Born into a large family in 1731 at Windham (present Scotland), Conn., Huntington grew up on a farm, received a limited education, and at the age of 16 began work as a cooper. But his ambition soon pushed him onward. He independently studied borrowed legal tomes, won admittance to the bar about 1758, and set up practice. Two years later, he moved to nearby Norwich. The next year, he married; he and his wife, who were to be childless, later adopted three children. As time went on, he prospered in the law and became a community leader.
In 1764 Huntington began his public career, in the Connecticut legislature. The next year, he was appointed as King's Attorney of the colony and won election as justice of the peace for New London County. He occupied these positions for practically the entire decade or so prior to the outbreak of the War for Independence, in 1775. Meantime, 2 years earlier, the colonial legislature had named him as a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, an appointment renewed annually for a decade.
In 1774 Huntington, registering his growing sympathy for the Colonies in their struggle against the Crown, resigned as King's Attorney and joined the front ranks of the Revolutionaries. The next year, he became a member of the upper house of the legislature (1775-84), and entered national politics when he became a Delegate to the Continental Congress. His committee assignments included those dealing with Indian affairs, ordnance supply, and marine matters. In the fall of 1776, fatigue and health worries caused him to return to Connecticut. Between then and 1783, plagued with spells of illness, he attended congressional sessions intermittently (1778, 1779-81, 1783), often returning home to recuperate. Despite this burden, he assumed the heavy responsibilities of President of Congress (1779-81), presiding on March 1, 1781, when the Articles of Confederation were adopted.
Huntington's well-earned "retirement" when he returned to Connecticut in 1783, after 8 years of service to the Nation, turned out to involve 12 years of vigorous activitydespite his waning health. Even while he had been in Congress, he had served his State in various other ways, and all his legislative and other positions had been held open for him. A succession of appointive and elective offices followed: chief justice of the Superior Court (1784), Lieutenant Governor (1785), and Governor (1786-96). In the latter capacity, he led the battle for Connecticut's ratification of the Federal Constitution and improved the educational system. As one of Connecticut's seven first presidential electors, in 1789 he won two "favorite son" votes for the Presidency.
Ever interested in education, despite his own lack of a college degree, in the 1780's Huntington received honorary degrees from Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth; and was appointed one of the original trustees of Plainfield (Conn.) Academy. Before that time, he had acted as adviser to the president of Yale.
In 1796 at the age of 65, still Governor, he died at his home in Norwich and was interred in the Old Burial Ground.
Drawing: Oil, 1783, by Charles Willson Peale, Indpendence National Historical Park.
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004