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Site of the Month Francis Gillette House
545 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, CT 06002

 

 

In the 1886 book Memorial History of Hartford County, Mrs. Elisabeth Gillette Warner, daughter of Francis & Elisabeth (Hooker) Gillette, wrote the following account of her father’s life

"Another name to be remembered in connection with this town is that of Francis Gillette, the son of Elder Ashbel Gillet. The son was led to change the spelling of his name by a request received when in college from a distant relative, who had ascertained the original spelling of the name, which is French. His Bloomfield life was interrupted for several years by the death of his father when he was only six years old. His mother, at her second marriage, two or three years after, removed the family to Ashfield, Mass. There, in the face of many obstacles, he fitted himself for Yale College. After graduating (1829),and being thwarted by weak lungs in his attempt to study law, he took up life again in his first home as a farmer, and in 1834 built his house of unhewn stone brought from the nearmountain-side. It is still a striking feature of the town, set far back from the street, and entered from two directions through winding: avenues of trees.

Francis Gillette Grave, Riverside Cemetery, Farmington, CTThis is the west half of his father's farm, of two hundred acres or more, lying a mile and a half from the Centre, on the Hartford road. Here for eighteen years he lived, his health entirely re-established by much out-of-door life, and his mind deeply devoted to the interests of Bloomfield. At the incorporation of the town he suggested the new name, which was at once adopted. He did all that lay in his power for its educational improvement, bringing about the building of the neat brick school-house in his district in the place of the ancient little wooden one in the hollow, with its knife-hacked desks and awkward benches, where he had learned his first lessons. More than once when in his possession \\\q old stone house welcomed and gave shelter for a night to the flying slave, whose stories and songs, as he warmed and cheered himself by the fire, made a lifelong impression upon his young listeners. Mr. Gillette's earnest advocacy of the Antislavery cause showed itself first in a fearless speech on striking the word "white" from the State Constitution. This was in the legislature, where he had been sent by Bloomfield in 1838. He had been sent there once before, in 1832, at the age of twenty-four, by Windsor, before "Wintonbury had become an incorporated town. In 1841, against his will, he was nominated for governor by the Liberty party ; and during the next twelve years the Liberty and Free-Soil parties frequently repeated the nomination. In 1851 he was elected United States Senator for the remainder of the term of the Hon. Truman Smith, who had resigned. Mr. Gillette's election was just in time for him to cast his vote against the Nebraska Bill, which was passed at midnight of the day of his arrival in Washington. He was also active all his life in the cause of temperance and in the promotion of education. Hartford had been his home for thirty years, when he died there, on the 30th of September, 1879, at the age of seventy-two. He was buried in Farmington."

Absent from Mrs. Warner’s account of her father’s life is the fact that Francis Gillette, along with John Hooker, purchased farmland on Hartford’s western edge and developed the residential community that became known as Nook Farm. Notable residents of the area included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

The grave of Fransis Gillette is located in Riverside Cemetery in Farmington.
The inscription on the headstone reads:

A Christian philanthropist
among the earliest advocates of
the antislavery and temperance
causes, active in the promotion of
education for all and an earnest
advocate of peace.

Sources: Memorial History of Hartford County, edited by James Hammond Trumbull
                 Wintonbury Historical Society
                 Farmington Historical Society

Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism
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