Pratt, Benajah
Archive of incoming correspondence and ephemera of Benajah Pratt, of Oxford, Maine, including letters from the family of Boston merchant John Welch, founder of Welchville, Maine, 1812-1939

679 letters, 1181 manuscript pages, dated 1812-1939, with about half dating from 1840s-1860s, plus approximately 1,750 pieces of paper ephemera as follows: 1285 pieces of receipts for goods, or services, foodstuffs, property taxes, various accounts, etc., as well as 465 legal documents such as court writs, warranty deeds, mortgages, quit claims, promissory notes, contracts/agreements, property assessments, affidavits, as well as school report cards, newspaper clippings, memorandum notes, used envelopes, verse, genealogy pages, plat maps, and one photograph.

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Description of Correspondence:

          The letters from the period of 1840 to 1870 are mostly incoming letters written by members of the Welch family and various other individuals to Benajah Pratt, Jr. The letters are written by business associates of Pratt, attorneys, or by friends and family. Pratt also writes several letters, some are copies. The main correspondents are:

           228 letters, 382 pp., of the family of John Welch, dated 1841-1863. The collection includes the father John Welch (138 letters, 214 pp.), his sons George W. Welch (37 letters, 80 pp.) and Wilson Jarvis Welch (45 letters, 79 pp.), and his wife, Elizabeth Hunt Welch (8 letters, 9 pp). The letters are mostly sent from Boston, Massachusetts by the Welch family to Benajah Pratt, Jr. at Oxford, Maine. There are several letters that were not sent to Pratt. John Welsh writes to Pratt from 1841-1850. His wife Elizabeth writes to Pratt between 1849-1851. George W. Welch writes to Pratt from 1845-1858, with Wilson J. Pratt writing to him between 1843 and 1863. Elizabeth Welch writes to Pratt about looking out for her son George, as well as asking about sending her money, or looking out for family property and goods. Pratt, a lawyer, appears to have been overseeing the Welch family property, and more so after the death of John Welch in 1851. He appears to work for them, as well as being a family friend. Wilson J. Welch is an attorney based in Boston and George W. Welch, like his father, appears to be a merchant and also based in Boston. John Welch was a wealthy Boston merchant who purchased considerable property in the Oxford, Maine area, with a town springing up around it, given the name "Welchville," and which was eventually incorporated into Oxford.

          12 letters, 19 pp., of Benajah Pratt, Jr, 1844-1869, with several of the letters being copies. The letters are written to various individuals some being: John Welch, S. Greenley, the President and Directors of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad, W. McIntire, Pratt's son H. P. Pratt, a Mr. Megall, and others. Benajah was located either at his home in Oxford, Maine, or was traveling to Boston, Ipswich, Woburn, and other locations.

          5 letters, 7 pp., of Randolph A.L. Codman, of Portland and Paris, Maine, dated 1845-1850. Codman was one half with Edward Fox of the law firm of Codman & Fox, which operated in Portland, Maine from about 1837 to 1847. Codman was the son of James Codman and Elizabeth Waite of Portland and was born in 1793. His father had a farm at Gorham, Maine. Codman lived and died in Portland and was considered a "prominent" attorney of the city. He died in 1853 and was buried at the Western Cemetery in Portland.

          16 letters, 24 pp., of Codman & Fox, dated 1841-1846. Codman & Fox was a Portland, Maine law firm, which operated from 1837 to 1847, the partners being Randolph A.L. Codman and Edward Fox, both natives of Portland. The letters are mostly written to Benajah Pratt, Jr, at Oxford, Maine, or at Welchville, Maine. Two of the letters are written to attorney Wilson Jarvis Welch at Oxford, Maine. Wilson was the son of John Welch.

          3 letters, 3 pp., of Edward Fox, dated 1848-1849. Fox was born at Portland, Maine in 1815. He graduated from Harvard College in 1834, pursued his preparatory legal studies in the office of Willis & Fessenden in Portland, and at the Dane Law School, taking the degree of L.L.B. in 1837, and admitted to the bar. He at once became a co-partner with Randolph A.L. Codman, with whom he continued as Codman & Fox until 1847, when he took his younger brother Frederick as a partner under the firm name of E. & F. Fox. He was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine on 24 October 1862 and resigned in March of 1863. He was appointed Judge of the District Court of the United States for the District of Maine by President Johnson in 1866. Fox died in 1881. Here he writes to Benajah Pratt, Jr. from his home in Portland.

          17 letters, 19 pp., of broker John Gunnison, dated 1849-1857. Gunnison writes to Benajah Pratt, Jr. from his home in Portland, Maine.

