My 10th great grandfather Thomas Welles was born near the small farming village of Stourton in County Warwickshire, England around the year 1590. Stourton is located on the edge of what today in England is called the Cotswolds, an area in southwest England consisting of rolling green pastured hills (“wolds”) dotted with small sleepy “typical English” towns where the houses, stores, churches, and fences are constructed of the local honey-colored limestone rocks. At the time of Thomas’ birth, the area where he spent his early life was the sheep raising capital of the European world. It is probably safe to assume that his family and the four generations of Welles that preceded him and were known to live in Stourton, were all sheep farmers, a prosperous industry that undoubtedly enabled the family to live a rather comfortable lifestyle. There is no evidence that suggests that the Welles family were titled or bore a coat of arms although clearly Thomas Welles should be classified as a Yeoman, an English term that describes a respected class of English common man, a freeholder; a man born free. The activities of Thomas Welles in his later life in Connecticut and the quantity of both English and Latin books listed as part of his estate at the time of his death, clearly indicates that he was highly educated and while no evidence exists as to his actual educational experiences, it is entirely possible that he attended university, possibly at Oxford located only 28 miles southeast of his home in Warwickshire.
Fifteen miles north of Stourton is the City of Stratford-upon-Avon, home of William Shakespeare and the site of the original Globe Theater. Shakespeare was around twenty-six years old at the time of Thomas Welle’s birth in 1590 and he was just beginning his career as England’s greatest playwright. As most of Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed between the years 1589 and 1613, it would seem that Thomas would have been very much aware of the existence of the playwright and the Globe Theater and despite the fact Thomas was twenty-six years old when Shakespeare died in 1616, it is very unlikely that he ever traveled the fifteen miles to Sratford to attend a performance. Thomas Welles married my 10th great grandmother, AliceTomes, a year earlier in July of 1615 and he no doubt had his hands full managing the farm. I suspect however, that the real reason that he did not attend a performance was that his conversion to Puritanism had already begun and entertainment such as attending Shakespearian plays at the Globe Theater were activities that were shunned by the Puritans. In fact, shortly following the beginning of the First English Civil War, the Puritans in 1644 demolished the Globe Theater no doubt to show their displeasure of this ungodly enterprise.
Unlike most of my ancestors who immigrated to American in the 1600s, we know considerable about the family backgrounds of both Thomas Welles and his wife Alice Tomes. Alice Tomes was born in Long Marston, in County Gloucestershire (now part of County Warwickshire) around the year the 1593. Historians have discovered members of the Tomes (or Tommes, Toms, or Tommys) family living in the Gloucestershire area as far back as the early 1400s beginning with a William Tomes (possibly Alice’s great grandfather) who was recorded as a contributor to the Guild of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1442 and executed a lease (an indenture) for a manor on Marston from the Abbey of Winchcombe in 1479. The history of the area “of the convent in Gloucestershire” which includes the Manor of Marston goes back to the year 798 with the beginning of the construction of a great monastery which was to become The Abbey of Winchcombe for Benedictine monks. For the next 700 plus years, the monastery remained in existence although changing and growing in size substantially over the many centuries. Its major source of income over the period was derived from the “rents” it received from the leasing of the land surrounding the monastery which included not only all of the great manors in Gloucestershire but also all of the towns, the buildings, basically everything was owned by the “Church”, meaning the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning in 1535, this all began to change when King Henry VIII declared the Church of England separated from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. His declaration in effect dissolved the great monasteries in England beginning in 1536 including the Abbey of Winchcombe, wherein all of its land holdings and leases became the property of the English crown including no doubt the land occupied by the Tomes family.t and the Globe Theater and despite the fact that Thomas was twenty-six years old when Shakespeare died in 1616, it is very unlikely that he ever traveled the fifteen miles to Stratford to attend a performance. Thomas Welles married my 10th great grandmother, Alice Tomes, a year earlier in July of 1615 and he no doubt had his hands full managing the farm. I suspect however, that the real reason that he did not attend a performance was that his conversion to Puritanism had already begun and entertainment such as attending Shakespearian plays at the Globe Theater were activities that were shunned by the Puritans. In fact, shortly following the beginning of the First English Civil War, the Puritans in 1644 demolished the Globe Theater no doubt to show their displeasure of this ungodly enterprise.
