The following is a brief glimpse into the life of my 2nd great-grandfather, John William Spencer (1834-1896) who was known to have resided in Hartford and Bloomfield, Connecticut.  John (or J.W.) was the son of a grocer and as a youth attended the Connecticut (Baptist) Literary Institute in Suffield, Connecticut.  The Institute was a private, non-denominational school for young men founded in 1833 and within ten years opened its doors to young ladies. The Institute further showed its progressive nature  when, by the late 1800’s, African-American boys and girls were admitted.  Renamed the Suffield School, it served as a high school for local students from 1897 until 1939, and again altered it name and to this day is known as the  Suffield Academy.

Side notes:

  • Rev. Gustavus Davis, the founding member of the Institute, presided over the marriage of John’s parents, Abiram Spencer and Emily Ann Waters on December 8, 1833. 
  • 1840 Letter referencing the Institute’s Reading Room being provided with anti-slavery newspapers from the Boston Female Anti Slavery Society. (Source: Mr. Sullivan’s Digital Classroom)
  • Who would of thought the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, also invented the  forerunner of the football helmet after an incident at the Institute in 1891!

Description of Images:

  1. 1840 – Connecticut Literary Institute – Gentlemen’s Institute, Principal’s Mansion and Ladies Seminary ( Source: CT History Online)
  2. Students at the Connecticut Literary Institution in Suffield pose in front of the CLI’s “Old South” building, in the late 1800’s. (Source: Kent Memorial Library – Suffield)
  3.  Price of Tuition – Triennial Baptist Register 1836 (Source: InternetArchive)

According to public records, John was a food buyer for fruit boats sailing from New York City to the West Indies. This job might have been associated with his father’s business, Spencer and Gridley Grocers, located in Hartford.  According to the 1860 census, at the time he was twenty-six, a farmer, and married to seventeen year-old Anna Eggleston and living with her family in Bloomfield, CT.  Records indicate that he studied law and later became a judge.  John was noted to be a fine horseman and a member of the Governor’s Horse Guard, the link below provides a bit of history regarding this ceremonial unit.
Read on to learn about the Governor's Horse Guards!!

Connecticut Governor’s  Horse Guards

HorseThe outbreak of the Civil War naturally turned the eyes of the people to more serious military duties than those exemplified by the Governor’s Guards. The Horse Guard did not vote to offer its services for active duty but several members joined the volunteer companies which were being formed over night. Some served for the first short three months period only, others stayed in service through to 1865.

With peace came a renewal of interest in the more ostentatious forms of military display. The Hartford Times of May 2, 1867, records the inaugural parade with the comments: “Major James Waters is one of the best cavalry commanders we have ever seen in our streets and the condition of his company shows that it is well commanded.”

During the next twenty years, aside from the inaugural parades, the Horse Guards formed a part of the escort for President Johnson in June, 1867; for General Sheridan in October of the same year; and in August, 1874, for ex-Governor Marshall Jewell on the occasion of his return from a diplomatic mission in Russia. Major Boardman had just secured new uniforms: bear-skin cap ornamented with a rosette and gilt eagle, dark blue single breasted coat with brass buttons, and trousers of sky blue doeskin with straps under the instep; all trimmed with orange colored piping. The officers substituted the more comfortable chapeaux for the ‘bear skins, and buff colored doeskin breeches “worn inside of top boots,” for the less elegant trousers. The members liked the new get-up and paraded eighty strong.

Among the enlisted personnel at that time (1874) were:  J. W. Spencer

Question: Was Major James Waters a relative of John’s mother, Emily Ann Waters?

Source:  The origin and fortunes of Troop B: 1788, Governor’s independent volunteer troop of horse guards; 1911, Troop B cavalry, Connecticut national guard, 1917 (Page 57)

© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.