William Claflin : biography
William Claflin (March 6, 1818 – January 5, 1905) was an industrialist and philanthropist who served as the 27th Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1869–1872 and as a member of the United States Congress from 1877–1881.
Early years and business
William Claflin was born on March 6, 1818 in Milford, Massachusetts, to Lee and Sarah (Adams) Claflin.Hurd, p. 163 Lee Claflin was a self-made proprietor of a tannery and shoe factory in Milford, and a politically active abolitionist. William was educated first in the local schools and then at Milford Academy, before he enrolled in Brown University in 1833. His mother died in 1834 and his health was poor, so he left school and entered his father’s business. After three years, with his health not improving, he traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where from 1838 to 1844 he worked in the wholesale leather goods business. He then returned to Massachusetts, where he rejoined the family business and settled in Hopkinton.Ensign, p. 112
Claflin’s father had begun his shoe manufacturing in partnership with Nathan Parker Colburn, and William continued that partnership. They expanded the business Lee Claflin founded, eventually building one of New England’s largest boot factories in South Framingham in 1882. Claflin and Colburn would remain in active partnership until 1877, when Claflin withdrew from active participation, and their partnership was finally dissolved at the end of 1891 with Colburn’s retirement. The company assets, including plants in Framingham, Hopkinton, and Milford, were then taken over by younger partners.
Claflin followed his father in both religion and politics, opposing the expansion of slavery and other social reforms. In 1848 he helped found the Free Soil Party in Massachusetts, under whose banner he won election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives that year. He served from 1849 to 1853, when the Know Nothings (who he refused to join) swept away the old parties. He became active in 1854 and 1855 in the founding of the state Republican Party, and served as its state chairman for a number of years. He was elected to the state senate in 1859 as a Republican, and became Senate President in 1861.
In 1866 Claflin was elected Lieutenant Governor under Governor Alexander Hamilton Bullock, winning reelection on the same ticket two times. He was elected governor in 1868, and served three terms in that office, declining to run for a fourth. All the while he remained active at high levels of party politics, serving on the national executive committee of the Republican Party in 1864. In that role he was a critical mediating force between radical and conservative factions of the party that were divided over how to approach Reconstruction. In 1868 he was elected chairman of the national party. He reluctantly promoted Ulysses S. Grant for president in 1868 and 1872, and resigned after Henry Wilson, another Massachusetts Republican, was nominated for Vice President in 1872.
While governor, Claflin promoted women’s suffrage and extended women greater rights under the law. During his administration, he advocated prison reform and established the state’s first board of public health. Claflin also created the Massachusetts Indian Commission with social activists Wendell Phillips and Helen Hunt Jackson. In 1869, Claflin chartered Boston University, a Methodist institution, which his father co-founded. He later served two terms as a member of the Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Congresses (from March 4, 1877 to March 3, 1881).
Claflin returned to business and supported philanthropic activities. Along with his father, Claflin donated funds to purchase land for Claflin University, the historically black, Methodist university in South Carolina. The University was founded in 1869.
Claflin died in 1905 in Newton. He had married twice. His first marriage was in 1839 to Nancy (Warren) Harding of Milford, with whom he had a daughter before she died 1942. The second, in 1845, was to Mary Bucklin of Hopkinton, with whom he had five children, only two of whom survived him.
Claflin was a major force in the development of the village of Newtonville in Newton, Massachusetts. In 1854 he purchased a farm that had once been owned by two governors: Simon Bradstreet (a 17th-century governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony), and William Hull, governor of the Michigan Territory. Claflin moved Hull’s mansion to one side of the property and built a new one on the old foundation. He subdivided portions of the estate for development, and was responsible for the construction of the Claflin Block in Newtonville, as well as the Claflin School. After his death local citizens purchased the rest of Claflin’s estate and gave it to the town. The site is now the location of Newton North High School, whose athletic facilities are known as Claflin Field.