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Laura Collins Wolcott


Wife of Oliver Wolcott

Laura Collins, who was married to Oliver Wolcott, in January, 1759, was the daughter of Captain Daniel and Lois Cornwall Collins of Guilford, Connecticut. She was a fine type of New England girl, descended from the first settlers, and brought up in the manner of Connecticut girls of well-to-do families of that day. The National Cyclopedia of American Biography says of her: "She was a woman of almost masculine strength of mind, energetic and thrifty; and while Governor Wolcott was away from home, attended to the management of their farm, educated their younger children, and made it possible for her husband to devote his energies to his country."

Her husband was the youngest son of Roger Wolcott, a former governor of the State and was thirty-three years old at the time of their marriage, ten years the senior of the bride he brought to his home in the old town of Litchfield. He had graduated from Yale College, and had served as captain of a company of his own raising in the wars along the northern frontiers, under a commission from Governor George Clinton of New York. He studied medicine under Dr. Alexander Wolcott of Windsor. He had never practiced, however, as the General Assembly created the new county of Litchfield in 1771, and appointed him sheriff. This office he still held at the time of his marriage. It was fortunate for the material interests of Oliver Wolcott that his young wife was "of almost masculine strength of mind, energetic and thrifty," as he had so many public matters to look after that his own affairs must have suffered. He continued in the militia, rising rank by rank until he was major-general. In 1774 he was elected to the council and continued a member until his election as Lieutenant-Governor in 1786. A large part of the time that he was a member of the Continental Congress he was also in the field with the army or engaged in recruiting and organising troops for the army. In 1796, he was elected Governor and continued in that office until his death. During many of these years, almost the entire burden of directing his domestic affairs rested on the shoulders of his wife. Extracts from the letters, which he wrote to her during his absence, throw an interesting light upon the characters of both Laura Wolcott and her husband--rather upon hers by inference, as her letters to him are not preserved while the letters he wrote to her are most of them in possession of the descendants. From Philadelphia. in 1776, he wrote:

"MY DEAR--I feel much concerned for the Burden which necessarily devolves upon you. I hope you will make it as light as possible.... You may easily believe that the situation of publick Affairs is such that the critical Moment is near which will perhaps decide the Fate of the Country; and that the business of Congress is very interesting. Yet if any excuse can reasonably be allowed for my returning, I shall think myself justified in doing so. The circumstances of my affairs demand it."

In a letter written from Philadelphia, January 21, 1777, he says: "... I am not able to give you the least Advice in the Conduct of my Business. Your own Prudence in the direction of it I have no doubt of. I only wish that the Cares which oppress you were less .... I fear that by Reason of the scarcity of many articles in Connecticut, you find a Difficulty in supplying the Family with some Things that may be wanted. But I trust the Essentials of Life you are provided with and I wish that you may not want any of its conveniences.... "

Mr. Wolcott wrote in March, 17777: "I have this instant rec'd a Letter from Dr. Smith, of the 12th, wherein he tells me that you and the children have been inoculated for the Small Pox and that he apprehended you were so far thro' it as to be out of Danger, Casualities excepted.... I perceive that Mariana has had it bad--he wrote, very hard. I am heartily sorry for what the little Child has suffered, and very much want to see her. If she has by this lost some of her Beauty, which I hope she has not, yet I well know she might spare much of it and still retain as much as most of her sex possesses."

The patriotism of Laura Wolcott was in keeping with that of her husband. Her home was thrown open at all times to those who were in any way aiding the cause. And while Oliver Wolcott gave freely of his money for patriotic purposes, she furnished blankets, stockings, and supplies from their farm for the army, almost continuously. Laura Wolcott did not live to see her husband in the governor's chair, passing away in April, 1794, in the fifty-eighth year of her age. Governor Wolcott died in 1797, aged seventy-one years.

Five children were born to Laura Wolcott and her husband, three sons and two daughters; one son died in infancy; the other children were as follows: Oliver, born 1760, married Elizabeth Stoughton; Laura, born 1761, married William

Moseley; Mary Ann (or Mariana), born 1765, married Chauncey Goodrich, and Frederick, born 1757, married Betsey Huntington first and, afterward, Sally Worthington Cooke.*

"Among the families, not native or to the manner born, that shed lustre on the social life of New York while the Republican court was held there none were more illustrous, by hereditary worth and personal excellence, than those of the Wolcotts of Connecticut," says a well-known writer of the early years of the last century. "The name of Wolcott had been identified, for more than a century and a half, with the management of Colonial affairs in New England. Oliver Wolcott had been Governor of Connecticut and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His son and namesake, when about thirty years of age, was appointed auditor of the treasury, and his memoirs are overflowing with interesting acts and discussions, political and social, at a time when republicanism was crystallising from mere enthusiasm and theory into a national habit and life. Young Oliver Wolcott had graduated at Yale College with Joel Barlow, Zephaniah Swift, and Noah Webster, and after his admission to the Hartford bar, he had been of the famous company of 'Connecticut wits,' including Trumbull, the author of MacFingal, Dr. Lemuel Hopkins author of The Hypocrite's Hope, Richard Alsop, one of the authors of the Echo and the Political Greenhouse, Joel Barlow, known for his Vision of Columbus, Noah Webster, Theodore Dwight, and others.

"When Oliver Wolcott came to New York to live, he speedily became noted for his wit and conversational brilliancy and was eagerly sought for as a guest. Perhaps no more interesting and valuable guide to the inner life of the time could be found than the memoirs he left behind him. When several years later, Alexander Hamilton resigned the Treasury Department young Oliver Wolcott was selected as his successor. Wolcott was no less known for the transparent simplicity and integrity of his character than for his intellectual powers and unremitting devotion to the public duty. His wife, though not one of the recognised beauties of the time, had a countenance of much loveliness and a very graceful manner. It was said that there were few ladies of the time who could compare with her in refined cultivation and intelligence.

"Mary Ann, daughter of the signer, who spent much of her time in New York with her brother's family and afterward in Philadelphia, was one of the most beautiful women of her age. Wherever she moved in society, she was the centre of an admiring crowd, and she heightened and confirmed, by the vivacity of her wit, which she shared in common With her family, the impression made by her personal charms. This lady, after breaking many of the bachelor hearts of New York and Philadelphia, was married to Chauncey Goodrich whose abilities and character were worthy of the choice she made."

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 103-112. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

*[from pg 150] In a memorandum, purporting to be in the handwriting of Governor Wolcott, now in possession of the Connecticut Historical Society, there is given a list of those who helped to melt up and make bullets of the leaden statue of George III, taken from Bowling Green, in 1776. The list which includes some of his own children is as follows: "Mrs. Marvin, 6,058; Ruth Marvin 11,592; Laura 8,378; Mary Ann 10,790; Frederick 936; Mrs. Beach 1,802; made by sundry persons 2,182; gave Litchfield militia on alarm 50; let the regiment of Col. Wigglesworth have 300."


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Last modified January 5, 2004