Charter Oak Tree
Southeast end of the Green
The native white oak (Quercus albus) at the southeast end of Madison’s green is a direct descendant of the famed Charter Oak, which is Connecticut’s state tree. In the twentieth century, Charter Oak descendants were regularly distributed to any town that asked for a seedling. These descendants were often planted at a civic celebration. Madison’s oak was planted in 1976 on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States, at the approximate site on which the early East Guilford settlers had built their first meetinghouse in 1707.
Long before white settlers arrived in the region, Native Americans traditionally held counsel under the wide-spreading branches of oak trees. One ancient and immense specimen lived in a place the settlers eventually named Hartford.
After the Connecticut Colony had been established, English royal agent Sir Edmund Andros came to Hartford in 1687, accompanied by armed forces. He intended to reclaim the Connecticut Charter for the crown, in order for King James II to regain control of the colonial government. During tense negotiations with Connecticut’s governors in a candle-lit room, the tapers were suddenly extinguished and the charter was whisked away. Captain Joseph Wadsworth is credited with seizing the moment—and the charter. He hid the rolled parchment in a cavity of the giant oak so Andros could not find it.
This courageous act of daring helped Connecticut retain its charter and sovereignty, and the Hartford oak became famous as the Charter Oak. You can read more about this incident at cthistory.org.
The original Charter Oak fell during a lightning storm in August 1856. At that point, the tree was 21 feet in circumference and perhaps as much as a thousand years old. A funeral and a parade were held upon its death, and speeches were given in its honor. In 1905, a monument was erected in Hartford at the location of the fallen tree. You can read more about the tree’s death at cthistory.org.
Artifacts carved from the remains of the tree included a chess set, three chairs (one of which is still the ceremonial seat of the president of the state senate), and a picture frame that now contains the colony’s charter. The Madison Historical Society owns a small cross that was carved from the remains of the original tree.
Frederick Church and other noted American artists painted the Charter Oak. Two paintings by Charles de Wolf Brownell are in Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. In 1935, a three-cent US postage stamp was issued depicting the tree, and a half-dollar was produced in the same year.