The Tomes family had probably been leasing land from the Abbey for many generations perhaps even before William Tomes’ lease of 1479. We also have learned that Alice’s grandfather, John Tomes (ca1510-1548) spent his entire life in Long Marston and his name is recorded on an “indenture” (lease) granting lands in 1536. In 1566, Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen of England between 1558 and 1603, granted lordship of the Manor of Marston Sicca to Robert Dudley, Lord of Leicester with all its rights to the “late Monastery of Winchcombe Abbey” thereby making Lord Dudley the owner of the land on which sat the Tomes’ Manor home thereby granting him the right to collect rent from the Tomes family as well as others.
Robert Dudley is an interesting character in British history. He was not only a nobleman, a favorite and a close friend of Queen Elizabeth, but he was also known to be a “suitor of the Queen’s hand” and some historians believe also a secret lover (in bed that is) of Elizabeth I, the “Virgin” queen. The fact that she granted him in 1566 the valuable lands surrounding the Manor of Marston that the Crown had earlier stolen from the church, proves that even in merry old England it pays to know people in high places. Anyway, in 1677, Lord Robert Dudley leased a portion of theManor of Marston to Alice Tomes’ father, John Tomes, my 11th great grandfather, for the princely sum of 1,180 pounds, 58 shillings and 4 pence. It was here on the Manor of Marston that Alice Tomes was born in 1593.
Unlike Alice’s husband, Thomas Welles, whose conversion to Puritanism caused him to get in trouble with the English crown (principally King Charles I who reigned from 1625 to 1645) and his cohorts at the Church of England, the Tomes family remained firm loyalists. In fact Alice’s half-brother John Tomes by her father’s second wife became somewhat famous in British history when he harbored Charles II for one night in 1651 at his home on the Manor of Marston when the dethroned King was fleeing from the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans intent on killing him at the close of the English Civil War. King Charles II eventually managed to flee England for France but he later returned to regain his throne in 1660.
Fortunately there has been much written about the ancestry of Thomas Welles although some of the earliest histories, notably the “Brief History of the Welles, or Wells, Family” written by Albert Welles and published in 1848, incorrectly or at least without any evidence, relates that Thomas Welles was descended from one of the knights of William the Conqueror, one Lord Richardus de Welles who was granted the “Manor of Welles” by King William I and charged with the responsibility of supplying bread to the King. The author then goes on over the next 16 pages of the 27 page document describing all of the Welles’ nobility who were descended from this first Lord Welles. Other than the commonality of the Welles’ name, there is no historical evidence that connects Thomas Welles and his descendants including myself to British nobility.
Almost all that we know about the ancestry and the early life of Thomas Welles in England comes from one unusual source. In 1648, a nephew of Thomas Welles, a John Welles, filed a lawsuit in the English courts claiming that the land that Thomas Welles sold just before he emigrated to America with his family in 1635 actually belong to him, John Welles, by his right of inheritance from his late father, Robert Welles, brother of our Thomas Welles. The pleadings and the lengthy depositions that followed in 1650, provides us with a fairly detailed description of Thomas Welles, his ancestors beginning with his great grandfather, and his immediate family. Anyone interested in reading a English translation of the original legal proceedings written in Latin can read “The English Ancestry of Gov. Thomas Welles of Connecticut” written by Lemuel A. Welles and reprinted by the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1926.
We learn from the legal proceedings that Thomas Welles was the son of Robert Welles who is believed to have been born in 1540 in Stourton in Whichford Parish in County Warwickshire, England. Only three children are known to have been borne to Robert and his wife Alice: Robert Jr (whose son John brought the legal proceedings mentioned above), Alice (or Mary), and Thomas. Thomas outlived his older brother Robert who died in 1627 and Thomas was named as a joint executor in his brother’s will. The father Robert Welles died in 1617 and he is buried in the churchyard at St. Michael’s Church in Strouton. A photo of the church as it appears today is shown below. One of the statements that I read about Robert Welles reported that he was a wealthy ship owner and a staunch Puritan. I found no reliable source that supported this statement and based on the fact that he was buried at St Michael’s Church and despite that fact that his son Thomas became a Puritan, it seems unlikely that Robert, the father, was a Puritan at the time of his death.of his death.
