Wells, situated upon the sea-coast, in York County, was first settled by persons from Exeter, N.H., about the year 1640. Its name is supposed to have come from Wells in England. In regard to land titles, Folsom says that an Indian named Thomas Chabinoke, devised all his title and interest to Namps-cas-coke (being the greatest part of Wells) to John Wadlow or Wadleigh, upon condition that he should allow one bushel of Indian corn annually to “Old Webb,” his mother. This title proved valid. In 1641, Sir Ferdinando Gorges presented 5,000 acres of it to Thomas Gorges, deputy-governor of his Province of Maine and mayor of Gorgeana, for a manory. He chose a tract near Ogunquit River in the south-west part of the town. About 400 or 500 acres of this was conveyed by deputy Gorges, in 1643, to Rev. John Wheelwright (brother-in-law of the noted Ann Hutchinson), who had been banished from Massachusetts for his Antinomian principles. Another grant was made by Gorges, July 14, 1643, to Wheelwright, Henry Boad and others. When wheelwright settled here about 1643, Edmund Littlefield had already erected a saw-mill, on Webhannet River.
The town was incorporated in 1653, being the third in Maine. Its Indian name was Webhannet. It included Kennebunk until 1820, when that portion was set off. It then acquired its present boundaries, having Sanford and Kennebunk on the north, the latter and the ocean on the east and south-east, York and South Berwick on the south, and South Berwick and North Berwick on the west. The number of acres of land is stated in the county atlas at 22,300. The settlement went steadily on until the Indian wars. The adversities which the people met for nearly three-fourths of a century seem to have been too much for human endurance. Their suffering were greatest in the wars commencing in 1792 and 1703. During the first of these there was fought on its soil one of the most remarkable battles of the Indian war. Five hundred French and Indians under French officers attacked the garrison of Joseph Storer, — a place of refuge which he had built at his own expense for all who, driven from their homes, might come to him. There were within it 15 soldiers only under Captain Converse; and about a mile distant, at the landing, were two coasters under captains Gooch and Storer, having on board 14 additional men for the garrison. Every means were tried by the enemy against the fort and vessels, but all their machinations were ineffectual; and after two days of uninterrupted conflict, they were compelled to abandon the enterprise, with the loss of Labocree, their commander.
It was during this bloody war that Rev. George Burrows, who was then residing near Salem, became the victim of the terrible witchcraft delusion, and perished on the scaffold. He was a graduate of Harvard college, and had been an esteemed minister in the vicinity of Wells, and was at the time of his arrest devoting himself to obtain aid for the suffering people of the east, who like himself had been driven off by by the Indians, or were endeavoring heroically to hold their ground against them.
In an attack in August, 1703, Wells was again attacked, and with such desperation that in a short time 39 of its inhabitants were killed or made prisoners, besides many wounded. This war did not end until 1713, during which time many more of the inhabitants were murdered, many houses burned, farms laid waste and cattle killed. Ten years later another war let loose again the savage hordes; but the towns had grown stronger. In 1745 occurred the memorable and successful siege of Louisburg. Believing that the French had been the inciters of most of the Indian wars, the people of Maine entered upon that expedition with great earnestness; and it is believed that fully one-third of the able-bodied men of Wells were engaged in that enterprise. The people were right in the belief, and Wells was little troubled by the Indians after the fall of the eastern stronghold of the
The people of Wells entered into the Revolutionary war with such zeal that at least one-third of the able-bodied men were in the service during a portion of the struggle, if not constantly. Colonel Joseph Storer, Major Daniel Littlefield, Captain James Hubbard, Captain Daniel Wheelwright, Captain Samuel Sawyer, died in the war. General Noah M. Littlefield, Major Nathaniel Cousens, Major Isaac Pope, Captain James Littlefield, Ensign John Littlefield, and others, were in active service. No other town had such a number of officers in the war. The bounties required to fill their quota exhausted their finances to such an extent that some were obliged to take the feathers from their beds, and procure their sale in Boston, to meet their proportion of these public burdens.
