could aspire. 1
Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.
Samuel Huntington was born in Windham, Connecticut, on the 2d day of July, 1732. His ancestors were respectable; they came to America at an early period of the country, and settled in Connecticut.
The father of the subject of the present memoir was Nathaniel Huntington, who resided in the town of Windham, where he was a plain but worthy farmer. His mother was distinguished for her many virtues. She was a pious, discreet woman, and endued with a more than ordinary share of mental vigor. A numerous family of children cemented the affection of this worthy pair. Several of the sons devoted themselves to the gospel ministry, and attained to a higher respectable standing in their profession. Of those who thus devoted themselves to the clerical profession, Dr. Joseph Huntington was one. He is well known as the author of a posthumous work, on universal salvation. It was entitled “Calvinism Improved, or the Gospel illustrated as a system ,of real Grace, issuing in the salvation of all men.” This work was afterwards ably answered by Dr. Nathan Strong, of Hartford.
In the benefits of a public education, which were thus conferred on several of his brothers, Samuel Huntington did not share. He was the eldest son, and his father needed his assistance on the farm. Indeed, his opportunities for obtaining knowledge were extremely limited, not extending beyond those furnished by the common schools of that day.
Mr. Huntington, however, possessed a vigorous understanding, and, when released from the toils of the field, he devoted himself with great assiduity to reading and study. Thus, the deficiencies of the common school were more than, supplied. He became possessed of an extensive fund of information upon various subjects, and by the time be was twenty-one years of age, he probably fell little short in his acquisitions of those who had received a collegiate education, except in some particular branches. His knowledge was less scientific, but more practical and useful.
Although not averse to husbandry, he early manifested a fondness for legal pursuits, and at the age of twenty-two he relinquished the labors of the field, for the more agreeable study of the law. Pecuniary circumstances prevented his availing himself of legal tuition in the office of a lawyer. But he was contented to explore the labyrinths of the profession unaided, except by his own judgment. The library of a respectable lawyer in a neighboring town, furnished him with the necessary books, and his diligence and perseverance accomplished the rest.
Mr. Huntington soon obtained a competent knowledge of the principles of law, to commence the practice of the profession. He opened an office in his native town, but in 1760, removed to Norwich, where a wider field presented itself, for the exercise of his talents. Here, he soon became eminent in his profession. He was distinguished by a strict integrity, and no man exceeded him in punctuality. These traits of character, united to no ordinary legal attainments, and strong common sense, insured him the respect of the community, and a large share of professional business.
In 1764, Mr. Huntington represented the town of Norwich in the general assembly. This was the commencement of his political career. In the year following he was appointed to the office of king’s attorney, the duties of which he continued to discharge, with great fidelity, for several years. In 1774, he became an associate judge in the superior court, and soon after an assistant in the council of Connecticut.
Mr. Huntington was among those who early and strongly set themselves in opposition to the claims and oppressions of the British parliament. In his opinions on national subjects, he was eminently independent; nor was he backward in expressing those opinions, on every suitable occasion. His talents and patriotism recommended him to public favor, and in October, 1775, he was appointed by the general assembly of Connecticut to represent that colony in the Continental Congress. In the January following, in conjunction with his distinguished colleagues, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, &c. he took his seat in that venerable body. In the subsequent July he voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence.
Of the Continental Congress, Mr. Huntington continued a member until the year 1781, when the ill state of his health required the relinquishment of the arduous services in which he had been engaged for several years. These services had been rendered still more onerous by an appointment, in 1779, to the presidency of the congress, in which station he succeeded Mr. Jay, on the appointment of the latter as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Madrid. The honorable station of president, Mr. Huntington filled with great dignity and distinguished ability. “In testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business,” congress, soon after his retirement, accorded to him the expression of their public thanks.
Thus relieved from the toils which his high official station in congress had imposed upon him, Mr. Huntington was soon able to resume his judicial functions in the superior court of Connecticut, and his duties as an assistant in the council of that state, both of which offices had been kept vacant during his absence.
The public, however, were unwilling long to dispense with his services in the great national assembly. Accordingly, in 1782, he was re-elected a delegate to congress ; but either feeble health, or his duties as a judge, prevented his attendance for that year. He was re-appointed the following year to the same office, and in July resumed his seat in congress, where he continued a conspicuous and influential member, until November, when he finally retired from the national assembly. Soon after his return to his native state, he was placed at the head of the superior court, and the following year, 1785, was, elected lieutenant governor of the state. The next year he succeeded Governor Griswold in the office of chief magistrate of the state, and to this office he was annually re-elected during the remainder of his life.
The death of this excellent and distinguished man occurred on the 5th of January, 1796, in the 64th year of his age. His departure from the world, as might be expected, from the even tenor of his life, and from the decided Christian character and conversation which he had manifested, was tranquil. He had for many years been a professor of religion, and a devoted attendant upon the ordinances of the gospel. His seat in the house of God was seldom vacant, and when occasion required, he was ready to lead in an address to the throne of grace, and was able to impart instruction to the people, drawn from the pure oracles of God.
Such, in few words, was the religious character of Governor Huntington. His domestic character was not less excellent. To strangers, be might appear formal. He possessed a dignity, and a natural reserve, which repressed the advances of all, except his intimate friends; but to these he was ever accessible and pleasant. Few men ever possessed a greater share of mildness and equanimity of temper. Sentiments of anger seem to have found no place in his breast; nor was he scarcely ever known to utter a word which could wound the feelings of another, or. asperse the good name of an absent person.
To show and parade, Mr. Huntington was singularly averse. In early life he had acquired rigid habits of economy, which appear to have continued during his life. Hence, in his domestic arrangements, in his diet, in his dress, his simplicity was such as to bring upon him the charge of parsimony. The justice or injustice of this charge, we have not the means of determining, but the private beneficence of Mr. Huntington is so amply attested to, that the charge of parsimony was probably brought against him only by the profuse.
Mr. Huntington was not connected in life until the 30th year of his age. At that time he married a daughter of Ebenezer Devotion, the worthy minister of the town of Windham. Having no children, Mr. Huntington adopted two of the children of his brother, the Reverend Joseph Huntington, one of whom afterwards became governor of Ohio; and the other is at present the wife of the Reverend Doctor Griffin, president of Williams’ College, in Massachusetts. The death of Mrs. Huntington preceded that of her husband about two years.
On the public character, or the public services of Governor Huntington, it is unnecessary to enlarge. It is pleasant, however, to mark the progress of such a man, from obscurity to the exalted and dignified walks of life, and from the humble occupation of a plough boy, to the deep and learned investigations of the judge, and to the wise and sagacious plans of the statesman. What was true of Mr. Huntington, in this respect, was true of a great proportion of that phalanx of patriots who, during the days of our revolutionary struggle, opposed themselves with success to British exactions and British oppressions. They came from humble life. They rose by the force of their native genius. Obstacles served only to rouse their latent strength, They threw aside discouragements, as the skilful swimmer dashes aside the waters which impede his course.
Mr. Huntington was one of these men. He had not the advantage of family patronage, or the benefit of a liberal education; nor did hereditary wealth lend him her aid. But, instead of these, he had genius, courage, and perseverance, With the united assistance of these, he entered upon his professional course, and afterwards, on his political career. He rendered services to his country, which will long be remembered with gratitude; be attained to honors with which a high ambition might have been satisfied; and, at length, went down to the grave, cheered with the prospect of a happy immortality. 2