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The official state tree of Connecticut is the white oak; it was chosen to honor the gigantic Charter Oak that grew in the city of Hartford until the 1850s. The scientific name of this tree is quercus alba. Connecticut shares its state tree with two other states: Illinois and Maryland.
The story of how the white oak became the state tree of Connecticut can be dated back in the 1600s, when Connecticut, along with other states, were struggling to be liberated from British colonial rule. In 1662, Connecticut had already been granted its independence through the efforts of Governor John Winthrop Jr., who traveled to England to appeal for the state’s autonomy to King Charles II. Governor Winthrop received a Royal Charter as evidence of the King’s approval. When King Charles II passed away, though, the crown was passed to his brother, King James II. James II forced many states and colonies to join the Dominion of New England, even those, like Connecticut, that held Royal Charters.
In October 1687, Sir Edmund Andros, who had been appointed governor-general by King James II, brought a small army to Hartford to retrieve the Royal Charter, intending to revoke it. He was met with hostility from the colonists. One night, in a dim candle-lit room, Sir Andros met with the Connecticut leaders. The meeting went on for hours and soon the argument became heated, but was interrupted when the candle was suddenly put out.
When the candle was re-lit, it was found that the Royal Charter was gone. According to one version, a Connecticut captain named James Wadsworth took the Royal Charter and hid it inside a large white oak tree. Another version of this story says that the Royal Charter present during the meeting was not the original copy, and Sir Andros — who stole it while the light was out — took the duplicate without his knowing.
Nearly one hundred and seventy years after the incident, the mystery was solved. On August 21, 1856, a violent storm passed over Connecticut and uprooted a massive white oak that stood in Hartford, revealing the state’s Royal Charter. This resulted in naming that specific oak tree the “Charter Oak,” and making the white oak the state tree of Connecticut. To preserve the tree’s historical significance, some of its wood was made into three chairs, which are on display and in use in Hartford’s Capitol Building. The image of the state tree of Connecticut also appears on the commemorative State Quarter.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the state tree of Connecticut?
The state tree of Connecticut is the Charter Oak, also known as the White Oak (Quercus alba). This tree is historically significant as it is associated with the legendary hiding of the Royal Charter of 1662 to protect Connecticut's autonomy from British governance. The Charter Oak became a symbol of American independence and was officially designated as the state tree in 1947.
Why was the Charter Oak chosen as Connecticut's state tree?
The Charter Oak was chosen as Connecticut's state tree due to its role in the state's history. According to legend, Connecticut's Royal Charter was hidden within the hollow of the tree to prevent its seizure by the British-appointed governor. This act of defiance made the Charter Oak an emblem of American liberty and state pride, leading to its official adoption as the state tree in 1947.
When did the Charter Oak fall and what is its legacy?
The Charter Oak fell during a storm on August 21, 1856. Despite its demise, the tree's legacy endures in Connecticut's identity and history. Its image is incorporated into various state symbols, including the Connecticut state quarter, and pieces of the wood are preserved in the Connecticut State Capitol. The tree's story continues to be a point of state pride and a symbol of the fight for self-governance.
Are there any notable landmarks or memorials related to the Charter Oak in Connecticut?
Yes, there are several landmarks and memorials related to the Charter Oak in Connecticut. The site where the tree once stood is marked by a monument in Hartford. Additionally, the Connecticut State Capitol displays artifacts made from the wood of the Charter Oak, and the Charter Oak Bridge carries its name. These sites and objects serve as enduring tributes to the tree's historical significance.
How does the Charter Oak influence Connecticut's conservation efforts?
The Charter Oak's historical importance has influenced Connecticut's conservation efforts by fostering a sense of stewardship over natural and historical resources. The state actively promotes the preservation of its forests and heritage trees, recognizing their value not only ecologically but also culturally. Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) works to protect and manage the state's natural resources, ensuring that the legacy of the Charter Oak lives on through ongoing conservation initiatives.