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Old State House, Hartford, where William Wolcott Ellsworth served as 30th Governor of Connecticut, 1838-1842

William Wolcott Ellsworth (November 10, 1791 – January 15, 1868) was a Yale-educated attorney who served as the 30th Governor of Connecticut, a three-term United States Congressman, a Justice on the State Supreme Court, and who twice turned down nomination to the state's United States Senate seat. Born in Windsor on November 10, 1791, he was the son of Founding Father Oliver Ellsworth, and son-in-law of Noah Webster, who named Ellsworth executor of his will. His twin brother was Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, first Commissioner of the United States Patent Office.

Ellsworth completed preparatory studies, and graduated from Yale College in 1810. He studied law at Tapping Reeve's Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, was afterwards admitted to the bar in 1811.[1] Ellsworth was appointed professor of law at Trinity College in 1827, which position he held until his death. William Wolcott Ellsworth was married to Emily S. Webster, eldest daughter of Rebecca Greenleaf and Noah Webster Jr., publisher of dictionaries. Noah Webster named Ellsworth as one of the executors of his will of 1843.

Among Ellsworth's Yale classmates was Samuel F. B. Morse, whose idea of the telegraph would later be championed by Ellsworth's twin brother Henry Leavitt Ellsworth during his term as the first Commissioner of the U. S. Patent Office.[2][3]

Ellsworth's law partner starting in 1817 was his brother-in-law Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court Thomas Scott Williams, who was elected to the U.S. Congress that year and sought a younger partner to manage his practice in his absence. (Judge Williams was married to Ellsworth's sister.)[4] Aged 26, Ellsworth took up the reins of Congressman Williams' law practice, the largest in the state.

He was elected as an Anti-Jacksonian to the Twenty-first, Twenty-second, and Twenty-third United States Congresses and served from March 4, 1829, to July 8, 1834 when he resigned. He was elected Governor of Connecticut 1838-1842. He then became judge of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1847 to 1861, when, by the constitutional provision relative to age, he retired. He twice declined to accept the nomination to the United States Senate, and retired from public life. Ellsworth died in Hartford on January 15, 1868. The former Congressman and Governor is interred at the Old North Cemetery in Hartford.

The lawyer and orator Rufus Choate said of Ellsworth before the Massachusetts General Assembly: "If the land of Shermans, Griswolds, Daggets and Williams, rich as she is in learning and virtue, has a sounder lawyer, a more upright magistrate, or an honester man in her public service, I know not his name."


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Political offices
Preceded by
Henry W. Edwards
Governor of Connecticut
Succeeded by
Chauncey Fitch Cleveland


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