Dick Johnson submitted this article and query relating to the Connecticut's Charter Oak, a tree pictured on two U.S. coins. -EditorThe Connecticut Statehood quarter displays a tree on the reverse. Not any tree. It is a representation of Connecticut's "Charter Oak," considered one of the most attractive of all the statehood quarter designs. It is not the first time this famed tree appeared on a U.S. coin. Commemorative half dollar collectors will recall it also appears on the reverse of the 1935 Connecticut Tercentennial Half.
While the branches of the tree nearly fill the flan of the quarter, The Charter Oak on the half is more realistic, with a massive trunk, gnarled branches in asymmetrical arrangement with more horizontal branches, and not nearly as tall as the one on the quarter. The half dollar was designed by sculptor Henry Kreis, who, in addition to the U.S. coin, was also commissioned to create the official 1935 Connecticut Tercentennial Medal.
A columnist in my local newspaper who specializes in the news of Connecticut's nearly 100 small towns, George Krimsky, wrote this week about the Charter Oak Tree. After recounting the story of how it got its name -- and the fact its acorns were sent across the globe to be planted elsewhere -- asked if any of the Charter Oak's progenies are still growing.
The history in a nutshell -- make that an acorn shell -- is that in 1662 King Charles II granted Connecticut a very liberal home-rule Charter. A quarter century tater, his successor, James II wanted to rescind that Charter and sent an envoy to retrieve it. They arrived in Hartford, found the Charter, and had it on the table of a tavern with a local delegation. Suddenly the candles when out, the room went dark. When relit the Charter had disappeared.
Story goes that Captain Joseph Wadsworth had spirited the scroll away and hid it in the cavity of a giant oak on a nearby estate. The British never got the Charter. The tree, now famous, was perhaps 400 years old at the time, and lived for another 170 years. A storm in the 1850s blew it down. People gathered to hold a funeral for the tree, and carried away shards of wood and its acorns. So many of these were planted until one historian stated these acorns "produced in time a forest of trees directly descended from the historic oak."
Fast forward to 1932: saplings from the second generation Charter Oak trees were again distributed. And this occurred again in 1962 on the 300th anniversary of that original Charter when then Governor John Dempsey called for saplings from "certified descendants" of the original Charter Oak. He ordered that saplings were sent to every state governor and President John F. Kennedy.
Thus the Charter Oak lives on. In its descendants, in its history and Connecticut heritage, and on American coinage.
Now what George Krimsky wants to know -- where are any of these descendant oak trees? Were any grown outside the state? His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org His column can be accessed at Waterbury Republican American.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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