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Across Our State

Our first presidents

Everyone knows that our first president was George Washington, the man for whom our state is named. Just for fun, Google "our first president" and wait for a story. Besides George, there are three other names! Who are they and why are they listed?

Peyton Randolph was elected president of the Continental Congress of the United Colonies of America by its 44 delegates on Sept. 5, 1774. John Hancock was elected president of the Continental Congress of the United States of America and was the first signature on the document produced by that body, the Declaration of Independence. It was also that group that appointed George Washington Commander of the Continental Army. He served as commander from 1775 until 1783.

Although that Second Continental Congress voted to be a separate country from Great Britain, it took many years before the country was ready to elect a president. The war had to be won and much groundwork had to be done. George Washington wasn't elected until 1789.

The third name is one not well-known except to historians, so it is time we meet Samuel Huntington of Connecticut. He was born in 1731, the fourth of 10 children. They lived in a two-story frame house his father Nathaniel built (which is still standing). He grew up on a farm and was expected to help with it. He was also apprenticed as a cooper. Samuel had little formal education, but visited the minister of the town, Ebenezer Devotion, to read his books. Later he studied law books with two lawyers in Windham and in 1754 Huntington opened a law practice. He married Ebenezer Devotion's daughter Martha in 1761.

Martha and Samuel moved to Norwich, CT where he was soon elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. In 1768 Huntington was appointed King's attorney for Connecticut. After the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, Samuel spoke against them and resigned from doing the King's business. His assemblymen appointed him and three others to represent Connecticut at the Second Continental Congress, so in January of 1776, he made the winter journey to Philadelphia. There he signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

Many of you know that signing these documents was considered treason against the king. In effect, these brave men were considered outlaws. They risked their lives, their property, their financial stability, all the while spending long hours away from home and family to debate the issues between the colonies.

In 1779 Samuel Huntington was chosen president of the Continental Congress. When the last colony ratified the Articles of Confederation, those Articles became effective at noon on March 1, 1781. That day there were fireworks in the streets of Philadelphia and Navy Captain John Paul Jones fired his ship's cannons in celebration. From that time the group became the United States of America in Congress Assembled, and Samuel remained its president until July 6, 1781 when he resigned to go home to Connecticut.

- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) provides her "Across our State" column while the couple is serving in Olympia.

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