Prudden, Henry Johnson

Henry Johnson Prudden was identified with the business interests of the city of New Haven through his connection with the Bowditch and Prudden Company, which at one time held a leading position in the furniture trade of the state, having branch stores at Meriden and Waterbury.

Mr. Prudden was born in Medina, Orleans county, New York, but was a lineal descendant of the Rev. Peter Prudden, one of the original members of the New Haven colony. Henry J. Prudden's father, the Reverend George Peter Prudden, graduated from Yale in the class of 1835, and three years later from the Yale Theological Seminary. Except for a few years in Medina, New York, his pastorates were all in western Connecticut, at Middlebury, Southbury and Watertown. Ill health compelled him to relinquish active service in the ministry during his later years, which were largely spent in New Haven. The wife of Rev. George Prudden was Eliza Johnson, of Southbury, Connecticut, and beside Henry, four other children were born to them. One died in infancy, leaving Henry as the oldest son. One brother, Theodore P. Prudden, D. D., maintained the family traditions as a Congregational clergyman with honor and ability. Another, Dr. T. Mitchell Prudden, distinguished for his studies in medical science and prominently identified with the health interests of both the city and state of New York, resides there. Miss Lillian E. Prudden, the only sister, still lives in New Haven.

There was high thinking but very simple living in the country parsonages where Henry Johnson Prudden spent his boyhood days. The father of the family was a strong anti-slavery partisan when to be so meant unpopularity. Henry was more than once a helper in the midnight harnessing of the horse for service in the underground railway. At one time the family lived on a farm for two years for the sake of the father's health. Farm life was varied for Henry by teaching in the district school in the winter, but a capacity for hard work and a love of outdoor life revealed themselves as a part of his equipment for life. Save for a year at the preparatory department of Oberlin and a shorter time at Fort Edward Institute, he fitted for college in Connecticut schools, as up to the age of eighteen his hope was to become a lawyer.

With this ambition, the influence of the home on this thoughtful and conscientious boy had developed other ideals that were fundamental. One was that he, as the oldest son, must be the mainstay and dependence of his mother, and another was that whatever might be a man's occupation, the best use he could make of life was to serve his fellowmen. To fulfill the first of these ideals he sought the immediate financial returns of a business career rather than the profession that would have been more congenial and for which he; was intellectually adapted. Having made this decision, it was characteristic of him to take the best business college course available. It was equally characteristic that he began his life in New Haven by holding the position of bookkeeper in two concerns, one taking his time by day and the other in the evening.

However, he soon entered the employ of Bowditch and Son, a long established furniture firm. His conscientious devotion to his employers' interests made him an untiring worker. He gave many evening hours voluntarily to the business, and rapidly developed a rare business ability which soon brought him advancement. He was but twenty-four years of age when he became a member of the firm. After the retirement of E. B. Bowditch, the firm was reorganized as a joint stock company under the name of the Bowditch and Prudden Company, of which Mr. Prudden was president until his death. Absolute integrity, good judgment and hard work won his business success, but his friendly spirit, his keen sense of humor and his progressive interest in everything that concerned the interests of New Haven won the respect and affection of all his associates. On September 18, 1889, Mr. Prudden married Miss Mary Jennett Bassett, daughter of Aaron and Adeline (Blakeslee) Bassett of North Haven, descendant of another prominent old New England family. In July, 1890, Mr. Prudden died at his home soon after his return from an extensive trip abroad.

While pursuing his business career with fidelity Mr. Prudden never forgot the higher values of culture and usefulness to others. His minutes of leisure were always utilized for good reading. A well selected library was one of the few indulgences of a man who spent little upon himself. He early connected himself with the Chapel Street Congregational church which later became the Church of the Redeemer. He gave enthusiastic service to its Sunday school for fifteen years, putting himself in touch with all the advanced and improved methods of Sunday school work in order to increase its efficiency. He also served the church as deacon for many years. There was nothing sanctimonious or conventional about the religion he lived and taught, but it was vital. His Sunday school work brought him into active connection with the State Sunday School Association which soon felt the influence of his earnest spirit and business mind. He was the president of that association from 1886 until his death and gave personal attention to every detail of the position. He made large sacrifices of time, money and strength in going about the state, where the "thoughtfulness, suggestiveness and value of his addresses" gave impetus to Bible study. A practical outcome of this Sunday school interest was the planting of a Sunday school at his own expense in a part of the city where he had found a large number of children untouched by any church influence. This experience led him to a farreaching plan for community betterment which he presented to the church so enthusiastically that "Welcome Hall" was established the following spring. His plans for it embodied the best ideals of practical Christianity and were so wise that they are still the underlying principles of the enterprise. Mr. Prudden's widow resides in New Haven and has always held the place of her honored husband as the leading spirit of the Welcome Hall work.

Mr. Prudden's numerous and varied legacies showed his keen interest in whatever helps men to better living and his desire to make even his business life count for the good of others.

Modern History of New Haven
Eastern New Haven County


Volume II

New York Chicago
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company 

pgs 136 - 137

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Elaine Kidd O'Leary & 
Anne Taylor-Czaplewski
May 2002