Friday, June 5, 2009

Cranfield, England, 2009

Since we had an evening flight into London, we decided to stay over night in a hotel before driving into the country side in search of Dormer Cottage.  The next morning, we picked up our rental car and were headed to Aylesbury, then Stewkley.  We were expecting to get lost, but with my father's extremely accurate directions, we made it to Stewkley in less than an hour.  After exploring the area, we made our way to a pub for lunch(Story to follow later) then off to meet Jill at Dormer Cottage.   She gave us precise directions to Cranfield.  We decided to find our way there first.  Our intention was to attend Easter services there the following day and did not want to get lost or encounter any unexpected detours.  Thanks to Jill's directions, we successfully navigated through numerous roundabouts and narrow roadways to Cranfield.  The home of our ancestor, Thomas Wheeler and his family.  We met Hugh Thompson, the minister at the St. Peter and Paul Church.  He was more than happy to give us a tour and information about the Wheeler history in Cranfield.  His hospitality was generous and welcoming.  We greatly appreciated his help and were pleased to have met him.  The church was stunning.  We were standing in the actual building that our ancestors had been baptized and married in!! The feelings were emotional and hard to explain.  We made arrangements to return on the following day for Easter service.  I can't wait to return to the church with my son and share the experience with him as I shared with my own father on that April day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

England, 2009

This past April, My dad and I visited England for the very first time.  This was a dream come true for me in that I have always wanted to visit the area in England where my ancestors were from.  It was an incredible adventure to share with my father.  We had planned the trip, almost a year in advance and knew exactly where and what we wanted to see and do.  Obviously, we planned to visit the quaint village of Cranfield.  Our Wheeler ancestors were all from there.  We also wanted to spend time exploring the surrounding areas and stately homes that grace the countryside.  We originally talked about trying to find hotels to stay in along the way.  Then I had the idea of trying to find a cottage that we could rent that was centrally located near all of our destinations.  After searching the web for possibilities, I came across a place called "Dormer Cottage" in Stewkley.  I can't tell you how wonderful our stay was in this warm and friendly little village.  Our host Jill Scott met us at the door with open arms and generous hospitality.  The cottage itself was built in the early 1600's.  It had two bedrooms, one large bath, a full kitchen, and a sitting room.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  You could almost feel the history in the place.   From the exposed beams in the bedrooms to the large fireplace in the sitting room, complete with a bread oven.  We looked forward to our return every afternoon to Dormer Cottage after a day of exploration.  On the day that we arrived, Jill made delicious Easter cookies that were waiting for us in the kitchen.  Our trip to England would not have been the same if we stayed somewhere else.   I plan on a return visit to England next year with my wife and 10 year old son.  I don't need to tell you that I will be staying at Dormer Cottage with Jill Scott for part of that visit.  My return to England will include more family history research and to see more spectacular sites with my family.  But I will also be looking forward to seeing my new friend Jill Scott.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Myself, Richard Wheeler(my father), Robert Wheeler(my uncle)

My father and I began restoring the Jonathan Wheeler Cemetery in the late 90's. It was during this time that I became addicted to my family history and genealogy. I had always known that the cemetery was in Stonington, but like most young people had interests elsewhere! At the time, the right of way was from Wheeler Road. Which meant that you basically were fighting poison ivy, thorns, vines, and a mess of underbrush. Since then, a new development was put in and now has almost completely surrounded our precious historical burial plot. Progress is a good thing though because the town has deemed a small field in front of the cemetery the new right of way and as open space. Which means that no one can build there. This provided us the perfect opportunity to access the lot and dig in. We began by rebuilding the stone wall and clearing the perimeter. Next, we tackled the clean up of the interior. This meant the removal of about thirty years of oak, maple, and hickory leaves!! We also cleared twigs, branches, and other debris. Later we focused on reseting and cleaning the headstones. Since the original entrance faced Wheeler Road, my father suggested that we move the entrance to face the open field and access area. We shopped for new iron gates(The old ones had long been stolen.) and set two new oak posts to hold them. I then ordered an aluminum sign to re-establish the landmark. It has been a long ten years, but the fruits of our labor were well worth it. Jonathan Wheeler would be proud.
Yes this 100 sq. yards of space is all that is left of the old Jonathan Wheeler Homestead and farm that once stood tall in the Center of Wheeler Road. Jonathan is my grandfather, back 8 generations. He built his house on land given to him by his grandfather. Land that was part of the original 4,000 acres that Thomas Wheeler once owned. Jonathan set aside this burial place for his descendants. When I step into this sacred place, I am surrounded by generations of Wheelers and family. My Great, Great Grandfather, Horace Niles Wheeler was the last person buried there. He died March, 1909.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Ancestor, Thomas Wheeler

Thomas Wheeler

Thomas Wheeler was born 1602 in Wharley,Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He was baptized on November 20, 1603 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He died in Stonington, CT(America) on March 6, 1686.  His father was also Thomas Wheeler born 1571 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He was called the Thomas of the “Town and Wharley end”.  He married Dorothy Holloway on April 13, 1600 at Chalgrave, Bedfordshire.   He died February 11, 1635 in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England(74 years old).  His father was Thomas Wheeler born in 1526 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  His wife's name is unknown.  He died after 1574 at Cranfield.  

