Hoffman, Francis A.

Born: 1822-06-05 Herford, Prussia

Died: 1903-01-23 Jefferson, Wisconsin

Alternate name: Hoffmann

Francis A. Hoffman was a bootblack, teacher, clergyman, editor, lawyer, realtor, lieutenant governor, farmer, and author. Hoffman received his education in Prussian state schools, cultivating a life-long interest in farming and horticulture. In 1840, he immigrated unexpectedly to the United States, leaving Prussia, according to family tradition, to escape mandatory service in the Prussian Army. Landing in New York City, Hoffman worked his way to Buffalo, where he boarded a schooner for Chicago. He found a job as a bootblack, but after two months he took a position as a teacher and choirmaster of a Lutheran congregation in Addison in Du Page County. The Lutheran Synod of southeastern Michigan ordained Hoffman, and the Synod installed him as pastor of the Lutherans of northeastern Illinois. In addition to his clerical duties, Hoffman took an active interest in civic affairs. From June 1845 to July 1846, he served as postmaster of Addison. He won election as town clerk and served on the public-school board. He represented Du Page County at the River and Harbor Convention held in Chicago in 1847. Gravitating to the Democratic Party, he was a frequent contributor to the Chicago Democrat. He also edited Der Missionsbote, a German-language religious paper based in Michigan. Hoffman also maintained a strong interest in farming and horticulture, and he purchased a forty-acre farm twenty-five miles west of Chicago, where he farmed using the latest scientific methods. In 1847, Hoffman moved to Schaumburg to become pastor of a new Lutheran congregation. He also served as postmaster of Schaumburg from 1848 to 1850. Failing health forced Hoffman to leave the pulpit, and in 1851, he moved to Chicago, where he read law and earned admission to the Illinois bar. He specialized in real estate law, and he opened a real estate office, which proved highly lucrative. In 1853, he won election to the Chicago City Council. Fluent in both German and English, Hoffman organized efforts to encourage immigration from German states to Chicago. Immigrants from German States entrusted their money to Hoffman, who in 1854 opened the banking house of Hoffman, Gelbeke and Company, which immediately became profitable. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act prompted Hoffman to leave the Democratic Party, and he became one of the founders of the Republican Party in Illinois. In May 1856, delegates to the Illinois Anti-Nebraska Convention nominated Hoffman as their candidate for lieutenant governor, but he was ruled ineligible for office under the 1848 Illinois Constitution, and he withdrew his name from the ballot. As a founder of the Republican Party, Hoffman became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln and supported his run for U.S. Senate in 1858 and presidential bids in 1860 and 1864. In 1860, Hoffman was banking and owned real property valued at $25,000 and had a personal estate valued at $1,000. In that same year, Hoffman won election as lieutenant governor of Illinois, holding that office until 1865. During the Civil War, he presided over the Illinois Senate and assisted the Union cause by organizing and equipping Hoffman’s Dragoons. Hoffman’s bank failed, however, owing to the repudiation of bonds owned by Southern states. After the war, he retired from business and politics, settling on a large estate near Jefferson, Wisconsin. Hoffman became noted authority on agriculture and horticulture, publishing articles and books using the pen name Hans Buschbauer.

In February 1844, Hoffman married Cynthia Gilbert, with whom he had four children.

J. H. A. Lacher, “Francis A. Hoffman of Illinois and Hans Buschbauer of Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 13 (June 1930), 327-55; J. H. A. Lacher, “Hoffman, Francis Arnold,” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), 5:1:118-19; Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971, NARA Microfilm Publication, M841, 145 rolls, Records of the Post Office Department, RG 28, 1845-1855, Volume 18:36, 46, National Archives Building, Washington, DC; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Addison, Du Page County, IL, 270; The Watertown Republican (WI), 31 January 1903, 1:6.