A Guide to the Henry H. Wells Executive Papers, 1868-1869 43756

A Guide to the Henry H. Wells Executive Papers, 1868-1869

A Collection in
the Library of Virginia
Accession Number 43756


Library of Virginia

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©2008 By The Library of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.

Processed by: Kristina Ryan

The Library of Virginia
Accession Number
Henry H. Wells Executive Papers, 1868-1869
.95 cu. ft. (2 boxes)
Virginia Governor (1868-1869 : Wells)

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Preferred Citation

Virginia. Governor's Office. Henry H. Wells Executive Papers, 1868-1869. Accession 43756. State Records Collection. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. 23219

Acquisition Information

Transferred prior to 1905

Biographical Information

Henry Horatio Wells was born in September 1823 in Rochester, New York. He completed his education in Detroit, Michigan and began practicing law, defending several white men who had assisted slaves fleeing to Canada. In the mid-1840s he married Millicent Leib, the daughter of a Michigan judge, and by 1860 he had several children, including one son named after him. In 1854, Wells was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives where he supported free schools and emancipation. In 1862 he assisted in recruiting a regiment, the 26th Michigan Infantry, and became its lieutenant colonel in October of that year. When the unit was sent to Virginia, Wells was the provost marshal in Alexandria and later became the provost marshal of defenses south of the Potomac River. In 1865, Wells played an important part in the capture of John Wilkes Booth. After the war, Wells brought his family to Alexandria and became friendly with John C. Underwood, a radical federal district judge. Wells took part in leasing the Alexandria Canal and returned it to operation. In December 1867, Underwood oversaw the state constitutional convention. A group of Republicans petitioned General John M. Schofield, commander of Military District Number One, to name Wells as governor. In March 1868 Schofield removed Governor Pierpont and appointed Wells. The Republican convention on May 6, 1868 heartily endorsed Wells as their candidate in the upcoming elections. Victory appeared certain with a weak Conservative candidate, Robert E. Withers from Lynchburg. General Schofield disagreed with the disfranchisement and "test-oath" which would prohibit Confederate sympathizers from holding public office, and did not submit the Underwood Constitution for voting in June 1868 citing a state funding shortage. Schofield became secretary of war for Andrew Johnson and was replaced by General George Stoneman. Wells went to Washington to seek support for a Virginia election, but Congress was concerned with the presidential race. Republicans did not want to upset their power by restoring Virginia to the Union only to gain Democrat votes. General Stoneman retained complete control over state officials and Wells had little authority. Despite his limited powers, he appointed notaries, oversaw maintenance of the penitentiary, pardoned criminals, and sought to improve the state's finances. Wells persuaded Stoneman to abolish the Virginia State Guard (also known as the Public Guard) which was created in 1801 to protect the capital from slave uprisings and protect the penitentiary. Wells was a member of the Board of Public Works along with the state treasurer and state auditor. He became involved in a conflict with William Mahone over control of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Mahone wanted to incorporate the line with others under his direction to link Norfolk and Bristol. Although first thought to support Mahone, Wells had been seeking out-of-state support against Mahone. Mahone and his supporters created a "New Movement" which advocated "home rule" and opposed northern domination. Mahone supporters James B. Baldwin and Alexander H. H. Stuart led supporters to accept black enfranchisement in exchange for omitting the test-oath. A committee went to Washington to assert that white Virginians were loyal to the Union and would adhere to Reconstruction legislation, including the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1869 President Grant supported the New Movement. Moderate Republicans began to undermine the radical organization by giving Wells a black running mate, Dr. J. D. Harris. The moderates then convened in Petersburg as "True Republicans" and nominated Gilbert C. Walker, a Mahone supporter. By the spring of 1869 the True Republicans had convinced Withers to withdraw from the race and garnered substantial white support against Wells. In a public letter to Thomas Garland, Wells announced his support for the New Movement's separate votes on the test-oath and disfranchisement, which alienated his black and radical Republican supporters. In April 1869, Stoneman abruptly removed Wells from office. He was soon restored, and President Grant replaced Stoneman with General Edward R. S. Canby. On Election Day, the Underwood Constitution passed easily while both the test-oath and disfranchisement were soundly defeated. Wells lost to Walker by 18,000 votes. Wells charged Walker with corruption, but Canby's investigation showed fraud on both sides. Wells' supporters approached the True Republicans offering to support Walker as governor in exchange for supporting Wells for the U.S. Senate. General Canby ordered Wells to resign and appointed Walker provisional governor until the new state constitution was established. This order took effect on September 21, 1869. In 1870, the Grant administration appointed Wells U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1872 he resigned the office to his son and entered private practice in Washington. He returned to the post from 1875 to 1880 for the District of Columbia but continued to practice law in the city. He died in his daughter's home in Palmyra, New York on February 12, 1900.

