William Fletcher Weld

From the NEHGS Register… a copy of which was found in the barn in Brookline,  inscribed in pencil to Mrs. George L. Pratt, 1891.






 APRIL, 1891.



William Fletcher Weld

THE family of Weld dates back to 1352, William Weld, High Sheriff of London. The New-England branch came from Suffolk, the home of Governor Winthrop.

In 1632 Captain Joseph Weld, with his brother, the Reverend Thomas Weld, being “Puritans of the Puritans,” came to New England for freedom ; not penniless adventurers, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, but leaving behind home, comfort, pros­perity and assured position, for conscience’ sake.

Captain Joseph Weld settled in Roxbury, Mass., and became a freeman in the colony, which made him a grant of several hundred acres, now West Roxbury Park. This was the family home for nearly two hundred years.

Being well trained in arms, he was a valuable aid to Governor Winthrop in military affairs, and served in numerous fights with the Indians. His death was a great loss to the colony, and is mentioned by Winthrop. Savage stated that he was the richest man in the colony, at the time of his death, and was one of the first donors to Harvard College, of which his brother Thomas was of the first Board of Overseers.

William Fletcher Weld, the subject of this sketch, the sixth generation from Captain Joseph Weld aforesaid, was born in the old homestead, April 15th, 1800. His grandfather, Eleazer Weld, was a Judge, and also Colonel in the Revolutionary War, and Paymas­ter of Washington’s army at Cambridge, in 1777 and 1778.

His father, William Gordon Weld, was intended for the bar, but became a ship owner, sailed and loaded his own ship to foreign ports. It was he, who, while commanding his armed ship the “Jason” in 1802, off Tunis, beat off an Algerine pirate vessel and recaptured two American brigs with their crews. In July, 1812, returning in the ship Mary, with a valuable cargo of wine and Spanish silver dollars from Spain, not knowing that war had been declared, he ran into Boston harbor, right into the jaws of the British frigate Spartan, 38 guns, was captured and his vessel, crew and cargo sent to Hali­fax, and condemned. But the commander, Brenton, being an old friend, allowed him to escape without imprisonment, but almost penniless, to his home. In 1798 he married Hannah Minot, daugh­ter of Jonas Clarke Minot, a well-known merchant of Boston.

The family losses during the Revolution, and the death of Colonel Weld, necessitated the sale of the old homestead in Roxbury, in order to divide the property among his brothers and sisters.

William Fletcher Weld was the eldest of eleven children, and only twelve years old at the time. At the age of fifteen he was obliged to forego Harvard College, for which he was intended, and went into the office of T. K. Jones & Co., largely engaged in foreign trade, and considered the leading importers of Boston.

He became their head confidential clerk; and at twenty-two years of age went into business for himself, which prospered well until he was induced to take a partner, who started a house in North Caro­lina, and by bad management wrecked the firm.

Mr. Weld was obliged to spend a whole year at the South to settle the firm’s obligations, and returning to Boston, “cast down but not destroyed,” recommenced business as a commission merchant on Central Wharf. When able to do so, he sought out his old credi­tors, by whom lie had been legally released, and paid them in full.

In 1833 he built the ship “Senator” at Charlestown, the largest ship of that day; and from that time forward, ship after ship was added to his fleet, until the firm of William F. Weld & Co. became the largest ship owners in America, and it might be truly said that “their sails whitened every sea.”

He also became interested in the building of railroads in this country, and was a large stockholder and influential director in many of the Western railroads, as well as in those of New England. It was largely through his instrumentality that the Boston & Maine Railroad was built into Boston in 1844. He imported the rails for this road, and transacted the business so much to the satisfaction of Messrs. Thompson and Forman, the leading ironmasters of England, that they sent for him to visit them; which resulted in his becoming their sole agent in America of all their rails.

The able and liberal manner in which he negotiated these sales to the Western railroads, made it possible to build roads and open up new territory that otherwise might have remained unoccupied for years, and brought him in contact with all the principal men of the great West.

He was a man of uncommon foresight, prudence, and sagacity. His investments were wisely made, and he owed his great success to his good judgment and steady belief in their future value, rarely selling, through all the various depressions and panics that have taken place from time to time in this country.

Foreseeing the decline in the shipping interest in America, no more ships were built, and the fleet was gradually disposed of. Mr. Weld retired from business in 1861, and henceforward devoted his attention largely to real estate, purchasing and building stores and warehouses in Boston and New York, believing real estate in the large growing cities to be the only safe investment of property in this country for a long series of years. This policy he directed, in his will, should be carried out by his trustees.

Mr. Weld was the oldest of eight brothers, none of whom died young, but the Hon. Francis M. Weld was the only one who sur­vived him.

It was as a memorial of his brother, Hon. Stephen Minot Weld, one of the overseers of Harvard College, that he built and presented to that institution, Weld Hall.

He gave a Home to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, where he died, December 12th, 1881, leaving a handsome sum to the Butler Hospital, and other charities.

He was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, close to the old home­stead where he was born, and where six generations of his ancestors had lived and died.

His ample fortune was the result of his activity, industry and decision, united with a sagacity rarely equalled in the business life of any American merchant.

In his religious belief he was Unitarian; and he was Republican in his politics.

He left a widow, two sons and two daughters, and four grand­children.

He became a member of this Society in June, 1870.

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