          21 letters, 39 pp., of Robert Hilborn, Jr, and family, of Boston, Massachusetts, dated 1845-1859, written to Benajah Pratt, Jr. at East Oxford, Welchville, Oxford, Maine. Robert Hilborn, Jr. writes 15 of the letters. He appears to have owned a farm or land at Oxford, Maine, went to Boston for business, and has some sort of business in New York City as well. Other family members who write are: S.D. Hilborn, P.O. Hilborn, and A.G. Hilborn. The name is also seen as Hilburn.

          37 letters, 65 pp., of broker Charles McIntier, of Boston, Massachusetts, dated 1840-1859, and written to Benajah Pratt, Jr. McIntier was a broker working with Pratt on various projects.

          The rest of the collection, approximately 340 letters, 623 pp., were written by various individuals to Benajah Pratt, Jr. in the 1840s to late 1870s (he died in 1878), generally business letters. There is also letters that appear to be written perhaps by later generations of the family from the 1860s to the 1930s to each other.

          Much of the correspondence (80 letters) of the 1880s and 1890s deal with the Cruson, Love, and Wallace families, with several letters also from these families in the 1860s and 1870s as well. There are amongst these letters, 46 letters of one Nelson A. Wallace, who lived and worked at various locales such as Daulton and Atlanta, Georgia; Massillon and Defiance, Ohio; and Cape Charles, North Hampton Co., Virginia. Wallace starts out in Georgia, then goes to Defiance and Massillon, Ohio, then moves on to a Cape Charles City firm called "Marshall & Greenler," were he works in the manufacture of the "Kerr Ventilated Barrel." He writes mostly to his daughter "Vada."  Vada is a nickname for Nevada, and she also appears to go by Neva.  Her full name (according to an article in the Elyria Chronicle of 26 Oct .1907, Page 1) is Mrs. Sierra Nevada Wallace Periszek. Vada appears to have been previously married to a man named Slatore. The Wallace family was a prominent family of Elyria, Ohio, owning much property at one point. Vada's mother's name is Delia Cruson Wallace.

          In other letters in the collection, Delia Curson Wallace corresponds with her sisters Margaret Cruson Murch of Jonesville, and Rachel Grace Cruson Love, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rachel goes by Grace and she is married to James K. Love. The Loves live in Grand Rapids and run a business called "James K. Love & Son" manufacturers of pork, beef, stucco and plaster barrels. In the letters of N.A. Wallace, he writes of being in the coopering business. The Cruson sisters' father was John Cruson of Maryland, their mother Eleanor Ferrell of Kentucky.

          There are 12 letters from the 1900s-1930s, a number of these dealing with someone by the name of Prof. John F. Moody, who appears to have been related to the Pratt family. Moody lived, or owned property in Florida. Besides, correspondence, there is a folder of ephemera for him as well. It is unclear what the exact relationship between the Wallace family and the Pratt or Welch families might have been, but further research is needed.

           The extensive ephemera section (approximately 1,750 pieces) of this archive gives much insight into the business dealings of the Pratt and Welch families. John Welch, based in Boston, used Benajah Pratt, Jr. as his attorney in Oxford (Welchville), Maine, and Pratt handled comsiderable business on behalf of Welch. The various ephemera receipts show the multitudes of transactions of Pratt on behalf of Welch, as well as other business ventures of Pratt. Real Estate and lumber played a key role in these business transactions, with timber being cut on Welch's properties to be sent to the lumber mills for building, or for staves for barrel making for example. There are also many financial transactions on various loans, or promissory notes, and property being bought and sold, local taxes being paid. Pratt was an attorney, so there is also client paperwork, such as estates' paperwork, etc. Included in this ephemera section of 1750 pieces, there are 465 legal documents such as court writs, warranty deeds, mortgages, quit claims, promissory notes, contracts/agreements, property assessments, affidavits, as well as school report cards, newspaper clippings, memorandum notes, some verse, genealogy pages, plat maps, and one photograph.

              Benajah Pratt, Jr. (1801-1878)

Benajah Pratt was born 26 August 1775 at Middleboro, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Bay, the son of Abner Pratt (1746-1831) and Ruth Bryant (1750-?). Pratt's parents were from Massachusetts and at some point moved to Maine, where Abner Pratt died in 1831 at Oxford, Maine. Abner Pratt was stated to have served in the Revolutionary War with the Massachusetts Line.

Benajah Pratt was married to Charity Elmes (1780-1842) on 24 August 1800 at Middleborough, Massachusetts and had at least four children: Benajah Pratt, Jr. (1801-1878), William Pratt (1802-), Almenia Pratt (1806-) and Alanson Pratt (1808-). Benajah Pratt, Sr. moved from Middleboro, Massachusetts to Hebron, Maine. It is Benajah Pratt's son, Benajah Jr.,that many of the letters in this collection were written to.

