By HHA Vice President Lorraine Tarket-Arruda
There has been little written about the Wells Family of Hopkinton and Rhode Island in general, but what had been written has had no facts to support the claims. I have spent the last 16 years compiling data on the Wells family, concentrating on Hopkinton town records. I intend to publish a book on the Wells family within the next five years, which will include the Thomas Wells line and the Peter Wells line. I welcome anyone to contact me with family information to share.
In this article I want to dispel several myths concerning this family and more importantly, share crucial information to correct an incorrect line, which people will be grateful for or will ignore.
Nathaniel Wells is a myth.
It has long been tradition in the Wells family and in the Town of Hopkinton that one Nathaniel Wells, a ship builder from England, was the progenitor of this family. I have been corresponding with Mr. Orrin Wells of Kent, Washington, who has delved deeply into his family genealogy. Both of us have studied the Nathaniel Wells story extensively and feel, without a doubt that an Albert Wells was the perpetrator of the flawed early history of the Wells Family. With the resurgence of genealogy in the mid-twentieth century, individuals became very cognoscente of the fact that many of the nineteenth century genealogies were much embellished upon.
The following story has been taken from these writings:
“Nathaniel Wells was born ca 1600 in Colchester, England. He was a brother to Deacon Thomas Wells of Ipswich, Massachusetts and Richard Wells of Salisbury, Massachusetts. He was also brother to Hugh, Joseph, William and George, who were the sons of Thomas Wells (1566-1620) of Colchester, England.
Nathaniel Wells was the first progenitor of this family line in New England. He was the owner and proprietor of extensive shipyards at or near Colchester, England which he had to abandon because of his sympathies with the Puritans. Nathaniel was summoned to appear in court to answer charges. Knowing that the sentence of the court would be pillory or imprisonment, besides confiscation of his property, he ignored the summons and took refuge in a ship that was ready to leave for America. He landed in Boston and took the Freemans Oath there on 2 November 1637.”
For generations these stories have been taken as fact and must treated with much skepticism. Upon conducting a reasonable search of Massachusetts and Rhode Island records, there is no documentation to support this claim, nor is there any circumstantial evidence.
Where did these stories originate? After several family members had researched the family, the stories seem to originate with Albert Wells. In his writing, Albert Wells does not cite any sources and does a great injustice to the Wells family by fabricating such stories.
In 1859, J. L. Spencer published bits of folklore in the Narragansett Weekly, which unfortunately have been proven incorrect by people researching their families using his information. His source for the Wells family seemed to be articles published in 1846 by Albert Wells and other family members, again with no sources cited. Today’s genealogists are well aware that embellishing on family connections was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
If Nathaniel had owned extensive shipyards in England, he would have been an educated man. Upon arriving in America, he would have, with certainty, become involved in the affairs of the town in which he settled. There is no evidence that Nathaniel took part in the political life of any town in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. He is not mentioned in early Ipswich, Massachusetts town records, land records or probate, during that time period, or in any of the surrounding towns.
Another popular tradition is that Nathaniel moved to Rhode Island ca 1640 and settled in the wilderness with his family. After studying land evidence records and vital records between Ipswich, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, there is no evidence to support this theory. A Thomas Wells is the first of any Wells family to move to the Westerly-Hopkinton area. In 1677, Thomas Wells, acquired land in Westerly, most likely being lured here by the shipbuilding opportunities on the Mystic and Pawcatuck Rivers. There is no doubt that Thomas Wells (born ca 1626) knew the carpentry and shipbuilding trades well.
Family tradition also states that several members of the Wells family wish to be interred in their family cemetery called, “Chimney Orchard.” Upon reading documents and wills from the Westerly and Hopkinton area, the name Chimney Orchard is never mentioned.
A substantial connection has been made with evidence for Thomas Wells, as shown in the following:
THOMAS WELLS was born circa 1626 and died 12 February 1700 in Westerly, Rhode Island. [We 1A:7] He married ca 1655 Boston, Naomi Marshall, [Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700 pg. 794], daughter of Edmund and Millicent Marshall (of Salem). She was baptized 24 January 1637 Salem, Massachusetts. [Records of the First Church of Salem, MA by Richard Pierce] For more information on the very interesting Edmund Marshall and his wife, read “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 160, July 2006, Edmund Marshall of Essex County, Massachusetts, by Patricia Law Hatcher, page 185 – 197.”
