Nelson A. Rockefeller

By Natalie LaFantasie Coolidge

The road to greatness often begins in a small New England village. This was true of a man whose grandparents and great grandparents lived in East Killingly, CT. From these upright citizens was passed on a strong family ethic . . "an ethic based on the fundamental American values, which has come down through the generations since then. . . This family ethic was transmitted by precept and example and conscientious daily instruction, from my grandparents to my father." These were the words of Nelson A. Rockefeller, Vice President of the United States from 1974 to 1977, in his statement to the Senate Rules Committee during his vice presidential confirmation hearings in 1974.

In continuing the Killingly Historical Journal's series of articles on famous people who came from the town of Killingly, our attention was called to the humble beginnings of Nelson A. Rockefeller's forebears by Louise and Allen Oatley of East Killingly. They had preserved a number of letters, newspapers and magazine articles that told some of the stories of his background. Mrs. Oatley also took me to the Bartlett Cemetery to see the place where Rockefeller's great grandparents were buried.

Their history begins in Foster, RI, where Anan Aldrich, son of Job Aldrich, lived with his wife, Abby (Burgess) Aldrich. One of their sons, Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, was born November 6, 1841, on a farm in Foster belonging to his mother's people who were descendants of Roger Williams. When living in East Killingly, Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich received his early education in the country school on top of the hill, then enrolled in East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island. He recalled in later years having to walk a mile to school from his grandmother's home, remembered attending Sunday School in the church and Thomas Pray was his teacher. He closed his speech at Old Home Day, July 27, 1904, at the Baptist Church there with these words: "I have had many varied experiences in life, but wherever I have been I have never ceased to think of the days in East Killingly as the happiest of my life." He said he was introduced to public speaking at the old Town House in Killingly Center.

After attending East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island for one year, Nelson W. Aldrich went to work in Providence, RI, and soon after entered the employ of the leading wholesale grocers of the state. He was promoted so rapidly he became a junior partner and at the age of twenty-four was Junior Vice President.

He had already seen service in the 10th Rhode Island Volunteers, which was called to Washington to protect the capital in 1862 during the Civil War. After he had typhoid fever, he was discharged and returned to Providence the same year.

In 1866 he married Abby Chapman and one of their children was Abby Greene Aldrich who later married John Davison Rockefeller 2nd, a former student at Brown University in Providence. They had several children, one of whom was Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller. In speaking of the "influence of my mother," Nelson Rockefeller remembered Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the daughter of a U. S. senator from Rhode Island, as "deeply motivated in an ethical and spiritual sense." His mother was the leavening influence on the family. She was a gay, warm, intuitive woman. He quoted from a letter from his mother to him and his two young brothers during their childhood:

"I want to make an appeal to your sense of fair play and to beseech you to begin your lives as young men by giving the other fellow, be he Jew or Negro, or of whatever race, a fair chance and a square deal. It is to the disgrace of America that horrible lynchings and race riots frequently occur in our midst. The social ostracism of the Jews is less brutal, and yet it often causes cruel injustices."

Religion also played a major role in Rockefeller's upbringing:

"We had family prayers every morning before breakfast and on Sunday attended Sunday school and church." While attending college at Dartmouth he taught a Sunday school class. "We were raised strictly, as was my father and his father before him," Rockefeller said. "The surroundings were obviously different, but the principles and the discipline were the same.

As a boy, Nelson would not apply himself to his studies. His puritanical father, John D. Rockefeller 2nd, despaired over him. Nelson was forever getting into mischief: flicking food across the stately Rockefeller dinner table, hiding a baby rabbit in his mother's muff in church, flunking subjects in high school. He was sent to Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, because he could not qualify for Princeton, which was attended by his older brother John. At Dartmouth, his competitive spirit more than anything else made him work hard. He earned a Phi Beta Kappa key.

The Aldrich summer home (Anthony Shippee house) on the old Pike Road (Route 101) once had John D. Rockefeller 2nd as a guest. When Erwin B. Chase, Sr., sometimes known as Barber Chase, was driving him back and forth in a horse and buggy, he never dreamed that the man with him would some day be the father of the Vice President of the United States.

Although Nelson Rockefeller grew up in splendor and enormous wealth, his father drummed into all his children a deep sense of responsibility. He had many years of experience in government and politics. He served under Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, and was Governor of New York for four terms---longer than any man since colonial times. He had long wanted to be President having campaigned for the Republican nomination three times--in 1960, 1964 and 1968--but could never win. Then he was chosen by Gerald Ford to be his Vice President.

Thus the road from East Killingly, CT, concluded at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.


From: Windham County Transcript: - January 2, 1908

The moving pictures and illustrated songs each afternoon and evening at Phoenix Hall are the best ever seen in Danielson. The program is changed twice a week and is strictly first class. The new electric piano furnishes music during the program. The illustrated songs are sung by Clarence Kies, formerly with Salisbury's moving pictures and Miss Dora Reeves, who in her catchy songs receives nightly great applause. "Why Don't You Take Our Little Boy?" is the song she is singing with great success this week. Five cents is the low price of admission to these entertainments. No moving picture company that is charging 25 cents and 35 cents admission is giving any better programs. It is an opportunity to pass an evening of enjoyment of high-class moving pictures and illustrated songs at a very small cost. These programs, given as they are in Phoenix Hall, the prettiest and most comfortable hall in Danielson, are deserving the hearty patronage of the public. Last week the seating capacity of the hall was tested every evening, and Saturday evening there was standing room only. The entertainment commences every afternoon at 4 o'clock, running continuously until 10.

(Phoenix Hall was in the building presently occupied by the B.P.O.E. Elks on 12 Center Street, Danielson)