William Wells was born at Biggleswade. He was orphaned when young, cared for by an uncle, Ebenezer Custerson a farmer at Cardington, Bedfordshire, and educated by Rev. Samuel Sanderson at Bedford. He studied under Caleb Ashworth at Daventry Academy, a fellow student with Thomas Belsham. He was appointed minister at Bromsgrove Presbyterian Chapel in 1770, where he remained until 1793. In January 1771 he married Jane Hancox of Dudley.
In the troubles which preceded American Independence, he took a strong interest in favour of the Colonies, taking an active part with Richard Price, Thomas Wren of Portsmouth, in garnering subscriptions for the relief of the American prisoners.
Convinced of the benefits of smallpox inoculation, he inoculated his own children, and inoculated the children of poor neighbours, who could not afford the surgeons' fee. He is said to have spent two years riding about the country, inoculating as many as thirteen hundred children.
During the Birmingham riots, his home was threatened and the meeting-house escaped only by accident. Wells had been contemplating emigration to New England since 1780. He was now resolved upon it, arriving at Boston, with his wife and eight children, 12 June 1793.
He was soon joined by William Priestley, son of Dr Joseph Priestley, who stayed with the family, perhaps helping with Wells's farm. The next year, he purchased a farm at Brattleboro, Vermont, where he lived until his death. He corresponded with William Bentley and other Unitarians in New England
After a year or two, he was invited to become minister at Brattleboro, but declined a formal appointment. He agreed, however, to perform the functions of that office as 'officiating pastor', on an annual basis, being annually chosen by the town for about twenty years. While he was absent on a visit to England, in 1818, he was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity from Harvard University.
Thomas Chapman, Esq. journeyed from Elizabethtown, through Brattleboro, Westminster, and Bellows Falls, during September and October 1796. These are extracts from his Journal---
Tuesday, September 20th.
---Quitted my Hospitable Host at Greenfield, and Road 11 Miles to Breakfast at Mr. Alfred's Tavern, a single House, the Landlady of wch is without the Handsomest Woman I ever saw in any Country, from thence I rode 10 miles through a Hilly, Rocky Country, to Brattleboro, where I dined at Mr. Dickinson's, a Tavern equal to any I put up at since my departure from New York. After Dinner I rode to the Revd. Mr. Well's, an English Dissenting Minister, who has got a Farm 380 Acres of Land, that he Bought 3 Years ago, soon after his Arrival from England, for £1200 Currency or about £1000 Stg. The Flat part of his Farm almost joins the Connecticut River; and is of a sandy nature, but the remainder, to the Westward of his House, wch stands upon a pleasant Emminence, is a lamy Soil. Mr. Wells has made considerable Additions to Dwelling and out Offices, Built large new Barn and Cyder House.
The Farm is every where well Watered with excellent Springs of Soft Water, and his House & Farm yard supplied from Springs Adjacent wch is conducted under ground in Wooden Tubes, in the Kitchen is a Wooden Cistern where the Water is coming in run out all the year, and so it does into a Wooden trough in the Farm Yard. This is a convenience I never saw before in the United States, but wch is, I understand, very Common in the State of Vermont, where I now am for the Divisional line, between this & Massachuset State, runs 10 Miles to the Westwd of Brattleborough. I remained at Mr. Wells the remainder of this and the following Day; was treated with great Hospitality and kindness both by him and Mrs. Wells.
Thursday, Sept, 22d Took leave of Mr. & Mrs. Wells and rode 15 Miles towards Westminster over a very Mountainous Country Dined & baited my Horse at a Tavern, and then proceeded 3 Miles to Westminster a small town pleasantly Situated upon a rising ground on the Banks of the Connecticut River, surrounded by a body of nice Level Land, from thence I went two Miles further and took up my Lodging at Squire Spooners who keeps an excellent House and where every Traveller will meet a polite reception from the Squire and his Lady, at least I may venture to say this if they use every guest as they treated me.
Friday, September 23d Departed from Mr. Spooners at 10 in the Morning after Viewing his Farm, & Road to Bellasses, or what is more commonly called the great Falls. Previous, however, to my crossing the Wooden Bridge wch erected across the Connecticut upon the Falls, I light from my Horse & step'd into a Shop where a Man was forging Iron. The Bellows were blown by a Water Wheel, and the Sledge hammer worked by the same means, the first of the kind I had ever seen. In crossing the Bridge I entered into New Hampshire State and Road 10 Miles to Charleston, where I dined.
C. K. W.
Vermont Phoenix, December 10, 1869.
"From Brattleboro to Bellows Falls in 1796" prints these extracts from the Journal of Thomas Chapman, Esq. of Elizabethtown, New York. The correspondent "C. K. W." has not been identified.
Mr. William Laugher
He left England May the 8th and arived in America June 23d 1795
To a well cultivated mind he added amiable manners
To a Life adorned by Honor and Integrity
by Piety and Benevolence
by every Relative Social and Christian Virtue
Succeeded a Death full of Peace Hope & Trust in the mercy of God
Living he was Respected Esteemed and Beloved
Dying his Loss was deeply Lamented
& changed this transitory state for a happy Immortality
the 19th of April 1796 aged 62.
This inscription for a large slate stone was composed by the Rev. William Wells. William Laugher, the son of Fracis Laugher and Mary Court, lived in Feckenham, Worcestershire, England---the village bordering William Wells' native Bromsgrove.