Select Wells Surname Genealogy

Wells derives from the Anglo-Saxon word waella which described a spring (rather than a well) and probably a spring associated with a holy place.  The surname Wells might describe either someone who llived by a spring or someone from a place called Wells.
The two main place names for Wells in England have been:
  • the cathedral city of Wells in Somerset
  • and the village of Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk. 
They both appeared in the Domesday Book, as Weile and Guella respectively

The surname Welles is thought to have originated from the Lincolnshire village of Well, also to be found in the Domesday Book.  Welles has persisted as a surname, although it has usually contracted to Wells.   

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Select Wells Ancestry

England.  Wells place names provided the earliest instances of Wells's use as a surname:
  • Edward de Wells was a 12th century landowner in the city of Wells, Somerset.  His sons Hugh and Jocelin both became bishops, Hugh of Lincoln and Jocelin of Bath and Wells.
  • Adam de Welles of Lincolnshire was made the 1st Baron de Welles in the 13th century.  Later Barons fought and died in the Wars of the Roses (including Sir Robert Welles who was executed for rebellion in 1469).  Anne Welles of this family was the great great great grandmother of Anne Boleyn.
Wells in Somerset and Welles in Lincolnshire might suggest that there was both a western and an eastern focus for the Wells surname.  However, the subsequent distribution of the Wells name shows that Wells has not been that common in the west of England.  It was found from early times in East Anglia, London and Kent

Kent  John Wells was a naval storekeeper (and a budding mathematician) in Deptford in the early 17th century; and there are Kent family histories from the early 18th century out of Margate, Tonbridge, Woodchurch, and Penshurst (the last-named being the starting point for the family of the writer H.G. Wells).

Yorkshire  There was also an early Wells outpost in north Yorkshire, in and around Ripon.  Robert Welles held land at Galphay in the parish of Kirkby Malzeard in the 1550's.  The family farm, Cow Myers, stayed with the Wells until the 19th century.  William Wells grew up in Thirsk in the 1750's.

"A mason, he built the Methodist Chapel at Thirsk and knew John Wesley, who hand knelt in prayer with William and his wife Margaret and commended them both to the Divine protection when they left Yorkshire."

They travelled to Boston and eventually settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Wells name is to be found in Dumfries, but pronounced as "Walls."  James and Mary Wells of Dumfries who boarded the boat for Australia in 1852 were in fact listed as Walls.

Ireland.  Irish Wells seemed to be concentrated in Ulster and were probably of English or Scottish descent.  Samuel Wells was on the Antrim flaxgrowers' list of 1796.  There were Wells in and around Lurgan in county Armagh during the 19th century.
America.  here were early Wells/Welles arrivals into New England and into Virginia and Maryland.

New England  Thomas Welles from Stourton in Warwickshire, came to Hartford, Connecticut in 1636 and later settled in Wethersfield.  He was for a short time the colonial governor of the Connecticut colony. His descendants were numerous and included:
  • Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War
  • Roger Welles, San Diego's first "navy mayor" during World War One
  • Henry Wells who founded both the American Express Company and the bank Wells Fargo
  • and Daniel Wells the Mormon, an early mayor of Salt Lake City. 
There are also believed to be connections to Gerald Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Sarah Palin.  The Descendants of Thomas Welles by Donna H. Semiatkoski was published in 1990.

Other early Wells arrivals were:
  • Thomas Wells, who had arrived with his parents in 1635 and later settled in Hadley, Massachusetts. One branch of this family moved to Vermont and included in their number the Civil War General William Wells.  Another went south to Louisiana in the late 1700's and held sway there until the Civil War.
  • William Wells of Northold, who came to New England in the 1630's.  Tradition has him as one of the founders of Northold on Long Island in 1640.  It was the first English settlement in what was then Dutch New Amsterdam.  This Wells' lineage has been the subject of two books, William Wells of Southold and His Descendants by the Rev. Charles Wells Hayes in 1878 and William Wells of Southold by Walter M. Wells a century later in 1986. 
Virginia and Maryland  Stephen Wells came to Richmond county, Virginia in 1662.   His descendants headed south in 1819 to Louisiana.  William Wells and his family were among the first settlers of the Ponchatoula area of Louisiana.  

James Wells, who was brought to Maryland in 1669.  He was the progenitor of the Little Wells family of the early 1700's in Baltimore (as opposed to the Big Wells family also there at that time).
From these early immigrants came two Wells politicial dynasties of the 19th century, one in Louisiana and the other in Utah. 
  • Louisiana  Levi Wells had secured land from the Spanish in the 1790's in Rapides parish and started the family's cotton plantations.  His sons James Madison and Jefferson Wells were planters there and active in the local politics in the years up to the Civil War (James was briefly Governor of the state in 1864). 
  • Utah  Daniel Wells had emigrated to Salt Lake Valley with the Mormon pioneers in 1848.  His family became politically prominent in Utah's early years, intermarrying with other prominent local families such as the Cannons, the Grants, and the Bennetts.
Canada.  One of the first Wells in Canada was possibly William Wells from Thirsk in Yorkshire who arrived in New Brunswick in 1773 and settled with his family in Point de Bute.  Another Wells family, this time from Ireland, came to Guysboro, Nova Scotia around 1802.  Later Wells here were sea captains.   

There were Wells among the Loyalists who migrated north to Canada after the Revolutionary War.  One such was William Wells from New Hampshire.  He crossed the border as a young lad in 1787 and settled in the Maitland area along the St. Lawrence river.  His son W.B. Wells became actively involved in the Reform politics of the 1830's.

Australia.  Henry and Hannah Wells, newly married in Wiltshire, departed for Melbourne on the Adromache in 1839.  They settled first in Sorrento and later in Frankston, Victoria and raised thirteen children, twelve of them boys.

Select Wells Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Adam de Welles distinguished himself in warfare and was made Baron de Welles by Edward I in 1299.
Henry Wells was the 19th century American businessman instrumental in the founding of both the American Express Company and Wells Fargo.
Ida Wells, born a slave in Mississippi, was an early crusader for civil rights in America.
Sister Jane Wells was a Victorian nursing heroine revered almost as much as Florence Nightingale in her time.
H.G. Wells was the English writer best known for his science fiction works like War of The Worlds.
Orson Welles was the American film director, writer and actor, who first scared audiences in 1938 with his radio renditon of H.G. Wells' War of The Worlds. 

Select Wellses Today
  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 61,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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