Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stephen Minot Weld - Schoolmaster

Weld School - Centre and South streets, 1859 (BPL).

The Weld School - Centre and South streets (1874 map, JPHS).

This entry is less a biography than an excuse to use some information I found in the 1850 census records. Schoolmaster Weld deserves a more thorough treatment, and when I have the time I'll give it to him.

Stephen Minot Weld was the son of William Gordon Weld and Hannah Minot. The first Weld to live in Jamaica Plain was Joseph, who was granted a large lot of land in the vicinity of today's Arnold Arboretum for his service in the Pequot War during the late 1630s. Welds continued to live on the homestead until the early 1800s, and stayed in the area for another 100 years.

While William Gordon Weld and his son William Fletcher were both wealthy shipowners and traders, son Stephen Minot Weld (1806-1867) chose to open a preparatory school in Jamaica Plain. There were few public high schools at the time, so the sons of the well-to-do in Greater Boston were sent to boarding schools to prepare for Harvard College. The Weld school was one of the most successful in the area, and attracted students from remarkably diverse sources.

The 1850 census gives us a window into the schoolhouse and its inhabitants. Weld and his wife, Sarah, had three daughters and one son, aged 2-10. There were 4 domestics (women), three from Ireland and one Massachusetts native. The record also lists 4 laborers (men). The students, aged 10-17, came from many different states and countries:

Massachusetts: 6
Maine: 1
New York: 2
Maryland: 1
Tennessee: 1
Louisiana: 3
California: 3

Cuba: 4
Yucatan: 1
Mexico: 1
Spain: 1

Which tells us that the former village of Jamaica Plain was, by 1850, fully connected to the outside world. Other 1850 census records for the community list many Irish domestics, so while there were few places for Irish to set up homes in Jamaica Plain at the time, they were fully integrated into the workforce, living within the households of Yankee residents. How Stephen M. Weld attracted students from such a wide geographic area is not yet known. Perhaps it was just the proximity to Harvard that encouraged fathers to send their sons to Jamaica Plain. The school of Charles Greene at Centre and Pond streets also had Cuban students. Perhaps trade connections between Boton ship owners and captains and their far-away trading partners made Boston the popular place to send one's sons. We certainly know that the first Spanish-speaking residents of Jamaica Plain didn't arrive in the 1970s.


  1. Quite a coincidence! Last night I was looking at an autograph book used in the 1890s by two of my great-great aunts who lived on South Street. There are 4 or 5 autographs from members of the Weld family...

  2. That would be interesting to hear about. Would you like to share their stories?

  3. Someday, I would....bit of a time crunch at the end of the school year. Thanks for asking!

  4. Drop me an email any time - I'd love to talk to you.

  5. I am one of the descendants of the Welds...the one brother that went to live in Jamaica, after landing in Boston. It has been interesting reading up on the Boston Welds.