Connecticut

Samuel Huntington Elected President…of the United States?

Samuel Huntington wasn’t as educated as John Adams or as brilliant a speaker Patrick Henry, but he was a hard worker with an unflappable manner. For those qualities he was elected president of the Continental Congress on Sept. 28, 1779.

Some historians argue he was the first president of the United States because he was president of the Continental Congress when the Articles of Confederation were ratified on March 1, 1781. That document created the new republic.

Samuel Huntington, detail of portrait by Charles Wilson Peale. Courtesy Samuel Huntington Historical Trust.

Samuel Huntington, detail of portrait by Charles Wilson Peale. Courtesy Samuel Huntington Historical Trust.

There were actually 16 presidents of the Continental Congress, later the United States in Congress Assembled. The first was Peyton Randolph, the last, Cyrus Griffin.

Modest Beginnings

Samuel Huntington was born July 16, 1731, one of 10 children born to Nathaniel and Mehetabel Huntington, in what is now Scotland, Conn.

He didn’t receive much formal education and at 16 was apprenticed to a cooper. He continued to study on his own, borrowing books from his pastor and local lawyers. He was admitted to the bar in 1754 and moved to Norwich, Conn., to practice law. He married Martha Devotion in 1761.

They were an unpretentious couple, unable to have children of their own but welcomed a large circle of family and friends into their home.

By the time he was 30, Samuel Huntington had distinguished himself as a lawyer, though he and his wife were an unpretentious couple. They were unable to have children of their own, but welcomed a large circle of family and friends into their home. They adopted a son, Samuel H. Huntington, who became governor of Ohio.

Cautious, Reticent, Conservative

An early history of Norwich, Conn., recalls Mrs. Huntington, "in a white short gown and stuff petticoat, and clean muslin apron, with a nicely starched cap on her head, would take her knitting and go out by two o'clock in the afternoon, to take tea unceremoniously with some respectable neighbor, the butcher's or blacksmith's wife, perhaps. But this was in earlier days, before Mr. Huntington was President of Congress of Governor of Connecticut.”

The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the Revolution described him:

A man of cautious, reticent, and conservative temperament, he nevertheless joined the Sons of Liberty in opposition to the Stamp Act, although he was hesitant about further strong protests. The passage of the Corecive Acts in 1774 to protest the Boston Tea Party brought many moderates, including Huntington, into a more active role.

Samuel Huntington Birthplace, by Jerry Dougherty.

Samuel Huntington Birthplace, by Jerry Dougherty.

He served as president during a severe economic downturn and military defeats. Exactly two years after he became president, the Siege of Yorktown began.

By then, he had already resigned due to ill health on July 9, 1781 and returned home to Connecticut. He was named chief justice of the state Superior Court in 1784, elected lieutenant governor in 1785 and governor from 1786-1796. He built a mansion off the Norwichtown Green in what is now United and Community Family Services, Inc.

Samuel Huntington died Jan. 5, 1796. His birthplace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public as a house museum in the summer.

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