Symbolic sites do more to inspire patriotism than any word or action. It can be a flag, an effigy, a grave, a bell, or even a rock (Plymouth). These sites remind those that look upon them of their past and what the future could be. The Charter Oak was one of the symbolic sites that helped push forward the American Revolution.
This oak tree that grew in Hartford, Connecticut, greeted the first of the settlers in the area. It was already an old tree with a symbolic past.
Before any European took up residence in the Connecticut area, the Native Americans called it their home. The group that lived around the Charter Oak planted the tree as a sign of peace. Much lore surrounds this tree regarding the peace it brought to the tribes and what it did to grow the Indian nations. So, before it was known as The Charter Oak, it was the oak of peace for the natives.
When the Wyllys family purchased the land that The Charter Oak, the tribes that lived in that area asked that the old tree not be cut down to expand the family farm. They asked that it be left alone to continue promoting peace. The Wyllys family acquiesced.
It was in 1662 that the colonist of Connecticut received their official charter to form a colony from King Charles II. As with all governments, a chance in power means a change in all policies of former leaders. The same was said of England. James II took the throne and decided to cancel all the charters and get the colonies further under the Crown’s control. The king looked to Sir Edmund Andros to acquire all charters and return them to England.
By taking the charters back, the colonists would lose what independence they had and would be controlled directly by the king. Needless to say, this was not received warmly by any of the colonists.
When Sir Andros arrived in Connecticut, he asked for the charter. Since the colonists refused to give in, there was quite a bit of debate as each side went back and forth. The colonists were much smarter than Andros gave them credit for. They knew that Andros was not trustworthy and had already formulated a plan to keep the precious charter safe.
The charter lay on the table between Andros the representatives of the colonists. As the discussions went on, Andros crept his hand toward the charter in an attempt to snatch it. The colonists were already on guard so this was no surprise to them.
All of a sudden, the candles were extinguished. Captain Joseph Wadsworth grabbed the much sought after charter and left the room. When Andros could see again, the charter he was so close to having was gone.
Tradition holds that he secreted the charter in a hole located in the ancient oak. There it stayed where Andros would never find it. A symbol of rebellion and pride.
As the fires of the American Revolution were igniting, many looked to The Charter Oak as a symbol of their struggle. Just as it had been almost a hundred years earlier, the colonists were fighting for their freedom that was being taken away by the same Crown. Some accounts even have George Washington displaying Betsy Ross’s flag under The Charter Oak.
In August 1856, The Charter Oak passed the torch as a standing symbol of peace and freedom. Mother Nature called the old tree home. In honor of what it meant to the country and to those in Connecticut, every piece of it was used to make furniture that can still be seen today in some of Connecticut’s museums.
Though few today know of The Charter Oak, it played a huge role in shaping America. The natives respected it and saw it as a symbol of peace between the tribes. To the settlers, it was a symbol of strength and freedom as they fought to keep what was given to them. A simple tree that influenced more than most men would ever do in a hundred lifetimes.