Thomas Wheeler(born 1602) spent his childhood and young adulthood in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  Bedfordshire is a rural area with no large cities.  Along its western border and midway north and south are the parishes of Marston Mortaine and Cranfield.  Families named Wheeler lived in these parishes as far back as the 14th century.   I am not sure of Thomas Wheeler’s education, possibly taught at home.  His family’s occupation has not been determined. Although upon a recent visit to England, I discovered that the Wheelers may have owned their own land, thus being referred to as yeoman.   The exact reason why Thomas left his country to seek out a new life in a young America is unknown, but as history dictates, it may have been to escape religious persecution.  He saw an opportunity to perhaps practice the religion of his choice in the new world.  Other families from his township had left and records show that his brother George also went to America, Concord Massachusetts, in 1638 with his wife Catherine Penn and their three children.  Consequently, George Wheeler’s will dated 1685 proves that he owned large tracts of land and was a wealthy, contributing member of society in Concord, Massachusetts.  (America) Thomas also had a half brother, Jonathan that settled in New London, Ct.

Thomas Wheeler married Penelope Nichols, date unknown.  She must have died shortly after, because they did not have any children.  Thomas left England at the age of 33  aboard the ship “James”.  He sailed to Salem, Massachusetts, America settling in nearby Lynn Massachusetts.  In that very same year he was elected constable and held other official positions.  According to C.M. Babcock, author of The Babcock Family in America, Thomas Wheeler was a miller by trade.  In 1642 he was admitted to the privilege of a freeman of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.  He purchased large tracts of land there, including a mill site, upon which he built and operated a saw and gristmill.   Thomas married Mary Beckley in 1645.  Thomas and Mary had three children, all born in Lynn, Massachusetts.  They were Isaac(b. 1646, d. June 5, 1712), Elizabeth(b. 1648, d. Aug. 5, 1672) and Sarah(b. 1650, d. 1688 in Barbados, West Indies).

Thomas and Mary remained in Lynn until 1667.  He then, at the age of 65, sold his businesses and land and decided to move to Stonington, Connecticut.  Judge Richard Anson Wheeler wrote in his book, The History of the Town of Stonington, that Thomas came to Stonington with his close friend the Rev. James Noyes who moved to Stonington the very same year. 

According to C.M. Babcock, Thomas Wheeler had large tracts of land given to him by the town of Stonington.  He also made large purchases of his own until he owned nearly 4,000 acres.  He was at one time the largest landholder in the Stonington Township.   The land encompassed Wheeler Road from the Pequot Trail to points as far as the village at North Stonington.  His family’s legacy can still be seen today in the Wheeler Library and School, The Wheeler Road, and Wheeler High School.  All named after this illustrious family. 

Soon after Thomas and Mary moved to Stonington, he and his son Isaac built a home.  The homestead was built in 1673 on the site of Col. James F. Brown’s house.  It was a double, two story, wood-colored house.  It was taken down in the mid to late 1800’s due to structural problems.  (Grace Denison Wheeler)  Isaac later built a home for himself and his family.  This home still stands today.  It is on a corner in the middle of the Wheeler Road and was once owned by the Judge Richard Anson Wheeler.  His daughter, the famous local historian, Grace Denison Wheeler lived in the house her whole life.  When she died in 1953, the home was sold out of the Wheeler Family. 

Thomas Wheeler was made freeman in the Connecticut Colony in the year of 1669.   Also in that year, he became a member of the General Court committee that authorized the layout of the various county highways and roads in Stonington.  Thomas became the constable and first selectman in Stonington and was nominated and elected one of the Stonington representatives to the Connecticut General Court in the year of 1673.  On June 3, 1674 Thomas Wheeler was one of the “immortal” nine who organized the first Church of Christ in Stonington.  (This was known as the meeting house and later as the Road Church.) Thomas Wheeler was among the “partakers” at the ordination of the church’s first minister and his friend, the Rev. James Noyes on Sept. 10, 1674. 

The will of Thomas Wheeler was lost in the burning of New London by the infamous Benedict Arnold and the British on September 6, 1781.  This event coincided with the attack at Fort Griswold in Groton, Connecticut.  The existence of his will is proved by his descendants referring to it later by conveying the real estate that belonged to him and given to them in his will.  Thomas Wheeler died March 6, 1686.  he was 84 years old.  Thomas is buried beside his wife, Mary in the old White Hall Burial Place in Mystic, Connecticut.    His legacy and history makes me a very proud descendent of such a brave and successful man. 

Sources Cited

1.    History of the First Congregational Church of Stonington, Connecticut, 1674-1874.  Published T.H. Davis and Company 1875.  By Richard A. Wheeler.
2.    History of the Town of Stonington.  Published 1900.  By Richard A. Wheeler.
3.    Ancestors of Alden Smith Swan and His Wife Mary Althea Farwell.  The Hills Press, New York, MCMXXIII, page 229.  By Josephine C. Frost.
4.    The Wheeler Family in America, The Descendants of Thomas Wheeler, Stonington, Conn.  Pages 289-349.  By Inez E. Coolby-Brayton, 1934.  Located in the DAR Library in Washington, D.C.
5.    A History of the Babcock Family in America.  By C. Merton Babcock.
6.    Fifty Great Migration Colonists to New England & their Origins.  By John Brooks Threlfall, Madison, Wisconsin, 1990.




Genealogical Tree of Thomas Wheeler(1602) from England

1.    John Wheeler was born 1539 in Odell, Bedfordshire, England.  He married Alice Sayre in Bedfordshire in 1560 at 21 years old.  (1541-1567)  John Wheeler died April 15, 1567 in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He was only 28 years old. 
2.    Thomas Wheeler was born 1561 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He married Dorothy Holloway(1574-1653) on April 13, 1600 at Chalgrave, Bedfordshire.  He was called the Thomas of The Town and Wharley End.  He died February 11, 1635.  He was 74 years old.    His wife died 1653.
Thomas Wheeler born 1602 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.   Thomas was baptized 1603 in Cranfield.   He married 1st to Penelope Nichols, then 2nd to Mary Beckley on April 6, 1635 at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England.  He died March 6, 1686 in Stonington, CT.