We also learn from the court proceedings and the depositions taken in 1650 that Thomas Welles (then spelled as Wells), was Robert’s father and our Thomas Welles’ grandfather. Thomas’ first wife’s name was Elizabeth and together they had at least two children, Robert born in 1540, and a sister Ann. This Thomas Welles died in Strouton in 1658. Thomas Welles’ father is believed to be Robert Welles who is known to be taxed In Whichford in 1523. If this Robert Welles is our Thomas Welles’ great grandfather who was also probably born in Whichford Parish around 1500 and is known to have died there in 1577, then at least four known generations of Welles spanning over a 100 year period lived in the area of Strouton, in Whichford Parish in County Warwickshire, England prior to Thomas Welles’ departure to America in 1635. Confused? It goes like this: great-grandfather believed to be Robert Welles (ca 1500-1577), grandfather Thomas Welles (ca1520-1558), father Robert Welles (1540-1617) to Thomas Welles, born around 1590).
Thomas Welles, a future governor of colonial Connecticut and my 10th great grandfather, clearly had a comfortable upbringing at least by late 17th century standards in England. His father was a prosperous farmer and a member of the rapidly rising middle class in England, a country whose population hitherto for centuries had been composed of a relatively few wealthy aristocrats and churchmen who oversaw a large population of mostly struggling poor men, women and children. Despite the fact that Robert Welles, Thomas’ father, was not a member of England’s upper class, he was in a position to afford the cost of educating his second son. We know from Thomas’ activities in his later life that he could read and write both in English as well as in Latin. These and other skills learned by Thomas in England were later recognized by his compatriots in Connecticut resulting in his election to positions of clerk of the general court, Treasurer of the Colony, Secretary of the Colony, and ultimately to Governor of Connecticut.
We can only speculate as to how Thomas Welles met his future wife Alice Tomes. Alice Tomes is believed to have been born in Long Marston whereas Thomas Welles was born in Stourton. Both of these villages are located within the present day County of Warwickshire, England and are located only 14 miles apart. However, in the late 1500s, 14 miles was a relatively long distance and the Tomes family and the Welles family would not have considered themselves neighbors nor would they have been members of the same parish church. Furthermore, Alice and Thomas did not meet one another in school and in fact there is evidence that Alice Tomes was not even educated or at least she signed her name with a mark rather than a signature. The most likely explanation as to how they met was that their fathers who were both prosperous farmers in the area, knew one another, and arranged for their son and daughter to meet and a marriage eventually followed. Alice no doubt brought a dowry to the marriage and Thomas was presented by his father as a marriage gift, a large farm in nearby Burmington. His father, Robert Welles, had inherited the farm that he gave to Thomas from his uncle Walter Welles who had both outlived his wife and his only brother and had died childless in 1577. Since Thomas was the second son of Robert Welles Sr. his older brother Robert Jr. would normally have inherited Uncle Walter’s property when his father and mother died. That being the case, Robert Jr as well as Robert’s mother Alice were also signators on the deed granting the farm to the younger brother Thomas. To their benefit, the newlyweds Thomas and Alice Tomes Welles began their married life that commenced shortly after the deed was signed on 5 July 1615 with a modestly large sum of money and a fully operating farm. Historically when we think of our ancestors leaving England and Europe for the New World during the 17th century, we imagine them as poor immigrants who were escaping poverty and sometimes persecution and that despite the terrible unknowns that they faced, they maintained the hope that they would find better living conditions in America. Twenty years after their marriage, Thomas, Alice, and their six children departed for the New World leaving behind what for the most part was a good life. They did not fit this stereotype image that we have of our typical early American immigrant nor did most of the other immigrants who migrated to New England from England during the period of 1630 to around 1637.
Thomas and Alice Welles were to have six children born at their home in Burmington who survived birth. The exact dates of the births of each of their children is not known although it is believed that their first child and daughter Mary Welles was born in either 1617 or 1618, their second child Ann Welles, my 9th great grandmother, was born in 1619, and their last child Sarah Welles was born around 1631. When the Welles family boarded the ship for America in the late summer of 1635 the parents were in their 40s and the children ranged in ages from 4 to 17 years old. The family had a nice home in an area surrounded by friends and relatives. They had a comfortable income and their children were young and in excellent positions to expect to have a good future life in mid-17th century England. It therefore begs the question as to why Thomas Welles would leave his home in England with his family to settle in the wildernesses of the New England colony in America. Obviously he did not leave England for economic reasons.