“Thomas Wells was one of the early band of planters at Pequot Harbor, probably on the ground in 1648 and certainly in 1649. He was a carpenter and worked with Elderkin on mills and meeting houses. The last notice of him was on the town records in 1661, when Wells and Elderkin were employed to repair the turret of the meeting house. No account can be found on the sale of his house or land. He may have left the settlement, or he may be concealed from our view by dwelling on a farm remote from the center of business.”
“In a list of names who wrought at the Mill Dam we find the name of Thomas Wells.” [Caulkins’ History of New London, pg.45] **
**Frances Manwaring Caulkins was a local historian in the Stonington/New London, CT area. She devoted many hours to collecting data on the early settlers from old town records.
He was in New London, Connecticut from 1648 to 1651. “Thomas Wells, Carpenter, had a grant of land in 1649 and that he was there in 1651.” [Caulkins’ History of New London]
While living in Essex, Massachusetts, Edmund Marshall, Naomi’s father, had much difficulty getting along with his neighbors and his son–in-law, Thomas Wells apparently had difficulty also. Due to the diligent work on the Marshall Family by Patricia Law Hatcher, we learn much about the personality of Thomas Wells and his wife. “A feud erupted at the September 1668 court, with many depositions. Wells’ slanderous statements about his neighbor, Richard Brabrook brought Edmund Marshall (Jr) and Benjamin Marshall (Naomi’s brothers) into court to depose that Wells had often accused Brabrook of being a liar and disrespectful of the Sabbath, saying he was:
“a damned wretch and limb of the Devil and was not fit to live upon God’s earth and it was as prone to him to lie as the smoke fly upwards and on a sacrament day either going or coming it was all one he made no conscience of it.”
The low opinion of Brabrook was shared by others. Robert and Anna Cross also called him a liar and the Foster family accused him of selling them a drowned heifer which had been dead three days and created a stench. The couple also reported that Brabrook and John Bayer came to their farm and told them that “when Thomas Wells had written the lease between them [Brabrook and Bayer] for Wells’ farm, he had written what he pleased and left out what he pleased and when he read it, he read what he pleased.” Wells was found guilty of slander and required to make acknowledgment in court.
At the next court, in November 1668, it was Robert Cross who sued Thomas Wells for slander. Wells had said Cross was “a cheating knave and he [Wells] should have as good trading with the devil as with him and better, too.” Cross won and Wells had to make a statement in court to clear Cross’ good name.
The squabbling continued at this court, generating numerous despositions and much word slinging among family and neighbors: “Complaints having been brought in against Robert Cross, Stephen Cross, (son of Robert), Benjamin Marshall on one part and Thomas Wells (Benjamin’s brother-in-law) on the other part , for many slanderous, reproachful and threatening speeches, partly against the court and members and partly against the persons of some of the worshipful magistrates.”
Thomas Wells (aged about 42) and his wife Naomi (aged about 31) deposed that Goodman Cross had said,
“The Major Denison was disgraced at the court in Boston…the members of Boston court gave him a sharp reproof and the Major Denison was not respected in the court of Boston and Goodman Cross said that there came more appeals from the Ipswich court than any town in the country…and the seamen that belonged to our ketches said that Goodman Cross told them that his sons were set in the stocks and punished for nothing and he told us that the major could not abide him and therefore I fare the worse in the court and my sons also were punished for a matter of nothing.
Mister Bradstreet was the undoing of a man at Watertown…Mister Bradstreet sued him from court to court till he had undone him and made him so poor that he brought him from silk that he wore that he had instead thereof nothing but patched clothes and stockings out at the heels… and the court considered the man so undone the court gave him a sum of money for to help him.”
“The magistrates sat between the court at dinner drinking burnt sack and when they came into court they were ‘broshing,’ looking as red as though they were flustered and acted as though they were all ‘fodeeled.’ To which his father (Stephen’s father Robert Cross) replied it was the fines they took that fed their fat sides and the father further said that ‘I looked so big and spoke so sorely’ that he made the court quake.
