Born: June 28, 1800; Westminster, Vermont
Died: April 27, 1840; Utica, New York
Buffalo Mayor: 1835, 1839
Political Affiliation: Whig
Hiram Pratt was born on June 28, 1800 in Westminster, Vermont. He was the seventh child of ten* born to Captain Samuel Pratt and Esther Wells. Captain Samuel Pratt enlisted in the Connecticut Regiments during the Revolutionary War. In 1801, Captain Pratt traveled to Montreal to organize a fur-trading expedition to Detroit. When the expedition began in 1802, Samuel Pratt left his family at home. On his way west, Samuel Pratt viewed the village of Buffalo from his boat on Lake Erie. He realized the lucrative trading potential of the village’s location, and decided to make his home in Buffalo upon his return. During the expedition’s return trip in 1803, Captain Pratt contracted smallpox near Sandusky; his companions abandoned him. Fortunately, Samuel Pratt was nursed back to health by Native Americans; this act of kindness he never forgot. Meanwhile, Captain Pratt’s family thought he was dead. When he returned home in late 1803, the Pratt family’s grieving quickly changed to astonished celebration.
Still determined to seize opportunity in Buffalo, Samuel Pratt moved his family there in September 1804. At first, the Pratt family lived in a small cabin, and made a living by running a store in town and trading with the Native Americans. Business flourished, and the industrious Pratts became one of the most well-respected families in Buffalo. In 1805, Captain Pratt brought his parents, Aaron Pratt and Mary Clark, to Buffalo from Westminster, Vermont. Aaron Pratt died in Buffalo on February 9, 1807. Mary Clark died in Buffalo on November 20, 1809. Captain Samuel Pratt died in Buffalo on August 30, 1812. His body was originally buried in the Franklin Square burying ground before being moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery. Esther Wells moved back to Westminster, Vermont after the burning of Buffalo in 1813, but eventually returned to Buffalo and died there in 1830.
During his childhood in Buffalo, Hiram Pratt was close with Dr. Cyrenius Chapin, who lost a young son and felt a fatherly attachment to Hiram. During the burning of Buffalo on December 30, 1813, Hiram guided Dr. Chapin’s two young daughters through ten miles of snow to safety at the Chapin farm in Hamburg.
Hiram married Maria Fowle on November 3, 1825. Maria Fowle was born in 1799 to Nathanial Fowle and Rhoda Clap, in Northampton, Massachusetts. Hiram Pratt and Maria Fowle had 3 daughters: Louise Ann, who was born on December 27, 1831, and later married Nelson K. Hopkins; Maria Esther, who was born on December 30, 1832, and later married Thomas G. Ritch; and Mary Burt, who was born on December 5, 1833, and later married Thomas G. Parsons. Maria Fowle died on February 5, 1868.
Dr. Chapin wished for Hiram to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, but Hiram wasn’t interested; he preferred business to medicine. In 1818, Hiram successfully ran Dr. Chapin’s general store with Orlando Allen. In 1824, Hiram became a partner in a warehouse and forwarding service with Asa Meech. In 1827, Hiram worked as an agent for the Farmers Fire Insurance and Loan Company. Hiram was one of the original founders of the Bank of Buffalo in 1830, and in 1836 he was the President of the Bank of Buffalo.
In 1835, Hiram Pratt was elected Mayor of Buffalo by the Common Council. During his first term as Mayor, Hiram purchased land for a wholesale market, which later became the Elk Street Market. In 1839, the Common Council elected first Herman G. Potter as Mayor, but he respectfully declined; after several more votes, the Common Council elected Hiram Pratt as Mayor. During his second term, Hiram worked with the Whig members of the Common Council to improve the city’s finances and schools; he helped erect six new public school buildings during this time. Land once owned by Hiram Pratt is now the present-day site of Buffalo’s Prospect Park. In January 1840, the New York State Legislature passed a law requiring all Mayors in New York State to be elected by the people. Thus Hiram was the last Buffalo Mayor to be elected by the Common Council.
Hiram Pratt lost his fortune as a result of Benjamin Rathbun‘s forgeries and the Panic of 1837. He never recovered from the emotional strain of his financial ruin. In April 1840, Hiram Pratt left Buffalo for a sanitarium at Saratoga Springs, hoping the waters could restore his mental and physical health. He died on the way, in Utica, on April 27, 1840, at the age of thirty-nine. Hiram’s body was returned to Buffalo in May of that year, and he was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.
*Michael Rizzo claims Hiram Pratt was the fifth child out of eight born to Captain Samuel Pratt and Esther Wells.
Sources and Further Reading:
Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of Central New York, vol. 2. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912.
Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of Western New York, vol. 3. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912.
Rizzo, Michael F. Through the Mayors’ Eyes: Buffalo, New York 1832-2005. Buffalo: Old House History at Smashwords, 2010. E-book.