Benajah Jr. married Margaret Stedman on 28 March 1824 at Hebron. She was the daughter of John Stedman and Sarah Kingsbury. She was born about 1798 and died soon her marriage in 1825, likely during childbirth as her son Horatio was born that year. Benajah Jr. appears to have married a second time, to Ruth W. Pratt, who died on 12 January 1869.

Benajah Pratt, Sr. died 8 May 1871 at Oxford, Maine at the age of 95 years and 3 months and was buried at Shepards Field Cemetery, Oxford County, Maine. Both wives of Benajah Pratt, Jr. were also buried at Shepards Field Cemetery.

Benajah Pratt, Jr. (1801-d. 1 March 1878) acted as a one-time justice of the peace in Oxford, Maine, he was also associated with others in building the first mill at Welchville, named for John Welch, a wealthy Boston merchant who owned much of the property in the area.

In 1873, Benajah Pratt, Jr. with Seth T. Holbrook, Joseph Robinson, John J. Perry, Francis C. Richards, Charles F. Durell, Morris Clark, Joseph French, Seth H. Faunce, Cyrus S. Hayes, Thomas Baker and Francis Holden, incorporated a company called the Oxford Mill Company, a grist mill and saw mill business, which also manufactured wood, lumber, iron and other articles. They erected the mill, which was to be operated by steam and/or water. There are several letters in this collection from Pratt's partners in this mill, or they are mentioned in some of the correspondence (Robinson, Durell, Hayes, etc.).

            John Welch (1790-1851) and Family

John Welch was born about 1790, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Welch (1760-1832) and Elizabeth Jarvis (1757-1838). The Welch family was an old Boston family that arrived in that city in the 17th Century. There are 228 letters of the Welch family in this collection, and they are the chief correspondents to Benajah Pratt, Jr.

John Welch was a Boston merchant. He married Elizabeth Hunt (died 23 Aug. 1852) the daughter of John Hunt and Rhoda Reed. Together they had at least the following children: William Welch (born about 1814), Wilson Jarvis Welch (1818-1885), Thomas Welch (born about 1825), and John Hunt Welch (-1852,) and a Harrison Welch (born about 1828). The correspondence in the collection also shows that George W. Welch was another son. John Welch died on 6 January 1851.

Wilson Jarvis Welch was born in 1818 at Pennington, New Jersey. He married Elizabeth Fearing Thatcher (1822-1879) in 1842 at Boston. The couple had at least three children: Elise Hunt Welch Read, Maria Eldredge Welch, and Emeline Thatcher Welch. He was an attorney in Boston. Wilson J. Welch died on 24 May 1885 at Newton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Wilson's brother John Hunt Welch died in October 1852. He had married Elizabeth Trull (1817-1895). After the death of her husband, Elizabeth married Edward H. Eldredge in 1857. She died on the 4th of July in 1895. There are a couple of letters with the Trull and Eldredge names on them.

            Oxford, Maine

The correspondence centers around the town of Oxford, Maine, the town that over half of the correspondence pertains to, was located on land that was part of Shepardsfield Plantation (also called Bog Brook Plantation), granted on March 8, 1777 by the Massachusetts General Court to Alexander Shepard, Jr. of Newton, Massachusetts. The Pratt's family burial plot is in Shepards Cemetery.

On March 6, 1792, the plantation was incorporated as Hebron, with Oxford its southwesterly portion. First settled in 1794, Oxford was set off and incorporated on February 27, 1829. It annexed land from Otisfield in 1830, and Paris in 1838.The town was named after Oxford, in England.

Farmers grew mostly hay, and the town became noted for cattle. Mills were established at 2 water power sites; these developed in the 19th-century into principal villages (Oxford and Welchville) within the town, especially after the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway in the 1850s.  At the outlet of Thompson Lake was Oxford village, first called Craigie's Mill for the sawmill and gristmill built by Andrew Craigie, a Boston apothecary and land speculator. From a history of Oxford published in 1888 we find that the Grand Trunk Railway passed through the midst of the town, in the same general line with the river, and had a station (Oxford Depot) a short distance south of the centre. At Welchville, on the Little Androscoggin, was the woolen mill of the Harper Manufacturing Co., having had four sets of machinery, and having employed 50 persons; and the mill of the Monsam Manufacturing Co., which made leather board, and employed 15 men.

The chief centers of business, Welchville and Oxford Village, both had post-offices. At the latter, situated at the outlet of Thompson Pond, was a stave-mill, a flour-mill and the woolen mills of the Robinson Manufacturing Co., (having had three buildings and nine sets of machinery, and having employed 150 operatives at that time) and a shovel handle factory, which employed 10 men. There is much in the letters of this collection that speaks to the various industry, people, and property in the town, especially as it pertains to the Welch family and Pratt's involvement with them.