Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 30, page(s) 607-608


MARTIN WELLES was born at Wethersfield in this state on the 7th day of December 1788, and died at the town of Martin, in the state of Ohio, whither he had been called by business, on the 18th day of January, 1863, in the 75th year of his age. He was a son of Gen. Roger Welles, of Revolutionary memory, and a descendant of Thomas Welles, the fourth governor of Connecticut. He graduated at Yale College in the year 1806, and was admitted to the bar of Hartford County in 1810, and in 1813 removed to Newburgh in the state of New York, where he afterwards established himself, he successfully pursued the practice of the legal profession until 1820, when, his health failing, he returned to this state and settled in his native town. Here he devoted himself mainly to agricultural pursuits until the year 1850, when he opened an office in the city of Hartford and resumed the practice of law, taking at once a high position among the practitioners at the Hartford bar. He was a member of the State Senate in 1829 and 1830, and a representative in the General Assembly from the town of Wethersfield in the years 1827, 1828, 1831 and 1832. In the last two years he was Speaker of the House, and manifested great ability as a presiding officer. He was also for a few years associate judge of the county court of Hartford County. During the thirty years of his retirement from practice he engaged somewhat actively in politics, as a member of the Whig party of that time; and for some years labored indefatigably to procure the establishment of a new State Prison, in which, and in securing its location at Wethersfield, he was successful. After resuming the practice of his profession he continued to pursue it till the time of his death in 1863.

Mr. Welles had an intellect of great original force and vigor, disciplined by a thorough education, and well furnished by general and professional reading. He had at command an elegant and classical diction, while a stately form and dignified manner gave an impressiveness to all that he uttered in his forensic and public addresses. The great feature of his character however was his will, which for a firm and inflexible resoluteness has rarely been surpassed. Strong and clear as was his intellect, the decision of character for which he was remarkable was less the result of intellectual conclusions than that of the determinations of his will. With him to resolve was to execute, and resolution only gained strength from the difficulties which the attempt to execute it encountered. This inflexible adherence to his own determinations almost necessarily brought him into conflict with others, and as he had little tact in dealing with men and never understood how to conciliate an enemy, he never became a popular man, even among his political friends, and in consequence failed to attain, in public life, those high positions in the state and the nation, which, with so great abilities, he might otherwise easily have secured, and his failure to attain which was always a disappointment to him.

As a lawyer Mr. Welles was remarkable for his familiarity with the principles of the common law, for great nicety of discrimination, and for the clearness and logical force of his arguments. His mind seemed to be specially adapted to the casuistries of the law, and in special pleading he probably had no equal in the state. He was also indefatigable in the preparation of his cases upon both law and facts, independent and fearless in asserting the rights of his clients, and pertinacious of his points in the highest degree. He rarely gave up a case that was decided against him until he had pursued it to the extreme limit of the legal remedy, and submitted to a final adverse decision only as to an accumulated wrong that he had no further power to resist. No client ever had reason to complain that his case had suffered from any want either of interest or of faithful attention on his part.

It was an evidence of rare ability in Mr. Welles, that after having retired from the practice of his profession for thirty years, he could return to it at the age of sixty, and stand at once among the leading men at the Connecticut bar, apparently as ready upon every question of law as if his whole life had been spent in practice.

Mr. Welles was long an earnest friend of the temperance reformation, and was very decided in his hostility to slavery.

On the death of the Hon. Thomas Day, for fifty years the reporter of the Supreme Court of this state, he was appointed by the Hartford Bar to present to the court the resolutions passed by the bar on that occasion; and his remarks in doing so, which were eloquent and affecting, are preserved in the appendix to the 23d Volume of Connecticut Reports. That address reveals, what he did not ordinarily disclose, a tender side of his character, and no one can read it without a sincere respect for its author.