Wheelock History


History of the Surname

The Wheelock name is reported to derive from the Welsh word "chevel-og", meaning "winding river" [1].

The Wheelock family origins can be traced back to the 12th century (during the reign of Henry II), in the County of Cheshire, England, where the village of Wheelock now stands. Sometime in the late 12th century Roger Mainwaring released to Hugh de Whelok all his claim to the Manor of Whelok. Hugh de Whelok and his offspring later acquired more of the surrounding lands; and thus the village of Wheelock came into being.

In 1459 the Manor of Wheelock passed to the Leversage family (who had married into the Wheelock family) [1].

Wheelock Coat of ArmsThe Wheelock coat of arms, shown here [3], consists of a "chevron between three Catherine wheels of Sable" [2]. It is similar to the Leversage coat of arms: "a chevron between three plough-shares erect Sable".  The crest, shown in the picture, appears not to be "officially granted", and is shown for adornment purposes only. [9]

In 1637, Rev. Ralph Wheelock, a highly educated graduate of Clare Hall in Cambridge, England, emigrated to Massachusetts, with his wife Rebecca, and several children [4]. He was a dissenting preacher, and the motivation to emigrate was no doubt a result of the religious persecution that ran high during this period of England's history.

Rev. Ralph Wheelock was a Puritan, and played an active role in establishing the townships of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts. He preached frequently, but never had his own ministry. His ambitions were oriented toward teaching. He was the first headmaster at the first public school in Dedham (which probably was  the first public school in the colonies). He was chosen to "take up a collection for Harvard", and thus played a role in raising funds for the first college in America [6].

It is likely that most people in the United States with the last name of Wheelock are descended from Rev. Ralph. He and his offspring had many children, over the course of many generations. His progeny are many.

But not all Wheelocks in the United States descend from Ralph. There is a line of Wheelocks in South and Central America, many of whom now live in this country [7]. It has been shown that this line descends from somebody other than Rev. Ralph Wheelock. In addition, there is at least one family of Native Americans, Oneidas from upstate New York, now living in other parts of the country, that aquired the Wheelock surname sometime in their history. The exact circumstances of this are not yet known, but research is ongoing [8]. There is a line of Wheelocks from Ireland, founded by Charles Wheelock, who was born near Dublin in 1789, and came to New York City in 1810. Many Wheelocks descend from Charles, including the abolitionist Edwin Miller Wheelock who was his son. [11]

No doubt there have been numerous Wheelock immigrants after Rev. Ralph Wheelock. There are records of an Abraham Wheelock sailing from London to Virginia in late 1673 on the ship Martha. There is another record of an Abraham Wheelock sailing from London to Virginia in 1677 on the Good Hope [5]. However, Abraham appears to have been a shipmaster, and not an emigrant. [10]

The Wheelocks were at the leading edge of westward settlement in colonial America. Many towns were founded by Wheelocks, including Dedham, MA, Medfield, MA, Mendon, MA, Calais, VT, Wheelock, TX, Hanover, NH, Lubbock, TX, and probably others. Eleazer Wheelock, great grandson of Rev. Ralph Wheelock, founded Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, thus perpetuating the teaching tradition so close to the heart of Ralph. Another educator, Lucy Wheelock, founder of Wheelock College in Boston, Mass. was probably also a descendant of Rev. Ralph Wheelock.

Early Wheelock Migration History in New England

The Wheelock family followed typical colonial period migration patterns. The first settlements in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, are rich with Wheelock history; including Mendon, Marlborough (Shrewsbury), and Lancaster. It was the custom of the day for fathers to establish livelihoods for their sons, usually in the form of land gifts; and this pattern is evident in the expansion of the Wheelock family into new regions. The following outlines the first few generations of this expansion.

Medfield, MA (founded 1651)

The roots of the Wheelock family in America can be found in Medfield, MA, where they were established in the middle of the seventeenth century. Rev. Ralph Wheelock is credited with founding the town, and subsequent Wheelocks played a vital role in its development over the course of many generations. The Medfield Wheelock line can be traced through at least five generations to the children of Colonel Ephraim Wheelock who commanded the 4th Suffolk County regiment during the early part of the Revolutionary War. One of Eleazar's grandchildren founded Dartmouth College, in Hanover, MA. Captain Ralph Wheelock, another grandson, was one of the early settlers of New Medfield, MA, later renamed Sturbridge (incorporated 1738). Captain Ralph Wheelock moved to Sturbridge circa 1747, and founded a line there that can be traced through 3 generations.

Founders Monument in Mendon, MA

Founders Monument in the center of Mendon, MA.

Mendon, MA (incorporated 1667) 

In the 1680's two children of Rev. Ralph Wheelock moved to the nearby settlement of Mendon. One of them, Benjamin, established a line there, and is listed as one of the founders of the town. The other, Eleazar, moved back to Medfield around 1698, establishing the line that proliferated there.

Over the course of many generations, Benjamin's descendants thrived in Mendon and in the nearby towns that spun off from it, including Uxbridge, Milford, Hopedale, Blackstone, as well as the Rhode Island towns of Glocester, and Smithfield. One of Benjamin's descendants, Colonel Silas Wheelock, commanded the 7th Worcester County regiment during the Revolutionary war. Wheelocks were amongst the earliest to get into the woolen business, which thrived in the Blackstone Valley during the 1800s. One Wheelock woolen mill still stands, awaiting renovation as a historical landmark.

