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This Day in History: Trumbull, “among the first of patriots”

On this day in 1710, future Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull is born. He was a Patriot who spent most of his adult life in public service, beginning when he was about 23 years old.

Trumbull wore many hats during these years: He was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. He was an officer in the state militia. He was a Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Governor, and Chief Justice of the state’s Superior Court. As an assistant to the Governor, he refused to take an oath to uphold the detested Stamp Act—he walked out instead!

In 1769, Trumbull was elected Governor. It was in this office that he would leave his greatest mark.

As the country went to war with England, Trumbull was the only colonial Governor to side with the Patriot cause. When the Connecticut General Assembly voted to approve the Declaration of Independence in October 1776, it also expanded Trumbull’s executive powers. He thus had more flexibility to help the war effort.

And help, he did!

Under his leadership, the state worked hard to provide badly needed supplies for the Continental Army and the Connecticut militia. The Connecticut State Library claims that Connecticut provided “60 percent of the manpower, food, clothing, shoes, and munitions for the Continental Army.” In fact, the state earned a nickname for itself because of these efforts: The Provisions State.

Over time, however, Trumbull’s popularity waned for various reasons. For one thing, he’d made some statements that caused people to worry that he was less egalitarian than they’d perhaps thought. Trumbull ended up resigning from office after the war. He had been the only colonial Governor to maintain his position throughout the course of the Revolution, but he probably saw the writing on the wall.

By then, the state was bankrupt, as was he. The state could not even afford to give him back pay and essentially gave him an “IOU” instead. A descendent later wrote: “Thus was a bankrupt Governor paid by a bankrupt State in the times when both had exhausted their resources in a righteous and at last successful cause.”

Trumbull’s legacy went further than his own role as Governor. His son was John Trumbull, the painter. Another son later became Governor, U.S. Senator, and Speaker of the House. A third became ill and subsequently died while serving in the Continental Army. A daughter married a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Trumbull passed away in August 1785 at the age of 74. “A long and well-spent life in the service of his country,” George Washington wrote at the time, “places Governor Trumbull among the first of patriots.”

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