There is so much written about Ralph Wheelock, including an easily accessible article on Wikipedia, that I am not sure why I am writing this post. However, because my family may not be aware of their connection to him, I will give just the bare outlines of his life. We need to know our past, so we can walk proudly into the future.
It seems most likely, although unproven, that Ralph Wheelock was born or christened on May 14, 1600 in Donington, Shropshire, England. He know that his parents must have had money, because he was educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge University, with John Milton and John Elliot as classmates. He enrolled in 1623 and obtained a bachelor of arts degree in 1626 and a master of arts in 1630 or 1631. Cambridge was a center for Puritan thought and he participated in that movement while there.
Less than two weeks after obtaining his master of arts degree, and being ordained by Francis White, biship of Norfolk, he married Rebecca Clarke, daughter of Thomas Clarke and Mary Canne, in the church of Wramplingham St. Peter and Paul, Wramplingham, England. It appears that he served as local curate in Banham, Norfolk, and then in some capacity in Eccles. We don't know when or whether his beliefs as a Puritan brought him up against the requirements of the Church of England, but it is believed that he, along with his wife and three children Mary, Gershom and Rebecca, sailed to Boston in 1637. There may have been a daughter, Peregrina, born at sea, also.
They first settled in Watertown, but by 1638 Rev. Wheelock was one of the founding fathers and first settlers at Dedham, Massachusetts. Four children were born to the couple there, Benjamin, Samuel, Record, and Experience. In 1639, he was chosen to be one of eight town 'assayers', or selectmen, and was also made a freeman. In 1642 he was appointed the General Court Clerk of Writs, which was included legal duties and also the authority to dispense lands.
Rev. Wheelock's first love was teaching school, and he may have been the first teacher of a public school in America. The school was voted on February 1, 1644 and Wheelock was the first teacher, but it's not clear exactly when the school began.
In 1651, the family was preparing to move again, to a settlement they helped found that became the town of Medfield. The last son, Eleazur, was born there, and the Wheelocks had finally found their permanent home. Rev. Wheelock was the leader of the committee of seven that founded the town, and received the first house lot there. He served on the board of selectmen for several years, and was a representative to the General Court in Massachusetts five different times. He was also the first school teacher there.
Rebecca Clarke Wheeler died January 1, 1680 and Reverend Ralph died January 11,1683. His will gave several grants of land to his sons and sons in law, and added a comment that "Further my will is that my books not formerly disposed of shall after my decease shall be Devided amongst my children." I would love to find an inventory of his books, to see what was important in his life besides the Bible, and what he used to teach his family and his students.
We have had a lot of schoolteachers in our family, and it's fascinating to think that somehow some of this man's influence reached to his descendents, many generations later.
The line of descent is:
Ralph Wheelock-Rebecca Clarke
Benjamin Wheelock-Elizabeth Bullen
Benjamin Wheelock-Huldah Thayer
Mary Wheelock-Ebenezer Thayer
Abigail Thayer-Jesse Holbrook
Amariah Holbrook-Molly Wright
Nahum Holbrook-Susanna Rockwood
Joseph Holbrook-Mary Elizabeth Whittemore
Fremont Holbrook-Phoebe Brown
Loren Holbrook-Etta Stanard
Gladys Holbrook-Richard Allen
Since Molly Wright is mentioned in this descent, the update is that there is no update. I am supposed to hear something from NEHGS this week, but thus far, all is silent. Soon, very soon!