GEN. JAMES T. PRATT (deceased.) Long prominent in the business life
of Hartford and in the public affairs of the State, Gen. Pratt was one
of the best-known men in Connecticut politics.
A son of Capt. John Pratt, of Middletown,
he was born in 1802, in that part of the town from which Cromwell has since
been formed. As a boy he came to Hartford, and served as a clerk first
in the dry-goods store of J. B. Hosmer, and later in that of Robert Watkinson.
About 1824 young Pratt started in the jobbing and commission business,
the pioneer of this branch of the dry-goods business, which has since grown
to such proportions. He was associated with E. G. Howe and Rowland Mather,
the firm name for a time being Pratt, Howe & Mather, and afterward
becoming Howe, Mather & Co. Young Pratt was full of life, and a natural
leader. In a private letter he wrote two years before his death, regretting
his inability to attend the Foot Guard reception to the governor, he thus
expressed himself: "I joined the Horse Guard about 1820, and attended the
'Election Ball' of that year; danced with Miss Boardman, of New Milford,
a a sister of the late Hon. William W. Boardman, of New Haven, a lady of
rare accomplishments. At that time Daniel Buck commanded the Horse, and
Richard Goodwin the Foot. I was chosen commander of the Horse on the 4th
of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence. The late
Maj. James Goodwin (father of the Rev. Francis Goodwin) succeeded me in
command of the company. His brother, Jonathan Goodwin, commanded the Foot
at the same time. There is not a man living who was a member of the Horse
when I enlisted or when I was elected Major. The world moves." Young Pratt
served as major of the Horse Guard from 1826 to 1829; in 1834 he was elected
major of the First Regiment of Cavalry; in 1836 he was colonel of the regiment;
from 1837 to 1839 he was brigadier-general commanding the first brigade;
from 1839 to 1846 he was major-general commanding the first division; and
in 1846-47 quartermaster-general. His service with the State troops in
various positions covered a period of more than a quarter of a century,
and, largely owing to his efforts, the military force of the State was
greatly increased in efficiency. There was no other man living at the time
of Gen. Pratt's death who had given as much unselfish labor to this important
part of the State's service. Before finishing his military service Gen.
Pratt had acquired a fortune sufficient for his wants, and about this time
he retired from business and purchased a farm in Rocky Hill, known as the
John William place. Always a Democrat of the old-fashioned Jacksonian type,
he was sure, with his temperament, to take an active interest in politics.
He represented Rocky Hill in the Legislature in 1847, 1848 and 1850, and
again in 1857 and 1862. In 1852 he served in the Senate, representing the
old First District. He was a very frequent delegate to Democratic State
Conventions, and with his white overcoat and his impetuous manner, both
of which he retained as long as he lived, became a conspicuous and influential
figure. He was a representative from his district in the XXXIId Congress
(1853-55), and in 1858 and 1859 was the Democratic candidate for governor,
being defeated by Gov. Buckingham. He confidently expected to be
nominated in 1860, but in the meantime his old-time friend and companion,
Thomas H. Seymour, for whom he had done very many acts of kindness and
friendship, returned from the Russian mission, and was at once suggested
as the man to be nominated in the emergency. Gen. Pratt at once wrote him,
offering to withdraw in his favor from a canvass in the convention. Col.
Seymour politely and positively declined to accept the sacrifice (says
Dr. Rufus W. Griswold in his "History of Rocky Hill"), and wrote Gen. Pratt
that he would not be a candidate under any circumstances. Nevertheless
Seymour was nominated and accepted. This put an end for years at least,
to an old friendship, for the General was as strong in his prejudices as
in his friendships. The same convention which nominated Seymour elected
Pratt a delegate to the National Convention of Charleston. This was at
the time when the secession conspiracy was just beginning to lift its head.
Gen. Pratt represented the old-type Democrat, who looked upon the Free-Soilers
as impracticable cranks, and upon the Abolitionists as sons of Belial.
