The Pitkins
originally published in the June 28, 1967 Manchester Evening Herald

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Webmaster's notes: In the early days of the Manchester Historical Society, members wrote articles about the town's past which were published in The Manchester Evening Herald. This article was found and copied from microfiche available from the Connecticut State Library by volunteer Dick Jenkins and transcribed by volunteer Maureen Hevey in 2017.
�- Susan Barlow, webmaster.

The ruins of the Pitkin glass factory at the junction of Parker and Putnam Sts., present a picturesque reminder of the industrial ferment during and after the Revolutionary War and of a family which typifies many among the community's founders.

In the history of Hartford and East Hartford, which was the history of Manchester until 1823, Pitkins were many. In 1840, after losing many Pitkins to Orford Parish before it became Manchester, of 90 houses, stores, and "manufacturies" in East Hartford, 57 were owned by Pitkins or Pitkin mothers, according to the Pitkin genealogy.

William Pitkin (1)

William, the first of the Pitkins in Connecticut, did not come from London to the colony in 1659 to find religious freedom, nor to make a fortune. He came as the King's Attorney General for the colony, a position which he must have considered temporary, as his sister, who followed him two years later, expected to return with him to England "not supposing that he intended to remain in the wilderness." Whether it was love or fascination with the adventure in living that changed their plans is not certain, but both William and Martha were married and settled before she had been here a year.

Although William is reported to have had an excellent law education and, judging from a bound volume of sermons which he left, some religious training, he had to make his living at first as a school master. The town voted him permission to teach at a salary of "eight pounds a year and a load of wood from each scholar."

William must have had family wealth in addition to that salary. By the time of his death in 1694, he was the largest land holder in Hartford on the east side of the river. (East Hartford did not separate from Hartford until 1783, and did not even have its own religious society until the year of William's death.)

Gave Service

The first William Pitkin built his house just north of the present railroad underpass in East Hartford on Main St. His son William (2) built nearby. Like all Pitkins, they were active in the affairs of their community. When there was an Indian scare in 1704, the second William was on a committee to build a fort on his father's property to which townsfolk could go in event of an attack.

Both the first William and his son William represented Hartford in the Colonial Assembly, and the third William, grandson of the first, became governor of the colony, from 1766 to 1769.

Five sons of the first William were in the militia company of the east area of Hartford and two were captains.

Gov. William Pitkin (William 3) was a militia captain and, as lieutenant governor, was one of the first men in Connecticut to resist the Stamp Act in 1765. Two of his brothers, Joseph and John, were colonels in the "east side" militia and a third brother was a captain in the militia at Bolton after moving there.

The fourth generation of Pitkins took part in the Revolutionary War. George, one son of the governor, was a colonel and went to the relief of the forces resisting the British at Concord and Lexington. His cousin John, son of Colonel John, went with him to the Boston area as a captain. Their cousin Richard, son of Colonel Joseph, was also a captain in the expedition.

Even the fifth generation was represented in the Revolution. Samuel Pitkin, a grandson of the governor and son of the Rev. Timothy Pitkin, died in army service in 1777. Captain Richard's son Richard, too young at 16 to be a soldier, drove an ammunition wagon.

Early "Manufacturies"

The Pitkins east of the river were as prominent in manufacturing as in land-owning, farming and public service. At the falls in the Hockanum River in what is now Burnside, the Pitkins had four dams and four mills. The second William built a fulling mill (for cleansing and thickening cloth) in 1686, and another later, both of which he left to his sons William (the governor) and Colonel Joseph. Col. Joseph also had mills there for making bar iron and for slitting iron. This activity was prohibited by the British in 1750, in the effort to keep the colonists dependent upon the mother country. In these mills, powder was later made for use against the short-sighted British in the Revolution.

Because the young nation was too poor to pay for the powder made at "Pitkins' Falls", recompense was made by the granting to Col. William Pitkin, son of the governor, the right to make snuff for the state, exclusive for 14 years, and a 24-year exclusive right to make glass to William, his cousin Elisha (son of Colonel Joseph), and Samuel Bishop.

Early in the nineteenth century, Pitkins in East Hartford introduced a number of manufactured products which had, before the Revolution, come from England. Joseph, the son of Elisha, was granted the first patent to make felt hats in 1807. The first American watches were made by Henry and James F. Pitkin, descendents of Colonel John.

Among other Pitkin manufactured products in East Hartford in the nineteenth century were silverware, clocks, cloth, hats, anchors, screws, guns, buttons, and soda fountains.

