Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy 189th Birthday, Stephen Robert Wells (1822-1889)!

Gawain's great-grandfather

Our fine English gentleman, whether in urban London or settling St. George.
Stephen was raised and well-educated in England, the second of seven children and twin to sister Isabella, who died as a child.  He had roots in the servant class, his father was a stonemason, and his maternal ancestry connects back with Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon. His mother used to say, “Study hard so you’ll grow up to be as smart as Uncle Isaac!” Even further back, his genealogy line connects in with the Merovingian dynasty in France and King Clovis. Stephen was always a fine English gentleman.  

Stephen embraced the gospel in London, along with his mother and siblings. He is listed as a salesman in the Paddington Branch emigration records. However, only he left, of his family, to gather with the Saints.  Stephen married fellow British convert Mary Ann en route, and they settled first in Big Cottonwood and then Spanish Fork in 1853, where their three children were born. During this time he married Mary Ann’s cousin Annie, also a British convert, as a plural wife. Stephen served as a bishop in Spanish Fork.  Interestingly, Mary had no more children after Stephen took a second wife, although that could be due to advanced maternal age.

Stephen was an excellent blacksmith, and he could make nearly perfect wagon wheel rims. After he fashioned the hub and wooden spokes, he would pound out the circular metal rim and fit it over the wheel while it was still very hot, then immerse the wheel in water.  The sudden cooling of the hot metal caused it to shrink around the wheel. The family was called in 1861 to settle Dixie and raise cotton. Soon after arriving, Stephen donated thirty dollars to build the Tabernacle, even though he did not yet have a roof over his own head.

Stephen farmed in St. George, and built a two-story adobe home at 1st South and 3rd West.  After Stephen came to Utah, he continued to write letters home to England, but there may have been a rift in the family (Elder Robert E. Wells speculated due to polygamy), because when the Wellses did temple work in St. George for others, they neglected to do it for their English family members.  Instead, they were sealed into the family of Erastus Snow.

Stephen served as the first counselor in the St. George 2nd Ward.  He was a popular entertainer (doing what?).  His son Samuel became quite prominent, and his daughter Ann Eliza became the plural wife of J.D.T. McAllister and accompanied him as president of the Manti Temple. Stephen and Annie worked together in the St. George Temple and were remembered as being always faithful and efficient. 
Stephen looking like Lincoln
Stephen wrote a letter to his teenage son Saint George, “When I think of the many duties of life that there is to do, I find that the boy or girl who begins the soonest makes the best man or woman. Therefore mix up with play and work some reading, spelling, writing, and then some music which will make your company always agreeable go where you may. You must labour with your hands and heads, sometimes with one at the time and sometimes with both at the same time.” His letter is interesting as it was “cross-written”: to conserve space, after he wrote one page, he turned the paper ninety degrees and continued to write across the other direction.

As the result of a buggy accident while driving home from Cedar City, Stephen was injured and died in the arms of his son Saint George. He is our earliest patrilineal (direct male line) ancestor to join the Church and has a number of namesake descendants.

Stephen attending our Wells reunion 
flat Stephen, visiting for his birthday
I would give him an SUV, for safe driving with perfect wheels.


  1. That's awesome! Looks like he could use a pair of scissors.

  2. I'd give him email so that he wouldn't have to worry about conserving space in his letters.