Stephen Cross, Benjamin Marshall (Wells brother-in-law) and John Bayer testified to Thomas Wells words that:
“Our courts at Ipswich was all one [with] the Inquisition house in Spain: when a man is once brought into court thereof he knows not for what: he had as good be hanged…old Bradstreet was…vaporing about wondering what became of all the fines: he answers himself: why they keep it to buy sack with it all: and let cases go which way they will: they care not so long as they can feast their fat gotes.”
Robert Cross, Jr and John Bayer testified to even more scandalous words, that Wells claimed he could “set spells and raise the Devil, he affirming himself to be an artist.” Bayer and Marshall reported some fairly juvenile behavior by Wells, relating that one day when they were passing Goodman Brabrook’s, Wells wiped his feet on sheets that were hanging on the fence rails.
Thomas and Naomi Wells justified why they felt compelled to reveal the transgressions of the Crosses and Naomi’s own brother:
It has been the pleasure of God to visit my wife with sickness near unto death and other troubles which I never was tried with all before…we both can affirm those things spoken against the magistrates by those persons…we have sinned against god and his people because we had not revealed it sooner…some have said for Christ says he loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and we apprehend this to be the case…we had rather suffer with good conscious than not to suffer with an accused conscious.
Seventeen neighbors deposed on behalf of their “beloved neighbors” Thomas and Naomi Wells:
We are much grieved and troubled that such things should be laid to their charge…about two years ago and (a) half they lived about two miles from us…we never found nor understood anything in their speeches or behavior but that which was good and Christian like, and ever since last April they have lived amongst us…in his discourse being apt to speak or make occasion to discourse of religion and the best things.
Eighteen Neighbors signed a petition asking for clemency for Benjamin Marshall (including two who had also signed the petition for Wells) indicating that Benjamin had lived with other families, probably as a farm laborer:
Among those he hath lived for the most part of the 8th or 9th year of his age till now; …the good commendation given of him by several in whose families he hath lived, to be an orderly person of quiet disposition, not given to bare anger or a spirit of revenge in labor diligent, dutiful to his parents as they affirm;…Thomas Wells hath often spoke in his commendation [of Benjamin]…now since the court held at Ipswich…Goodman Wells hath given out threatening words against both his brothers both Edmund and Benjamin.
Two depositions make it clear that Naomi (Marshall) Wells was a catalyst in the proceedings. Benjamin Marshall’s bother Edmund even tried to indicate that Thomas Wells might have been willing to work things out (and revealing Wells’ chauvinistic attitude in the process)
Wells said he had nothing against Benjamin and proffered friendship to them before the deponent’s father and mother [Edmund and Millicent]. He wished to see Benjamin and asked to have him ‘Come and reckon with me but not before my wife for it is likely she would rail at him but you must consider: she is but a woman and therefore do not come to the house when I am not home.’
Naomi’s elderly parents, aged 70 and 67, revealed more details:
As for my son Benjamin we never knew him given to malice or revenge in all our lives: not to speak reproachfully of magistrates or of any other: and as for Goodman Cross we have lived by him many years and never heard him speak ill of authority or against any magistrate but as for our daughter Naomi we do think in our very hearts that certainly in her heart she hates her brothers both Edmund and Benjamin though we speak it with grief of heart, for she would often revile Benjamin and call him rogue before our faces…I told her that I had been in the church of Salem 30 years and upward and never was so detected as your father and I am by you our one child.
The case was proved and all defendants fined and bound to good behavior. “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 160, July 2006, Edmund Marshall of Essex County, Massachusetts, by Patricia Law Hatcher, page 185 – 197.”
