David Miles Hotchkiss was an educator, abolitionist, and public servant who served the town of Prospect throughout his entire life. The home on Waterbury Road where Hotchkiss lived still serves the community today.
Hotchkiss was born in 1797 in what today is the town of Prospect. In fact, early in his career, Hotchkiss served on the committee that named the town upon its incorporation in 1827.
In the fall of 1819, Hotchkiss’s father, Frederick, began construction on a home for David that reached completion the following year. A meticulous record keeper, Hotchkiss noted that the home’s construction cost a total of $660.99. With the structure completed, David Miles Hotchkiss opened a boarding school (The Select Academy) on the home’s second floor in order to spread his personal belief in the importance of education.
In addition to being a teacher, Hotchkiss held a number of other important local positions throughout his life. He served as captain of the militia in Waterbury and in Salem (which is now Naugatuck). Hotchkiss also served as a town selectman and twice served as a representative in the state legislature.
Promoting Cause of Free Soil Party Draws Ire from Abolition Opponents
Among Hotchkiss’s most important accomplishments while in office was his contribution to the formation of the Free Soil Party in Connecticut. The Free Soil Party formed in 1848 and opposed the expansion of slavery into the western states. Their mantra of “free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men,” attracted western farm and mill workers who did not want African Americans competing against them for jobs. In 1854, the newly formed Republican Party absorbed much of the Free Soil Party and carried on their anti-slavery message.
In Connecticut, slavery was as contentious as anywhere in the country, with many residents strongly in support of African Americans living in bondage. For his work with the Free-Soil Party, Hotchkiss faced outright resentment and hostility from local slavery proponents. On more than one occasion Hotchkiss found trees cut down on his property or fences and farming equipment vandalized, all due to the vocal nature with which he promoted abolition.
Upon Hotchkiss’s death in 1878, his family buried him in the Prospect Town Cemetery. The house where Hotchkiss lived went to his 10th child, David Bryant Hotchkiss. Three of David Bryant’s children went on to reside in the house their entire lives, keeping the home in the family for over 160 years. Today the house is the headquarters of the Prospect Historical Society.