Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in 1635-36, later settling in Connecticut and
Born in England. Arrived in Massachusetts in 1635-36, later settling in Connecticut.
Thomas Welles was born about 1590 in Stourton, Whichford, Warwickshire, England, the son of Robert Welles and Alice Hunt. 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.
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, although no evidence exists as to his actual educational experiences.
Thomas Welles died 14 Jan 1659/60 in Wethersfield, Connecticut. On 5 Jul 1615 he married in Long Marston, Gloucestershire, England, Alice Tomes, the daughter of John Tomes and Ellen Gunne. She was born before 1593 in Stourton, Whichford, Warwickshire, England and died about 1640-46 in Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1646 Thomas Welles was married (2nd), at Wethersfield, Connecticut, to Elizabeth Deming Foote. She is the daughter of Jonathan Deming and Elizabeth Gilbert, widow of Nathaniel Foote. She was born 1595 in Colchester, Essex, England and died 28 Jul 1683 in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
Thomas Welles is the only man in Connecticut’s history to hold all four top offices: Governor, Deputy Governor, Treasurer and Secretary.
Many errors in the ancestry and descent of Gov. Thomas Welles come from the book titled Wells and Allied Families, privately printed for Catherine J. Welles and Frances S. Welles by the American Historical Society in New York in 1927. Many of these errors remain in various family histories. The text below provides the best modern information in correction of these errors.
Thomas Welles descended from a family that lived in Warwickshire, England for at least four generations. This family owned land, but was not counted as “gentlemen” or “nobility”. 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. Reports that Thomas Welles is descended from a family of Norman descent in Essex are erroneous. He is also not connected to the family of Sir Lionel de Welles, Baron Welles, and Governor of Ireland. The Thomas Welles of this line had received land in Burmington in Warwickshire from his father and may have lived there prior to his immigration to America. His family had been wealthy enough to have him educated in Latin.
While in England, in 1615, he married Alice Tomes of Long Marston, a parish just across the county line in Gloucestershire from Warwickshire. She was born in about 1593. On 5 Jul 1615, Thomas’ father and older brother deeded him property in Burmington, Warwickshire, in consideration for his upcoming marriage to Alice Tomes. This document established both the name of his wife and the name of his father and grandfather. This property was to be a jointure on behalf of Alice indicating that it would belong to her if she became a widow. It was purchased with her marriage portion.
Burmington is a very small parish and hamlet on the Worcestershire border, about 2 miles south east of Shipston-on-Stour and 4 miles east south east of Whichford, Warwickshire. Other nearby places are: Little Compton, Tredington, Long Compton, Tidmington, Tredington, Todenham, Barcheston and Sutton under Brailes. It lies on the banks of the river Stour. Burmington is in the hundred of Kington and the District of Stratford-on-Avon. 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 g-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. Winchcombe Abbey was surrendered to the Crown and then demolished in 1539. Some of its stones can still be found in Winchcombe – for example the lintel over the abbey gate now rests over the gate of what was once the George Inn. Fragments of the abbey can still be seen in various places in Winchcombe, notably the Corner Cupboard Inn on the Cheltenham road. A stone cross was erected in the 19th century to mark the center of the abbey tower. Very little now remains of the Abbey of Winchcombe. More remains of its great nearby rival, Hailes Abbey.
Parish registers in the area are available from about 1582. The church there is dedicated to St. Nicholas and St. Barnabas and is located in the diocese of Coventry. It does not appear that Thomas Welles had his children baptized in this Parish, perhaps because of his Puritan persuasions. Another possibility is that the Burmington property was not their primary residence or that their children were baptized in a nearby parish where older records are not available.
Contrary to previously published material, it cannot be established that Alice Tomes has any royal line of descent. Some sources have incorrectly reported that Thomas Welles married an “Elizabeth Hunt”, but this seems to come from a misreading of the court record. Thomas Welles’ sister’s father-in-law, Nicholas Hunt did give testimony, but this is not related to his marriage.
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 belonged 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, provide us with a fairly detailed description of Thomas Welles, his ancestors beginning with his g-grandfather, and his immediate family. Anyone interested in reading an 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.
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. 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’ g-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.
Thomas Welles 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.
Thomas Welles and his wife probably converted to the Puritan faith about 1620. His neighbors, George Wyllys, the Griswolds, Rev. Ephraim Huit and Daniel Clark were all becoming associated with each other and with the group around Rev. Thomas Hooker. Although there were economic reasons to go to America, in families with the wealth of the Welles, the religious reasons were probably paramount. There is no question that the vast majority of the Puritans had strong convictions and felt that they were doing God’s will by venturing to the new lands across the Atlantic.
