Harrington was born in Coventry, Rhode Island on March 27, 1762. He served in both the Rhode Island Militia and Continental Army during the American Revolution. He moved to Shaftsbury, Vermont with his family in 1778. In 1788 he settled in Clarendon, Vermont, where he was a farmer, merchant and land speculator.
After moving to Clarendon in 1785, from Rhode Island, Harrington became a member of the Ira church and active in politics and government, serving in local offices including Selectman. He joined the Democratic-Republican Party, and was a member of the Vermont House of Representatives in 1795 and from 1797 to 1804. He was Speaker in his final term.
Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives 1803 – 1804
Judge Theophilus Harrington came to Vermont in 1785 from Rhode Island and became a member of the Ira church. He was a plain dirt farmer, not a lawyer, but served on the Supreme Court of the state and made the famous decision in a case involving ownership of slaves in a free state, an account of which follows:
A Southerner whose escaped slave had been captured in Vermont while in flight to Canada applied to Judge Harrington for a warrant of extradition and having made out what he considered a ‘prima facie’ case, “rested.” But the Judge intimated that the title to the slave was not satisfactorily established. After three attempts to make the title clear the claimant asked, “Will your Honor than be good enough to suggest what is lacking to make a perfect title?” “A bill of sale, Sir, from God Almighty.”
The slave-owner lost the case and returned to the South, and the slave was free.
Upon Judge Harrington’s monument is chiseled the following inscription:
“He sleeps on the hills
No slave ever trod,
Nor claimant brought bills
From Almighty God.”