(Massachusetts - Welch family letters)
Archive of 47 letters from the family of John N Welch of Boston, and Billerica, Massachusetts, dating from 1814 to 1847.

46 letters, 100 pages, some splits and tears along folds, some toning and damp staining, else in good, clean, and legible condition.

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The letters offer a view of one 19th century Massachusetts family and their lives in the state. The Welch’s must have been a family of some prominence and privilege, at least for a time. John N Welch ran the customs house in Boston, and two letters show him being relieved of his position, in 1814 and 1829. His sons went to sea and plied the waters of the world with varying degrees of success.

      Sample quotes:

     “Lynn July 28th 1816 [James Johnson to Lydia H. Welch, Boston]

      My dear Sister,

           … My ride here was not very pleasant; it was very dusty & we were obliged to keep the windows shut, which produced very disagreeable sensations in your friend. I never spoke a word till we were within half mile of Lynn. No one interrupted the silence; except a gentleman whose frequent sighs proclaimed him over head & ears in love, to look at him was enough to make one sentimental, why he sighed so deep sometimes he actually made us start  & when he found we observed him he made such horrid grimaces, that if there had been any one in stage that I had been the least acquainted with, I fear I should not have been able to conceal my laughter. I wish you had been with me to witness his agitation, which I believe he affected for oddity’s sake, why he would have made,

“even thick lipp’d, musing Melancholy, to gather up her face into a smile, before she was aware”

             I was obliged to interrupt their cogitations by asking for a glass of water. The lovesick swain turned his dove like eyes on me, & looked as if he had rather I had been in the Red Sea, than broken the silence, my request was complied with in defiance of his looks & he condescended to ask, if I felt better. I dared not answer in the negative for I really believe he would have advised the stage man to leave me, he was quite handsome, but appeared like one of Lord Byron’s characters

“With pleasure drugg’d, he almost longed for woe

And even for change of scene, would seek the shades below”

      … Do you think if one of my “mortal supporters” should fail me, or I should say it did, which is the same thing that a certain Gentleman whose name I would not mention on any account, but who appears to exert himself to relieve suffering humanity, & to lighten the afflictions of his kindred as much as possible by contributing books &c to amuse them & as I am a kind of a cousin I think I have a claim, would extend his charity to me, if there is a chance that he would pray let me know, he is a good fellow …James Johnson” 

“New York, Nov. 15th, 1824 [James Johnson to Mr. & Mrs. John N. Welch]

        Dear Friends,

           The Stage called for me on Saturday morning at half past seven o’clock and I was backed a bout Town for nearly an hour, … but I was tied as fast from the fear of being left, as the Horses in the harness -  we however at length collected our passengers and proceeded on our journey – we arrived in Providence at 2 o’clock – and at 4 took passage in the Steam Boat for N. York – we had a very pleasant time down the sound, and arrived here at half past six o’clock on Sunday evening.          

             Capt Mackey engaged my passage on Board the Packet ship Canada Cap Rogers and I expect to embark on board tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock for Liverpool …

             I was in hope to have recd a line from your advising  me of news from Boston and I still hope that pleasure by tomorrows mail which will arrive before we sail – you must write me in the course of a week or two, the Packet ships sail every week from here to Liverpool and  a letter bag is always to be found at the reading room in Boston or left at our store Mr. Sewall will forward any letters to my address – I again hope to have this pleasure soon after I arrive in Liverpool …”

            I took lodgings at Bunkers in Broadway where I found several acquaintance among whom was our old friend Marsh – it is seven years since I saw him till now, but I do not see that time has made any alteration in him. …”

“Boston March 8th 1825 [James Johnson to John N. Welch]

       Dear friends,

              … I am about migrating – that is in 3 or 4 days – and I am quite busy in the morning my letters must go to Liverpool… All the public places of amusement I have been to, is to see Matthews in his trip to America and an Oratorio – indeed there are no public amusements here – we have been cultivating the fine arts – Painting – but not in the school of West or Sir Joshua Reynolds or Sir Thomas Lawrence but painting on Rugs which we have sipped in great abundance – and if the cols do desert too soon I have no doubt will be much admired. I have visited very pleasantly in several families some of them you know or have heard of Saml Goddard & James Grovener are from Boston and Mr Truman and American artist all have American wives are no bad sample of our fair country women … James Johnson”

“Gloucester April 15th 1825 [Susan to Lydia Welch, Boston]

