Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Engraved by J. Andrews and W. H. Tappan
from a Picture by Trumbull (This portrait is duplicated
from The Wolcott Memorial, 1881)
Oliver Wolcott, Jr., was born on January 11, 1760. His parents, Oliver Wolcott Sr., and Laura Collins Wolcott, had three other children survive childhood, of which Oliver Jr. was the oldest. His sister Laura was born in late 1761, Mariann followed in early 1765, and Frederick arrived in late 1767.

In 1778, Oliver graduated from Yale. He immediately entered law school at the Litchfield Law School, studying under Tapping Reeve, the founder of the school. He earned his law degree in 1778. In 1781, he was admitted to the Bar. That same year he got a Master's degree from his alma mater, Yale. In 1782, he began his life-long political career.

His Family

Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Engraved by Charles Burt after a crayon sketch
by Rembrandt Peale (This portrait is duplicated
from The Wolcott Memorial, 1881)
On June 1, 1785, Oliver married Elizabeth (Betsey) Stoughton, the daughter of Captain John Stoughton. They had seven children.

Their first two children, John Stoughton and Oliver, both died young. Laura, their third child, was born on April 10, 1794. Sixteen years later, on December 27, 1810, she married Colonel George Gibbs of Newport. Their other daughter, Elizabeth Stoughton, arrived on October 9, 1795. On July 2, 1813, a few months before her eighteenth birthday, she married William Gracie, Esquire, of New York City. Both Laura and Elizabeth attended Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy.

Oliver Stoughton Wolcott was born on January 18, 1800. A little under two years later, his brother, John Stoughton, was born on December 4, 1802. John became a surgeon, graduating from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He died at the age of 40 and is buried in the East Cemetery in Litchfield. Their final boy, Henry, was born on September 4, 1805. He died shortly afterwards.

Elizabeth died on September 25, 1805, three weeks after giving birth to her last child. Oliver Jr. never remarried.

In 1814, Oliver moved his family into a new home on South Street that Elijah Wadsworth had built in 1799. His brother Frederick was living just down the road from him in the Wolcott home that their father, Oliver Sr., had built and owned.

Business Ventures

In June of 1805, Oliver Wolcott, Benjamin Tallmadge, and Frederick Wolcott signed an agreement to finance four successive voyages to China, beginning in the spring of 1806. Shares in the venture were later purchased by local merchant Julius Deming. Oliver Wolcott procured the Trident, a nearly new vessel, to carry out the trade. The ship was cleared to depart the Port of New York on April 11, 1806. After the return of the Trident in March of 1807, Oliver Wolcott announced the availability of the newly imported items at his shop in New York. They included several varieties of tea, yellow and white nankeen (a type of cloth manufactured in China), silks, and pearl handled combs. China and lacqured ware were later added to the list. Goods they imported were also sold in Litchfield, as well as by Belden, Dwight, & Company of New Haven.

The Embargo Act of 1807, which remained in effect until 1809, raised concerns about foreign trade which pervaded the endeavor. To allay his brother’s fear, Oliver Wolcott wrote Frederick in January of 1808,

…it is natural for you to feel concern respecting our China Trade. I can assure you, that the danger is less than appears at your distance. No Merchants have failed, who were not insolvent before the Embargo. Large sums are due our concern, but in general they are due from the best men in the City…There is no immediate danger of War & the Ship & Cargo out, are not embraced by any of the decrees of either of the Parties to the War. The Ship & Cargo are insured against all risques even War, in the best offices here & in Philadelphia…Tell Mr. Demming what I write & Keep yourself cool, for I assure you that we are not in any new danger, unless the British perfidiously swept our Commerce from the Ocean, which is not in the least probable.

In April of 1809, Oliver Wolcott announced to his brother, “…we have concluded to send out the Trident with a moderate Investment & to close the existing concern with the depending voyage.” After it’s return in 1810, newspaper advertisements announced “On Tuesday the 12 th June, at one o’clock, Will be sold at Public Auction, at the Tontine Coffee House, the ship TRIDENT, a first rate merchant ship, about 4 years old…” thus concluding the five year enterprise.

Along with his brother Frederick, Oliver Jr. entered into the business world. They owned mills in neighboring Torrington (the part of the town which housed their mills was named Wolcottville), manufactured woolen cloth, and imported sheep and cattle. They imported the cattle mainly from Britain, dealing mainly with breeds of Devon and Durham while the sheep were acquired mainly Spain.

On April 13, 1810, Oliver wrote Frederick the following letter:

Dear Brother
I have rec.d your favour of the 9th:- The
sample of Wool you sent me, is very fine, and
has all the characters of the true Merino,
I have seen some samples, still finer, but a
flock of such Sheep as yours, will bring you
an income of which you have but little
conception at present - Will it not be well
to stock the Marlborough Lands with Sheep?

This is an excerpt of a longer letter.

Political Career

Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Oil on canvas by George Catlin, 1825
Oliver Wolcott, Jr., first stepped into the political arena in 1782 when he was appointed to the Committee of the General Assembly. Two years later, in 1784, he became the Commissioner for the state of Connecticut. In 1788, he moved up to the position of the Connecticut Comptroller, a job which required him to arrange the financial affairs of the state.

A year later he was chosen to be an Auditor in the national Treasury Department. In 1791, he became the Comptroller of the United States Treasury.

In 1795, after the retirement of Alexander Hamilton, Oliver was appointed the second Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America by George Washington. He held the position through the end of George Washington's administration and into John Adams. He retired in 1800.

A year later he became a Judge of the Second Circuit of the United States. The position was short-lived because a law repealed the formation of the Second Circuit.

In April of 1803, Oliver was elected president to the newly reorganized Merchant's Bank. He only held the position for a year. A decade later, he helped found the Bank of America and was elected its first president in 1812. He held that position for two years. After that retirement, he returned to Litchfield.

In 1817, Oliver ran for the seat of Governor of Connecticut under the Democratic/Toleration ticket. In a close race, he won. He was re-elected to the position for ten consecutive years, finally ending his administration in 1827.

When Oliver died on June 1, 1833, he was the last surviving member of George Washington's cabinet. He is buried in the East Cemetery in Litchfield (less than a mile down the road from the Historical Society).