December 7: A Stand Out Governor, & the Only Civil War Veteran in the Baseball Hall of Fame


Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, long-time Connecticut politician and successful businessman, was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished men to ever hold the office of state governor. However, while many Connecticans are familiar with Bulkeley’s many namesakes in the Hartford area (including a school, a street, and the long, stone-arch bridge that carries Interstate 84 over the Connecticut River), few are aware of the role he played in shaping America’s pastime in the late 19th century — a role large enough to merit him a space in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Born in 1837 to a wealthy and distinguished family that traced its lineage to the Mayflower, Bulkeley began working at Aetna Insurance when he was only fourteen years old, earning modest pay as a janitor sweeping the floors of the company’s Hartford headquarters. (The fact that his father was the company’s co-founder and president apparently did not influence young Morgan’s job description as much as he may have liked.) A few years later, Morgan left for New York City, where he worked in his uncle’s banking company as a salesman until the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Morgan G. Bulkeley, Connecticut politician, Aetna Insurance president, and one-time National League president. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Instead of remaining in his comfortable job or paying another man to serve in his place like wealthy young men often did, Morgan Bulkeley enlisted as a private in the Union Army, ultimately serving several months under George McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign in southeastern Virginia. After the war, Morgan worked for several more years in New York’s financial district before moving back to Hartford, where he founded the United States Bank and served as its first president. In the 1870s, he also became the co-founder and principal financial backer of the Hartford Dark Blues professional baseball team, then a part of the National Association baseball division. When the National League was formed in 1876 to replace the National Association, the Hartford Dark Blues were invited to be one of its charter members. As president of one of the National League’s charter teams, Bulkeley’s name was entered into a drawing to determine the first president of the new baseball association — and gladly accepted the honor upon having his name chosen. For a single one-year term, Bulkeley served as President of the National League, making it a priority to improve the sport’s respectability by cracking down on the recent increase in gambling and drinking at baseball games.

In 1877, Bulkeley decided to devote his energies toward his personal business ventures and resigned as National League President, although he remained involved with the Hartford Dark Blues. For the next forty years, Bulkeley solidified his reputation as one of Hartford’s most influential residents, becoming the third president of Aetna Insurance while slowly climbing Connecticut’s political ranks, serving as a city alderman, mayor of Hartford, a one-term United States Senator, and then Governor of Connecticut from 1889 to 1893. While governor, Bulkeley earned the nickname “Crowbar” Bulkeley for supposedly using a crowbar to pry his way into the governor’s office after he had been locked out by the opposing party during a fiercely disputed election.

On December 7, 1937, fifteen years after his death, Morgan Bulkeley posthumously received yet another prestigious honor: election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As the first president of the National League (and regardless of his short tenure), Bulkeley was included alongside the first president of the American League in the second annual class of Hall of Fame inductees. To this day, Bulkeley remains the only Civil War veteran in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and one of the few inductees to have never played the sport professionally himself. A great Connectican remembered for his national contributions in wartime and in peacetime, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Morgan Bulkeley,” National Baseball Hall of Fame

Morgan Gardner Bulkeley: Governor of Connecticut, 1889-1893,” Museum of Connecticut History