In the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This “establishment” clause in our Constitution is interpreted to mean that our government is prohibited from establishing a national religion or prohibited from favoring one religion over another. It is no accident that this clause was included in the first amendment. Our founding fathers when they authored this document written about 150 years after the first immigrants arrived in New England, were fully cognizant as to the reasons that families like the Welles family left England. Historically in England and in other European counties for that matter, there was only one recognized national religion. In the case of England, it was the Church of England with the King at the head of the church. While other forms of worship were sometimes tolerated depending on who sat on the throne, some kings being more tolerant than others, under the reign of King Charles I which began in 1629 the intolerance of Puritanism gradually increased culminating with King Charles enthroning William Laud as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud as head of the Church immediately set out to get rid of all ministers within the Church of England who he considered to be a threat to the orthodoxy of the church. The rising population of Puritans in England believed that individuals could read and interpret the scriptures for themselves and they opposed the pompous trappings of the church, the huge cathedrals, and the gold and silver and wealth of the church believing that all were unnecessary. It followed that many of the ministers and congregation within the Church of England were trying to adapt to these “radical” changes in approach away from the current church orthodoxy whose foundations were based on the strict structures of the Roman Catholic Church. Laud believed that only the ministers of the Church were capable of interpreting the scriptures and he vigorously set out to eliminate what he considered to be the religious distinctiveness and excesses of the Puritans. The Puritans believed that William Laud along with King Charles I and his Catholic queen were attempting to push the Episcopal Church of England back towards Roman Catholicism. Persecutions and arrests of puritans by the forces of Laud rapidly increased after 1632 and it was not surprising that Thomas Welles, a devote Puritan, found it necessary to follow the other Puritans who had left England to seek religious freedom in America beginning in 1630.
William Laud and King Charles did not understand the unpopular positions that they had taken. Both individuals were caught up in their belief that they had absolute authority. William Laud believed that the Church of England was the absolute and sole religious authority in England and that he as the head of the Church made all of the religious decisions and no other forms of worship were to be tolerated. King Charles I believed in absolute monarchy. He believed that he had the ultimate governmental authority and he was not limited by any constitutions or rules of law. History ultimately proved that they were on the wrong side of public opinion. William Laud was arrested in 1641 and ultimately beheaded in 1645. King Charles 1 was beheaded in 1649. Another interesting historical irony was to follow. At the end of the English Civil War that began in 1642, the Puritans gained control of the English government. Their own intolerances displayed during their term of power which ended in 1659 resulted in the restoration of the monarchy and the crowning of King Charles II in 1660. Also ironic and worth noting was that the Puritans in America beginning in 1630 also displayed their own intolerances towards others of differing faith and political beliefs. Their harsh treatment of Native Americans during this early period of American history is particularly appalling.
Thomas Welles and his family set sail for America in the late summer of 1635 sometime after August 20th when he signed the deed transferring the ownership of his English property. The family no doubt arrived in the Boston area by mid-fall of the same year. No known ship’s manifest survives that records their passage, however based on Welles’ financial position it is likely that his family, some of their servants (most of whom were likely indentured servants), and a large quantity of their household furnishings as well as food for the trip occupied a large portion of the ship. It is also likely that Thomas Welles made arrangements before he left England for someone to meet him when they arrived and take the family and their possessions and servants to temporary housing. The first colonial record of Thomas Welles in America was a listing that included his name as the head of a household in Newton (or “Newe Towne” and now Cambridge) Massachusetts dated February 1636. Thomas Welles probably joined the congregation of the First Parish Church in Newton then under the leadership of the Rev. Thomas Hooker almost immediately upon his arrival in America. It is not clear whether Welles had meet Thomas Hooker in England prior to Hooker’s departure to America in 1633 although he must have been aware of the notorious Thomas Hooker, who was a prominent spokesman for Puritanism in England and a target of William Laud’s. Hooker had escaped to Holland to avoid being arrested by the Anglican authorities prior to his leaving for America. Thomas Welles, himself a prominent Puritan back in England, was probably among old friends in Hooker’s Newton congregation.
