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Granny Note- A Forest of Oak Trees

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

As our readers will recall, we love so-called "Granny Notes"--those sometimes cryptic, sometimes vague, sometimes incredible stories attached to objects that have been in the collection for a long time. We often explore the attached stories and attempt to verify the information.

Here's another interesting object from our collections. It's a pin and a pair of earrings, shaped out of some kind of brown material into an oak leaf/acorn design. The story attached is that they were carved from a piece of the famous "Charter Oak" tree that was felled by a storm exactly 165 years ago this week on August 21, 1856. Here in Longmeadow, we certainly know how powerful these summer storms can be at taking down large limbs and entire trees.

You've all seen a depiction of the famous, ancient white oak--on the Connecticut State quarter issued in 1999. This venerable tree grew in Hartford, Connecticut, and became famous as the hiding place of Connecticut's royal charter. King James II appointed Sir Edmund Andros as governor-general over the newly consolidated "Dominion of New England." His task was to collect the charters from the formerly more autonomous colonies. This was not a popular move, and there is some confusion about whether Connecticut actually gave up their charter or a copy. The oak tree was the supposed hiding place of the precious document and became a symbol of the revolutionary spirit.

When the tree was blown down by a violent storm on August 21, 1856, wood was salvaged by many people to make a number of relics, including chairs for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate in the state capital, as well as the Governor of Connecticut's desk. Other items include a presentation baseball, a walking stick, and a cane given to President Andrew Johnson. There were so many people taking pieces of the famous tree as souvenirs that a guard had to posted! Gun maker Samuel Colt was lucky enough to get wood to make a cradle for Samuel Colt Jr., and a pistol with Charter Oak grips made in 1867. In fact, so many objects were claimed to have been made from the Charter Oak that the joke was that it must have been a forest of oak trees!

The Charter Oak, taken the morning of its fall

Connecticut Historical Society

So could our earrings and pin be the real deal? Hartford is not far away, and both Richard Salter (Salter) Storrs and his sister Sarah Storrs taught at the School for the Deaf, then located in Hartford and were there at the 1856 time period. Regardless of whether it is truly made from wood from the Charter Oak, it sure is a lovely and unusual set and we are happy to have it!

Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member

Originally published August 19, 2021

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