William H. Wells was born in 1836 in Kanawha County, Virginia (now West Virginia), on the Elk River outside of Charleston. His father was Hiram Wells, a cooper, and his mother was Katherine Buzzard Wells, possibly of Native American descent. William was the oldest of five children. Both of his parents were illiterate, and the family was desperately poor. During his childhood, the family moved to neighboring Putnam County, 25 miles down the Kanawha River Valley. William became a cooper, learning his trade from his father, and like his father he never learned to read. William's mother Katherine died, probably when William was in his late teens, and the family appears to have moved back to Kanawha County.
William was 5 feet 8 inches tall (slightly taller than average at the time), with dark hair and blue eyes. In 1858, when William was 22, he married Mary Elizabeth Ennis. A year older than William, Mary was the daughter of another illiterate Kanawha County cooper. The newlywed couple set up house next to Mary's parents on her grandparents' farm. William's father Hiram, now a widower, came to live with them. Ten months later, the couple had their first child, a boy whom they named William Alford Wells. In 1862, William and Mary Wells had their second child, a daughter named Alice.
In 1860, President Lincoln was elected. In May 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union, but the counties that now form West Virginia (including Kanawha County) remained loyal to the Union and in turn seceded from the state of Virginia. In August 1862, at the age of 26, William enlisted in the Union Army for a three-year term. His company was stationed at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where the Kanawha River meets the Ohio River. Point Pleasant was an important transportation hub, and they anticipated an imminent Confederate attack. However, that winter, William fell suddenly ill with tuberculosis. He died in Point Pleasant in January 1863, three months before the Confederate attack. He left behind his widow, his four-year-old son William, and his infant daughter Alice.
His wife Mary remarried Austin Hundley and had four more daughters.
Military records indicate that he was buried in Point Pleasant.
William Alfred Wells