      My much beloved friend,

          … The late calamity by fire in the City has given a powerful impulse to my feelings, and induce me to inquire of you for information. I was about to start off for Boston , but Mary did not like I should leave her with the school… The Sabbath after I left B. I received letters Mary wishing me to come immediately to Gloucester and take the school vacated by the marriage of Miss M. E. Hayes who has gone to the Michigan Territory. Accordingly the Thursday following I came down and on making some enquiries found the prospect very flattering. Uncle D. thought the encouragement sufficient to commence, and the next week sister M and myself jointly took upon ourselves the care of a school, consisting at present  of 30 scholars we have received application for a number more. Some are young ladies considerably advanced in their studies, others who require the first rudiments of education, they are generally interesting. We have no reason to doubt but our patronage will be sufficient to continue here through this summer. We board with Aunt Dale, our school room is in the next building which makes it very pleasant, and convenient. Mary is writing to uncle James telling him of our new situation I hope it will meet his approbation which I appreciate very highly…

              Now I must say something about the fire, which has caused us much anxiety, when we first heard of it we were led to fear that Uncle James’ store was among the number destroyed, still we hoped it might not be till a letter from Capt. G. Whittemore convinced us the truth of it. He says he knew that his friends would feel anxious and that we might not be more alarmed than necessary by exaggerated stories which are always in circulation at such times, he could tell us that all his goods were saved and conveyed to the houses of his friends, and that his loss would be trivial in comparison with that of his neighbors. … Though the deprivation of property is trifling in comparison with that of friends, still when I consider how much he has, and now is, toiling not only for his own happiness, but that of his friends also, I feel grieved that his prosperity should in the least be impeded…”

‘Gloucester June 4,1825 [ Susan, to Lydia Welch, Boston]

       Dear good Aunt,

             Do not call us “lazy girls” If you were here and knew how much we had to accomplish … Our school is large and requires all our time we are confined in the room eight hours every day (excepting the Sabbath) and when not, have either work to fit, or writing to do, for our scholars, which prevents us devoting so much time as we wish, to our own exercise, or the society of our friends. I was indeed, much disappointed that none of us did not write a line by Mr. Pearce, but we were not apprised of his intention of leaving us, more than ten minutes before his departure, we were very much surprised for we had no idea, but he would pass the Sabbath with us… What do you think as become of Aunt S. the last time we heard from her, she was as usual on the wing to Fryburg where she expected to be at the hundredth anniversary of Lovell’s fight; in what course she next directed her flight we have not heard. Last week the Steam boat came in here we anxiously watched, expecting that she was on board, we anxiously watched, expecting that she was on board, but was disappointed. Sister M and myself accepted an invitation to take a sail in her, went out as far as the Island, we enjoyed it much, it was quite a novelty, being the first steam boat I ever saw. …” 


[“Manchester, England, June 10, 1825, James Johnson to Lydia Welch?, incomplete letter]

          … we took up our quarters at the Hotel Montmorency Rue St Marc – I had not been many days in Paris before I forgot the narrow dirty streets, in the enchantments of the promenades, the beauty of the public gardens, and the number and magnificence of the Public Buildings… I can not but think that the French feel humbled since the allies occupied Paris – the soldiers look disconsolate and that enthusiasm has fled which animated them under Buonaparte – you meet in every direction memorials of his deeds Triumphal Arches, Columns, Public Fountains, and Palaces  were with him every day things – many of great extent which he began remain unfinished and probably will till time shall moulder them or another revolution takes place, as it it is not likely that the Burbons will finish what Buonaparte began – we remained in Paris about 3 Weeks and then retraced our steps as business required our presence in Manchester…

            Friend Welch what is now the topic of conversation with you, the presidential election is over and I assure you I am quite satisfied with the result. I am confident we have lost nothing in the opinion of Europe by the choice we have made – for my self I should have been mortified if Jackson had been successful to me he was the most objectionable candidate of all …”

“New York, July 21, 1825 [Lydia Welch, to her husband, John, Boston]

       My dear husband,

            … Mr. Marsh said he wou’d write you a few lines… yesterday he came up in a carriage and took us down to see the City Hall and Museum which I was much delighted with – you wou’d be astonished  to see the immence growth of this since you were here it is wonderful. Marsh shew me where the last dwelling house was – when he first settled here, it seemed as if I cou’d hardly credit him, in fact it is becoming over grown. I expect this week to go to the steping mill – I don’t expect to derive much pleasure from that view … It seems that Boston heat has exceeded N. Y. heat thus far Marsh says that’s the way always with Bostonians they will try to exceed the New Yorkers in everything …”


“Cap-Sing-Moon, [China] April 4th, 1826 [Benjamin Welch to his parents, Boston]

       Dear Parents,

               According to promise I made when I left Home, to write every chance that offer'd, I have to acknowledge the receipt of the letters sent by the Champion. I have seen to Nickels. He is as hearty as a Buck, likes the Sea, he says, and as I was told by Henry Sturgis, has proved himself the smartest boy in the Ship. He is taller than he was when I left America, & withal thinner. I sincerely think that he will do better in the profession he has chosen than that of a Counter Jumper! (hold your tongue John. I mean no insinuations). As for myself, I am pretty nearly in the same state of health that I was when I left Home, which I suppose you will say was a very consumptive state, at least I used to think so sometime after dinner. Capt. Edes and I argue very well, and from what I inadvertently heard, he gives me a very good name to those who visit on board. Mr. Sever & I also argue much better than we did. He finds I am not to be fooled. & begins to think as best to let me alone; at any rate, there is more cordiality than formerly.