Scope and Content

Governor Wells' Executive Papers are organized chronologically and primarily consist of incoming correspondence between April 3, 1868 and September 15, 1869. Correspondence, resolutions, proclamations, special orders, petitions, applications, pardons, affidavits, lists, clippings, reports, resignations, requisitions of escaped convicts, and other items can be found in this series. A portion of the correspondence relates to requests for appointments in Virginia state government for such positions as notaries public, commissioners, inspectors, or any nonspecific employment. Recommendations or petitions often accompany these letters of appointment. Some of the correspondence in these papers relates to the State Penitentiary. There are letters from various insurance companies requesting the insurance laws of Virginia, various bids for removing debris around the State Courthouse, and letters inquiring on the interest payments of state bonds. Wells corresponded often with Secretary of the Commonwealth John M. Herndon regarding a variety of issues. Other types of documents found in Wells' papers include special orders; proclamations from other state governors calling for days of Thanksgiving; requests for the state seal; requests for laws or congressional proceedings; applications for pardons along with affidavits and court cases; and appointments of county officers issued from the Headquarters of the 1st Military District. Noteworthy documents include a request from Joseph H. Schultz to hire 40 convicts for work on the Covington and Healing Springs Turnpike (April 13, 1868); a copy of a contract between former governor Pierpoint and Hugh L. Gallaher to employ convicts at a granite quarry, along with a report (April 13, 1868); the Special Settlement of the First Installment of the War Claim of the State of Virginia (April 17, 1868); a list of chiefs, headmen, and members of the Mattaponi Indian tribe in King William County (May 8, 1868); several letters from Edwin Goode and John Palmer re. printing contract dispute (February 28- May 20 1868); letters from Samuel Fairbanks, John Haslow, and Thomas Addison re. price of slaves (May 25, 1868); drafted correspondence stating the election on the state Constitution can not take place until an appropriation by Congress (May 1868); proclamation of reward for the capture of J.J. Cole and Burruss Cole (June 17, 1868); drafted correspondence to General Stoneman recommending the disbandment of the Public Guard (June 29, 1868); letter from the Bureau of Statistics requesting confirmation of population (July 20, 1868); letters from various parties re. the role of Peter Bibb in the capture of Reuben Herndon (August 24, 29, September 2, November 2, 17, 26, December 1, 10, 16, 1868); drafted correspondence to Commissioner of General Land Office regarding population, railroad system, and commercial facilities (September 8, 1868); Constitution and by-laws of the International Emigrant Protection Union of the City of Baltimore (September 30, 1868); letter from Sidney Turner inquiring if there are stated funds to supply veterans with artificial limbs (October 9, 1868); letter from George Andrews re. General Mahone and the Virginia Tennessee Railroad with a table of freight received at and forwarded from Knoxville from September 29, 1868 (October 26, 1868); letter from Illinois Industrial University requesting information on higher education in Virginia, with drafted response (November 9, 1868). Other noteworthy documents include letter from Captain E.S. Gay detailing the number of men in the Public Guard working on the James River and Kanawha Canal (December 31, 1868); quarterly report for the State Penitentiary (January 4, 1869); letter from S. F. Chalfin ordering the discharge of the Public Guard (January 4, 1869); a circular re. a federal monument at Louisville, Kentucky (January 28, 1869); letters from William Richardson re. the vacated Public Guard buildings and property (January 28-29, 1869); letter from George R. Calvert re. the test-oath and the office of notary public with drafted response (February 9, 1869); circular from William Holden re. 15th Amendment to U.S. Constitution (March 4, 1869); General Order No. 24 with test-oath in full (March 15, 1869); receipt from Smithsonian Institution (May 11, 1869); letter from Francis L. King inquiring about geological surveys and quarries (May 22, 1869); letter from George B. Loring re. International Exposition (May 24, 1869); letter from Dr. C. Rush Bricken requesting use of House of Delegates hall to give lecture (June 5, 1869).


This collection is arranged into the following series:

Series I. Henry H. Wells Executive Papers

This collection is arranged chronologically, with a few exceptions.

Contents List

Series I. Henry H. Wells Executive Papers , 1868-1869 .
Boxes 1, Oversize 1
Extent: 2 boxes; .95 cubic feet.

Arranged chronologically.

  • Box 1 .
    • Folder 1
      April, 1868.
    • Folder 2
      May, 1868.
    • Folder 3
      February 28-May 20, 1868.
    • Folder 4
      June, 1868.
    • Folder 5
      July, 1868.
    • Folder 6
      August, 1868.
    • Folder 7
      September, 1868.
    • Folder 8
      October, 1868.
    • Folder 9
      November, 1868.
    • Folder 10
      December, 1868.
    • Folder 11
      January, 1869.
    • Folder 12
      February, 1869.
    • Folder 13
      March, 1869.
    • Folder 14
      April, 1869.
    • Folder 15
      May, 1869.
    • Folder 16
      June, 1869.
    • Folder 17
      July, 1869.
    • Folder 18
      August, 1869.
    • Folder 19
      September, 1869.
    • Folder 20
  • Oversize Box 1 .
    • Folder 1
      April 14-December 31, 1868.
    • Folder 2
      January 9-March 16, 1869.