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Oliver Ellsworth, the House-Proud Founding Father

And you can visit that home

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Oliver Ellsworth loved his house so much he included it in a portrait of himself and his wife, Abigail.

He was a Founding Father with an impressive resume: successful lawyer, drafter of the U.S. Constitution, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, ambassador to France. He and Abigail also had nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood.

John F. Kennedy, the future president, wrote Ellsworth’s biography entry for the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Kennedy, in summarizing his life, Kennedy wrote,

Though his career included few acts of genius and little public acclaim, Ellsworth’s political skill, balanced judgment, and clarity of purpose entitle him to recognition as a founder of the highest stature.

Kennedy didn’t write anything else for the encyclopedia.

The Connecticut Compromise

You can thank Ellsworth for a U.S. Senate now controlled by one-fifth of the population. Ellsworth represented Connecticut in the Constitutional Convention, and he wanted to appease smaller states reluctant to join the union. They feared losing clout to the larger states.

Ellsworth led the argument for proportional representation in the House of Representatives and disproportionate representation in the Senate. Roger Sherman, another Founding Father from Connecticut, came up with the idea. The result, approved by the convention, is called the Connecticut Compromise. It gives every state two senators.

Now, Wyoming has as much power in the Senate as California. Wyoming has fewer than a million people. California has about 40 million.

Oliver Ellsworth

Oliver Ellsworth

He was born on April 29, 1745, into a family that had lived in Windsor for a century. Ellsworth attended Yale College until his expulsion for pranks. He then graduated from the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton.

After college, he studied law for four years. Once the bar admitted him, he married Abigail Wolcott, daughter of another prominent local family. He built a successful law practice, and in 1777 he was chosen to represent Connecticut in the Continental Congress. In 1781, before the war ended, he started to build the family homestead on (presumably) the house he was born in. The family moved in in 1783, and in 1789 Ellsworth added an extension. He also planted 13 elm trees around it, one for each colony.

Ellsworth then held a string of posts: on the Connecticut bench, as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as one of Connecticut’s first U.S. senators, as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and as minister to France. But no matter where he went, he preferred his home in Windsor.  Ellsworth once wrote,

I have visited several countries and I like my own the best. I have been in all the States of the Union, and Connecticut is the best State. Windsor is the pleasantest town in the State, and I have the pleasantest place in the the town of Windsor. I am content – perfectly content to die on the banks of the Connecticut River.

The Oliver Ellsworth Homestead

Ellsworth died in 1807, and his descendants lived in the house until 1903. None of Oliver Ellsworth’s remaining 116 descendants wanted it. So they gave it to the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution, who restored it in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


The Oliver Ellsworth House lies near one of Connecticut’s Indian trails.

The DAR now runs the house as a museum, open for tours by appointment and on the third Saturday of the summer months. They also built a rustic meeting hall on the property in the 1930s, which they rent out for weddings and other events.

Five Things You’ll Remember About the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead

The bed he died in.

Only a few pieces of furniture in the museum actually belonged to Oliver and Abigail Ellsworth. However, the bed he died in did belong to him. It’s in his bedroom, with the original wallpaper he saw with his dying eyes. The wallpaper had water damage, but the DAR had it restored.

The original door.

Oliver and Abigail’s third son, Martin, and his wife, Sophia, moved into the house after Abigail died. They made several alterations, but they left the door with the Indian bar intact. No one seems to know why they kept the Indian bar, since Native people didn’t threaten white people then.

The painting of Oliver and Abigail.

This is the painting that includes a “painting” of the house in between Oliver and Abigail. Ralph Earl, a Loyalist portrait painter (also a bigamist), did the original. It hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.  This is a hand-painted replica of Earl’s painting.

Oliver and Abigail Ellsworth by Ralph Earl

The bust of Oliver Ellsworth.

The Homestead owns a plaster copy of the sculpture, which portrays a man with the clarity of purpose Kennedy wrote about. The marble original, by Hezekiah Augur, belongs to the U.S. Senate.

His mother’s china cupboard.

Ellsworth had the corner cupboard from his mother’s house removed and built into his own house. It displays the Lustreware Oliver and Abigail used, as well as the china owned by Martin and Sophia.

Historic Windsor

History buffs will find a lot to like about Windsor, the first English settlement in Connecticut. Palisado Avenue has many other historic homes in addition to the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead.

The Windsor Historical Society also operates two house museums. And for those with specialized interests, Windsor has the Connecticut Valley Agricultural Museum and the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum.

If you visit…

Volunteers run the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, so you can only visit on the third Saturday of each month from 11-2, May through September. You can also make an appointment by  emailing [email protected]. And you can arrange special tours by calling 860-688-8717 or email.

You may want to call ahead to make sure they’re open.

The house sits on 12 acres, so enjoy a stroll around the property on a nice day. For information, the website is https://ellsworthhomesteaddar.org/.

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