               Dear Mother, the wish expressed in your letter that I would keep in with the officers of the Brig, Mr. Tra... and I were like dog & cat together. He was such a drunken, contemptible puppy, that I did not hesitate to show my opinion of him upon every occasion, as also B. Tufts; in fact, he had not one friend in the Brig. I really believe if I had gone home with him I should done my best to flog him before he left the wharf. Yea! even before I had eaten any of those good pies & puddings, etc. of yours.  - Dear Mother, you need feel no anxiety on my account with regard to that detested practice of drinking. I have forsworn it long ago in total. My abhorrence of its effects is as strong as ever, the feelings of self respect which I entertain, the good opinion of my friends and relations, (which I esteem more than any thing else), the regard which I feel for that of the world in general, are strong inducements to a strict forbearance from all spirituous liquors. I am hot enough without the use of stimulatives. I am glad to hear that John is getting on so fast as a ladies man. He is well calculated for it, and as his Brother Ben is so far from Home, and altogether out of the sphere of action with regard to love affairs, he will have fair play & plenty of it. I am certain I should supersede him if I was at Home, so I think he had better Chop-Chop, as the Chinaman says, or else I shall make my appearance, as I have a peculiar faculty that way. He will have to keep a bright look out ahead, for fear of being run down; however, 'self praise goes a little ways', so I think it best to stop here. As for his letter, I shall keep that a secret, he has reposed his confidence in me & I never will betray him till I receive his permission. I shall only say, that I do not wish him a better choice than the one he has made; she is just the one I should wish for myself if I was about to enter into a matrimonial noose. I am getting confounded sleepy, so I must perforce close this epistle.

           Remember me kindly to all friends, to Aunt Johnson’s folks, to Cousin Rebecca & Husband, to Aunt & Uncle Welch, to all my cousins, to Frank Welch, give a cousin & a Brother Tar’s affectionate remembrance, to the Howes, give an adopted brother’s love, & to William, if at home, to Uncle Hovey & partner, to E. Jenkins, to the Susans, & also to Dumpty Diddleday (you know who I mean), and to her Sisters Mary & Sarah, & all the good folks in Harmony Square give my kindest remembrance & regard, tell the Pierces their Brothers are still at the Islands and will not be here these 3 years – they are well according to the last accounts – for yourselves, Dear Parents, accept my best wishes for your health & happiness, & believe me when I subscribe myself

Your affectionate Son,

B.R. Welch”       

Boston, Jany. 2nd, 1832, [Benjamin Welch, to his father, Billerica, Massachusetts]

      Dear Father,

           I sail tomorrow for Smyrna in the good Brig Mermaid belonging to your old Friend Robert Edes & my old master & have just time to write you a few lines – Augusta goes with me as Capt Edes has politely offer’d to let her accompany – there is everything to  make her comfortable & I anticipate a great deal of pleasure …”

     “Smyrna May 3d 1834, Augusta Welch to her father-in-law John Welch, Billerica]

       My dear Father,

            As Ben is full of business he has commissioned me to write, and I consider it a pleasant duty I am going to fulfill it forthwith. He expects to sail either to-night or in the morning for Hivoli a small port about a day’s sail from here to be gone three or four weeks taking in oil for a part of the Mermaid’s cargo & then to return here for the rest , myself the most valuable part, the specie. We had 58 days out and I was not sea sick at all I think I am getting to be quite a sailor. Yesterday we had a fine donkey ride about 16 miles to a hot-spring which is quite a curiosity here & considered quite medicinal – But such roads never were seen – Some part of the way it is scarcely wide enough for the animal to walk ion, & up hill & down precipices, the olive groves & between mountains enough to shake the breath of life out of you – However it was a ludicrous scrape & I enjoyed it mightily – We shall not get away under six weeks & it will be quite August before we get home … Gus”

“Havanna [Cuba] Decr 23d, 1834 [Henry Welch to his father, Boston]

      Dear Father,

            I arrd here about a week or little over ago in good health… we shall leave here in about 3 weeks for Matanzas & New York, I expect … who will write me in N Yk if I arrive there for we are going to war with France & I may be captured before I arrive. We have all been busy here talking about the Message & we have whipped France nicely two or three times over …”

“Hallowell [Maine] February 25th, 1836, [Henry Blanchard to John Welch, Billerica]