A tradition, long believed to be true, connected Thomas Welles with the service of Lord Saye and Sele, and made him one of the first settlers of Saybrook in 1636. This has been quite thoroughly disproven in the light of more recent investigation, and all statements of this sort concerning the governor’s early career in America are purely conjectural. There is absolutely nothing to show that Governor Welles was ever secretary to Lord Say and Sele.
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.
Thomas Welles has no known formal relations with the Fiennes family, who were the most prominent Lords in that area of Warwickshire, seated at nearby Broughton Castle, but the Fiennes family along with William Sprigg purchased the Welles’ land at Burmington before they left for America. This took place 20 Aug 1635.
Thomas Welles and Alice Tomes 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 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 appears, therefore, that Thomas and Anne left England for religious, rather than economic reasons. Thomas Welles may have had some previous interest in New England because he owned a share in the Piscataqua patent in what is now New Hampshire. There is no evidence that he ever visited this site.
On 20 Aug 1635, before leaving for America, Thomas Welles and his wife Alice conveyed their land in Burmingham, Warwickshire to two men who later conveyed it to some others. These conveyances were subject to a lawsuit made by John Welles, Thomas’s nephew of Tidmington, England, who believed that he was the legal owner of the land. Thomas Welles and his wife acknowledged a document related to this suit on 9 Jun 1636 in Boston. Thomas may have traveled to Boston for this purpose from Cambridge where he was probably living at the time. This document confirms that Thomas Welles of New England was originally from Warwickshire. Additional documents involving this land are found from pleadings in a chancery suit brought in 1648 by John Welles and his son Robert, a minor, against the grantees of the land in Burmington.
It is established, therefore, that Thomas Welles arrived in Boston prior to 9 Jun 1636, when his deed was witnessed by Winthrop and Dudley. Also he was not the “Thomas Welles” who was a passenger on the Susan and Ellen in 1635, as some sources report. That Thomas was probably the Thomas Welles who became a resident of Ipswich, Massachusetts. This Thomas was single and was born in 1598 and was likely a servant in the household of Sir Richard Saltonstall. The name of the ship in which the future Gov. Thomas Welles arrived is not known but he sailed with his wife and six children.
After his arrival in America, Thomas Welles perhaps lived for a time at Newtown (now Cambridge), Massachusetts. Here he was listed as a head of household 8 Feb 1635/36. In Cambridge, it is likely that he became associated with Rev. Thomas Hooker, whom he may have known either personally or by reputation in England. It also appears that he and his family were part of the company of one hundred or so who trekked to Connecticut in June 1636, journeying over existing Indian trails from the Bay to the River for a period of about ten days to two weeks. The trail had been developed by the Indians to provide passage between the Bay and the Falls about a hundred miles west where the shad spawned their young every spring, and fish could easily be caught and dried. The trail followed the most level terrain and crossed the least number of streams. Parts of the Old Connecticut Path still exist, unpaved, in Ashford and along Lake Shenipsit in Ellington.
Thomas seems to have been in Hartford, Connecticut by the winter of 1637. His name appears early in Hartford town records among the inhabitants who, in 1639-40, had rights in the undivided lands. As such, his name appears on the “Founders Monument” in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground of the First Congregational Church of that city, presently known as “Center Church”. Afterwards he frequently served on town committees for the division of lands and determining the proportions and bounds of these divisions. He was also involved in the settlement of boundary disputes and the division among the Hartford settlers of the lands east of the river. He was quickly recognized as a man of education and ability and soon began a lifetime of public service to the Colony of Connecticut.
Thomas Welles served a total of 19 years in various Connecticut Colony positions. He was a member of the first Court of Magistrates, elected 28 Mar 1637 and was reelected to this position from 1638-1654. Also, in 1637 he was appointed Clerk of the General Court at its first meeting. It was the first court to meet independently of the Massachusetts government. It was at this court that the three river towns of Connecticut were given their names of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield. This court of 1637 also declared war on the Pequot Indians in retaliation for the killing of several early settlers and a deadly raid on Wethersfield, Connecticut. Ninety men were incorporated into a force for this war from the three towns then in the colony. The Pequot Indians occupied the Connecticut River Valley and were caught up in the competition for the area by both the English and the Dutch and fiercely defended their territory against these incursions. A Puritan raid was conducted on the Pequot town at Mystic and about 500 native men, women and children were burned in their village. Only about 30 or 40 Pequots escaped. Those captured were sold into slavery and the remaining warriors were eventually hunted down and killed. This was the first war between Native Americans and settlers in the United States Territory and effectively eliminated the Pequots. Further information on the incident known as the “Mystic Massacre” and the Pequot War may be found under the heading of John Mason (1600-1672), our 9th g-grandfather.
