Wheeler


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The conventional and usual explanation of the Wheeler name is that it is occupational, describing a master wheel-maker or wheelwright.  The root here was the Old English word hweogol or hweol meaning wheel.  However, there is an alternative explanation: that the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon combination of words wel and hari meaning "lucky/prosperous warrior."

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England.  Wheeler is clearly a name of southern England.  Early records of the name were John le Whelare in Worcestershire in 1275; Hugh le Welere in Cambridgeshire in 1279; and Gilbert Whyler in Surrey in 1351.  Later concentrations of the name suggest two focuses - one around London and another southwest in a line running north from Hampshire into Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire.

A Wheler family with a coat of arms were said to have been seated in Worcestershire since the early 1300ís.  The first recorded was William Wheler who through marriage came into possession of the Martin Hussingtree manor in 1541.  John Wheler, a goldsmith in London, sold the estate in 1619.  Later Whelers of his line became baronets:
  • the main branch based themselves at Birdingbury in Warwickshire
  • while other Whelers, Royalists who briefly went into exile, were to be found at Charing near Ashford in Kent.  This line included Sir George Wheler who undertook a tour of Europe in the 1670's which extended as far as Constantinople.  He was an early travel writer. 
Hampshire has had the largest number of Wheelers in the southwest.  The Wheelers of Millcourt manor in Binsted dated from the early 1600ís.  The Wheeler name was particularly common on the Isle of Wight.  One family line was traced back to 1475 and William Willier at Freshwater.  The spelling changed over time from Willier to Whillier to Wheeler.

The 18th century saw the rise of the notorious Wheeler smuggling gang on the Isle of Wight - from their base at Box Cottage on Chale Bay.  James Wheeler, not maybe connected to the smuggling, kept track of the shipwrecks there.  He recorded sixty shipwrecks at Chale Bay between 1746 and 1808.  Robert Wheeler did engage in a little smuggling
.

Ireland.  The Rev. Jonas Wheeler, born in 1543, served as chaplain to Queen Elizabeth and was appointed Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin in 1594.  He died in Ireland in his 97th year in 1640.  Our line from him in county Kildare were mainly medical men, two of whom attained the Presidency of the Irish College of Surgeons.  There were also English Wheeler branches in Limerick and Kilkenny.

America. 
Albert Wheelerís 1914 book History of the Wheeler Family in America provided extensive coverage of the various early Wheeler lines in New England. 

New England.  One focal point for these Wheelers was Concord, Massachusetts.  The Wheelers from Cranfield in Bedfordshire were congregating there in the 1630ís and 1640ís.  The relationship between George, Obadiah, and Timothy Wheeler is not quite clear, but they were all clearly related.  And Obadiah had married his cousin Susannah Wheeler.  

George was a selectman in 1660. 
His house lot was at the present corner of Main and Walden Streets, together with Timothy Wheeler's.  Many of his descendants remained in Concord.  Some were to be found at Shrewsbury by the 1730ís, others at Grafton nearby (including the unfortunate Ebenezer Wheeler).  There were later lines in New Hampshire and Vermont.   Meanwhile Thomas Wheeler had arrived earlier than his brother George and made his home at Lynn where he operated a gristmill. 

There was a Captain Thomas Wheeler of uncertain origins at Concord by 1640.  He was later trading with the Indians along the Merrimac river.   Although he was constantly moving around, he kept his home base in Concord and died there in 1676.  

John Wheeler from Wiltshire came to Newbury, Massachusetts with his family around 1634.  His son David arrived on the Confidence four years later and married Sarah Wise there in 1650.  The 1984 book Wheeler Cousins covered his lineage.  

There were also early Wheelers in Connecticut: 
  • Moses Wheeler from Kent came around 1638 and first settled at New Haven and then in Stratford.   Moses became a sizeable landowner there and died in 1698 at the grand age of 100.  A descendant Nathaniel Wheeler was a pioneer in the manufacture of sewing machines in the mid-19th century.
  • while Thomas Wheeler, formerly of Lynn, later settled in Stonington where he died.  
ďThe Wheeler Homestead on Wheeler Road in Stonington was built by Thomasís son Isaac in 1687 and remained with the Wheeler family from that time.  Sadly the homestead burned to the ground in the 1970ís.Ē 

Edward or Evard Wheeler came to Dutch New York sometime in the 1680ís and to land along the Hudson river south of Fort Orange.   He made his home at Kinderhook.  Within two generations this family had spread up and down the Hudson on both sides of the river.  George Wheeler of this family was a Loyalist who fled to New Brunswick in Canada after the Revolutionary War and remained there
.

