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A Famous Tree That Spread Roots Into The Future

March 21, 2007
By Courant Staff

Are there descendants to the Charter Oak? R.S., Durham

The Charter Oak, Connecticut's legendary white oak tree that in 1687 hid the 1662 state charter from British officials, was toppled by a windstorm at 12:50 a.m. on Aug. 21, 1856. It stood near Charter Oak Place.

Even before it fell, people collected acorns from the Charter Oak, nurtured them and planted trees in public places and on private property. State tree experts have documented a few authentic descendants. More might exist without documentation.

One was planted in 1857 on Camp Street in New Britain. It no longer exists, but its descendant can be found in Fairview Cemetery. Civil War veterans planted it in 1933.

Elizabeth Park has two first-generation Charter Oaks: the Footguard Oak, identified with a stone monument, and the Hoadley Oak. Most second-generation documented descendants came from these trees. This includes one on Main Street in Hartford near Center Church, planted in 1908 by the Rev. Rockwell Potter. Foresters recently documented another Charter Oak in Cedar Hill Cemetery, planted in 1911.

The state also grew and distributed saplings from the Elizabeth Park trees. In 1965 and 1976, each town received one. They were called Constitution Oaks and Bicentennial Oaks, respectively. One honored the newly adopted state constitution; the other commemorated the nation's bicentennial. State tree experts have no record of which ones remain.

In 2001, state forester Don Smith brought seedlings to Washington, D.C., where they were transferred to the botanic gardens. A tree was planted on the east lawn of the Capitol and dedicated on Feb. 12, 2006.

A white oak also stands in Connecticut near the monument that commemorates the Charter Oak at Charter Oak Avenue and Charter Oak Place. It, too, is a descendant of the Charter Oak.

People often confuse swamp and pin oaks with white oaks. In 1902, the state distributed pin oaks to each town. They, too, were called Constitution Oaks. Some of these might still exist, but they bear no relationship to the Charter Oak.

The Charter Oak symbolized Connecticut's love of freedom and resistance to oppression. It became the state tree in 1947.

Thanks go to Glenn Dreyer, arboretum director at Connecticut College and author of "Connecticut's Notable Trees;" Hartford forester John Kehoe; and tree expert Ed Richardson for providing information for this question. Information also is available in "Wadsworth, or The Charter Oak," by W.H. Gocher.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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