Henry Carter Welles was born in Glastonbury, CT on May 13, 1821. His mother brought the family to live with relatives in Waterloo, Seneca County, NY sometime after 1825. Little else is known about his early life.
Henry married in the 1850's and the couple had three children, all of whom died in chidhood. He became a prominent druggist in Waterloo and was elected to village offices as well as being a member of church and fraternal groups.
While Henry was well known at the time, he would probably be forgotten today by all but descendants except for a comment that he made to townspeople in the summer of 1865. At a social gathering, Henry suggested that a day should be set aside to honor the dead of the Civil War. The next year, he repeated his suggestion to General John B. Murray. The two men and a group formed of local citizens gained the support of the village, and on May 5, 1866, the first complete observance of Memorial Day took place in Waterloo, NY.
While it was widely known at the time that Henry Welles was largely responsible for the first Memorial Day, the more prominent General Murray overshadowed him in gaining recognition outside the village. The Centennial Committee, formed in Waterloo for the 100th observance in 1966, found the newspapers of the time gave Henry credit for suggesting the first Memorial Day.
Henry C. Welles died in July, 1868, but had lived long enough to see Memorial Day nationally proclaimed by General John Logan of the G.A.R. His obituary in the Geneva Times, one of few death notices in the papers in this time period, was statement of his importance in the community.
Some of the information for this article was obtained from Centennial Celebration, souvenir edition of the Geneva Times, printed May 24, 1966.