       My Dear Sir,

            … Mr. Welch, were you ever down this way? If not, I advise you to – never come. The whole country here seems to be characterized by its very rugged un-broken surface – the severity of its climate - & the miserly & selfish disposition of its inhabitants. You may judge if I enjoy myself much here. I of course make some exceptions to my description of the people – I speak of them in general - & certainly  they are misers & speculators for the most part, whose whole object of worship is money. Society with some few exceptions in this town is very bad. There is here a good deal of wealth, & of course there will be pretensions to refinement & good manners. But through it all there shows prominently an extreme degree of coarseness & vulgarity. The men are by far the better part of the society than the women’ for if they are unlettered & rather rough in their exterior, they have generally much shrewdness & some knowledge of the world. They show their shrewdness best perhaps in a bargain; & in your dealings with them you would be rather likely to come off second best. A bad place this for parsons – a strictly honest man here would not probably be long in starving to death.

            The Capitol of the state is close by me & the Legislature is now in session. I have been to look at the members once – They are, as a whole, I think rather a more decent looking mess, than I have been in the habit of seeing in the Massachusetts Legislature. Of course its political complexion is Jackson – though its most eminent members are Whigs. Among these we see old Mr. Holmes – the greatest man probably the state has ever produced.

        Augusta – the capitol – is one of the most thrifty towns in appearance I have ever seen. It is I think remarkable for its well built dwelling houses. You will not see a house in the whole village that seems at all the abode of poverty. On the contrary the inhabitants seemed to have vied with each other in erecting elegant edifices. It is very easy to find, however, that the elegance is mostly outside – very little inside. …”

“Boston, May 30, 1837, [John Welch to his father, Billerica]

      Dear Father,

          … The business community are in a bad state and a great many people are out of business, owing to this state of things, five of the clerks in our store have been discharged & more are to follow, perhaps myself for one. … Henry is nearly loaded for St. Petersburg & I presume will sail tomorrow or next day. Benj. Is daily expected at Darien, Georgia – his wife gas got a daughter …”


[Charlestown, Dec. 21, 1838, [John Welch to his father, Billerica]

       Dear Father,

            I have intended to have been up to Billerica to have seen you before I leave for New Orleans. I am going to that place to establish myself in business if possible, as I find it impossible to remain here & lay up any money. I have been so much pressed with business for some time that I hardly know which way to turn. I should have been up to see you last month, but I have been bothered with Edward Stetson who is a very wild boy …”

“New York, July 17th, 1840 [George E. Welch to his father, Billerica]

      Dear Father,

           I am aware that you may think strange that I should write to you after so long a silence, the reason for that silence is not because I had forgotten you but merely because I thought it would afford you more pain than pleasure to read a doleful account of my miseries, misfortunes, and mishaps. Father, my course through life has been an eventful one and I doubt much if there are many of my age who have seen more trouble more sickness or more cruel unrelenting persecution since I have been going to sea, I have had eight attacks of fever of all the different kinds and those attacks of the most malignant nature I have had also seven attacks of cramp the last of which deprived me of my intellect for some time after it had passed away, I have been laying on my back with bleeding of the lungs and cough in fact for seven years I have not been to sea without being laid on my beam ends and what is worse midst the burning horrors of those fevers I have heard the cry of persecution, midst the racking agonies of the cramp I have heard the most cruel taunts coming from the mouths of my nearest and dearest kin, and while laying almost at death door I have awakened to the sheriff setting by my side impatiently waiting for my recovery and then do you think it tended to my recovery to hear that man affirm that he was acting as the agent of my brother and then when the glow of health had scarce begun to tinge my cheek to be dragged to prison and from the windows of a felons dungeon to look upon the very house where I had in common with my brothers received my mother’s parting blessing. And father did it become those whose duty it was as Christians relative and as men look passively on and see the wreck of your once noble and high spirited boy if I had done wrong was that the way to reform My is it not strange that mid this wilderness of wo the intoxicating cup has never been raised to my lips and dissipation and pleasure have not been the god of my idolatry… I am now recovering  from a severe attack of the Yellow fever it was intimated to me that my life was but short and the chaplain  on his own responsibility wrote to Gardner to inform of my situation subsequently when letters were written by Y N Reynolds and Albert Cutler and as yet no answer has been returned since I arrived in the city fever sores have broken out on my body and made a perfect scab of me so much so as so as to make me an object of disgust to myself and of pity to those around while at the Hospital my vessel loaded and sailed without leaving me any order for my wages and for the present  I must go without them by the kindness of Albert Cutter, Y N Reynolds Esq and the Charterers I have had the means of paying my board, that is now expended and God only knows where I shall lay my poor aching head. I can not apply to them when I see no means of repaying them, but my cup of misery has long been full and I must put my trust in that God whose inscrutable ways … George E. Allen”