Richard Gentile – The Honorable William Pitkin, Esquire (1693-1769)
This Portland brownstone table stone is for the Honorable William Pitkin, Esquire, the 3rd of his name, who was born in 1693. He died in office in 1769, at the age of 76, as the last colonial governor of Connecticut, and his monument is on many levels, the most significant in Center Cemetery.
A table stone of this quality, quite grand for its time, could only be afforded by a family of considerable wealth. The $20,000 spent on its restoration, completed in 1992, is nowhere close to its original cost in the equivalency of today’s dollars.
Historically this is the monument for a modest but important and prestigious leader. He was the patriarch of one of the 18th century’s most distinguished and politically powerful families of the Connecticut Colony. With the exception of his successor, Jonathan Trumbull, he was certainly 18th century Connecticut’s most important governor, but paradoxically its least known. But then he was an enigmatic man whose career abounded in paradoxes.
In 1724 he married Mary Woodbridge, the daughter of Reverend Timothy Woodbridge and Mary Wyllys, both of prominent proprietor families. They had a long and happy marriage producing five children, including William IV, who was elected to the United States Congress in 1784.
Pitkin was elected to the Governor’s Council in 1734 on which he served for the remaining 34 years of his life, and upon being appointed Chief Justice of Superior Court he also automatically became deputy governor. His election as governor in 1766 was seen as a victory for the radical forces against an entrenched oligarchy of which, ironically, the Pitkin clan was very much a part. Political astuteness along with an always evenhanded and civil nature, seemed to have made him immune to adverse criticism.
He was a cautious, judicious and conciliatory politician, with considerable adroitness at handling problems. This was especially evident in how he skillfully dealt with the complexities around the detested Stamp Act of 1766.
Pitkin, noted in his time as the “Champion of Colonial Rights,” was seen as one of the more staunch yet reasonable supporters of the American cause.
However, as a last paradox of his political career, dying in office prevented him from achieving his own place among New England’s foremost Revolutionaries. In addition, as a colonel in his local militia, he could also have been an active officer in the war itself. Befitting their positions in the community, most Pitkin males had been officers in their local militias.
Undoubtedly the four-generation dynasty of William PItkins was composed of men of exceptional ability. Centered around their stronghold on the east side of the Great River, the multi-generational family was at its core one of gentlemen farmers or landowners of great tracts of land, but also that of successful merchants and entrepreneurs.
From their solid, landed base they entered politics, practiced law, and invested in a variety of entrepernjraili pursuits such as clothing, grist and lumber mills, gun powder and glass factories and the like, both in production and merchandising.
In politics, reaching its peak with the governorship of William III, the Pitikin clan was the most politically powerful family of 18th century Connecticut filling 35% of all elective offices.
After the Revolutionary War, both Pitkin political power and family wealth went into slow but steady decline from one generation to the next.
East Hartford being a town long having little regard for preserving its long and rich history, the array of Pitkin gravestones in Center Cemetery is all that remains to give hints of the once great stature and fortune of this historically important family of early Connecticut.