|Charter Oak Life Insurance Building, Hartford, CT (credit)|
On January 7, 1894, the New York Times declared that Connecticut Governor Luzon B. Morris's appointment of Superior Court Judge William Hamersley to the Connecticut Supreme Court ensured that the Court "will become Democratic for the first time in thirty years ...." The article related that both Democrats and Republicans hastened to support Hamersley as one of Hartford's finest citizens and a brilliant lawyer as well. "For twenty years," the author wrote, "Judge Hamersley was State's Attorney here, and was pitted against the ablest lawyers in the country in the great Charter Oak Life conspiracy case in 1878....The energy which he displayed as a Public Prosecutor was phenomenal."
For a case that the New York Times deemed "great," there has been hardly anything written about the "Great Charter Oak Life" criminal conspiracy. The only record of the whole affair appeared in 1897 as a chapter in P. Henry Woodward's Insurance in Connecticut. It is striking that the history books are virtually silent on a trial in Hartford Superior Court, reported on by national newspapers and lasting over twenty days. The trial pitted Hamersley as prosecutor against Leonard Swett-a world-renowned attorney and one of Abraham Lincoln's closest friends.
This article traces the history of that trial and the surrounding events from its origins in 1877 to its conclusion in January 1879. The trial is important not only for its personalities, but for its influence on the regulation of the insurance industry in the "city of insurance."