Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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GEORGE PRATT died at his home in Norwich on the 4th of June, 1875, after a severe illness of nearly three weeks. He was in the full vigor of manhood, being forty-two years of age, and had arrived at a period of his professional career which was most honorable to himself, and gave promise of great eminence and usefulness for the future. Mr. Pratt was born in East Weymouth, Mass., on the 12th of October, 1832. He received such early education as the public schools of his native town afforded, with such as was derived from diligent and omniverous reading. His literary tastes were developed early, and in his very boyhood he not only read books of the best class, but was an author himself in a limited way, and both prose and poetry from his pen found their way into the columns of the periodical press. East Weymouth was a shoe-making village, and, like many of the young men of the place, Mr. Pratt learned the trade, and worked at it for several years in the intervals of attending school and teaching. By this and other means he supported himself entirely after the age of ten years, besides contributing to family expenses, and he also obtained a portion of the funds which afterwards procured for him a liberal education.
Having gone through the several grades of the public schools with brilliant success, Mr. Pratt prepared for college at the Providence Conference Seminary, East Greenwich, R. I., and entered Wesleyan University, at Middletown, in 1851. He left that institution, however, in Freshman year, and began teaching school, having become possessed of the idea that his college training gave him no sufficient tax and discipline, and that his time might be better employed in purely self-education. Nevertheless he was persuaded to make a fresh trial, and entered the Freshman Class at Yale in 1853. He was quite inadequately fitted, according to the Yale standard at that time, and his deficiency in this respect proved a disadvantage during his collegiate course. He, however, graduated with an average standing in scholarship, and with a rank among the best in his class for literary and forensic ability. After graduation he taught school for a short time in the state of New York, employing his leisure hours in the study of the law. In 1858 he removed to Salem, in this state, and entered the law office of the Hon. John T. Wait at Norwich Town as a student. He was admitted to the bar in April, 1859, and in 1860 opened a law office in Norwich. His industry and steady application to business, added to his native ability and sterling character, caused him to rise rapidly in his profession. In a few years he acquired an active practice, and during several years prior to his death he was engaged in most of the causes of importance in the eastern section of the state. He was devoted to his profession, and was earnest and untiring in its pursuit. To a disciplined mind and a comprehensive legal knowledge, he added sound judgment, practical tact, and clear discrimination. He had a habit of mind which stood him in good stead both professionally and in his literary studies - a habit of mentally cataloguing and retaining in memory such sources of information as fell under his notice, so that one could rarely question him on a topic concerning which, if he had not personal knowledge, he had not mentally noted a trustworthy authority. As an advocate he was earnest, direct and forcible, rather than eloquent or showy. His arguments were always listened to with great attention by the court. The Connecticut Reports for the last ten or twelve years furnish ample testimony to the thoroughness and ability with which he prepared and prosecuted cases before the Supreme Court of Errors. He was a man of great discretion and fidelity in business trusts, and was counsel to some of the leading business institutions of the city of his residence. At the time of his death he occupied a position in the front rank of his profession in the state, and had acquired a large and lucrative practice.
Mr. Pratt's chosen career was professional rather than political. He was, however, elected to the General Assembly in 1860 by the Republicans of the town of Salem, and in the years 1864, 1865, and 1869, he was one of the representatives of Norwich in the same body. During his legislative service he was a member of several of the important committees. He was an assiduous worker both in the committee room and in the House, courting labor, and thoroughly informing himself upon every important current question. He was the author of several measures of consequence, among which may be mentioned the registry and the flowage laws. He was, on both the occasions when the question first came up, one of the most ardent advocates of the impartial suffrage amendment to the Constitution of Connecticut. This was the only public office held by Mr. Pratt, if his six years term of service on the Board of Education be excepted, and also the position of corporation council which he held at the time of his death.
From this sketch of Mr. Pratt's life it will be seen that he was, in a proper sense of the term, a self-made man. He was ignorant of the art of wasting time, and had an utter distaste for all forms of dissipation, so that in college (as in his subsequent life) he maintained an unblemished moral character and acquired those habits of patient and constant application which distinguished him ever after. He was naturally a devout man. Brought up Methodist, he entered the Episcopal communion during his senior year in college. He was several years a warden of Trinity Church, Norwich, and superintendent of its Sunday-school. He clung with peculiar tenacity to his beliefs, and never permitted a cherished article of faith to be assailed in his presence without defence. Religion was with him a matter of principle rather than sentiment, and duty was never performed in a merely formal or perfunctory manner.
He was public spirited in a high degree, and was always awake to all things concerning the general welfare. He was an earnest friend of the public school system, and served actively and usefully on the Board of Education. He was chosen a trustee of the Otis Library in place of the deceased Senator Buckingham. He was prominently connected with all important public interests, and in matters relating to schools, libraries, and other institutions affecting the public improvement, he exercised a lively solicitude.
Mr. Pratt had little of the political partizan in him, though his convictions were decided and fervent. He had a thorough contempt for dishonesty and artifice in public life, and though by nature ambitious, scorned to purchase political honors by any sacrifice of his personal independence, or his principles, or by any catering to popular prejudice. He was well informed in political affairs, and was unusually qualified for a public servant.
Aside from his profession he had decided literary tastes, which from his boyhood he never ceased to cultivate. He was the author of many pamphlets and addresses, and, in former years especially, of many graceful poems and miscellaneous writings. He always made a point of interesting himself in some special subject of study and investigation - church history, political economy, colonial history, &c. During several of his later years he had been collecting material for a history of the period immediately preceding the American Revolution. A considerable portion of this work was arranged and partially composed, although, according to his usual habit of literary work, none of it was committed to paper. There were few if any men in his own community whose general reading was more extensive. Even his diversions, aside from his frolicsome hours with his children, were of a decided literary and studious cast.
The sunnier side of Mr. Pratt's character was best known to his immediate family and intimate friends. While a most genial companion in his chosen society, he often presented in public a quiet and abstracted, even reserved, manner. But he was one of the truest friends who ever lived, and one of the most faithful confidants. The circumstances of his life amply explain many characteristics of his outward appearance, which presented him more to casual public view as the active, indefatigable, pushing lawyer, than the genial and true hearted man he was. His success in life has in it a lesson and an encouragement for all young men, in however humble circumstances. It was due rather to the sterling qualities beneath the surface of his character than to those more apparent traits which may have been popularly presumed to be the secret of it. He was not at all aided by adventitious circumstances, but was a fair example of one who, by strict adherence to the homely and wholesome maxims which too many young men despise, gained a legitimate reward.
During his residence in Salem Mr. Pratt was married to Sarah V., daughter of the Hon. Oramel Whittlesey, of that town. She survives him, with three sons and two daughters. His remains were laid to rest in the private burial ground of the Whittlesey family in Salem.