The Rev. Thomas Hooker was not happy with conditions in Newton, an opinion probably shared by many if not by most of the members of his congregation including Thomas Welles. The soil in the area was not good for farming nor were there large plots available for purchase in the rapidly growing community. Furthermore and more importantly, he found himself incompatible with the thinking of the other religious leaders in Massachusetts particularly over the issue of their rigid requirements for joining the Church such that one had to be a “freeman” to be eligible for membership. The Reverent Hooker believed in universal suffrage meaning that membership in the church should not be limited to the select few in the community who were acceptable to the church leadership. By 1635, Thomas Hooker had determined that he must lead his congregation out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the new lands being settled along the great river in Connecticut.
Before the arrival of the first white settlers in Connecticut in the first half of the 17th century, the land was a place of gently sloping hills and valleys that were largely covered by forests and inhabited by abundant species of animals including numerous tribes of Native American Indians. With few exceptions especially when compared with the wars and pestilence that were to follow the arrival of the white man, these Native Americans lived in relative peace and harmony with their surroundings. The Indians of Connecticut were a resourceful people living largely off the land as hunters, fishermen, and agriculturists. These Native Americans gave the state its name as Connecticut comes from an Indian word “Quinatucquet” which means “Beside the Long Tidal River.” The long tidal river referred to by these Native Americans is the Connecticut River which runs through the center of the state. It was the fertile lands along the Connecticut River that first attracted the white man.
The first European of record to explore the Connecticut River was Adriaen Block, a Dutch explorer who sailed along the Connecticut coast and up the Connecticut River in 1614 and claimed the area for the Dutch. By the 1620s, the Dutch who already had settlements in New York had pressed their claims to the land and established trading posts along the Connecticut coastline and along the Connecticut River for a few miles inland. In 1633, they purchased a parcel of land from the Indians and build a fort and trading post on the east bank of the Connecticut River in what is now the present site of the City of Hartford. Unfortunately for the Dutch their interests in Connecticut were primarily in the commerce of fur trading and when the land hungry Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony migrated westward into Connecticut in search of new farmland, the Dutch claims to the area were quickly dissipated. In fact, in early 1633 the Dutch governor in New Amsterdam was presumptuously notified by letter that the King of England had granted his loyal subjects the river and the country of Connecticut. It is no wonder that the Dutch referred to the English settlers of New England as “Jankes” which in the Dutch language means robbers or pirates. The term Jankes quickly became anglicized to become “Yankees”.
In the year 1632 the Indian tribes living along the Connecticut River invited the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to send settlers to their area. Ostensibly they hoped that the white settlers would bring peace to the area as their superior weapons would dissipate the constant threats from their warrior neighbors, the Pequot Indians to their east and the Iroquois and Mohawk Indians to their west. The governor of the Plymouth Colony, Edward Winslow, made a personal overland exploratory trip to Connecticut to the area that was later to be named Windsor located about fifty miles north of the mouth of the Connecticut River at Long Island Sound. Governor Winslow liked what he saw in Connecticut and the following year in 1633, he sent a team of men under the leadership of William Holmes to set up a fort and trading post at Windsor (then called Matianuck by the Indians) located only seven miles north of the Dutch trading post that had been built only a few months earlier. Needless to say, the Dutch were not happy about the competition for the fur trade and so they sent men north of the new English fort to try and win the friendship of the Indians. Unfortunately, one of their men carried smallpox which quickly infected the Indians and by the time the plague had run its course by early 1634, three-quarters of the River Indian population were dead. Obviously this situation did serious harm to the relationship of the white men and the Indians not to mention the harm done to the fur trading business. The town of Windsor was to remain populated by Puritans from Plymouth Colony until 1635 at which time a group of settlers from Dorchester, Massachusetts arrived under the leadership of the Reverent John Warham.
In the summer of 1634, a group of “Ten Adventurers” led by a Captain John Oldham, a merchant and Indian trader from Watertown, Massachusetts, travelled through the wilderness of western Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut along an old Indian trail referred to by historians as the Old Connecticut Path. The 100 mile trek of these Adventurers and their families along the old Indian trail from Watertown to their new home on the banks of the Connecticut River, took them at least two weeks of hard travelling. Their new settlement that they were later to name Wethersfield was located in a deep bend of the Connecticut River where the rich alluvial soil along the river was perfect for farming and the surrounding forests would provide the needed lumber for building houses.
