Oliver Wolcott was one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. If it wasn’t for that fact, history might have forgotten about him. But the truth is, he was a man of many talents and a very important figure in America’s birth.
Wolcott served as a Sheriff, a judge, a Commissioner of Indian Affairs and a member of the Continental Congress. Later he was a governor of Connecticut. As a General in the Connecticut militia, he led 14 regiments to New York City in 1776 to assist in defending that city from the British. It was as he was returning home that one of the most interesting incidents in his long and colorful life occurred.
On July 9, 1776, George Washington had ordered that the brand new Declaration of Independence be read publicly in all the towns and cities in America. When the citizens of New York heard that they were finally free from British rule, they were overcome by a wave of patriotic enthusiasm. That night, they made a statement to the King.
Forty men, some of them soldiers and sailors, others civilians, were among a crowd gathered around a statue of King George in the Bowling Green section of town. Ever since the opening battles of the war back in April at Lexington and Concord the patriots had been thinking about that statue, and not with reverence.
The statue was made of lead! Over 4,000 pounds of lead had been molded and then gilded into a likeness of King George on horseback. Lead was badly needed by the under-equipped army of George Washington. In those days bullets had to be molded by hand. From lead.
The crowd around the statue buzzed with excitement. The colonies were now free and independent states! No longer would they pay taxes to the King of England. No longer would he interfere with their laws and courts. No longer would he quarter his soldiers in their homes against their will. No longer would he commit dozens of other offenses against his honest subjects in the colonies. They were subjects no longer.
Someone finally shouted out what many were thinking as they looked up at the leaden statue above them. Cries of, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” swept through the group. Somebody found several long ropes. These were tied to the top of the statue and forty pairs of strong hands seized them. On the first attempt, the ropes broke. But they were replaced and on the second try, the king crashed to the cobblestones.
General Oliver Wolcott gathered large pieces of the statue and took them home to Connecticut. There he built a shed in his own orchard and prepared to make the King of England into a friend of the colonies. As he whacked the pieces into smaller pieces, his family and neighbors melted them down and cast them into bullets.
It must have been quite a party. Wolcott’s daughter, 11-year-old Mary Ann is credited with 10,400 bullets while her little brother Frederick (later a judge like his father), produced 936.
So in the end, the British got their statue back. Bu it was in the form of bullets from the rifles and muskets of George Washington.
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