Dr. Colton of Bolton

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, October 1999)

The Reverend Dr. George Colton was born in West Hartford, the son of a minister. Educated at Yale and ordained in 1763, he settled in Bolton as our town's minister on the property now known as the Rose Farm. He was well respected and known for his wisdom and good humor.

At his home he entertained President Styles of Yale University, General George Washington, several French and Continental Army officers, and had General Rochambeau as an overnight guest. Our local history book says Colton was 6 feet 8 inches tall, but several French officers noted in their diaries that on his head he wore a high, frizzy, blue-white wig. Dr. Colton towered over everyone and became known as the "High Priest of Bolton."

Having no children of their own, the Reverend Colton and his wife felt sorry for some of the children of the French and German soldiers who camped on their fields during the march of Rochambeau to Yorktown. In those times soldiers could be away from home for three or four years. Several of the soldiers therefore paid to have their families follow them in the long stream of "camp followers."

Colton explained his situation to one of the poor soldiers and raised the question of adoption, offering a good stable home. The soldier hesitated, so Reverend Colton said he would compensate him for his troubles. The generous amount of money he offered was about 10 years' salary for the poor soldier. The soldier declined the offer, and the news spread through the army all the way to the Paris papers, where Reverend Colton of Bolton and the high honor and sacrifice of the soldier made the news.

The Reverend Colton was considered eccentric by some. In another story, there was someone living in the Gay City area who would do impersonations of Dr. Colton. Apparently, there was a group in that area that never set foot in his church, and this impersonator would sometimes entertain them. So one day Reverend Colton took off his church attire, disguised himself and went to the Gay City area to mingle with the people and talk to the impersonator. Colton challenged him to see who could do a better impersonation. Several neighbors assembled to do the judging. Dr. Colton is said to have lost the contest.

In a third story, the Reverend Dr. George Colton went to Hartford to hear a lecture by Dr. Strong of the Center Church. Dr. Strong's buoyant wit was a match for Dr. Colton's. At the opening of the lecture, the towering form of the "High Priest of Bolton" entered and Dr. Strong welcomed him saying, "Dr. Colton of Bolton, will you come this way and pray?" Dr. Colton replied, "Dr. Strong, you do wrong at such a time to make a rhyme." To which Dr. Strong replied, "Dr. Colton of Bolton, I plainly see that at making rhymes you are as bad as me."

Dr. Colton served Bolton for 49 years and saw many changes. The first evangelical-type tent meeting in all of New England was held by the Methodists in 1805 off Camp Meeting Road. Imagine the treasure we would have if the diary of Dr. Colton were found. It would certainly make interesting reading.