William Wells, physician, philosopher and printer, was the second son of Robert and Mary Wells. He was born of Scottish immigrants in Charlestown and sent abroad at the age of eleven to Dumfries, Scotland where after completing his education at a preparatory school, he entered the University of Edinburgh.
He returned to Charleston in 1771 to serve a medical apprenticeship under Dr. Alexander Garden, a naturalist, physician and a pupil of Charles Alston, Director of the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1775 William Wells began his study of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and received his medical degree in 1780.
Wells returned to Charleston during the British occupation in 1781 to look after his father's affairs and became a "printer, book-seller and merchant." A year later he departed for St.Augustine, Florida, and began publication of "The East Florida Gazette." Following the treaty of peace with Great Britain, he returned to England in 1784 to practice medicine.
Wells is best known for a paper he read before the Royal Society in 1813 and published along with several other papers in 1818: Two essays: On Upon Single Vision with Two Eyes; The Other on Dew…and An Account of a Female of the White Race…Part of Whose Skin Resembles That of a Negro…By the Late W.C. Wells…with a Memoir of His Life, Written by Himself.
In the latter paper, Wells assumed there had been a biological evolution of human species and explained the principle of a natural selection in the course of a struggle for existence and the consequent survival of the fittest. Charles Darwin was unfamiliar with Well's essay at the time of his Origin of the Species was published, but in the fourth edition of his book (1866) Darwin inserted into the historical introduction the statement: "In this paper he [Wells] distinctly recognizes the principle of natural selection, and this is the first recognition which has been indicated…" Thus, Darwin acknowledged that Charlestonian Wells had evolved this idea before he himself had.