Richard Pitkin

The first Pitkin to settle in the Five Mile Tract (later Orford Parish and later still Manchester) was Richard, son of Colonel Joseph. Family rumor has it that he brought his possessions and his wife from the center on the riverbank on a sledge, at a date which is unknown. Certainly he was one of the settlers in the Five Miles who petitioned for an ecclesiastical society separate from East Hartford's in 1763, as it was a long trip every Sunday by cart or horseback to attend the obligatory church services. After several petitions, permission was granted and Orford Parish came into being. At the first meeting of the ecclesiastical Society on August 13, 1772, Richard was appointed to a three-man committee charged with receiving taxes for building a meeting house.

Richard was one of the 25 volunteers, out of a voting list of 100 men in Orford Parish, to serve in the Revolutionary Army, as stated in the "History of Manchester" by Spiess and Bidwell. He was made a captain in 1776. His son Richard (later known as Esquire Richard), as stated, drove an ammunition wagon for the troops.

Captain Richard was politically prominent. He was a justice of the peace in Hartford County in 1780 and a selectman in Hartford in 1783, the year when East Hartford was granted permission to become a separate community from Hartford.

Captain Richard and Esquire Richard were both involved in the operation of the Pitkin Glass Company, which was built near their homes. Esquire Richard's home may be a part of the house at 180 Porter St.

Pitkin Glass

The Pitkin Glass works, which operated from 1783 to 1830, employed thirty men and ran on day and night shifts. The kilns were outside of the main structure to which arched doorways gave access. The factory was the center of several buildings: Homes for the glass blowers and other workmen (one of which stands at 126 Pitkin St., it is believed), a blacksmith shop, a store, a potash works. Sand fine enough to be used in the glass making had to be secured in New Jersey, brought up the Connecticut River by boat, and transported from the wharf to the distant factory by ox cart.

The glass itself was made principally into bottles of many sizes, for utility rather than ornament. Mrs. Jennie Cook Pitkin, whose family, like that of her husband, has always been part of local history, described some of the Pitkin glass in a recent talk. "The flasks and demi-johns, made from olive green glass, were bubbly looking, yet had a satin finish. A sharp bit of glass on the bottom where the pontil was detached showed a difference from the pressed glass manufactured then and now." She pointed out the importance of the jugs to the area: "The Pitkin Glass works filled a peculiar need in the growth of Hartford as a port town for trade with the West Indies. The big jugs filled with apple brandy or cider were shipped in vessels that also carried horses, mules, and other cargo. The jugs came back filled with rum or molasses."

Lottery to Recoup

Even the freedom from competition and from taxes did not insure financial success for the glass factory. William and Elisha Pitkin and Samuel Bishop conducted a lottery to offset losses. In the "History of East Hartford", written by Joseph Goodwin in 1879, is this account:

"In Oct. 1789, they came forward with a petition asking to be allowed to set up a lottery to raise the sum of 400 pounds to cover heavy losses incurred by the employment of an unskillful superintendent of their works - one Robert Hughes of Boston. Their prayer was granted and Jonathan Stanley (town clerk) and Elisha Pitkin and Shubal Griswold (selectmen) were appointed managers to pay all the prizes which shall be drawn in said lottery to the persons holding such fortunate tickets, the residue to go to the petitioners.

End of Glass-Making

Several factors are presumed to have closed the glass factory in 1830. The high cost of importing sand, once the exclusive rights to glass-making ran out, and the difficulty of securing wood for the kilns, despite the considerable wooded acreage owned by Pitkins.

Because of the brevity of the manufacturing period and the lack of appreciation for the bottles, Pitkin glass is scarce and a collector's item of value if its authenticity can be proved.

Howard Cheney of 230 Porter St. remembers being sent by his grandfather James Russell Pitkin to carry loads of bottles to a dumping ground where the rocky soil invited a boy's pleasure in breaking the glass. A young couple, coming into James Russell Pitkin's house at 193 Porter St. after his death, is reported to have cleaned out the attic by throwing out old bottles found there.

It is difficult to authenticate Pitkin glass items today as very similar objects were made in Coventry and in Keene, N.H. But an article in the Connecticut Circle magazine by Harry A. Judd notes three types that can be identified: The Jared Spencer flask marked "Manchester, Con"; an eagle cornucopia flask with a Masonic Square and compasses bearing initials "J.P.F." for the Pitkin superintendent J. P. Foster; and a massive black inkwell with "JPF" on one side and a basket of fruit on the other.

Richard Owned More

Besides his share in the glass factory, Capt. Richard Pitkin owned many other ventures at different times.

In a story in the Manchester Evening Herald on Nov. 4, 1938, Mrs. Thomas J. Lewie writes: "Captain Richard Pitkin kept an Inn near by the mill and records show that Jan. 14, 1776 must have been a very busy day for Mistress Dorothy, his wife, when twenty-one meals of victuals were served the soldiers on their march to Cambridge."

