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The Legend of the Charter Oak

The Story Behind Connecticut's Most Famous Tree


The Charter Oak is Connecticut's official State Tree. An image of the Charter Oak was selected to emblazon the back of Connecticut's state quarter. What is the story behind this famous tree?

In 1662, Connecticut received its Royal Charter from England's Charles II. A quarter century later, James II's royal representatives attempted to seize the charter. Well, Connecticut residents were not about to take that lying down, even though the Brits threatened to split the state and divide its lands between Massachusetts and New York.

On October 26, 1687, Sir Edmund Andros, who had been appointed by the Crown as governor of all of New England, arrived in Hartford to demand the charter. What exactly happened during that evening's showdown at Butler's Tavern may never be ascertained, but the upshot is that, in the midst of heated debates between Connecticut leaders and the royal entourage over surrendering the Charter, the room was plunged into darkness when the candles that illuminated it were overturned.

Was it an accident, or a crafty maneuver carefully plotted by the feisty defenders of Connecticut's rights? We may never know, but what we do know is that one passionate Nutmegger, Captain Joseph Wadsworth, who was positioned outside the tavern, found himself in possession of the Charter during the ensuing chaos in the darkness. Wadsworth took it upon himself to hide the charter safely inside a majestic white oak tree on the Wyllys estate in Hartford. The stately tree was already more than 500 years old when it served its spectacular role as a hiding spot for the precious document. Wadsworth's bold move served to preserve not only the document but the rights of the colonists.

Thus, the tree earned its nickname--the "Charter Oak." The venerable tree stood as a proud Connecticut symbol for another 150 years until it was toppled during a storm on August 21, 1856.

Now, the symbol lives on thanks to the U.S. Mint's state quarters program.

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