The feeling of the people was against the war of 1812, and few or none enlisted. In the war of the Rebellion the quota of the town was largely obtained from abroad, the bounties paid ranging from $200 to $400. Wells has honored the memory of the forty-two of her soldiers who perished in that war by a neat monument. It consists of a simple marble shaft on a granite base.
After the Revolutionary war, there was a great increase of shipbuilding, the vessels being mostly of less than 300 tons burthen. So many of them were captured by the French at the time of their spoilations that it has been thought that the loss of the town in ships was as large as its gain by ship-building.
The business of the people is chiefly agricultural. The soil, though sandy in some parts, is excellent for vegetables, and yields a good crop of grass. On Ogunquit, Webhannet and Little rivers are many mill sites, if not great powers; and each of these streams has its mill for lumber. A considerable number of the inhabitants are interested in the fisheries. The valuation of the town in 1870 was $683,940; in 1880 it was $613,326. The population in 1870 was 2,773; and in 1880, 2,483. The rate of taxation for 1880 is one-third of one per centum.
The principal business centers are Wells Village in the north-west, Ogunquit at the south, and Wells Depot in the northern part of the town, — each having a post-office. Wells Village is finely situated on a ridge overlooking the ocean. The Boston and Maine railroad passes near the latter place, and the Portsmouth, Saco and Portsmouth road has a station at Wells Depot, — each place being about 28 miles from Portland.
Previous to the formal gathering of a church the town had provided the preaching. Rev. John Wheelwright was one of the first ministers. In 1661 the court at York appointed Ezekiel Knight and William Hammond to conduct worship at Wells on Lord's day, “as the law of God and this jurisdiction require.” This order continued about two years when the people again hired their own minister at a stipulated salary. Six ministers or religious teachers were thus employed from 1664 to 1690, — the first being Joseph Emerson, settled for two or three years. His successor was a physician as well as minister; and the next but one was Richard Martin, a schoolmaster. About this time a church and parsonage were built. For his services in the pulpit, Martin had the use of the parsonage, and 50 pounds, — payable as follows: wheat at 4s., rye 2s.6d., pease 4s. per bushel, pork 2 ½ d. per pound, boards 19s. and staves 17s. per thousand. From the time of the first Indian war until 1713, the period when Wells suffered most, it is probable that there was little or no preaching. The first Congregational church of Wells was organized in 1721, and Samuel Emery was ordained the pastor. The Rev. Moses Hemingway was ordained over this church in 1759, and remained until his death at the age of 76 years in 1811. He was a graduate of Harvard, and received from it the degree of D.D. Jonathan Greenleaf, author of Ecclesiastical Sketches of Maine, was ordained over the church in 1815 remaining until 1828. He died at Brooklyn, New York, in 1855, aged 80 years. The second Congregational church of Wells was organized in 1831. The first pastor was Rev. Charles S. Adams.
The first Baptist Church in Wells was organized in 1793, and arose from the labors of Nathaniel Lord, a licentiate. The Wells Christian church was organized in 1809, by Elder Elias Smith. The Christian church of Wells and York, at Ogunquit, was organized in 1830. The Free-will Baptist society was formed in 1843. The Methodists formed a class of ten members in 1851, with Shadock Littlefield as leader. A neat and tasty house of worship was erected by them at Missionary Ridge in 1870. The first Universalist Society was formed in 1861. At present the active societies consist of two Congregationalist, a Free Baptist, two Methodist and two Baptist. The Union House, at Plaisted Corner, was fitted up for worship in 1868.
Wells has 14 schoolhouses, valued at $5,000, and sustains a high school. The amount actually expended for schools in the last school year, is $3,816. It has a library of about 400 volumes. Wells is a port of delivery in Kennebunk Customs District.
- George J. Varney, A Gazetteer of the State of Maine (Boston: B.B. Russell, 1886), 577-580.