Capt. William Gordon Weld: Excerpts From “A Family Letter”

The following, by W. Rodman Peabody, was taken from Frances Weeks Lawrence’s manuscript, and was originally published in the Bulletin of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.



In common with so many other New Englanders, the Welds heard the call of the sea ringing loudly and persistently in their ears. By 1802 at least one member of the family was trading with Europe, in command of his own square-rigged ships. In 1802, William Gordon Weld, while in command of his armed ship “Jason” off Tunis, fought and beat off an Algerian ship, one of the terrors of the sea, and recaptured two American brigs with their crews. In 1812, his ship “Mary” was lying in the river at Lisbon. He had discharged his cargo of dried fish and barrel staves and was waiting for his factor to collect his return cargo. Nearby the English frigate “Spartan” swung at her anchor. He [Weld] was of companionable character and like all other Welds since his time regarded a good cook as one of the necessities of life. It was a natural result, therefore, that Mr. Weld and the captain of the “Spartan” formed the habit of dining with each other on alternate evenings. Eventually, the “Spartan” received orders to sail for England, and dropped down the river on an ebbing tide. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Weld, despairing of obtaining a profitable cargo, determined to return to Boston in ballast with the proceeds of his outward voyage converted into doubloons, which were packed into kegs.

The voyage was monotonously slow, but Cape Cod was passed at last. Just as he raised Boston Light, a familiar sail appeared to windward. It turned out to be the “Spartan.” She bore away and signaled Mr. Weld to back his foresail. A boat was launched from her and came alongside to receive the cordial greetings of the American. To Mr. Weld’s amazement, the embarrassed lieutenant in command announced that the War of 1812 had begun, and that the ship was a prize of war and was to be taken to Halifax for condemnation. In memory, however, of many pleasant dinners, the captain authorized the lieutenant to permit Mr. Weld to leave the ship in his dinghy and proceed to shore balanced by a keg of his own doubloons. He landed, lonely and disgruntled, somewhere near Wollaston Beach, heaved the keg onto his shoulder and made the best way he could to his West Roxbury home. His cup of wrath ran over when he found the house empty and locked. In his absence, his wife, fearing a British raid, had sought security for herself and her children with relations in Lancaster. It is said that Mr. Weld became so angry that he pulled up a chair on the veranda put his feet on the railing and took an oath that he never again would do any work. His vow, it is believed, he fulfilled. At any rate, I myself have investigated the railings and found in them deep dents which could only have been made by the repeated scratches of cowhide boots. So, there is every reason to believe that the story is true.[1]


[1] Capt. William Gordon Weld built this house, in the West Indian style, with his wife Hannah Minot [See illus. above–LSL], in 1799. It stood on the corner of Asticou Road and South Street, just next to the Arnold Arboretum. After Mrs. Weld’s death, it was sold first to a Mr. Wilson, and then to a sculptor, Horatio Greenough. Eventually, around 1829, it was transferred to the Minot family’s possession, and at one point was residence to Mayor Peters of Boston (1918-1922) and his wife who was a Minot. At this time it was called the Peters Mansion or the Peters Homestead. Unfortunately, the house has not survived.

The land it was on is described thus. “Stony Brook runs through the dell back of the garden, with a line of fine old oaks and butternut-trees on its banks. Years since, when trenching the land, the smooth bed of the broad Stony River was reached, into which some of the large trees had fallen and lain imbedded in the mud, well preserved. A perfect beaver dam was also discovered there, and marks of beavers’ teeth on some of the trees. Various Indian relics have been unearthed in different parts of the place.”



The Weld Homestead, Roxbury, MA

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