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William H. Welch, Chief Justice, Territorial Supreme Court, 1853-1858

William H. Welch

Portrait of William Welch

William H. Welch was the first Justice in Minnesota to have a law degree



William Henry Welch was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on June 1, 1805, to parents John and Rosanna Peebles Welch. John Welch was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and later became a judge. Welch attended the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire and studied law at Yale and was the first Minnesota Justice to have graduated from law school. He then moved to Ohio where he was admitted to the bar in 1830. He met his wife Henrietta while he lived in Ohio. 

He moved to the Michigan Territory and participated in the State Constitutional Convention in 1835. He suffered ill health and was forced to give up the practice of law. Welch and his wife had 6 children while living in Michigan.

Welch and his family came to Minnesota in 1850, and resided in St. Anthony (Minneapolis), where he resumed practicing law and served as Justice of the Peace.

President Pierce appointed Welch to the Minnesota Territorial Supreme Court in 1853. He was the first presidential appointee who actually lived in the territory prior to his appointment. President Buchanan reappointed him 4 years later. Welch left the Court in 1858, when Minnesota became a state and relocated his family to Red Wing, Minnesota where he lived until his death on January 22, 1863.

You may read more about the life and work of Chief Justice Welch in the sources linked below and in the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society's book: Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, which is the source of this brief biography.

Portrait of William H. Welch from Hiram F. Stevens’s History of the Bench and Bar of Minnesota (Minneapolis and St. Paul: Legal Publishing & Engraving Co., 1904)