St. John's Cemetery Individual Record

[No Photo]

Captain Thomas E. Welles
(November 24, 1855 -- November 26, 1914)

Section: 10
Space: 2
Lot: 2
Spouse: Caroline Brown Cobb Welle
Occupation: Government
Owner: T.E. Welles

Leader in Fishing Industry, Businessman, Entrepreneur andMayor of Pensacola (1903-1905)

How did ice harvesting in New England play such an important role in the early growth and development of Pensacola? Some of the answers may be found in the intermingling stories of three New Englanders who were transplanted to Pensacola at different times. All of them eventually participated as entrepreneurs and leaders in the boomtown of Pensacola in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. All of them went to sea at an early age, two becoming captains of their own ships; all of them were engaged in the shipping of ice in sailing ships; two of them became mayors of Pensacola.

Thomas E. Welles' story is presented here. The stories of the other two, E. E. Saunders and William H. Northup are described in other sections of “Pensacola’s Heritage at St John’s Historic Cemetery” on this web site. Welles and Captain Northup are two of the ten Mayors of Pensacola buried in St. John’s Historic Cemetery.

According to his grandson, Bill Langford, Thomas E. Welles was educated in the schools of Mystic, Connecticut. He went to sea at an early age and later, was employed by Captain T. C. Cobb of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Captain Cobb’s fleet of sailing ships often carried cargoes of ice harvested in huge chunks from the lakes and rivers of New England. Packed in sawdust, ice was sent to many ports around the world, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Islands and South America.

Thomas E. Welles learned the business of sailing, fishing and shipping under Captain Cobb and, in the early 1870’s was sent as purser of a ship delivering ice to E. E. Saunders Co., a leader in fishing in Pensacola. Mr. Saunders was so impressed with Thomas Welles that he offered to sell him an interest in his company with Welles as manager.

Welles returned to Massachusetts with the ship. Subsequently, he married Caroline Brown Cobb, Captain Cobb’s daughter; Captain Cobb lent him money to buy stock in E. E. Saunders Company and Welles moved to Pensacola. Saunders was occupied with other enterprises of the company, such as oceangoing tugboats, recovery and sale of ballast rocks and land development. The company employed over a thousand men and had over forty “fishing smacks”, moderate-sized sailing ships built in New England according to E. E Saunders Company specifications. The annual payroll was in excess of $100,000. They developed a local fish market in the Palafox wharf area and a fishmeal plant with by-products of fertilizer and glue. Their ice manufacturing plant produced 35 tons of ice a day and allowed cold storage of 100,000 pounds of fish. Looking for ways to repair the fleet at home, they bought the marine ways on the north side of the Gulf Breeze peninsula and renamed it the Gulf of Mexico Marine Railway Company. The fishing smacks of E. E. Saunders Company and the very successful Warren Fish Company established Pensacola as “The Red Snapper Capital “ of the World”.

In 1889 the Pensacola Driving Association was organized “to operate and maintain a racecourse and encourage sport among local horse owners”; Welles was one of the founders. He was vice president of the Citizens National Bank for years and a director of the Peoples National Bank. As president of the Gulf City Coffee Company he helped organize Welles-Kahn Company. Welles was the president of the Good Government League, and a member of the Knights of Pythias, Woodmen of the World and the Masons. He was an avid reader and had an impressive library in his large home on the corner of Gadsden Street and 12th Avenue. His daughter, Ruth Alden married Adrian Langford and, subsequently, the Langford's lived in the Gadsden Street house and raised an outstanding family, including surviving sons Bill and Dick Langford. In addition, Welles owned a large plantation in north Alabama where his family spent the summers. Welles son, Frank, had two sons, well known in Pensacola, Thomas and Frank, Jr (“Junie”).

Welles served as mayor of Pensacola from 1903 until 1905. When Saunders died in April 1913, Welles bought Saunders’ portion of the various businesses from Saunders’ widow. Welles died in November 1914 and is buried in St. John’s Historic Cemetery 1 South Section 10.