Samuel Huntington was born on July 5th, 1731 and died on January 5th, 1796. He was born at Scotland Parish; Windham, Connecticut. His father, Nathaniel Huntington, was a farmer and helped to settle a preacher in the area around Windham Connecticut. His brother, Nathaniel, was sent to Yale to obtain an education and later took an Pastoral position Congregational minister in Ellington. Samuel began studying in his spare time with the encouragement of the Reverend Ebenezer Devotion. Samuel apparently devoted a lot of time to studying in the Reverend’s substantial library. Of course it also helped that the Reverend had a daughter whom Samuel had taken an interest in.
Eventually, Samuel had settled himself and married Martha Devotion, the Reverend’s Daughter. On December 2, 1754, he was admitted to the bar in Windham after expanding his studies from theology to the law. In 1760 he moved to the much larger town of Norwich and started his practice. A year later Martha and Samuel married.
Here is a small part of a biography of Martha Huntington:
Martha Devotion, oldest daughter of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion and Martha Lathrop, was married, in 1761, to Samuel Huntington of Connecticut, who became signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Connecticut, and in 1779, President of the Continental Congress. She was twenty-two years old at the time of her marriage, and her husband thirty, and but recently established in the practice of law. They lived in Norwich where Mr. Huntington built up an extended practice and began at an early day to take an active part in Political affairs of the Province. Politics was no novelty to his wife, for the Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, her father, was ardently interested in the politics of Connecticut and represented Windham in the General Assembly, from 1760 until 1771, the year of his death.
The rest of this sketch on the life of Samuel Huntington is taken from this article.
With Oliver Wolcott, Huntington made a difficult journey of about two weeks in January 1776 to begin service in the Continental Congress. They arrived in Philadelphia on January 15, but Huntington soon was struggling with smallpox and was not able to carry on with his duties until late February. In constant correspondence with individuals and government back home, Connecticut’s delegates Huntington, Wolcott, and Sherman received word of the General Assembly’s June vote authorizing them to join other colonies in declaring independence. Thus, diplomatic Samuel Huntington, who had never been prominent among the radical element agitating for breaking away from the Britain, voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Aside from brief visits home in April and June, Huntington was in Philadelphia ten long months of 1776. Long days in Congress, a heavy load of committee assignments, dislike of the city, slow and inadequate reimbursement for his living expenses, and worry about family and business at home left him anxious to be done. Arriving in Norwich in November, he immediately was caught up in the war effort at home as the Council of Safety and General Assembly grappled with the problems of provisions, prices, raising militia, and protecting the coast. Although again elected a delegate for 1777, there was work to be done in Connecticut, and Huntington stayed close to home. In July 1777, Huntington and other representatives of New England states and New York met in Springfield to discuss economic problems brought on by the war, such as high prices, inflation, and unstable paper money.
February 1778 found Samuel Huntington heading back to Pennsylvania with an appreciation of the effects of the war on the state level and in communities like Norwich. In his absence, Congress had written Articles of Confederation, but they were far from perfect, and states were slow to ratify. Huntington saw the need for some form of unified government and supported passage. After signing this new constitution, the Articles of Confederation, for Connecticut, Samuel headed for home in July on a leave of absence. Again elected congressman in the fall of 1778, he reported to Philadelphia the next May. This session involved even more committee appointments and more visibility, especially on three major committees – the Marine Committee, a committee assigned to prepare instructions for negotiating a peace with Great Britain, and another to plan for one or more supreme courts of appeal. He was greatly concerned with military pay issues and problems with currency.
On September 9, 1779, Huntington requested leave to again return to Connecticut, but before he could leave, he was elected President of the Continental Congress to replace John Jay, who had been appointed minister to Spain. By this time, Huntington had considerable experience and seniority and was known to not let regional biases control his stand on national issues, making him an acceptable choice for competing regions. The presidency did not involve a great deal of prestige or direct power, but the quality of leadership could help determine whether factions could agree and business could be accomplished. Huntington had already impressed fellow delegate Benjamin Rush as “a sensible, candid and worthy man, and wholly free from State prejudices.”
When it became apparent that he would need to stay in Philadelphia for a year of the presidency, after already having been away since May, Samuel sent for Martha, who arrived late in December. Like Samuel, she endured a bout of smallpox almost immediately upon arrival. Congress provided an expensive home, food and household supplies, and a staff. In spite of living more frugally than his predecessors, Huntington found the position a financial hardship. The presidency carried no additional salary, but he was expected to entertain other members of Congress and foreign dignitaries, while his own business interests in Connecticut were languishing. The Connecticut treasury forwarded him funds to help, but not enough to cover his expenses.
Huntington’s diplomatic skills were put to the test presiding over a sometimes contentious Congress. He spent long hours in correspondence with military and governmental officials in states and abroad, and in composing official documents. Although no longer expected to do committee work, he was still an active delegate from Connecticut, necessitating further correspondence with Governor Jonathan Trumbull and others back in Connecticut. He dealt with absenteeism, irregular mail service, and constant worries about progress of the war and the economy. Pressing the states to provide their quota of much-needed men and supplies was difficult without a means of enforcement or a stable currency. Huntington kept up correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and others as they worked on diplomatic missions in Europe, and personally made friends with the French minister.
Although Huntington expected his term to expire in September 1780, Congress voted to keep him for another term. With the ratification vote of Maryland, the last hold-out state, the Articles of Confederation became the official constitution on March 1, 1781. The United States became a nation, and Samuel Huntington became the first President of “The United States in Congress Assembled.”
In July 1781, Samuel resigned the Presidency and returned to Connecticut, hoping to stay.