The town of Hartford (initially named Newtown) was the third of the original major settlements along the Connecticut River founded by Puritans from Massachusetts. The new settlement of Hartford was located about midway between the Windsor settlement to the north and the Wethersfield settlement to the south. It was to this site of the future town of Hartford that some 25 men, some with families and their supplies travelling under the direction or at least under the inspiration of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, set forth from Newton, Massachusetts in October of 1635. Their goal was to lay claim to the land on the west side of the Connecticut River directly across the river from where the Dutch had established a fort a few years earlier. Their trek along the old Indian trail took about ten days, however by the time they arrived into this wilderness area very cold weather had set in and they struggled to build shelters consisting of not much more than “dug-outs” or caves dug in the sides of the hills. Despite the lack of food and the hard conditions they managed to survive the winter. Of the original 25 settlers of Hartford, now known as the “Adventurers”, five of them were my great grandfathers: William Goodwin, William Kelsey, Thomas Scott, Timothy Stanley, and Edward Stebbins.
It was Thomas Hooker’s plan to send out this vanguard group of men in late 1635 to establish their claim to the land (which actually was dubious since the land had not been clearly purchased from the local Indians), layout the lots, and then once he received formal approval of the new settlement from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he would follow in early 1636 with the remainder and the majority of the members of his Newton congregation. Within this later group were Thomas Welles and his family. The second wagon train set out on the trail in late May of 1636. The group consisted of one hundred members of the congregation with their families, their servants, farm animals, wagons, and so forth all as necessary to begin a new life. The scene of such a large group of the Newton citizens moving west must have amazing sight for the residents of the area. Thomas Welles was around 45 years old when he began his new life in Hartford, Connecticut.
There are two old maps available that show the division of the lands in Hartford and the names of the lot owners. The map above shows the ownership of the land in Harford as it appeared in 1640. The individuals whose names appear on this map are considered to be the original “Founders” of Hartford. There is also an earlier map showing the layout of the lots as they appeared in 1636 after the arrival of the first two groups from Newton. Both maps are very revealing for they show that the original settlers were not only well organized but they appeared to have cooperated with one another with respect to the land distribution. There are no records that I could find that describe disputes between the members of the congregation over the land selections. This is probably due in large part to the efforts of the Rev. Thomas Hooker. Most of the lots are of similar size, the town is organized around a meeting house (which also served as their “church”), and while it is not obvious from the maps, the history of Hartford tells us that the land around the town identified as “meadow(s)” and “pasture” were set aside areas for all members of the community to use for grazing their farm animals and growing their crops.
However, in the earlier 1636 map, the “South Meadows” is identified with the following notation: “Large upland, meadow and swamp lots of Andrew Warner, George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, John Webster, William Whiting, and John Haynes.” This notation on the map suggests that some of the wealthier citizens in early Harford were able to set aside (they purchased) some of the surrounding meadow land area for their own exclusive use. The Thomas Welles family was one of these wealthier families. It is also significant to note that the home lots immediately west (above on the map) of the South Meadow is where four of the six families listed above had built their homes. The road facing their home lots was later named “Governor Street” for a reason that will be obvious. The first governor of the Colony of Connecticut took office in 1639 and per the “Fundamental Orders”, the colony’s constitution that was written and adopted in 1639, governors were to be elected for 12 month terms but expressly prohibited from serving consecutive terms. In the first twenty years of the colony, George Wyllys served one term, Edward Hopkins served seven terms, our Thomas Welles served two terms (one in 1655 and one in 1658), and John Webster served one term. In total, in the first twenty terms of the office of governor, a resident of Governor Street filled the seat on 11 occasions. It is not apparent from looking at the lots on Governor Street what made them more valuable although apparently this must have been the case. The greater value was perhaps due to a richer soil, heavily wooded lands (trees for building houses) or the property was sited at higher elevations above the flood plain of the Connecticut River, or simply the properties’ proximity to the South Meadow, but whatever the reasons many of the top leaders in colonial Harford chose to live on this street including my great grandfather, Thomas Welles.
There is one other very fascinating observation to be made about Thomas Welles and his neighbors on Governor Street. Thomas Welles is an ancestor of mine on my mother’s side of my family. John Marsh and his family who lived immediately next door to the Welles family are ancestors of mine on my father’s side of the family. John Marsh is the great grandfather of my 7th great grandfather, Timothy Baker. There is more. Across the street from the Welles family lived the James Cole family. James Cole is my 10th great grandfather also on my mother’s side of the family. Of the names of the original proprietors listed on the “Founders Monument” in downtown Hartford, 24 of the men and one woman listed are my direct ancestors from multiple branches of my family tree. This was a remarkable coincidence and to think that I have never been to Hartford.
