Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

The Charter Oak

The Royal Charter of 1662, granted by King Charles II, is one of the earliest and most significant legal documents in Connecticut history.Hiding the Charter in the Oak The Charter, preceded only by the Fundamental Orders, is the source of the legend of the Charter Oak. While the Fundamental Orders, prepared by Roger Ludlow and other leaders of the Colony in 1639, were considered the first constitution; the Charter was signed by the English King Charles II, and it allowed the colony of Connecticut to make some of its own rules and elect certain officials. The Charter was important because it granted Connecticut rights to govern itself.

In 1687, King James II became intent upon gaining control of all the colonies and revoked the Royal Charters. He sent his Agent with an armed troop to seize the document. Here the story takes a dramatic twist. In the candle lit meeting room, leaders of the Connecticut colony met with Sir Edmond Andros, the King's Royal Governor of the Dominion. They gathered to debate the surrender of the Charter for several hours. Suddenly the room went dark. When the confusion cleared and the candles were lit again, it was discovered that the Charter was gone from the table. It was hidden in the trunk of a nearby large white oak tree.

The legend has endured to this day, its significance emphasized by the selection of the Charter Oak for the CT quarter, 1999 Connecticut State quarter design in 1999. Connecticut was designated the Constitution State by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1959 (see the Connecticut Register and ManualExternal Link and the Secretary of State's Documents of Connecticut Government: The Connecticut Constitution and its Antecedents).External Link

The Royal Charter can be viewed at the Museum of Connecticut History in the Connecticut State Library and Connecticut Supreme Court complex. The frame is made of wood from the Charter Oak Tree.

On August 21, 1856, a violent storm felled the Charter Oak Tree which was estimated to be nearly 1,000 years old. A monument was erected in 1905 at the location of the fallen tree. It stands at the corner of Charter Oak Avenue and Charter Oak Place in downtown Hartford. The monument is inscribed, "Near this spot stood the Charter Oak, memorable in the history of the colony of Connecticut as the hiding place of the charter October 31, 1687. The tree fell August 21, 1856."

More information on the Charter Oak can be found on ConnecticutHistory.orgExternal Link at Connecticut's "The Legend of the Charter Oak"External Link and The Charter Oak Fell - Today in History: August 21External Link


Doses of Connecticut Legal History