Herbert Welsh

Herbert Welsh, my great-great uncle, was the brother of Alice Welsh Strawbridge, the mother of my grandmother, Mary Lowber Sailer. He lived from 1851 to 1941. This site has an interesting letter written by him to his niece (my grandmother) in 1934. On this page of the site, I include a few photographs of Uncle Herbert along with excerpts from two books with information about his life.

The first book is The New Gentleman of the Road, self-published in 1921 in Philadelphia by Herbert Welsh. This book is the source of the photo of Uncle Herbert in walking regalia, included above. The book is Uncle Herbert’s first-person account of his adventures during his very long walks. (He would walk from Philadelphia to New Hampshire regularly.)

The second book is The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years 1882-1904, by William T. Hagan, published in 1985 by the University of Arizona Press. This book is the source of the picture of Uncle Herbert in 1883. It also provides a brief section on Uncle Herbert’s family history, mentioning as the source Andrew W. Imbrie, a grandson of Uncle Herbert.

Here is an excerpt from The New Gentleman of the Road, giving a description of part of one of Uncle Herbert’s walking trips in June 1919, starting at page 73 of the book:

Saturday, June 7th, I rose at 6, breakfasted at 8:30. I arranged with the American Express Company — with whom, on both sides of the Atlantic, I have had satisfactory dealings through many years — to send my suitcase directly to Sunapee. I was glad to get rid of such unnecessary and useless impedimenta now that I had no further expectation of being a guest in private houses. At quarter to 10 o’clock, accoutred as usual, I left Dr. Variell’s, being accompanied for several blocks by my self-denying hostess, who expected to view a parade of returned soldiers which was to take place that day in Waterbury. The town was in holiday attire, while everywhere through the streets we met people — many of them just arrived from the country — hurrying to some point of vantage to see the show. “Follow the green cars and you will be on the right road,” said Mrs. Variell as we parted. This I did, with patient trudge under the canopy of a sky blazing hot as the sun rose higher and higher, for a distance of about four miles. Yet I was perfectly happy and serene, though moist through every pore, my mind absorbed in gentle reverie through the experiences of the last two days.

I was almost unconscious of locomotion, dimly aware, however, that I was slowly passing through interminable outskirts of a thriving manufacturing town, up and down steep hills covered with much pale gray dust. Then another little town or village, shaded with big trees, peaceful, slumbering, I reached about drowsy noon, feeling much the need of a little rest and of something cool to eat or drink — birch beer, ice cream — no matter what. I found just the spot I wanted, to the right of the road entering the village, in a combined post-office and country store. The man who kept it — of mature years — was very agreeable and accommodating. He seemed to take a broad human interest in my journey.

I sat down at a small table in the sweet, cool, and primitive atmosphere of the place, to enjoy much cold water and ice-cream. While I was busy in this way an interesting family came in to buy things. There were father and mother and two daughters, the older of the latter a singularly beautiful and graceful girl of not more than fifteen years. The parents were both fine looking and scarcely, I judged, more than forty. Both had marked and pleasant character in their faces. The whole family shed abroad a home-like, wholesome influence. The mother’s nose was too pronounced, — too long for beauty, — though it gave character to her face. In the oldest daughter there were the same general characteristics in the nose, but they were by the hand of an inscrutable Providence restrained — softened into actual beauty. She kept moving with at least apparently unconscious, almost child-like, ease about the room, looking at things displayed for sale, talking with her father and mother, her sister, the storekeeper, so that one could not help observing her with a fair degree of accuracy and finally coming to a definite certain conclusion that both in face and form she was beautiful.

The postmaster taking the initiative, soon got into conversation with me, bringing out the fact that I was on a foot journey to Lake Sunapee, and that my general interests in life were artistic and philanthropic — woods, Indians, and the like. Soon I got into conversation with the father and mother of this little family. I think the father told me that he was an engineer — mining or civil — but of that I will not be sure. the mother said they knew well Rev. John Lewis, of Waterbury, my friend whom I had just left. I wish now that I had asked the names and address of these people. I have regretted ever since not doing so. I felt tempted strongly to stop over for twenty-four hours in that quiet village, getting first the mother’s permission to sketch that fifteen-year-old daughter. She would have made the fortune of a really competent figure painter. But a “heavy summons” lay up-on me to get through with this journey.

The heat was most oppressive. I pressed on, reaching the town of Meriden, a distance of 16 miles from Waterbury, between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I enjoyed the luxury of a good dinner at the best hotel in the place — the Winthrop. How cool and delightful the dining-room was after the glare and dust and heat of the road!

The other volume, about the Indian Rights Association, is a much different type of book. It is a footnote-laden work of history, heavily oriented, of course, to Indian rights issues. But it contains some very interesting information about Uncle Herbert. I won’t print any long excerpts, because the book is still under copyright, but I will mention a few of the interesting points that can be gleaned from the text.

The brief biographical section in the beginning of the book notes that Uncle Herbert attended Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, and that his older brother, John Lowber Welsh, was a highly successful businessman involved with railroads, steel, banking, and “urban traction” systems. John went on to become one of the richest men in Pennsylvania by the time of his death in 1904. The book goes on to note that Herbert Welsh went on to the University of Pennsylvania in 1867. He did well at writing and speaking, and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He also was awarded the Wooden Spoon, which was given to the graduating class’s best-liked member.

After graduating he began to study art seriously, and he married Fanny Frazer in 1873. According to the book, their marriage of sixty-six years was not a happy one; Herbert later described their marriage as a “tragedy.” Herbert studied art in Paris under Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat, then returned to Germantown, in Philadelphia, in 1874. The book clears up a fact involving a pamphlet about a visit to Sioux and Ponka Indians by William Welsh in 1872. I didn’t know if William Welsh was Herbert’s brother or his uncle; the book says that William, Herbert’s uncle, was the first chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, which was appointed by President Grant in 1869 to supervise the purchase of supplies for reservations. Herbert Welsh and his friend Henry S. Pancoast went on a visit to the Dakota Territory.

The book provides  colorful descriptions of the “upper-class easterners” disdainful reactions to the “border whites” they encountered out West. After being disappointed by the first Indians they saw, who evidently were dressed in “civilized” clothing, they eventually came upon Indians who fit the proper image of tall, well-built, noble men of dignified dress and bearing. The book naturally gives a lot of details about the Indian Rights Association, of which Herbert Welsh was the principal founder and guiding force. He received a major boost in the founding process from his father, John Welsh, who was one of the most prominent of Philadelphians and was able to invite other community and business leaders to a meeting at his home in December 1882. This meeting to organize the new association received good publicity in the Philadelphia Inquirer, not coincidentally because the paper’s publisher was one of those in attendance at the meeting.

Another of the interesting aspects of Uncle Herbert’s career with the Indian Rights Association is his relationship with Theodore Roosevelt, which began in earnest in 1892, when the two men traveled together for ten days through the Sioux reservations in South Dakota. Roosevelt promised to help Welsh by supporting him in various ways, and he spoke at one meeting of the Indian Rights Association. However, after Roosevelt became President in 1901 and Welsh became a leader in the Anti-Imperialist Society, the relationship deteriorated. At one point, shortly before assuming the presidency, Roosevelt described Welsh as having “a type of mind which is wholly incapable of understanding distinctions, even when the failure to understand them means complete moral and intellectual chaos.” At the time this book was published the Indian Rights Association was still going strong, and I assume it is today, although Uncle Herbert ceased his active role in 1904.