British Officials Came To Connecticut In 1687 To Seize A Document; They Were Thwarted
August 23, 2010
Connecticut is celebrating the 375th anniversary of its founding with special events all year. This is one of an occasional series looking back at the earliest chapters in the state's history. British officials came to Connecticut in 1687 on a search for a document. They left without it. No one really knows how the Royal Charter vanished just before Gov. Edmund Andros, who worked for the king, could grab it on Halloween night in 1687. Legend says the candles lighting the room during a meeting suddenly went out. When they were relit, the document was gone.
The Royal Charter, granted by King Charles II in 1662, legitimized Connecticut as a colony and allowed it to govern itself. But by 1687, Charles' successor, King James II, was trying to seize the charter, part of an effort to combine several colonies into one large one and strip Connecticut of its independence.
When Connecticut's leaders refused to give him the document, the king sent his men to get it. The story says that when the lights went out, someone ran with the charter to a Hartford estate and hid the document in an oak tree, which became known as the Charter Oak.
Many years later, in 1856, the Charter Oak came down in a summer storm. Wood from the famous tree was used for an assortment of commemorative items, many of which have been preserved and are on display in state buildings and museums today.
Although Andros didn't leave with the charter, England still took control. Having the Royal Charter in its possession, however, helped Connecticut when King William and Queen Mary took the throne. Connecticut sent Fitz-John Winthrop to persuade England that the charter was a legitimate document. He succeeded, and the charter was Connecticut's ruling document until the constitution of 1818.
Prior to the Royal Charter, Connecticut operated according to the Fundamental Orders, which is thought to be the first written constitution in Western tradition and is the reason Connecticut is called the Constitution State.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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