He regarded slavery as a human patriarchal institution, which had always
existed, and he regarded those at the North who were making a crusade against
it as disturbers of the peace. But he was a Union man to the core, and,
when he found the Charleston convention dividing upon lines looking toward
disunion, he did not hesitate a moment, but planted himself fair and square
on the Union side. When it came to the question of breaking with the Southern
wing—or rather head—of the party, or of lending countenance to the infamous
work of the conspirators, Gen. Pratt's views were not uncertain. He voted
for Douglas, and when threatened treason became a reality in the secession
movement he became one of the foremost leaders of the war Democrats of
the State. Rufus W. Griswold, a long-time friend and neighbor of Gen. Pratt,
writes especially of this period of his life: "I was much with Gen. Pratt
at this time, and more fully in his confidence than any other person. I
recall many long talks with him between the adjournment of the convention
at Charleston and its meeting again at Baltimore, and especially just before
the reassembling, when it was concluded that, as lovers of the common weal
rather than as partisans, the patriotic Democrat had gone as far in support
of the demands of the South as could be rationally expected, and that when
more was demanded it could not be granted. Thereafter there was no more
earnest supporter of the Union cause than this old Jacksonian Democrat."
Elected to the House of Representatives in 1862, he no longer recorded
himself a Democrat but a "Union" man, and for ten years he acted more with
the Republicans than with the Democrats. Afterward, when in 1870 and 1871
he represented Wethersfield in the Legislature, he styled himself in politics
an "Old-school Democrat." Recognizing his fidelity to the "Union," as well
as his standing as a Democrat, Gov. Buckingham appointed him a delegate
to the Peace Convention which was held at Baltimore, with the vain hope
of preventing actual conflict.
Some twenty years before his death Gen. Pratt
removed from Rocky Hill to Wethersfield, where he afterward enjoyed a serene
old age, taking an active interest in public affairs until near the end
of life. Personally he was a firm friend, and a stanch but always open
enemy. He was positive and opinionated, somewhat emphatic in expressing
his views, especially if opposed or contradicted. But he was thoroughly
honest, earnestly patriotic, straight-forward in all his courses, generous
to the poor, liberal and public-spirited. He was probably the most prolific
letter-writer in the State, corresponding with almost every one of any
prominence in either party. And he was nearly as forcible in his manner
of expressing himself on paper as in the convention or legislative hall.
Fraternally he was a member of the F. & A. M., St. John's Lodge, No.
4, Hartford. He died April 11, 1887, and was buried at Indian Hill, Middletown.
On Nov. 29, 1840, Gen. Pratt was married to Lutitia
Juliette Hollister, of South Glastonbury, Conn., and children as follows
were born to this union: James Elijah, deceased in infancy; Laura Louise,
also deceased; James Timothy, sketch of whom follows; Elizabeth C., widow
of Ernest Deming, late of Middletown; Ellen Woodward, living in Hartford;
Fanny Wendell, deceased; and John, connected with the New York Herald,
with residence in NewYork City.
JAMES T. PRATT was born in Rocky Hill,
Conn., in 1851,and there passed the earlier years of his life, his education
being received mainly at St. Paul's School, Brookfield. For five years
thereafter he clerked for Wetherby, Kneus & Pelton, dry-goods merchants,
Hartford, passing the subsequent five years in the railway mail service.
Returning to Hartford, twenty-one years ago, Mr. Pratt engaged in the undertaking
business with W. R. Morgan, the firm being Morgan & Pratt, and upon
the retire-ment of Mr. Morgan from the business Mr. Pratt conducted the
concern alone for some eighteen months, since when the style of the firm
has been Pratt & Johnson.
In 1894, in Wethersfield, Conn., Mr. Pratt
was married to Miss Mary L., daughter of Dr. Abner S. Warner, of that town,
and they have two children: James T., Jr.; and Lucia Elizabeth. In his
fraternal associations Mr. Pratt is a Thirty-second degree Mason, and a
member of the Shrine; is also affiliated with the I. O. O. F., Connecticut
Lodge, No. 93; and with the K. of P., Washington Lodge, No. 15.
J. H. Beers & Co.
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