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From: "Ron Carlton" <>
Subject: [WELLS] Mary Fletcher (Frances) Wells (c1835-1893)
Date: Fri, 16 Oct 2009 21:00:48 -0500


Mary F. Wells was my 3rd great aunt. Charlotte Fulton has been seeking information on her and her adopted son George Wells for a book she is writing on the Trinity School. Mary was born in New York and moved South during the Civil War working as a nurse. She was one of the co-founders of Trinity School in Athens, AL for freedman in 1865. Below is an article written by Charlotte Fulton describing her research so far:

Published September 26, 2009 06:49 pm - My months-long search for a photo of Mary Frances Wells paid off this week when an archivist in Ann Arbor, Mich., located online an 1893 book with a biography and picture of the woman who founded Trinity School in Athens in 1865.

Long-sought photo discovered of Trinity School founder




Editor's Note: Charlotte Fulton, a local historian and former feature writer for The News Courier, is in the midst of research for a book she is writing on Trinity High School. The book will be published in conjunction with a project to preserve historic Trinity School and create a museum. That project is headed by Athens-Limestone Community Association.



By Charlotte Fulton

For The News Courier



My months-long search for a photo of Mary Frances Wells paid off this week when an archivist in Ann Arbor, Mich., located online an 1893 book with a biography and picture of the woman who founded Trinity School in Athens in 1865.

Former students of Trinity and those familiar with local history know about the heroic missionary who came South during the Civil War to care for wounded soldiers and stayed to teach freedmen. But it is unlikely that any one of them has seen her likeness. Prior to this week, the only indication I have had that an image of Wells ever existed was in a 1913 letter written by Louise Allyn, a later Trinity principal, saying that a portrait of Miss Wells had burned in the fire that had just destroyed Trinity School.

Since January I have made hundreds of e-mail and telephone contacts to places like Amistad Research Center in New Orleans; Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts and other older schools for women in the East; Chautauqua Institute in New York; Fisk University and other schools connected with the American Missionary Association, which for most of Trinity's history was its sole sponsor; and dozens of historical and genealogical societies.

Information about Wells' teaching career abounded, but about her early life - nada. And photos? Zilch.

In the research process I became a sleuth, reading letters and other documents for clues to be followed: a friend's name, where Wells spent her summers, the mention of a sister. The trail that led to Brian Williams, the archivist who located Wells' photo, began when I read a letter Wells wrote to AMA officials, saying she belonged to the Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso, Ind. When I called First Presbyterian in that city, the church membership chairman located records where Wells had transferred her membership to the Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.

I went online to the Web site for First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor and looked over the church staff to guess who might be most receptive to my request. I chose an associate pastor named Melissa (May) Rogers who, ironically, turned out to be a young woman I had met and interviewed when she was serving First Presbyterian of Athens as an intern. And it was when she turned me over to church member Brian Williams, that I hit pay dirt. In short order, Williams responded with information about burial records, and then with an internet link to the book, "A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied By Portraits of Leading American Women in all Walks of Life," edited by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore.

Written during Wells' lifetime and published in the year she died of consumption at her retirement home in Chautauqua, the biography solves one mystery and presents another.

American Missionary Association literature consistently lists Wells as a graduate of Mt. Holyoke, but there is no record of her ever having attended that school, nor has a thorough search of other women's schools uncovered her. According to her biography in "A Woman of the Century," Wells prepared to enter Michigan University, but because females were not accepted as students at the time, she took the course of study privately.

The mystery posed by the biography is this: The woman Athens has always known as Mary Frances Wells is listed as Mary Fletcher Wells, both in the biography and in cemetery records from her interment in Ann Arbor.

But that's a mystery for another day.



Here is what the biography that Charlotte found says:

She was a philanthropist and educator, and was born in Villenova, Chautauqua County, New York. Her father Roderic McIntosh (sic.) Wells, was of Scotch origin. She began to teach at fourteen years of age, still pursuing her studies. She taught successfully in high schools and seminaries in Indiana, and for several years was associate editor of the "Indiana School Journal." Failing health obliged her to rest.

When the Civil War broke out, she received the news with much seriousness. She saw as if by inspiration, that the war was to emancipate the slave, that the liberated slave must have teachers, and she must be one of those teachers. During the war she received a letter from Abraham Lincoln, asking her to take charge of a contraband school near Washington. Her health was then insufficient, and she was obliged to decline. A few months later there came another call, to which she responded, and for nearly two years, in the hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, she watched beside the sick and dying soldiers.

With the close of the war came a renewal of the call to teach the freedmen, and she went to Athens, Alabama. She was cordially welcomed by Chaplain and Mrs. Anderson, and she had for assistants Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Starkweather, a Wisconsin soldier. At the hour appointed for opening, there came in multitude, three-hundred strong. Miss Wells remained at the head of Trinity School twenty-seven years.

>From the crude beginning in 1865 has been developed a flourishing institution, with boarding, industrial and normal departments, sending out every year many teachers, who do efficient work among their people. >From that school, under the American Missionary Society, have grown a church and many auxiliary societies. Failing health has made rest and change imperative, and she is now living in her summer home in Chautauqua, where in 1878, she was among the first to join the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. She was graduated in the class of 1882. She traveled with the Fisk Jubilee Singers the first four months of their introduction to the public.

A book on the Fitch Jubilee singers (Dark Midnight when I Rise) gives some more insight into her character:

"Wells was the principal of the Trinity School and one of the very few women the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.) entrusted with a superintendency. A graduate of Mount Holyoke, which was second only to Oberlin in providing missionaries for the A.M.A., Wells was a former Civil War nurse and Michigan schoolteacher who had been disowned by her wealthy family for working among the freedman (This is not true since the Wells were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination nor did they disown her. My great-grandmother, her great niece, wrote of wishing to visit the school that Mary Wells helped found. In 1870 one of her nieces was living with her in Athens.) She became a member of the black community of Athens and was almost legendarily brave. One night as she was correcting papers, Klansmen surrounded her school and, taking aim at the glow of her lamp through a tattered quilt she hung every night in her door, shot at her. But "she calmly continued her writing, [and] did not put out the lamp." For years afterward, "the colored people kept the door through which there was shooting' until the building was burned down by the Klan.

Anyone have additional information on her? It has been some time since I worked on Roderick Wells family. I believe he is descended from Thomas and Frances (Albright) Wells.



Ron Carlton




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