Thomas Wells is found at Westerly, about 1677, where he is styled “of Ipswich”, engaged in constructing vessels at a shipyard on the Pawcatuck River. In 1680, having a lawsuit with Amos Richardson, respecting a vessel of 45 tons burden which he had contracted to build for him, two of his sons appeared as witnesses, Joseph, age 22 and Thomas, age 17. [Caulkins’ History of New London]
In July 1677 Thomas Wells bought from Amos Richardson of Stonington, 180 acres in the area under dispute between Rhode Island and Connecticut, agreeing to pay for it by building ships of fifty tons in all. In 1679 he was warned out of Westerly, so he refused to build the ships, for which he was imprisoned in March 1680 by the Constable (who was Richard’s son) whom the Rhode Island authorities then arrested in retaliation. Richardson sued Wells in the lower court, and then the case was carried up to the Court of Assistants in Hartford, where it lasted until 1680, at which time the two sons, Joseph age 22, and Thomas age 17, (witnesses in the suit) appear in the strife. Rhode Island got Westerly and Wells his farm by paying something to Rhode Island. [Sylvester Judd, Historical Recollections of Connecticut Controversies]
Thomas Wells took the Oath of Fidelity to the Colony at Westerly, 17 September 1679. At the same time of his removal and settlement at Westerly, it encompassed Charlestown and Hopkinton. He lived in the Hopkinton portion the residue of his lifetime. The supposed location of his home was in the village of Ashaway and later generations built their homes in the vicinity of the Wellstown bridge on the road from Hopkinton City to Ashaway.
“Granted to Thomas Wells of the town of Westerly, one hundred acres of land falling by lot in Number 40 to him, his heirs & assigns, March the 28th 1692. [Volume 1, page 191 Westerly Land Evidence and Town Records]
His will, which is dated 27 December 1699 and proved 12 February 1700 [Westerly Probate 1A:7,8] states:
“The last will and testament of Thomas Wells Senr, being in good understanding through God’s mercy to make this my last will and testament as follows: My eldest son Joseph Wells hath already received his full double portion and more of ___ ____ if need require yett notwithstanding I give him 5 shillings at my decease. My son Thomas Wells I have already given him his portion in a horse and meat cattle valued at seven pounds in pay. My eldest daughter Mary Wells and my daughter Ruth Wells have had their full portions already. ____
___ ___ my daughter Sarah Wells and son John Wells and my son Nathaniel Wells have had their portion in what small matters I had. Whereunto I set my hand and seal the date December 27, 1699.
Joseph Maxson his mark
Stephen Randall Thomas Wells
In the name of God amen be it known to whom it may concern that I, Thomas Wells Senr, being neer death doe commit my soule to God and my body to my creator and to my deare beloved wife I doe make her executor of what estate I leave during her natural life and at her despose. And further I doe desire that my son Thomas Wells and my son John Wells and my son Nathaniel Wells do take the best care you can of my loving wife and what she has and if she should be taken away suddenly what she leaves shall be devided amongst these three sons above named hoping they would take care of their deare mother my loving wife Najomy Wells.
The persons above said Joseph Maxson and Stephen Randall being witnesses to this will personally appeared before me and gave oath to the above written will and testified that to the best of their judgement how his understanding memory and reason good and had written every part thereof before the signing and sealing thereof.
Westerle February the 12th 1699/1700
Joseph Clarke Justice
This is a true copy of the last will and testament of Thomas Wells Senr, compared with the original and entered by me this 31st of May 1700
Joseph Clarke Town Clerk
Clerk of Council Westerle 1 February 1700
We whose names are under written being chosen to take an inventory of the estate of Mr. Thomas Wells deceased have taken a true inventory to the best of our knowledge and witness our hand:
A Cow at 50 shilling, a mare at 30 shillings, swine at 36 shillings, bedding and wearing clothes 20 shillings, spinning wheel 3 shillings, woole 3 shillings, the lumber at 6 shillings, a pot and ____ at 20 shillings, old ___ at 6 shillings, house hold stuff at 6 shillings, flax at 4 shillings, the sum total 8-16-0.
Appraisers; Thomas Burdick, Thomas Reynolds, Peter Crandall
Personally appeared before me and gave oath to the above written inventory February 14th 1700
Westerle Joseph Clarke Clerk to the Court”
Children: [Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages & Deaths 1630 – 1699, Wm Appleton, 1878]
(2) Joseph born-7 June 1656 Boston
(3) Thomas born-4 December 1661 Boston
Ruth born-ca 1663
Mary born- 15 April 1665 Boston and died 12 January 1693 Stonington, CT. She married 14 January 1689, Stonington, Connecticut, Ezekiel Main [Stng 1:80]
Sarah born- 27 August 1668 Ipswich, MA
(4) John born-ca 1670
(5) Nathaniel born-ca 1672
The correction of the lines of two Joshua Wells of Hopkinton, Rhode Island and New York
Please respond to LaurJoe@verizon.net
To all: Please read this [e mail] carefully, I was surprised to discover this information and have checked and re-checked records.
