Weld Family

William Weld, courtesy Washington Times.

William Weld, courtesy Washington Times.

When William Weld was inaugurated as governor of Massachusetts last month, the media chose to illustrate the lengthy local Weld connection with shots of Weld Hall in Harvard Yard and the Weld Boathouse on the Charles River. These Cambridge views did not get to the family's home turf, which could have been shown by footage of the Arnold Arboretum.

In the earliest days of European presence here, three Weld brothers arrived in Boston. The oldest sibling Daniel taught at the Roxbury Latin School. The middle brother, Thomas, became minister of the First Church of Roxbury. He also helped John Eliot with the Bay Psalm book, and became an Overseer of the infant Harvard College. In 1641 he returned to England as Bay Colony agent and never returned. His son remained, from whom the abolitionist Theodore Weld of Hyde Park was descended. The youngest brother, Joseph, turned to military matters, and from him stem all the local Welds.

In 1643, a vicious war with the Pequot Indians of northern Connecticut broke out. Because of Joseph's participation in the war and the negotiations after the war, the colonial legislature granted Capt. Weld an untamed tract of 278 acres in the central part of the immense Town of Roxbury. This was the area beyond the tiny village of Jamaica Plain between the brand-new South and Centre Streets and possibly some land on the far side of Centre Street. This section of town was drained by Sawmill (or Bussey) Brook which meandered gently through the present Arboretum towards Stony Brook.

Arboretum visitors will notice that the terrain is not wholly suited to farming, but the grant made the captain wealthy. Joseph became one of the first donors to Harvard, founded the Ancient and Honorable Military Company, and remained on his homestead on Roxbury Street until he gave the tract to his son, John, who became a captain in King Philip's War (1675/6). John built his home on the present Arboretum's rear in the lee of what got to be called Weld Hill off 383 South Street.

John became self-sufficient and made money selling wood and produce. His descendants moved on to develop the valley of Sawmill Brook (bought for the current VFW Parkway in 1854) as the Williams Farm, whose house overlooked the present church at the start of the parkway. Further out was the Weld Farm of living memory at Church and Weld Streets on the Brookline border, extending through what is now Hancock Village (once the Weld Golf Course). In chronicles kept by some of the older families, Gertrude Weld Arnold recalled the Old Farm (as she titled her book), famous for its commercial products. Weld Street is correctly named as it connects two Weld Tracts, and its service station can be proud of its name.

Several generations lived in the first Weld Hall. The last one there was Eleazer Weld, honored each Memorial Day by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society at his grave in First Church's Burying Ground. An ardent son of liberty like the rest of his family (seven Welds marched on April 19, 1775), he was active before and during the Revolution but financially strapped by the war. After his death in 1800, some 120 acres of the original tract were sold to revolutionary veteran and silversmith, Benjamin Bussey, who removed Weld Hall and built there a fine house in 1815, demolished in 1940.

The nearby brook and hill took on a new owner's name, which they retain today. When Bussey died in 1842, he left his acreage to Harvard University to establish a school of agriculture and horticulture. The request took some time to carry out, but in 1871 the well-remembered Bussey Building of Roxbury puddingstone, brick trim and sloping slate roof had been built with the Bussey Institute offering instruction on its seven acres. The building stood next to the new State Lab for a while in the 1970's until it burned.

The rest of the Bussey request became, in 1872, a place for the scientific study of trees and shrubs (since enlarged by 140 acres). It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world. By agreement with the City of Boston in 1882 it is now parkland, belonging to and maintained by the city while the university cares for the trees and shrubs. The lease runs for 1,000 years with the privilege of renewal.

The Arboretum is actually named for James Arnold of New Bedford, who wanted some of his estate used like the Bussey legacy. Collaboration by landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, and horticultural genius Charles Sprague Sargent, assured the initial usefulness and beauty of the Arboretum, which gloriously continues. The home turf of the Welds, once so practical, has taken on a splendid new aura of utility.

A portion of the Weld tract may have been sold as the 19th century began, but there was more than half left to support coming generations. In addition, the recognized ability, sterling character, clear judgment, friendliness, loyalty, and sympathy that are mentioned in biographical notices of family members, would mark new members in a century as fresh as the opportunities that beckoned in and beyond an infant United States. The family's focus shifted from farming to trading on the high seas.

