Wells Surname Genealogy

derives from the
Anglo-Saxon word

which described a spring
(rather than a well) and probably a spring associated with a holy
place. The surname Wells might describe either someone who lived
by a spring or someone from a place called Wells.
The two main place names for Wells in England have been:

  • the cathedral
    city of
    Wells in Somerset
  • and the village of Wells-next-the-Sea in north

They both appeared in the Domesday Book, as Weile and Guella respectively.

The surname Welles is thought to have originated from the Lincolnshire village of Well, also to be found in the Domesday Book.  Welles has persisted as a
surname, although it has usually contracted to Wells.

Resources on

Wells Ancestry

Wells place names provided the earliest instances of Wells’s use as a surname:

  • Edward de Wells was a 12th century landowner in the city of
    Wells, Somerset. His sons Hugh and Jocelin both became bishops,
    Hugh of Lincoln and Jocelin of Bath and Wells.
  • Adam de Welles of Lincolnshire was made the 1st Baron de Welles
    in the 13th century. Later Barons fought and died in the Wars of
    the Roses (including Sir Robert Welles who was executed for rebellion
    in 1469). Anne Welles of this family was the great great great
    grandmother of Anne Boleyn.

Wells in Somerset and Welles in Lincolnshire might suggest that there
was both a western and an eastern focus for the Wells surname.
However, the subsequent distribution of the Wells name
shows that Wells has not been that common in the west of England.
It was found from early times in East Anglia, London and Kent.

Kent John Wells
was a naval storekeeper (and a budding mathematician) in
Deptford in the early 17th century; and there are Kent family histories
from the early 18th century out of Margate, Tonbridge, Woodchurch, and
Penshurst (the last-named being the
point for the family of the writer H.G. Wells).

Yorkshire There
was also an early Wells outpost in north Yorkshire, in and around
Ripon. Robert Welles held land at Galphay in the parish of Kirkby
Malzeard in the 1550’s. The family farm, Cow Myers, stayed with
the Wells until the 19th century. William Wells grew up in Thirsk
in the 1750’s.

“A mason, he built the Methodist Chapel
at Thirsk and knew John Wesley, who hand knelt in prayer with William
and his wife Margaret and commended them both to the Divine protection
when they left Yorkshire.”

They travelled to Boston and eventually settled in Halifax, Nova


The Wells name is to be found in Dumfries, but pronounced as
“Walls.” James and Mary Wells of Dumfries who boarded the boat
for Australia in 1852 were in fact listed as Walls.

Ireland. Irish Wells
seemed to be concentrated in Ulster and were
probably of English or Scottish descent. Samuel Wells was on the
Antrim flaxgrowers’ list of 1796. There were Wells in and around
Lurgan in county Armagh during the 19th century.

America. here were
early Wells/Welles arrivals into New England and into Virginia and

New England
Thomas Welles from Stourton in Warwickshire, came to
Hartford, Connecticut in 1636 and
later settled in Wethersfield. He was for a short time the
colonial governor of the Connecticut colony. His descendants were
numerous and

  • Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War
  • Roger Welles, San Diego’s first “navy mayor” during World War One
  • Henry Wells who founded both the American Express Company and the
    Wells Fargo
  • and Daniel Wells the Mormon, an early mayor of Salt Lake

There are also believed to be connections to Gerald Ford,
Nancy Reagan,
and Sarah Palin. The
Descendants of Thomas Welles

by Donna H. Semiatkoski was published in 1990.

Other early Wells arrivals were:

  • Thomas Wells, who had arrived with his parents in 1635 and later
    settled in Hadley, Massachusetts. One branch of this family moved to
    Vermont and included in their number the Civil War General William
    Wells. Another went south to Louisiana in the late 1700’s and
    held sway there until the Civil War.
  • William
    Wells of Northold
    , who came to New England in the
    1630’s. Tradition has him as one of the founders of Northold on
    Long Island in 1640. It was the first English settlement in what
    was then Dutch New Amsterdam. This Wells’ lineage has been the
    subject of two books, William Wells
    of Southold and His Descendants
    by the Rev. Charles
    Wells Hayes in 1878 and William
    Wells of Southold
    by Walter M. Wells a century later in

Virginia and Maryland
Stephen Wells came to Richmond county, Virginia in
1662. His descendants headed south in 1819 to
Louisiana. William Wells and his family were among the first
settlers of the Ponchatoula area of Louisiana.

James Wells, who was brought to Maryland in 1669. He
the progenitor of the Little Wells family of the
early 1700’s in Baltimore (as opposed to the Big Wells family also there
at that time).

From these early immigrants came two Wells political dynasties of the
19th century, one in Louisiana and the other in Utah.

  • Louisiana
    Wells had secured land from the Spanish in the
    1790’s in Rapides parish and started the family’s cotton
    plantations. His sons James Madison and Jefferson Wells were planters
    there and active in the local politics in the years up to the Civil War
    (James was briefly Governor of the state in 1864).
  • Utah
    Wells had emigrated to Salt Lake Valley with the Mormon pioneers
    in 1848. His family became politically prominent in Utah’s early
    years, intermarrying with other prominent local families such as the
    Cannons, the Grants, and the Bennetts.

Canada. One of the first
Wells in Canada was possibly William Wells from Thirsk in Yorkshire who
arrived in New Brunswick in 1773 and settled with his family in Point
de Bute. Another Wells family, this time from Ireland, came to
Guysboro, Nova Scotia around 1802. Later Wells here were sea

There were Wells among the Loyalists who migrated north to Canada after
the Revolutionary War. One such was William Wells from New
Hampshire. He crossed the border as a young lad in 1787 and
settled in the Maitland area along the St. Lawrence river. His
son W.B. Wells became actively involved in the Reform politics of the

Australia. Henry and
Hannah Wells, newly married in Wiltshire, departed for Melbourne on the
Adromache in 1839. They
settled first in Sorrento and later in Frankston, Victoria and raised
thirteen children, twelve of them boys.

Wells Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Wells Names

Adam de Welles distinguished
himself in warfare and was made Baron de Welles by Edward
I in 1299.
Henry Wells was the 19th century
American businessman instrumental in the founding of both the American
Express Company and Wells Fargo.
Ida Wells, born a slave in
Mississippi, was an early crusader for civil rights in America.
Sister Jane Wells
was a Victorian nursing heroine revered almost as much as Florence
Nightingale in her time.
was the English
writer best known for his science fiction works like War of The Worlds.
Orson Welles was the American
film director, writer and actor, who first scared audiences in 1938
with his radio renditon of H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds.

Select Wellses

  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Sussex)
  • 61,000 in America (most numerous
    in New York)
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).




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