"When Rochambeau's army crossed Connecticut in the summer of 1781, a detachment of the troops were entertained by Mrs. Pitkin and her daughters at this Inn."

The Spiess-Bidwell history has a picture of Mistress Dorothy as inn keeper.

Captain Richard built the second cotton mill in Connecticut, the first having been built, also in Orford Parish, by his nephew Samuel, son of Elisha, in 1794, according to the Pitkin genealogy.

Richard's cotton mill was at the Green and Esq. Richard took over his father's interests. It was later sold and known for many years as the Globe Company Cotton Mill.

In 1818, Capt. Richard was a delegate to the convention which formed the state constitution, a document on which the Constitution of the United States was modeled.

Other Mill Owners

In order to make the snuff, which, like the glass, was a temporary monopoly as recompense for powder unpaid for during the Revolution, William (4), son of the governor, his brother George, and their cousin Elisha were leased ten acres of land in Orford Parish by the town in 1784.

That first cotton mill in successful operation in the state, mentioned as owned by Samuel Pitkin, was located in what was to be North Manchester. "Velvet, corduroys, and fustians were manufactured here in considerable quantities for those times," says the Pitkin genealogy. An Englishman, John Warburton, was overseer and, according to rumor, used designs which he had "borrowed" from English factories. After 25 years the mill was sold to David Watkinson and was merged into the Union Manufacturing Company.

Capt. Richard's son-in-law, Aaron Buckland, built a mill "to make plain cloth on hand looms" in 1780 in what is now Hilliardville. Wool blankets were made there for the soldiers in the War of 1812. It was sold to others but came back into the Pitkin family when purchased by Sidney Pitkin in 1829. Sidney a grandson of Captain John, was treasurer of Manchester from 1856 to 1860. E. E. Hilliard was one of his employees at the woolen mill, later partner, finally owner. When E. E. Hilliard's son Elisha gave up the making of wool cloth in the 1930's, the mill was the oldest woolen mill in the country in continuous operation.

Many Leave Town

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the small factory, drawing its power from a convenient stream, became obslete [sic]. Most Pitkins had been farmers as well as manufacturers. Some members of the family stayed on the farms; some left Manchester.

Esquire Richard's son Horace, called "Deacon Horace", took part in the making of carriages at Manchester Green but had more important large scale farming interests. He was one of the guarantors of the East Academy, a private high school built on Parker St. before Manchester had a public high school.

One of the Deacon's sons, Horace W. Pitkin, left Manchester for Virginia to raise silk worms for the developing silk industry; he later went into business selling seed and farm implements in Kentucky in partnership with his brother George. They lost everything when the Civil War broke out. Horace W., after the war, sold government surplus supplies and became a manufacturer's agent.

Horace W.'s son, Horace Tracy Pitkin, became interested in missionary work while at Yale University. He and his wife went to China as missionaries in 1896. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900, Mrs. Pitkin had come to the United States for a visit, but Horace T. Pitkin was murdered by a mob sworn to eliminate "foreign devils".

Frederick W. Pitkin, son of Eli Pitkin, and grandson of Eleazer Pitkin, brother of Esquire Richard, won the most distinction of any of the nineteenth century emigrees. He grew up in the house still standing at 244 Porter St. After graduating from Wesleyan University, he joined a law firm in Wisconsin. Poor health sent him to Colorado, where he was eventually chosen governor in 1879. During his term of office, he had to deal with an uprising of the Ute Indians and a riot at the Leadville silver mines.

Some Pitkins Remain

James Russell Pitkin was one of the sons of Deacon Horace who stayed in Manchester. He is the direct ancestor of the present bearers of the Pitkin name in town.

J. R.'s son Richard was superintendent of construction and road crews and, for a long period, a tax collector in town. His son Frederick managed the farm, though Fred chose farming after some experience in business and some travel.

Richard's sons, William, Wells, and Russell, were a highway foreman, a lumber foreman and an oil dealer, respectively. William and Wells took part in the armed services in World War I. Wells served in France.

Only William had sons: Richard, who has kept up the carpenter's tradition of recent generations, and Roger, who has a restaurant.

Four young Pitkins carry the historic name: Richard's sons James, William and Richard, and Roger's son, Terence. The handsome boys, who will undoubtedly take responsible parts in their community as their ancestors have done, represent what is a finer Pitkin product than glass, cotton goods, or farm produce.

Two other Pitkin men, who now live in Manchester, are from branches of the family which did not come to this community earlier.