In January 1639, the leaders of the three Connecticut towns of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield met, drafted and approved a document known as the Fundamental Orders which basically outlined the individual rights of the citizens in the Colony of Connecticut. This document is considered by many historians to be the first constitution writing in the Americas and it was to serve as a guideline during the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Its importance is emphasized by the State of Connecticut who proudly call itself the “Constitution State.” Thomas Welles’ importance as a public servant in the government of the Colony of Connecticut cannot be understated. As Secretary of the Colony from 1640 to 1649, it was he who transcribed the Fundamental Orders into the official colonial records (in his own handwriting). His other offices include the following and it is worth noting that he is the only man in Connecticut’s history to hold all four top offices: governor, deputy governor, treasurer and secretary.
Member, Court of Magistrates 1637-1654
Deputy Governor of the Colony of Connecticut 1654, 1656, 1657, 1659
Treasure of the Colony of Connecticut 1639
Secretary of the Colony of Connecticut 1640-1649
Commissioner of the United Colonies 1649
Governor of the Colony of Connecticut 1666, 1658
What we learn here is that Thomas Welles’ upbringing and schooling in England was of the highest quality. Not only did he come from an apparently wealthy family but he was also highly educated and could read and write. Obviously he would not have been appointed Secretary of the Colony if his writing ability was poor. We also see in Thomas Welles a talent to lead. He was elected to the office of Deputy Governor or Governor on six different occasions and he served on the Court of Magistrates for eighteen years. Many of our elected legislators in the United States today serve for multiple years in public service but in their case they are paid for their services and somehow manage to earn major dollars beyond just their government salary. On the other hand, Thomas Welles served continuously without pay in various governmental positions from 1637 to 1658, only two years before his death on January 14, 1660. His name appears on almost every page of the Connecticut Colony Records during this entire period. One of the more interesting positions that he was asked to perform as a member of the Court of Magistrates was to serve as one of the judges in the witchcraft trials of Mary Johnson, Joan and John Carrington, and Lydia Gilbert in the years 1648, 1651, 1654. Thomas Welles may have been highly educated and devote but apparently he had no qualms about the verdict when the jurors found each of these individuals guilty of witchcraft and ordered their executions. Obviously we must be willing to judge historical individuals like Thomas Welles and slave owner George Washington based on the morals in place during their period of history rather than on our own morals of today.
Thomas Welles’ wife Alice Tomes Welles died of unknown causes sometime on or before 1646. It is an unfortunate truth that women in earlier history are often ignored in the colonial records and the actual year of Alice’s death and the location of her burial are unknown. What is known is that in 1646 Thomas Welles married for the second time the 56 year old Elizabeth Deming Foote, widow of Nathaniel Foote of Wethersfield who had died two years earlier in 1644. While both Thomas Welles and his new wife were in their 50s and both still had young children living at home, Thomas Welles made the unusual decision especially in the 1600s to leave his home in Hartford and move into Elizabeth’s home in Wethersfield. Thomas Welles remained in public service after his marriage to Elizabeth and his move to Wethersfield and both of his terms of office as Government of the Colony of Connecticut occurred after his move to Wethersfield. The remarkable coincidence about the marriage of Thomas Welles to Elizabeth Deming Foote is that both individuals are my 10th great grandparents. I am descended from Elizabeth Foote, the daughter of Nathaniel Foote and Elizabeth Deming and the wife of Josiah Churchill, and I am descended on a separate family branch, from Ann Welles, the daughter of Thomas Welles and Ann Tomes and the husband of Thomas Thompson. Nathaniel Foote and his wife are among the original settlers of Wethersfield and Nathaniel’s name is included in the list of the “Ten Adventurers” who settled Wethersfield in 1635.
The burial location of Thomas Welles is unknown but in all likelihood it is in Wethersfield. The site of Thomas Welles home on Governor Street in Hartford, later renamed Popieluszko Court, is now a rather rundown industrial area of Harford. Some of the original land owned by Nathaniel Foote in the 1600s in Wethersfield is now the site of a Connecticut State prison. Despite these dismal changes to our landscape, Thomas Welles remains one of the important historical figures in American history.