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.