Wheelers South.  One line from immigrant Moses Wheeler who had settled in Stratford, Connecticut led to Fighting Joe Wheeler, a Civil War General revered in the South.  

Although born in Georgia, his roots were in Connecticut and he spent much of his early life there.  However, when the Civil War broke out, he joined the Confederate ranks and distinguished himself in battle.  After the war was over he moved to Alabama and represented the town there, now known as Wheeler, no fewer than nine times.  Then in 1898 when war with Spain broke out, Fighting Joe volunteered for service, even though he was over sixty, and was appointed the general in Cuba overseeing groups such as Teddy Rooseveltís Rough Riders. 

Wheelers West
.  The Wheeler name was a prominent one in the history of the early West.  Included in their number were:  
  • John Ozias Wheeler had left Connecticut for Florida in 1844 and then took off for California in 1849.  He and his brother Horace were early merchants in Los Angeles and he also started publishing its first newspaper The Southern Californian.  His immigrant forebear was Thomas Wheeler of Stonington, Connecticut.  
  • Thomas and Ann Wheeler were English Mormons from Herefordshire who had made the trek to Salt Lake valley in 1852.  The Henry J. Wheeler farm in South Cottonwood, built by their son in 1898, is one of the few late 19th century farmsteads extant in the Salt Lake valley.  
  • Henry H. Wheeler operated mail and stage lines from the Dalles to Canyon City in Oregon territory in the 1860ís.  Wheeler county in Oregon was named after him.  He came from Pennsylvania.  
  • William Wheeler served as US Marshal for Montana territory from 1869 to 1878.  He had come West from upstate New York.  His grandfather Moses Wheeler had been a Revolutionary War soldier and afterwards Sheriff of Orange county, New York.  
  • while Dr. Henry Wheeler was one of the best physicians and surgeons in the Northwest in the 1880ís, making his home in Grand Rapids, North Dakota.  His father was a drover and stock raiser in Northfield, Minnesota and his line went back to immigrant Thomas Wheeler in Concord, Massachusetts.  
George M. Wheeler was a pioneering explorer and cartographer of the American West in the 1870ís, although he made his home in the East.

Canada.
  Seager Wheeler was the son of a fisherman and lived in the Black Gang area of the Isle of Wight, a place once well-known for smuggling.

In 1885 he emigrated to the Canadian Prairies, following his uncle who was already homesteading there.  By 1897 he had established his Maple Grove Farm to grow wheat just outside Rosthern in Saskatchewan.  His innovative wheat seedlings and farming methods made him famous and he was soon being called Canadaís Wheat King.  He would get some 700 visitors a week to see his farm during the 1920ís.  He lived onto 1961. 

South Africa
.  There were two early Wheeler families in South Africa:
  • James Wheeler and his family from Wiltshire were among the 1820 settlers, one of Wilsonís party that came out on La Belle Alliance.  James farmed near Grahamstown but died from war wounds in 1831.
  • while Thomas and Sarah came from Berkshire on the Susan in 1845 and made their home at Middelburg in the Transvaal where they farmed.  A branch of the family trekked to new farming land in Rhodesia in 1899.
Select Wheeler Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


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Sir George Wheler who undertook a Grand Tour of Europe in the 1670's was an early English travel writer. 
Joseph Wheeler
was a Confederate cavalry general from 1862 to 1865 and a major general in the war against Spain in 1898. 

Seager Wheeler was called Canadaís Wheat King during the 1920ís.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler is considered the father of modern British archaeology.   
Charles Wheeler
has been the longest-serving BBC foreign correspondent, from 1947 until his death in 2008.

Select Wheelers Today
  • 33,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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