The Reverend John Wheelwright was born in the hamlet of Saleby
in Lincolnshire, England in 1594. His father, Robert, of Alford, Lincoln- shire, was of considerable means and sent John to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. There, he received his bachelor's degree in 1614 and his master's in 1618. He did not go unnoticed. One of his Cambridge classmates was Oliver Cromwell. And Cotton Mather wrote,"Wheelwright was a young spark at the university . . . he was noted for a more than ordinary stroke at wrestling." He quoted Cromwell as saying that: "he could remember the time he had been more afraid of meet- ing Wheelwright at football than he had been since of meeting an army in the field . . . ." John Wheelwright was married November 8, 1621, to Marie, daughter of the Reverend Thomas Storre, vicar of Bilsby, in Lincolnshire. He took holy orders and, at the death of his father-in-law in April, 1623, he became minister of the Bilsby Church. He remained at this post until January 1632, at which time he was "silenced" by the High Commission because of his Nonconformist religious beliefs. Nonconformist Protestantism in 17th century England was primarily a middle class phenomenon and was not approved by the church hierarchy which was allied to the aristocracy and the throne. Hundreds of ministers were silenced and even banished by Archbishop Laud for expressing Nonconformist views. Even the poet John Milton was so disgusted by the unjust treatment of
the Puritan clergy, he decided not to go into the ministry. The Reverend Wheelwright's first wife died in 1629. He was married again, in 1630, to Mary, daughter of Edward Hutchinson of Alford. Their daughter, Mary, was baptized and died in 1632, about the time that John was silenced. They continued to live in Lincolnshire for a few more years. Meanwhile, several of John's friends and family members had emigrated to Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony: the Reverend John Cotton, a close friend and banished minister from Old Boston; the William Hutchinsons and some of the Storre family were there.
On May 26,1636, John Wheelwright and his family arrived in Boston after several weeks' passage aboard a ship called The Griffon. At that time the Bay Colony had about 4,000 settlers: all sturdy middle class people whose Puritan religion was central to their earnest lives. In the Colony, there was no division between church and state. John Wheelwright was well received in Boston and was given a new church at Mt. Wollaston, now Quincy. However, he soon became involved in a religious-political controversy centered around his sister-in-law, Ann Hutchinson, a woman of keen wit and strong personality. Ann held weekly ladies' meetings in her Boston home to discuss theological topics and to critique the Sunday sermons of the Boston clergy. Inevitably, her outspokeness earned her the disapproval of the religious and political leaders of the Colony. Her theological speculations were, from today's perspective, harmless intellectual exercises. Her opponents, however, alarmed by the following she was attracting (one of whom was the popular Sir Henry Vane, a political enemy of Governor John Winthrop) labeled her group "Antinomian," heretical and seditious. John Wheelwright took her side,theRev. John Cotton endorsed her and a large portion of the Church of Boston supported them, even presenting a petition in favor of Wheelwright.
However, the authorities of church and state (virtually the same) after closed,(by popular demand) public meetings and a 24-day trial, found the Wheelwrights and the Hutchinsons guilty of sedition. The sentence of banishment was pronounced in November of 1637, giving the families two weeks to leave the jurisdiction of the Bay Colony. John Wheelwrights dignity during these proceedings was admired by the large crowds in attendance. Declining to go to Rhode Island with the Hutchinsons, Wheelwright sailed up the coast to Portsmouth and traveled inland to the falls of the Squamscot River where he endured a very hard winter. He and a following of Boston friends were deeded a tract of land there by the Indian Sagamore, Wehanownowit, in April of 1638. This deed is still extant. That spring, his wife, children, and mother-in-law, Susanne Hutchinson, joined him. That summer they built a church and in 1639, Wheelwright and his friends established a constitutional republican government for the community, thereby founding the town of Exeter, now in New Hampshire.
By 1643, Exeter had become a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Therefore, Wheelwright was forced to move once again because of the banishment sentence. He and like-minded friends moved to Wells, a remote and rough settlement in the province of Maine. John acquired the deed to 400 acres of land in Wells on July 14, 1643. Records show that he built a saw-mill, laid out what was to become the admired "Wheelwright farm," and established the First Church of Wells. In October of 1643, Ann Hutchinson and her family were massacred by Indians in Pelham Bay, N.Y. This tragedy may have convinced John Wheelwrightto begin to seek a way to get out of the wilderness and back to the more civilized Bay Colony. He wrote two letters to authorities in Massachusetts asking for a pardon, which was granted in May of 1644. In 1647 he was offered the position of assistant minister in Hampton, Massachusetts, which he accepted. He served there until 1656. John Wheelwright longed to return to England, which he was able to
do in 1656. His friend, Oliver Cromwell, was in power as Lord Protector. The monarchy and the high church were out and the Puritans were in. He visited frequently with Cromwell, who consulted him about colonial affairs. John spent time at the estates of Cromwell and Sir Henry Vane, and at relatives' homes in Lincolnshire. Then, in 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. In 1660,CharlesII was restored to the throne.In 1662, Vane was executed for his Calvinist and republican views. With his friends' demise and the restoration of the king and the high church, John prudently sailed for New England in the summer of l662. He was 68 years old. After his sojourn in England, he was greeted with great respect in the Bay Colony. He settled in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he remained as pastor and revered community leader until his death Nov.15, 1679, at age 85. He is buried in the East Burying Ground in Salisbury and his portrait hangs in the State House in Boston. By his courageous example and the labors of his life's work, he encouraged the establishment of religious freedom and the representative form of government in this country. From the family of John Wheelwright proceeded all the Wheelwrightsof Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. John's son, Samuel, who livedat Wells, fought bravely in King Philip's War. He was a colonel, and acouncillor and held many offices including Magistrate of Wells: Representative to the General Court; member of the Provincial Council of Maine and judge of Probate and Common Pleas courts. Throughout the records of the 18th and 19th centuries, the name Wheelwright constantly appears. Succeeding generations of the family continued to be leaders of Wells. They distinguished themselves in the French and Indian wars and the Revolution. Some descendants moved on to Boston, New York and places beyond to become lawyers, ministers, and merchants. In the genealogical line of my family, the Wheelwright descendants remained in Wells until my great grandfather, the Rev. John Bourne Wheelwright, left to serve churches in other Maine communities. His son, my grandfather, John Oliver Patten Wheelwright, was a prominent lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During his career, he tried and won two cases before the United States Supreme Court.