In celebration of the Royal Oak’s 35th anniversary we had some questions about oaks. One, though was clued as the “Connecticut Hiding Tree” and I don’t know about you, but I had no freaking clue. Turns out it was the Charter Oak. Huh? Still drawing a blank. Here’s the story…
Back in 1660 King Charles II assumed the throne after a lengthy interregnum and the execution of his father Charles the First (more on that in the bonus section below). The powers that be wanted to shore up the governance situation in the colonies, and so John Winthrop, the governor of Connecticut, took a trip to England to negotiate with the motherland. He was successful and brought back with him in 1662 the Connecticut Charter. Here it is.
Then everything was great. However! In 1675 Sir Edmund Andros showed up in New York, kicked out the Dutch, and took over as governor. Then things start to get funny. See, Andros had designs on more than New York. He demanded that Connecticut submit to him, and hand over their precious Charter. Connecticut refused. Undaunted, Andros bided his time, and 1686 he struck again, by serving the Governor of the Colony with a writ.
Connecticut again said no. Now Andros was officially pissed, so in 1687 he rounded up a posse of soldiers and landed in Hartford himself to take care of business. The locals were out of options, save for one man, whose name is lost to history, who said: “I hath a supposition so bereft of sanity that mayhaps it could succeed!”.
Andros arranged to meet the leaders of the colony in a ceremony to hand over the papers, and you can bet that he was keen to have done with the whole rotten business. But just at the appointed time, the gathered colonists blew out all the candles in the room! Whaaaaat?! When they were relit (which probably took fifteen or twenty minutes), the Charter had been replaced by an exact copy, while the real document was spirited out a window. Take that, heartless English governor! No word on whether our main man William Chaloner was the forger in question, but I’m going to say that it was probable. Andros went about his business none the wiser, like an uptight dean of a liberal college in a terrible 80s comedy. Sucker.
And where did the real Charter wind up? Why, hidden in a large oak tree, of course!
Now there are some so-called historians who question the veracity of this account, but they have obviously never watched an episode of the Little Rascals or Scooby Doo. I really do like this scheme, since it enabled the colonists to, at some future point, whip out the Real Charter and say “ha! you’ve been governing us for years, limiting our trade, and siphoning out tax revenue arbitrarily, but we tricked you!”. The famous tree fell down in a storm in 1856, but they did turn it into some cool chairs.
And the Charter Oak is featured on the Connecticut state quarter.
Like any good villain, Andros overstepped his bounds, tried to create a Dominion of New England, was overthrown in a revolt, and hightailed it back to England where he cried into fistfuls of money.
A little before these events Charles I got somewhat too frisky with his authority. He enacted taxes without the consent of parliament, and in the ultimate crime even went so far as to marry a Catholic. He was subsequently deposed and ultimately put on trial for overstepping his kingly bounds. King Charles tried the Nixon defence of “I am the King, divine right, such and such, I can do whatever I want”. He also reportedly whacked one of the prosecutors with his cane during the proceedings, in the first recorded historical pimp caning.
Not surprisingly a defence strategy based on the idea that you filthy peasants have no right to challenge or question my deeds didn’t work out so well. The result?
Those guys in the back seem to be having altogether too much fun. Now comes the tie-in back to our story… The 60 some judges who condemned the king all put their signatures and wax seals to his death warrant.
This seemed like a great idea at the time, however when Charles’ son Charles II came to the throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell these signatories had to get the hell out of Dodge, because it was time for some royal vengeance. Some were executed, some fled to the continent, but three of them took off to good old, and very appropriately named New Haven, where the people were naturally sympathetic to those who might overthrow royalty and kill Catholic-lovers.
So when the Connecticut Charter was drawn up, the new king made sure to add New Haven to Connecticut’s boundaries, such that he might get those rascally judges. However, they escaped his wrath and died of natural causes.
Today at West Rock Ridge State Park you can visit Judges Cave, which was their hideout, or take a stroll on the Regicides Trail, and New Haven has streets named after all three of them.
In summary, King of England is not the safest job in the world, and you might even be smart to avoid it. Oh my that almost sounds like a tease of our next article…
Connecticut is yet another state who went to the picture-on-blue-with-writing-on-the-bottom school of flag design. Come ON guys! Those purple blobs are grapes, by the way, symbolic of Welch’s jelly, the official sandwich topping of the state.