There were two distinct, unrelated Wells families living in Hopkinton, Rhode Island from the late 1600’s into the early twentieth century. I have studied both families over the last ten years and compiled separate family histories because of the confusion over each family. The descendants of Peter Wells lived on the east side of the Tomaquag Brook (river) and the Thomas Wells family lived on the west side of Tomaquag Brook. Both of these families owned large tracts of land and family members lived in close proximity to each other. Large farms were split up to accommodate sons and grandsons, but based on my strong knowledge of property locations, with all certainty never crossed the brook to mix in with the other Wells’.
The Thomas Wells lineage is presently documented as follows; Joshua Wells (29 October 1733 – 28 May 1834] with wives, Elizabeth Partelow and Sylvia Bentley, who was the son of Thomas and Phebe (Green) Wells. This family lived on the west side of the river.
The Peter Wells lineage is presently documented as follows; Joshua Wells born ca 1770; Joshua Wells (24 August 1743 – ?) wife unknown, who was the son of James and Mary (Barber) Wells. This family lived on the east side of the river.
Recently I have taken a closer look at individuals without cited sources, examining Hopkinton’s records for primary sources and recently located information proving each Joshua Wells’ had been assigned to the wrong family.
In Hopkinton Land Evidence Book 6, page 408, dated 10 November 1801, a deed selling 90 acres of land, bordering Clarke, Barker and Samuel Wells’ property was sold to a Charles Green, which was located east of the brook. The deed was signed by Joshua and Sylvia Wells of Hopkinton and witnessed by close neighbors, Josiah Witter and Josiah Witter Jr. The deed indicated this Joshua lived on the east side of the brook with wife Sylvia and next to proven descendants of Peter Wells, namely Clarke, Barker and Samuel Wells. The Joshua that married Sylvia Bentley was always thought to be the son of Thomas and Phebe Greene Wells.
In Hopkinton Land Evidence Book 3 page 648, 4 April 1789, shows a Joshua Wells giving land to his son, Joshua Wells Jr. The deed description states the land is “the old homestead farm” and is “bounded north by Thomas Wells, east till it comes to Col. Jesse Maxson’s land, west until it comes to the Ashawog River, estimated 50 acres. The same deed description is given in Land Evidence Book 5 page 162 on 9 April 1795, when property estimated to be 55 acres was sold to Thompson Wells, “bounded northerly by Thomas Wells Esq. land, south on Thomas Wells and Col. Jesse Maxson, westerly on the Ashawog River. The deed was signed by Joshua and Phanne Wells of Stonington, CT. This property is on the west side of Tomaquag Brook and right next to the men of the Thomas Wells line and is less than one mile from Stonington, CT. Who was this Joshua and Phanne Wells?
The Rhode Island Census of 1774 shows a Joshua Wells Jr, living next to James and Barker Wells (east side of river) with, Males above 16 – 1, males under 16 – 2, females above 16 – 2.
The same census shows a Joshua Wells, living next to Edward and Thomas Wells 3rd, (west side of river) Males above 16 -3, males under 16 – 1, females above 16 – 2.
An examination of the 1850 census show two Joshua Wells’, both born in Rhode Island, one living in Nelson, Madison County, New York, age 80 years. He was living with a Mary Wells, age 33, born New York and a Ruth Wells age 24, born New York. Several houses away was George Wells, age 50 and his wife Olive Wells. A James Wells, living on the east side of Tomaquag Brook had sons, Robert and George and a daughter Ruth, which would have been the Joshua, (who settled in Brookfield) his aunt and uncles, which would follow naming patterns.
But over in Plainfield, Ostego County, New York was a Joshua Wells, age 76, occupation, Baptist Clergyman and his wife Fannie, age 79, both also born in Rhode Island. Tracing the census records back, the ages were consistent in each census, Joshua and wife Fannie were in Plainfield, New York until the 1800 census which places them in Stonington, CT. Comparing land deeds and census records, evidence pointed towards the fact this Joshua and Fannie were the same couple that sold property in Hopkinton, RI on 9 April 1795.
