WELCH (Walsh, Welsh), THOMAS, surveyor, office holder, militia officer, and judge; b. 5 Nov. 1742 in Maryland, son of Francis Welch and Elizabeth Pierce; m. first in 1769 a Miss Johnson; m. secondly 11 May 1788 Mary (Polly) Mitchell in Harford County, Md, and they had two children; d. 2 July 1816 in Charlotteville Township, Upper Canada.
Francis Welch emigrated from Dungannon (Northern Ireland) about 1740 and settled in Philadelphia, Pa, where he engaged in maritime activities. Later, after his father had been captured and imprisoned by the French, young Thomas Welch was taken to live with one of his mother’s wealthy Quaker uncles near Philadelphia. Welch was sent to school and received a sound education. He served with the British provincial forces during the Seven Years’ War. At the conclusion of the war, he completed mathematical studies and was later appointed surveyor and under-sheriff in Berks County, Pa. In 1769 he removed to Frederick County, Md, where he was employed as a deputy surveyor, conveyancer, and coroner.
In February 1775 Welch refused reappointment as deputy surveyor and coroner and later declined a commission in the revolutionary forces. Fearing for his safety on the outbreak of hostilities, he conveyed his farm to a friend and made his way to the British lines. In October 1778 he was commissioned quartermaster of the Maryland Loyalists. The unit was stationed at Pensacola (Fla) for three years, during which time he also served as assistant engineer. The Spanish captured Pensacola in May 1781; the British prisoners were exchanged in July and then sent to New York City, where Welch learned of his wife’s death.
At New York Welch was appointed captain of a company of loyalist refugees which he accompanied to what is now New Brunswick. He was soon named a deputy surveyor and may also have been engaged as a conveyancer. He received a grant of 550 acres of land, only 25 of which he considered cultivable. After residing in New Brunswick and Quebec for nearly five years, he decided to return to Maryland to look after his affairs there. En route he was shipwrecked and lost all his possessions, including the deed to 1,000 acres in Florida which he had purchased while stationed there. With the aid of friends he eventually made his way back to Frederick County where he resumed his former professions; soon after, he moved to Havre de Grace, remarried, and became manager of the Legh Furnace, an ironworks owned by an old business associate, Legh Master. Unable to recover his pre-revolution properties or debts, Welch appealed to the British consulate at Philadelphia for aid, but to no avail. He was, however, advised that generous grants of land were being made to loyalists who settled in Upper Canada.
In mid September 1793 Welch left Maryland with his family and several members of his wife’s family, arriving at Queenston, Upper Canada, in November. He was appointed a deputy surveyor in Lincoln County and became a captain in the local militia. In June 1794 he was granted 2,500 acres in Lincoln; he moved to the vicinity of the Sugar Loaf in Humberstone Township and subsequently to Thorold Township. Welch surveyed several townships in Lincoln and Norfolk counties. As early as January 1794 he had expressed a desire to settle at Long Point in Norfolk. When on 3 Dec. 1796 he was designated Norfolk’s first land registrar, he took the opportunity to move there. He had already achieved a measure of local prominence when Robert Hamilton recommended him as justice of the peace in June 1796; he was commissioned the following month.
Welch brought his family to Charlotteville Township in January 1797 and settled on a farm which in time became moderately prosperous. In 1808 he owned two houses (both made of round logs) and 500 acres, of which 88 had been cultivated; three years later he still had two homes but now one was two storeys and made of square timber. His total acreage had increased to 560 acres but the amount of land under cultivation was down to 26 acres. Besides farming, he operated a mill for a time and, in addition to his official duties, he became a captain in the 1st Norfolk Militia. Provision had been made in 1798 for the establishment of the London District; Welch requested that he be appointed its deputy surveyor. He was readily recognized by government officials as a man of proven ability, with all the proper credentials for higher office. He had informed Thomas Ridout* of the Surveyor General’s Office of his wish for a position in the new local government. The information was passed to Chief Justice John Elmsley who offered Welch either the shrievalty or the clerkship of the peace. As a result of a misunderstanding, he requested the latter. On 1 Jan. 1800 he was appointed clerk of the peace, clerk of the district court, and registrar of the surrogate court. Other responsibilities soon followed which he executed to the satisfaction of his superiors and colleagues. In February, for instance, he was appointed one of the district commissioners of the Court of King’s Bench, and he was named deputy secretary of the district on 7 May 1802. Nevertheless Welch was having financial difficulties and, in the spring of 1803, asked to be relieved of his offices to enable him to return to Lincoln County and manage his affairs there. By the autumn, however, he decided to retain his posts because his eldest son, Francis Legh (Leigh) Walsh, was too young to be appointed in his stead. In June 1806 he resigned the offices of clerk of the peace and clerk of the district court because his “Age . . . as well as infirmities commonly attending that age” and the increase in public business made it impossible for him to perform his duties “in the manner I could wish.”
Welch was, with Samuel Ryerse, one of the most prominent members of a local élite that was based on office holding. In the election of 1800 this élite acquired a powerful patron in Surveyor General David William Smith*, who became the local assemblyman. Welch had been appointed returning officer for the riding and, at the urging of Smith’s supporters such as Robert Hamilton, John Warren, and James Crooks*, he handled the local campaign. Smith’s unsuccessful opponent, Richard Cockrell*, later contested the election on the grounds that Welch had acted improperly.
Welch’s plurality of offices made him a perfect symbol of the élite. Moreover, the performance of his duties, particularly those of a legal nature, often brought him into direct contact with disgruntled individuals such as Ebenezer Allan or political opponents such as Benajah Mallory*. The election of 1804 was contested by Ryerse and Mallory after Smith decided not to stand again. Political rivalry was acute; it was intensified by Mallory’s victory which led to a direct challenge of the office holders themselves. In 1805 Welch characterized the group calling for the removal of Ryerse and his brother, Sheriff Joseph Ryerson, as a Methodist faction combined with “the most Seditious and abandoned Characters.” Welch was deeply suspicious of what he considered its self-interested motives, its Methodism, and its non-loyalist American background.
In spite of the agitated nature of public affairs within the district, he continued to accept the offices which were thrust upon him. In 1807 he was appointed a trustee of the district school, in October of the same year he was empowered to carry out the provisions of the Sedition Act, and in January 1808 he became deputy lieutenant of the county. He also served for a time as one of the district’s road commissioners. On 2 April 1810 he was commissioned judge of the district and surrogate courts and recommissioned justice of the peace. Two days later he was succeeded as land registrar by his son Francis Legh, who the following month succeeded him as surrogate court registrar as well. On 14 April Francis appointed his father deputy land registrar and in February 1813 he also appointed him deputy registrar of the surrogate court.
Beginning in 1810 Welch began to withdraw from some of the offices he had amassed. That April he relinquished his militia commission because of his “advanced Age.” In November he handed over his judgeships because of his “extreme indisposition.” He was also, like Ryerse, concerned about the imminent loss of his half pay if he did not rid himself of his offices. In February 1812 he was named a commissioner under the Sedition Act but resigned immediately, pleading that his illness over the past year and a half had left him physically and mentally incapable of performing the duties.
Thomas Welch was a member of the Church of England and a freemason. He died in 1816 and was survived by his widow and their two sons. Both the hamlet and railway point of Walsh were named after the family he had founded in Norfolk County during the early years of its settlement.