Early History of the Wellses in America

By Peter Lennox Wells
June, 2011

Our earliest immigrant was Thomas Wells, who came from London on the ship “Susan and Ellen”, arriving in Ipswich in 1635. He came from Essex, England with relatives in Colchester. He had a house lot granted to him on the south side of the river near the stone bridge. He married Abigail Warner, and they had three sons and five daughters. The second son was John, who is our relative.

John moved north to a village called Preston (due to other Wells immigrants to this area, the town was subsequently renamed Wells). John married Sarah Littlefield, daughter of Francis. They had four children, the second being Thomas, born in 1672, who is our relative. He was married and had several children. The wife and children were all murdered by Indians, who also burned the house and also savaged the neighboring family. Thomas took a second wife, Lydia Gale of Salem in 1704. They had several children, including Nathaniel. He was a deacon and town clerk in Wells, and his occupation was listed as “tanner”. He lived until 1776.

There is considerable commentary about the Wellses in a thoroughly researched book by Charles K. Wells of Milwaukee. A copy of this research book, entitled “A Genealogy of the Wells Family of Wells, Maine”, which was published in 1874, press of Burdick & Armitage, 100 Michigan St., Milwaukee, and is in the family archives. For instance, on page 13 of this booklet, we read, ‘The church records of that town state that on the 14th day of December, 1701, Thomas Wells, from the church of Newbury, was admitted….It is, therefore, very evident that he had been a resident of Newbury, and a member of the church there, and came from that place to Wells about 1700.”

Thomas’ son Nathaniel had six children with his wife Dorothy Light, of Exeter, New Hampshire. Their third child was Robert, born 1743. Robert married Abigail Jefferds, who came from a distinguished line of immigrants dating back to Reverend John Wheelwright, who came to Wells in 1643.

Robert’s brother, also named Nathaniel, was very prominent. As commented in Charles Wells’ commentary: “His sound judgment, quick perceptions and general manliness of character, gave him popularity among the townsmen which he never afterwards lost.” He graduated from Harvard College, was a selectman of Wells, and became a figure in the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. He was a delegate to the convention at Cambridge to form a constitution for the State of Massachusetts (it should be remembered that Maine was at the time governed as part of the Massachusetts Bay colony). He was appointed by two Massachusetts Governors to judicial posts. He was known as Judge Wells. (See a detailed description of his accomplishments on pages 17-20 in Charles Wells’ booklet.) Robert had a son named Bartholomew, born in 1776, who became a sea captain.

Bartholomew married Susanna dark. Their sixth and youngest child was Alexander, who was one of the first to leave New England, moving to Iowa for farming. Several others of his relatives moved to Wisconsin. He was in the Civil War, and died not in combat, but of disease, as many other combatants did. He married Julia Carter, whose family included father Charles and Grandfather Arthur. He left this wife and several children, one of whom was my great-grandfather J. W. Wells. My Grandfather Daniel Wells tried to track down information about Julia’s relatives, and even wrote a book about his search entitled “King Carter”, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

It is interesting to note that so many of the early relatives were given biblical names. There were many named after the disciples of Jesus, others such a Daniel, Samuel, Joseph, David, and even Moses. The women too were given names such as Martha, Hannah, Sarah, etc. Some were given very unusual names such as Sophronia, Emeline, Dependence, and Asa.

Another interesting story is that of Theodore, not a direct relative, but one of many Wells descendants. As quoted in the genealogy, “Was a sea-captain for several years, but in later years he quit the ocean and lived upon a farm in Wells; was one of the leading citizens of the town, and, like many of his ancestors, was a Deacon in the church for many years. About 1826 he became an earnest advocate of the temperance cause, and circulated the first temperance pledge in his neighborhood, and assisted in forming the first temperance society there. He was also a very early advocate of the anti-slavery cause.”

In the current time, Wells is one of many coastal Maine resort towns. It has a prominent barrier beach, which is occupied by many cottages, with a good swimming beach. The town has many “tacky” touristy facilities. When on a vacation trip with my family, we stopped at a cemetery in the outskirts of town, and did find a Wells gravestone.

The above genealogical information was carefully researched by Charles Wells of Milwaukee. He checked church and town records from Wells, court records of York County and other places, found the wills of many of the family members, and included lots of commentary in his booklet. My Grandfather got a copy of this booklet, which was published in 1873, some time when he was a businessman in Detroit in the early 20th century, and passed it on to us—now in the “archives”.

Of some interest is the story of J. W. Wells’ wife. Her name was Isabella Crawford, daughter of Daniel Crawford who lived in the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, located between northern Maine and the St. Lawrence River. Their specific location was along the Restigouche River. We don’t have a record of what his profession was, nor much of anything, except that at some point Isabella met my Great- grandfather and moved to Menominee, Michigan. We do have a small photo of her in the archives, as well as her journal of a trip abroad she made with her husband and son Ralph in 1901. This journal is written in pencil on pages enclosed in a red leather-bound “booklet” (3″ x 5″). It chronicles the trip to an ocean liner in New York harbor via Chicago, then abroad to the Mediterranean Sea and ports including Athens, Sicily, Rome and Venice, then to England, from where the returned home from South Hampton, leaving on the day Queen Victoria died.

There is a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called “Isabella”, which purportedly was named after her.

3 thoughts on “Early History of the Wellses in America”

  1. My great granddad (Forest Wells) was a locomotive engineer for J.W. Wells hauling hardwood out of Ralph, Michigan, after the Spanish American War.(1st South Dakota Volunteer Infantry).

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