Henry C. Welles

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Henry Carter Welles (May 13, 1821 – July 7, 1868) was an American druggist and businessman. He is thought of as one of the founders of Memorial Day, along with former Union General John B. Murray.[1]

Welles was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut in 1821 to Henry and Sila Welles. She was a distant cousin of her husband and shared the same last name.[2] Henry’s father died when he was young and his mother moved the family to Waterloo, New York where her brother Gardner Welles worked as a physician.[3]

Welles married Josephine Shotwell in 1857. They had two children, Sterling Hadley Welles and Helen Lavanche Welles, both of whom died in 1861.[3] Welles was a druggist and businessman until he died in Waterloo on July 7, 1868.

Presidential proclamation[edit]

President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo the birthplace of the holiday following the passage of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 587 in 1966.[4] The resolution and proclamation were based on research done by eight members of the community who comprised the Research Committee of the Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee.[5] Their purpose was to promote the centennial of the founding of Memorial Day on May 5, 1866. The holiday was supposedly conceived by Welles, who communicated the idea to Murray, the county clerk who helped carry it out.

William H. Burton house, location of the National Memorial Day Museum, Waterloo, New York

Myth exposed[edit]

In 2014, almost fifty years after the Presidential proclamation, Bellware and Gardiner published The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America, which refutes the claim.[6] According to the Waterloo Centennial Research Committee, there were no contemporaneous reports of this celebration. The earliest sources date from 1882, sixteen years after the event. The Waterloo legend states clearly that the founder, Henry C. Welles, died five weeks after he inaugurated that first Memorial Day in Waterloo in 1866. However, Welles died on July 7, 1868, according to his gravestone[7] and the Waterloo Observer, July 8, 1868.[8]

In 2016, VFW Magazine featured an article by Doris Wolf in recognition of the 150th anniversary of Waterloo's Memorial Day observance.[9] The editors added a note at the beginning of the article advising the readers of the existence of Bellware and Gardiner's book, that the Columbus, Georgia event of April 26, 1866 predated the Waterloo event by nine days and that the article on Waterloo was being presented to provoke historical inquiry.

In 2019, the hoax was further explored (and exposed) by author Marshall S. Berdan in Welles’ hometown of Glastonbury, CT. His article in The Glastonbury Citizen recounts Berdan’s disenchantment with the story after the staff of Waterloo’s National Memorial Day Museum was unable to provide the definitive evidence he sought prior to the placement of a plaque honoring Welles in Glastonbury.[10] It also mentions some of Berdan's own research used to debunk the myth.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Becker, John E. (1949). A History of the Village of Waterloo, New York and a Thesaurus of Related Facts. Waterloo Library and Historical Society. p. 184.
  2. ^ Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee (1991). The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, New York. Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee. p. 15.
  3. ^ a b Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee (1991). The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, New York. Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee. p. 16.
  4. ^ Woolley, John and Gerhard Peters. "Lyndon B. Johnson". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  5. ^ Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee (1991). The History and Origin of Memorial Day in Waterloo, New York. Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee. p. 50.
  6. ^ Bellware, Daniel and Richard Gardiner (2014). The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America. Columbus, Georgia: Columbus State University. pp. 134–143. ISBN 978-0-692-29225-9.
  7. ^ "Henry C. Welles (1821-1868)". Find A Grave. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
  8. ^ Obituary of Henry C. Welles, Waterloo Observer, July 8, 1868
  9. ^ Wolf, Doris (May 2016). "An Enduring Memorial Tradition". VFW Magazine. 103: 14–18.
  10. ^ Berdan, Marshall S. (April 29, 2019). "Memorial Day: Glastonbury Connection Debunked". The Glastonbury Citizen.