In the following year, Rev. Thomas Hooker preached his famous sermon in which he declared that the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people. He closed his sermon with the challenge, “As God has given us liberty, let us take it”. In his years as a pastor in England and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he had developed a political philosopy shared by Roger Ludlow and Rev. John Warham, which led to the removal of those parties from the Massachusetts Bay to the Connecticut River. While agreeing on theology, Warham and Hooker differed with Gay. John Winthrop and Rev. John Cotton on the nature of government. Winthrop and Cotton believed that God spoke only through the religious officials. Warham and Hooker believed that God spoke to all believers and that the entire body could therefore make political decisions. Hooker based his theology on the Old Testament incident in which God told Moses to take ten leaders elected by each of the twelve tribes of Israel to help him to render judgments. The General Court, including Welles, spent the ensuing year working this theory into a political document under the guidance of attorney Roger Ludlow, an organizer of the Warham party under Rev. John White of Dorchester in Dorset. The result was the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” of 1639. This document has been described as the world’s first written constitution and placed government in the hands of the people, giving them the right to choose their own leaders. As secretary to the General Court, Thomas Welles transcribed the Fundamental Orders into the official colony records on 14 Jan 1638. At the time the colony consisted of about 500 settlers, but had essentially declared its independence concerning internal affairs, while still owning general allegiance to the British crown.
In 1644, Thomas Welles was appointed one of the negotiators that set up the merger between the Saybrook Colony and Connecticut. It is likely that his English association with Warwickshire made him familiar with the Warwick Patentees who operated Saybrook Colony and put him in a good position to be a negotiator. It is unlikely, however, in spite of published reports, that he actually spent any time in Saybrook. His management of the potential threat of the Saybrook Fort at the mouth of the river and the encroachment of the Dutch from the West was certainly due to his diplomatic skill and wisdom.
In his capacity as Magistrate in 1648, 1651 and 1654, Thomas Welles sat on the panel hearing the witchcraft trials of Mary Johnson, John and Joan Carrington and Lydia Gilbert. He did not seem to have any special role in these trials.
In 1639 he was elected as the first treasurer of the Colony of Connecticut, and from 1640-1649 served as the secretary of the colony. He was frequently appointed to important committees and was heavily involved with the other leading men of the colony. He was a commissioner of the United Colonies from 1649 to 1659. At the last meeting of this body at Hartford in 1659, Thomas Welles was requested
…for the encouragement of the Indians at Wethersfield that attend Mr. Pierson and refrain from Pawauging (pow-wowing) and from labor on the Lord’s Day.
Mr. Usher was ordered to deliver to Mr. Welles, Deputy Governor of Connecticut, six yards of trading cloth to be distributed to the principal Indians amongst them.
Although Thomas Welles was listed as one of the first proprietors of Farmington, Connecticut, he did not settle there at any time. It is likely that his investment in property there was a financial opportunity. In 1646 he gave his property there, on the corner of Main Street and Farmington Avenue, with a dwelling house standing thereon, to his daughter Ann, when she married Thomas Thompson. The house lot included seven acres and 120 acres of arable land in the vicinity. Thomas Thompson and Ann Welles established their residence in Farmington primarily because of this generous wedding gift. The deed for this gift of land was only officially recorded 23 Jan 1714 when Joseph Hawley, the grandson of Thomas Thompson, brought them in to the courthouse.
On 18 May 1654 Thomas Welles was elected as Deputy Governor and became the acting governor while both Gov. Hopkins and Gov. Winthrop were in England. He was elected Governor in 1655 and 1658 and served again as Deputy Governor for 1656, 1657 and 1659. He was the fourth colonial Governor of Connecticut. At the time, the terms of the Governor were limited to one year at a time. He was also a commissioner to the New England Confederation in 1649 and in 1654 and served on the War Commission for Wethersfield in 1653.
Thomas Welles became involved in the settlement of Stratford, in Fairfield County, Connecticut and sent his son John there to manage his affairs. During his terms as Governor, there was a period of religious division centered around two religious leaders in Stratford. The General Court was unable to settle the differences, but the problem was largely solved when the dissenters moved to Hadley, Massachusetts, further up the Connecticut River and established their own church.
