Gen. Stephen Minot Weld Jr. (1842–1920), a member of Boston's illustrious Weld Family, was a horticulturalist and much-decorated United States Army officer of the American Civil War.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Weld prepared for higher education at the Jamaica Plain boarding school mastered by his father, Stephen Minot Weld. Weld was an abstemious young man who claimed:

"I did not touch a drop of wine or liquor all through my college career until about a month before I graduated, nor did I smoke until then.."[1]

Once he arrived at Harvard College, however, Weld had little love of that institution's authority figures and wrote:

"The whole spirit between the Faculty and the students was one of war...we looked on the Faculty as our oppressors, and we were--a great many of us--up to every devilment that we could think of, to trouble and bother them....The College then was more in the nature of a boarding-school."[1]

Stephen Minot Weld's older cousin George Walker Weld (for whom Weld Boathouse is named) was at Harvard the same time as Stephen and the pair sometimes cooperated in their mischief.[2]

View on slavery[edit | edit source]

Weld was a first-year student at Harvard Law School when the war broke out and he was eager to join the action. Although Weld soon distinguished himself in this war which put and end to slavery in the United States, he was no abolitionist and had:

"little liking for those he considered antislavery zealots...when abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner made an appearance at the Harvard class day exercises in 1860, Weld was a member of the graduating class that booed and hissed him. Like most conservative upper-class New Englanders, Weld disliked slavery, but he had no special sympathy for the sufferings of blacks; he felt that, if left alone, the South's 'peculiar institution' would die out of its own accord."[3]

Thus it is clear that Weld viewed the Union cause as essentially one of putting down Southern rebellion, not liberating slaves.[4]

Civil War[edit | edit source]

As a member of the Army of the Potomac from 1861 to 1865, Weld participated in many major conflicts, including the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg.

Twice he was captured by Confederate troops, and twice exchanged. A bullet once pierced his boot and he had his horse shot from under him. Weld rose rapidly from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel to colonel. When discharged in 1865 at age 23 He was appointed a brevet brigadier general. Even today, Weld family members remember him as "the General."[2]

Misfortune[edit | edit source]

After the Civil War, Weld returned home to misfortune. In 1867, his father died suddenly, prompting his uncle William Fletcher Weld to erect Harvard's Weld Hall in his honor. Soon after, a felting mill in which he had inherited about $14,000 failed. He made a new start by borrowing $25,000 from friends to buy a cotton mill that was connected with the first venture. That mill, however, was swept away by a flood when a pond two miles (3 km) away broke its dam.

S.M. Weld & Co.[edit | edit source]

To pay his debts, Weld became a cotton broker and eventually built a fortune. Despite setbacks such as the embezzlement of $326,000 by a friend and business partner, the downtown Boston firm of S.M. Weld & Company prospered and opened branches in India and Japan. This made "the General' another very wealthy Weld.

Horticulture[edit | edit source]

Weld had a great interest in botany and became president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1906, He also helped Charles Sprague Sargent build the collection at the Arnold Arboretum. But his greatest horticultural achievement was his own estate: Rockweld in Dedham, Massachusetts.[5]

Rockweld[edit | edit source]

Weld lived on a 52-acre (210,000 m2) estate he named "Rockweld" in Dedham, most of which was surrounded by a high stone wall. He creating one of the finest rock gardens in the country and employed eight gardeners. His estate had a water tower and a dozen greenhouses, one of which was dedicated to growing grapes year round.

He built his mansion on a craggy hill with a dramatic view of the Charles River valley. Outcrops, boulders, woodlands, and ponds dotted the surrounding property, offering endless opportunities to satisfy Weld's passion for horticulture.

Frederick Law Olmsted sited the house and planned the driveway and west terrace. Weld designed the grounds, pathways, and an extensive rock garden. He brought plants from around the world to embellish his designs. At its peak, Rockwell had 500 varieties of flowering plants.

A few years after Weld's death, the estate was sold to H. Wendell Endicott, son of Henry B. Endicott, who founded the Endicott Shoe Company. Endicott maintained and expanded the gardens, but razed Rockweld to build a Normandy French-style chateau designed by Charles Platt. This edifice, known as Endicott House, is now a conference facility maintained by MIT.

Indian Neck[edit | edit source]

In his later years, Weld spent much of his time at the family compound he established near Cape Cod at Indian Neck, a spot which commands a majestic view of Bourne Cove and the Atlantic Ocean. There he created another spectacular garden and built a private 18-hole golf course as well as several comfortable houses. In addition to time playing gold, Weld enjoyed fishing and shooting on the Cape.

A transitional figure between the nineteenth century and the modern era, Weld also acquired hundreds of acres along the shores of Buzzards Bay and transferred lots to friends at cost. This created an enclave of old Yankee stock with similar values in a part of Massachusetts that was increasingly heterogeneous.[6]

Descendants of "the General" still own a cluster of six separate houses at the family compound in Wareham, although in recent decades a preponderance of female offspring has made the Weld surname rare among them. The historic cottages now house Edges, Bigelows, Bentons, and Baldwins.[2]

Family[edit | edit source]

Weld married Eloise Rodman (of the Forest Hills family of that name) in 1869 and they lived together on the Dedham estate. Stephen and Eloise had six boys and one girl before she died in 1898

Among these children, twins Stephen and Alfred succumbed to rheumatic fever at 17 and tuberculosis at 32, respectively. Eight-year-old Lothrop Motley Weld drowned in the channel at Bourne Cove in Wareham a year after the family purchased their property there. In 1907, his daughter Eloise died in England at the age of 28.

In 1904, Weld married Susan Edith Waterbury, who was 24 younger than him and had been governess to his younger sons. On their honeymoon they toured the Civil War battlefields where Weld had fought 40 years earlier.

Death[edit | edit source]

"The General" died in the winter of 1920 in Boca Grande, Florida. Befitting his status as a Civil War veteran, a single bugler playsed taps at his funeral.[2]

Trivia[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld, 1861-1865
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lambert, C.A. "The Welds of Harvard Yard"
  3. David Herbert Donald, Harvard University Warren professor of American history emeritus, in his forward to War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld, 1861-1865 republished in 1979 by the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  4. Contrast his views with those of distant relative Theodore Dwight Weld.
  5. The Welds once owned much of the land that became Arnold Arboretum. Isabel Weld Perkins, the niece of the Weld described in this article, donated the arboretum's Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection.
  6. Thomas H. O'Connor, Boston College professor and author of Bibles, Brahmins, and Bosses: A Short History of Boston and other books on the region, has noted this enclavist Yankee tendency .
  7. i.e. Stephen Minot Weld Jr. and Francis Minot Weld Jr. (Gov. Weld's grandfather) were first cousins

References[edit | edit source]

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