Eleazer's fifth son, William Gordon Weld, named for the fiery Scotch minister of JP's First Church, founded a fleet of China trading vessels. Once established, he built with his wife, Hannah Minot, the house that formerly stood on the corner of Asticou Road and South Street. By the mid-19th century the house was in the Minot family's possession, and here lived Mayor Peter of Boston (1918-1922) with his Minot wife. The Minot name also stayed in two of William Gordon Weld's children, Christopher Minot and Stephen Minot.

Redoubling his father's efforts, William Fletcher Weld established a world-class fleet of ships that sailed under the black horse flag, which would give his granddaughter, Mrs. Larz Anderson, the title for a book on the family. When his brother, Stephen Minot, died unexpectedly, the merchant prince gave Harvard College its Weld dormitory. Stephen had earlier bought a large house opposite the monument at South and Center Streets and had run a boarding school there that served international clientele from 1827 to 1857. He also speculated in JP real estate.

Stephen Minot's daughter married the First Church minister and built a house farther along on this new Weld Tract (796 and 800 Centre Street). Her brother became a general in the Civil War and later became a wool and cotton merchant. He moved to Dedham, where his estate was renowned for it's landscaping. He had a son, Arthur Cyril Gordon Weld, who was the unique musician among the Welds. He mostly wrote sacred choral music.

William Fletcher Weld's children laid the foundation for the other Weld tracts that were still familiar a generation ago. William Gordon Weld, named for his grandfather, kept his hands on the family business and built an estate at the Boston/Brookline border, having married a Goddard. Their son, Charles Goddard Weld, trained as a doctor. His land is now part of Hellenic College.

The other part of the new tract survives as Larz Anderson Park. This occurred because Charles' cousin, Isabella Perkins Anderson, bought a piece of the William Gordon Weld estate and tore down the old house to produce her own of pleasant memory. When she died in 1948, she left the estate to her town as a park, where a plaque still proclaims the old estate's name of Weld.

Another son of William Fletcher was George Walker Weld, who built the Weld Boathouse on Cambridge's Memorial Drive near Harvard for the use of rowers. He had a sister, Sarah, who named her daughter from an ancestor in the Weld tradition. Mary Bryant Pratt Brandagee formed another vast tract along the Boston/Brookline border. Most of the buildings still stand off Allendale Road. At her greatest acreage in 1890, she joined the Weld Farm in West Roxbury with the Andersons' estate.

In addition, area real estate atlases show other Weld holdings. A big area was along Forest Hills Street by the Arborway yards. A Forest Hills Weld was Rev. George, an Episcopal minister, who served in California.

A Nathaniel Weld held a stretch along South Street near St. Thomas Aquinas Church. An array of Weld names run in bits and pieces along the railroad right-of-way, harkening back to the original Weld tract, which certainly started at Stony Brook, which the railroad covered up.

The current governor descends from Dr. Francis Minot Weld, another grandson of William and Hannah Weld. After medical school, he served in the Civil War and then practiced with his uncle Christopher in his house at the corner of Holbrook and Centre Streets. He then moved on to New York City but later died in JP. Of his sons, Christopher Minot was a renowned mining engineer and Francis, the governor's grandfather, a veteran and banker. This is the chronicle of the JP Welds.


R. Heath, Allandale Woods, Boston Natural Areas Fund, Boston 1989; A. Badger, The Welds, privately printed, Chestnut Hill, 1987; F. S. Drake, The Town of Roxbury, Roxbury, 1878; S. B. Sutton, Arnold Arboretum: The First Century, Boston, 1971; Harvard University Handbook, Cambridge, 1936; G. W. Arnold, The Old Farm, Boston, 1937, Isabella Anderson, Under the Black Horse Flag, Boston, 1926; H. M. Whitcomb, Annals of Jamaica Plain, Boston, 1897; Directory of American Biography; National Cyclopedia of American Biography; William Gordon Weld, "The Family of Weld", Ms in NE History & Genealogy Society; C. W. Fowler, History of the Weld Family, 1879.

February 1991