Thomas Welles lived in Hartford, Connecticut from 1636 until the time of his second marriage to Elizabeth (Deming) Foote in 1646. His house was on the same street as Govs. Edward Hopkins, George Wyllys, John Webster and Thomas H. Seymour, a street that was known as Governor Street until more recent times when the name was changed to Popieluszko Court. His new wife was managing the large estate of her former husband in Wethersfield and did not want to leave. Thomas, therefore, left his home in the center of Hartford and moved to Wethersfield with his younger children. His new wife already had seven children from her previous marriage. She and Thomas had no children from their marriage.
At Wethersfield Thomas bought Mr. John Plum’s eighteen-acre homestead. Later he bought the Swayne homestead that was inherited by his grandson Captain Robert Welles.
Thomas Welles wrote his will 7 Nov 1659. He died suddenly on 14 Jan 1659/60, being very well at supper and dead before midnight, according to a letter written at the time by Gov. Winthrop. Thomas Welles was probably buried at Wethersfield, Connecticut, and his remains may have been transferred to the “Ancient Burying Ground” in Hartford, as some sources indicate. In either case, his grave is presently unmarked. 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 (first husband of Thomas’ second wife) in Wethersfield is now the site of a Connecticut State prison.
The children of Thomas Welles and Alice Tomes are listed as follows (all born in Warwickshire, England except for Joseph, the youngest):
- Mary, born 1618 and died 31 Jul 1647 at Milford, Connecticut. Before 1642she married Timothy Baldwin.
- Ann Welles, born about 1619 and died 1680 at Farmington, Connecticut. On 14 Apr 1646 at Hartford, Connecticut she married Thomas Thompson. He was born 1 Oct 1610 in Whichford, Warwickshire, England and died 20 Apr 1655 in Farmington, Connecticut. Ann was married (second), on 16 Jul 1656 in Farmington, Connecticut to Anthony Hawkins.
- John, born about 1621 and died 7 Aug 1659 at Stratford, Connecticut. In 1647 in Stratford, Connecticut, he married (1st) Elizabeth Bourne. She was born 1627, probably in England and died 8 Oct 1668 at Stratford, Fairfield, Connecticut. She married (2nd), 19 Mar 1663 at Killingworth, Connecticut, John Wilcoxson of Stratford, Connecticut. He was born about 1633 in England and died 19 Mar 1690 at Stratford, Connecticut.
- Robert, born 1624 and died before 1635 in England.
- Thomas, born about 1625 and died 1668 at Hartford, Connecticut. He married Hannah “Anna” Tuttle, the widow of John Pantry.
- Samuel, born about 1628 and died 15 Jul 1675 at Wethersfield, Connecticut. He married (1st) Elizabeth Hollister, the daughter of John Hollister and Joanna Treat. He married (2nd) Hannah Lamberton, the daughter of George Lamberton and Margaret Lewen. She married (2nd) 1675, in Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, John Allyn.
- Sarah, born about 1631 and died 12 Dec 1698 in Wethersfield, Connecticut. She married John Chester, the son of Leonard Chester and Mary Sharpe.
- Joseph, born about 1637 perhaps in Hartford, Connecticut and died in 1659 in Connecticut. Little is known about him, and he apparently died before his father wrote his will.
The lineage of Ann Welles and Thomas Thompson is continued under the heading of Thomas Thompson (1610-1655).
 For more background on Rev. Thomas Hooker and the “Hooker Party” who traveled from Cambridge, Massachusetts to the Connecticut River valley and founded the town of Hartford, Connecticut, refer to the discussion under the heading of William Kelsey (1600-1676).
 Contrary to common assumption, New England’s first “witch” execution wasn’t at Salem. Alice Young was hanged in 1647 at Hartford, and over the next 50 years, at least fifty suspected witches would be indicted in Connecticut and before 1663 about ten were convicted and executed.
 Joseph Hawley (1675-1752) is my 8th g-grandfather.
 John Webster (1590-1661) is my 11th g-grandfather, discussed under his own heading.
 Anthony Hawkins is discussed under his own heading. He is my 9th g-grandfather through his first wife, Isabel Brown and through their daughter Mary Hawkins.
 John Wilcoxson is my 9th g-grand uncle. His parents, William Wilcoxson and Margaret Birdsey, discussed under their own heading, are my 10th g-grandparents through John’s brother, Timothy.