Direct descendants of Benjamin still live in the region today (Dec 2000); and many signs of the Wheelock influence can be discerned throughout the area. Walter T. Wheelock of Uxbridge, MA, documents some of this line in his book "The Wheelock Family in America, 1637-1969", privately published in 1969.

Charlton, MA (incorporated 1755) and Calais, VT (settled 1789)

Plaque by Rider Tavern, Charlton, MA

Plaque in front of the Rider Tavern in Charlton, MA. The tavern was built by Eli Wheelock (1760-1797), and Leonard Morey.

Three of Benjamin's descendants, Paul, David, and Jonathan, moved from Mendon to Oxford, MA, circa 1735, and settled in the County Gore. In 1757 the County Gore was annexed to Charlton, forming what is now called the Charlton Northside. These three Wheelocks established lines that lasted at least four generations in that town. In the 1780's, a group of men from Charlton, headed by Colonel Jacob Davis, purchased and settled the town of Calais, VT. Among these were several Wheelocks, including Abijah Wheelock, the first permanent settler of Calais. Marcus Warren Waite documented the Calais Wheelocks in his book "The Wheelock Family of Calais, VT", published in 1940 by the Driftwind Press, Montpelier, VT. Many Wheelock descendants still live in Calais (Dec 2000).

Many of the Charlton Wheelocks moved to NY in the early 1800's taking advantage of new lands opened for settlement by the Holland Land Company. William Efner Wheelock, founder of Lubbock, TX, descended from one line of Wheelocks who moved from Charlton to Holland, NY.

House of Gershom Wheelock, Jr.

House built by Gershom Wheelock, Jr (1724/25-1806) in Shrewsbury, MA .

Marlborough (incorporated 1660) and Shrewsbury, MA (incorporated 1717)

Rev. Ralph Wheelock's daughter, Record, married Increase Ward and moved to Marlborough, circa 1674, to a section of town that later became Northborough. Record's nephew, Samuel, son of Gershom, moved to Marlborough circa 1690, and later nearby Shrewsbury, where he appears as a signer (1717) of one of the original deeds for the town. Samuel established a long line of Wheelocks in that region. His son, Gershom, is credited with building the first house in Shrewsbury, during the winter months of 1716-1717. This house later burnt down, but his second house, built in a different location is still standing (2001). Samuel's progeny later settled the nearby towns of Grafton, Sutton, and Millbury. Deacon Jonathan Wheelock of Shrewsbury moved to Cavendish, VT, and established a line that was very prominent there.

Lancaster, MA (incorporated 1653)

Rev. Ralph Wheelock's grandsons, Joseph and Timothy Wheelock, moved to the fledgling Lancaster settlement, probably around 1688. Timothy later moved back to Medfield, but Joseph established a long line of Wheelocks in the region that can be traced at least 6 generations. Later generations moved from Lancaster and Leominster to the New Hampshire towns of Winchester, Alstead, Swanzey, and Surry. One of Joseph's grandchildren, Abel Wheelock, removed to Nova Scotia in the 1760's, establishing a long and prominent line of Wheelocks there.

Nova Scotia, Canada

At the close of the French and Indian war, the British government embarked on a program to replace the French speaking, Roman Catholic influence in Nova Scotia (and the other Canadian territories) with Protestant and English speaking influence. To encourage this, the British governors of Nova Scotia offered grants of free land to settlers. In the 1760's, a wave of New Englanders (called "Planters") migrated to Nova Scotia. Among these were four Wheelocks. Three were brothers from Mendon, MA - Elias, Joseph, and Obadiah, descendants of Benjamin. The fourth, Abel Wheelock, was from Lancaster, a descendant of Joseph Wheelock.

The Wheelocks thrived in Nova Scotia, establishing a line that spanned many generations. Many of these Wheelocks later moved back to the United States.

(Written by Roderick B. Sullivan, Jr, Dec 2000)

References and Notes

  1. "History of Sandbach and District", Cyril Massey, Published 1982
  2. "History of Sandbach, Holme Chaple and Goostrey", J.P. Earwaker
  3. Coat of arms from "Ralph Wheelock, Puritan", by Rev. Lewis Hicks, scanned in by Harlan Wheelock Stockman Jr., further modified by Thomas Wheelock to show the sable (black) colors of the chevron and Catharine wheels.
  4. It has been suggested that Ralph Wheelock sailed into the port of Rehoboth, Bristol, MA on the Bevis, but no confirming reference has yet been found.
  5. "Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607 - 1776", Peter Wilson Coldham
  6. "History of Medfield Massachusetts, 1650 - 1886", William S. Tilden
  7. Correspondence with Norman Michael Wheelock, descendant of Tomas Wheelock of Peru.
  8. Correspondence with Anne Wheelock Gonzales, member of the Oneida Indian tribe.
  9. Research of Thomas Wheelock, England, Jan 1999.
  10. The Abraham Wheelock who emigrated in 1673 is probably the same Abraham Wheelock of Middlesex, England, that filed a will Aug 1673, "being now outwards bound on a voyage to the seas and with all considering the dangers hazards ..." Documents are found in the Public Records Office in London stating that Abraham was the shipmaster of the Martha and the Good Hope, which would suggest that he did not emigrate to the colonies, and did not establish a line of Wheelocks in the United States. (Will: Prob 11/372, Public Records Office, London; Documents: E190/59/1 and E190/72/1, Public Records Office, London; thanks to Thomas Wheelock, London, UK, for the research on Abraham Wheelock)
  11. From the records of Sandra Smith, a descendant of Charles Wheelock, Nov 2001.