It's a joy to write these blog posts. I never write one entirely out of what I think I know when I sit down to write a post. A little digging turns up more information, or draws into question what I think I know, and always leaves me with more questions. Sometimes, I am so fortunate as to find one or more stories that tell me a little bit about the person. These anecdotes can't be proven, but I love them because even if not strictly true, they do give us insights into the character of the man or woman. Such is the case with Moses Wheeler.
Moses Wheeler is believed to have been born in Kent, England in 1598, the son of Dominick and Mercy Jelly Wheeler. As far as I know, the documentation for this has not been found, just as the documentation for his journey to America and his marriage has not been found. His early life is a mystery. It is believed that he came to America in 1638 and soon was in New Haven, Connecticut, but records of his immigration are missing. It is also believed that he married Miriam Hawley, sister of Joseph Hawley, but when or where are still questions. If, as many trees state, he married her in Connecticut than it may well be that he had earlier been married. Moses and Miriam's first child was born August 1, 1642, when Moses would have been 46 years old. This leaves plenty of time for him to have had a family in England, be widowed and come to America to start a new life. He must also have had strong religious convictions, because New Haven was one of the strictest Puritan settlements in New England. He may have come to New Haven so that he could follow his trade, which was a shipwright. He was on the Planters list in 1641, receiving 12 1/2 acres in the first division and 14 acres in the second division of land. At the time of the first division, there were just two people in the family, so the family had not yet been started.
I love the story that in New Haven, Moses returned from a trip on Sunday. In his joy at seeing his family again, he kissed his wife and children, in public, on the Sabbath. New Haven had strict "blue laws" and he was expelled from the colony for this offense. That's the story. I question whether it happened exactly that way, and whether this was a first offense. Generally a person who ran up against the blue law was given a chance to confess and repent, and be punished by time in the stocks or/and a public whipping. Perhaps Moses didn't confess and repent, or perhaps he had other minor marks on his record, thus incurring the harsh punishment of being expelled. From this story, I take the germ of truth that he must have loved his family, and that perhaps he was a bit of a rebel.
Another story about Moses is that one day when Moses was in the cellar, three Indians with hatchets "appeared in the doorway. Moses said something to the effect of "let's have a drink" and picked up a barrel (empty, or nearly so) of cider and drank directly from the bunghole. The visitors apparently thought it was full, and decided that Moses was too strong for the three of them. I'm not sure what to make of this story, since giving spirits to the Indians was forbidden. Perhaps cider, no matter how "hard" it was, was permissible. My takeaway from this story is that Moses was a strong man and muscular, in order to lift even an empty barrel to his shoulder, and that he may have been known to his visitors.
When the family was expelled, they moved southwest on the coast to Stratford, which was founded in 1639, again by Puritans, and purchased land from the Indians. It is not known when the Wheelers arrived but in 1648 he was granted rights to be the ferryman on the Stratford river. This was a hard job, physically, but when he had no passengers to ferry he could farm and he could continue building ships, so there was an opportunity to "get ahead" financially. Ferrying probably meant rowing passengers across the river, which could be quite a challenge, with floods and ice and tidal currents to make the job more difficult. He was the ferryman from 1648 to 1690, and when he "retired" at the age of 92, he passed his duties on to his son Samuel.
Moses and Miriam had 7 known children, although some lists include fewer. Elizabeth was the first born, in 1642, and then they had Miriam, Samuel, Moses, Mary, Joanna and Susanna, in 1659. Apparently he returned to England in 1665 for just a short time. Was this business, or was he called home to settle an estate, or was there another reason for the trip? It would be fascinating to know more about this trip.
Moses is stated to have been an extensive land holder and one of the leading influential men of Stratford Township. This means he must have stayed out of trouble with the church authorities. His sister, Jane, had married Rev. Adam Blakeman who was one of the founders of Stratford and its minister for many years, so if Moses did have any more improprieties such as the kissing episode, he may have had a religious counselor to help him conform.
Moses Wheeler's headstone in the Old Congregational Burying Ground at Stratford is partially buried, but still clearly legible is "Moses Wheler Aged 100 Dyed Jan 15,1698" What a life he had, long and loving and virtuous, hardworking and strong. I'm so glad I got to know him a little bit by writing this post!
The line of descent is:
Moses Wheeler-Miriam Hawley
Elizabeth Wheeler-Jacob Walker
Elizabeth Walker-Luke Hitchcock
Ruth Hitchcock-Jonathan Church
Ruth Church-Stephen Noble
Ruth Noble-Martin Root
Ruth Root-Samuel Falley
Clarissa Falley-John Havens Starr
Harriet Starr-John Wilson Knott
Edith Knott-Edward Allen
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook