Letters from Benjamin Welles to John Henry Tudor, 1799-1801

About this Collection

Welles, Benjamin , 1781-1860
Personal correspondence.Harvard students’ letters.
Collection Title
Letters from Benjamin Welles to John Henry Tudor, 1799-1801
.03 cubic feet (6 letters)
Harvard University Archives
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Allston, Washington
Tudor, John Henry
Welles, Benjamin
Harvard College (1780- ).
Harvard University--Students--Correspondence
College students--Massachusetts--Cambridge
Male friendship--United States
New England--Social life and customs

Content Notes

Benjamin Welles wrote these six letters to his friend and classmate, John Henry Tudor, between 1799 and 1801. Four of the letters are dated, and the dates of the other two can be deduced from their contents. Welles wrote Tudor four times in September 1799, at the onset of their senior year at Harvard, in an attempt to clear up hurt feelings and false rumors that he believed had caused a chill in their friendship. The cause of the rift is never fully explained, though Welles alludes to "a viper" and "villainous hypocrite" who apparently spread rumors and fueled discord between the two friends. In one letter, Welles asserts that "College is a rascal's Elysium - or the feeling man's hell." In another he writes: "College, Tudor, is a furnace to the phlegmatic, & a Greenland to thee feeling man; it has an atmosphere which breathes contagion to the soul [...] Villains fatten here. College is the embryo of hell." Whatever their discord, the wounds were apparently eventually healed; in a letter written June 26, 1800, Welles writes to ask Tudor about his impending speech at Commencement exercises. In an October 29, 1801 letter, Welles writes to Tudor in Philadelphia (where he appears to have traveled in attempts to recover his failing health) and expresses strong wishes for his friend's recovery and return to Boston. This letter also contains news of their classmate Washington Allston's meeting with painters Henry Fuseli and Benjamin West.

Biographical Notes

Prominent financier Benjamin Welles was born in Boston on August 13, 1781. His father, Samuel Wells (1725-1799) was a successful Boston merchant who graduated in Harvard's Class of 1744, and his mother, Isabella Pratt Welles, was the daughter of Chief Justice Pratt of New York. Like his father, Welles attended Harvard College, graduating with the class of 1800. Following graduation, he studied law with Levi Lincoln of Worcester, Massachusetts and with Harrison Gray Otis of Boston. In 1803 he went to Europe for further study, and he spent part of 1804 traveling in Europe with a classmate, the painter Washington Allston. Upon his return to Boston in 1804, Welles became involved with an iron mining organization in Vergennes, Vermont. By 1816 he was involved in family banking endeavors with Samuel and John Welles. Samuel established the first American banking house in France (Welles & Co.) and John and Benjamin ran an auxiliary business based in Boston. In 1815 Benjamin married Mehitable Sumner, the eldest daughter of Increase Sumner (fifth Governor of Massachusetts). They had three children: Elizabeth, Georgianna, and Benjamin. Following Mehitable's death, Welles remarried in 1831 to Susan Codman (1802-1877); they had one daughter. Benjamin Welles died suddenly of apoplexy in his Boston home on July 21, 1860.|John Henry Tudor was born in Boston on April 13, 1782 to Delia Jarvis Tudor (1753-1843) and William Tudor (1750-1819). His father was a Boston lawyer who had served as Judge Advocate of the Continental Army under George Washington prior to his service in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, in the State Senate, and as secretary of state for the Commonwealth. John Henry had three brothers and two sisters: William (1779-1830), Frederic (1783-1864), Emma Jane (1785-1865), Delia (1787-1861), and Henry James (1791-1864). He received an A.B. from Harvard in 1800. He enjoyed extensive travel and outdoor recreation with his family throughout his short life and spent much time in their company at Rockwood, the family estate in Lynn, Massachusetts. He died two years after graduation from Harvard, following a long illness and travels to Cuba, South Carolina, and Virginia in attempts to recover his health.