In searching Town Council records, more evidence is found to prove that this Joshua’s father, Joshua, was the person that married Elizabeth Partelow (misinterpreted as “Dartts”) on 15 February 1759 in Hopkinton. She was born in Stonington, CT. In Town Council Book 2 page 185, 11 September 1783, “Whereas information hath been made to this council that Joshua Wells and his wife Elizabeth are in such a practice or habit in drinking spirituous liquor and omitting their business that they are likely to spend their estates and become chargeable to the town unless some method be speedily taken to prevent the same. Appointed Guardians, Thomas Wells and Henry Wells.” In Town Council Book 2 page 260, 17 October 1786, “Thomas Wells and his son, Cpt. Henry Wells resigned their Guardianship”. This Thomas would be Joshua’s brother and nephew, respectively. Both lived nearby.
It is fairly certain this Joshua, after giving his son land, stayed in Hopkinton and died there after 1783. The deed description of land, and census records directly link this Joshua Jr, who ended up in Plainfield, Otsego County, New York to the Wells family on the west side of the river. It has been assumed by myself and others, that Joshua and Elizabeth (Partelow) Wells had sons Gardner born 20 March 1770, Joshua born 17 July 1771 and Robert born 1781. However, if they were married in 1759, to have a first child 11 years after marriage was unusual. Also, it was assumed that that Joshua and Elizabeth had moved to Brookfield, New York, but Hopkinton Town Council records show otherwise.
If the Joshua Wells who was born 20 October 1733 went to live in Nelson, New York and died 28 May 1834 in Brookfield, New York, according to his gravestone in the town cemetery, that would have made him age 101 at death, highly unlikely. However, the Joshua Wells born 24 August 1743 would have been 91 and his wife Sylvia approx. 86 years at death.
The Joshua Wells who married Sylvia Bentley was born 24 August 1743 and was the son of James and Mary Barber Wells. The Joshua Wells that married Fannie___ was the son of Joshua and Elizabeth Partelow.
I have concluded through land records, census records, cemetery records and town council records the lineage as corrected should read;
Joshua (Sylvia Bentley) Wells (4), James (Mary Barber) Wells (3), Peter (Ann/Susannah) Wells (2), Peter (wife unknown) Wells (1).
Joshua (Fannie) Wells (5), Joshua (Elizabeth Partelow) Wells (4), Thomas (Phebe Green) Wells (3), Thomas (Sarah ___) Wells (2), Thomas (Naomi Marshall) Wells (1).
Joshua Wells, (1743-1834) the son of James Wells – The records of the First Sabbatarian Church of Hopkinton indicate that Joshua Wells was a member in July 1768 and that he had a first wife, Deborah, who was untied with the Church 22 September 1772. The church records do not indicate when he married the second time, but Sylvia is called his wife 22 June 1786.
In the New England Historical & Genealogical Register, “Christopher Clarke and his Descendants” explains the parentage of Sylvia Wells, the wife of Joshua. She was the daughter of Christopher Clarke and his unknown wife. The article states “The marriage of Sylvia Clarke and Joshua Wells has not been found in records, but is definitely proved by three old letters, now in the possession of Mrs. Hay, written by Sylvia Wells, wife of Joshua Wells, to her ‘Dear Sister Sarah’ wife of Carr Northrup. One was written from Hopkinton in 1793, another from Bridgewater, New York (next town from Brookfield) in 1813 and the third from Bridgewater in 1816.
Christopher Northrup, (son of Carr) in a letter to his mother from Pittsfield, New York in 1817, mentions a visit to his “Aunt Welles.” These letters also prove the migration of the family from Hopkinton, RI to Bridgewater, New York.
Joshua’s will, drawn in 1832 and proved in 1834 mentions his children in two groups of three children each. To Gardner, Joshua and Robert, he left equal portions of his estate, clothing and $10.00 each; To Elnathan, Sylvia and Belinda, he left the balance of his estate to be divided equally, subject to the widow’s bequest. This indicates quite clearly that the first three children were from his first wife and the last three by his second wife. Shortly before his death he added a codicil which disinherited his son, Elnathan, and bequeathed that would have been his to his children, William, Ebenezer, Ann, Gordon and Sally.