2002—Memoirs: Oliver
Welsh, eh? The Ashbys, perhaps, but hardly the Wheelers. We’re old New England Yankee stock, out of Bedfordshire to these shores in the middle 1600’s, as English as any you’ll meet.

Harriet, Harriet. How I wish I had the teaching of you to do over: I’d do it right, this time, and you’d be proud of your English heritage. Surely wouldn’t keep telling everybody you’re Welsh. The books say my immigrant ancestor Richard Wheeler (of Cranfield, Bedfordshire) was murdered in the famous Indian massacre in Lancaster, Massachusetts Bay Colony, in February of 1675. After that, his 16-year-old son, my great-great-grandfather Abraham Wheeler, retreated to Concord with his widowed mother Sarah and her parents, John and Mary Prescott (Yorkshire immigrants both, by the way—also a long way from Wales), and for several years no English settlers abode between the Concord and Connecticut rivers.

We Wheelers have to admit we’re stubborn enough to be Welsh, though. Within twenty years, with my great-great-grandmother Tabitha, Abraham returned to his father’s properties in Lancaster, where they had several children, although my great-grandfather Jonathan had come along during their exile in Dedham. Believe it or not, though, Jonathan’s s on, my grandfather Oliver Wheeler, first of the name, was born in 1722 at the family estate in Lancaster!

One Sabbath morning in November 1695, Abraham was minding his own business, going between the fort and his house, when one of the “noble savages” shot him. A worthy son, no doubt, of those who had slain his father. Although mortally wounded, the historian tells us, he wrestled the gun from his murderer and ran with it toward the fort even as a party sallied forth to his relief. At the same time, the Indians took Grandma Tabitha prisoner.

Our folks rescued her, and from then on the family has been headquartered once again mainly in Concord, our branch of it in the northeastern corner that has since become Acton. Grandpa Oliver married Abigail Woods, a real lady from one of the first families of Groton. Their graves are prominent in the old North Cemetery in Acton.
The firstborn of their nine children, my father, Oliver Wheeler, Jr., married his neighbor Hepzibah Munroe in 1773. Her father Nathan’s farm was just over the Billerica line, about a mile from the Wheeler homestead. My sister Abi came along in ‘75, only two months before the famous fracas at the North Bridge in Concord. Father was then a 27-year-old Acton Minute Man, high enough in rank to wear a sword. His company was nearby for the fight, although it was his Acton friend Isaac Davis who died at the Bridge, along with young Abner Hosmer. Father saw action from time to time throughout our Revolution, but he and Mother found time nevertheless to bring my brother Louis into the world in 1776.

I’m also Oliver Wheeler, the third to bear the name, my parents’ fifth child of a round dozen and their third son. Born right after the War at “Concord End” in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, whither our family removed in ’78, in company with the families of two of Mother’s Munroe cousins, Thaddeus and Doctor Joseph. The three Munroes were grandchildren of the famous “Corporal Joe” Munroe of Lexington and Billerica.

Father is known in the history books as “Oliver Wheeler of Acton,” but Hillsborough celebrates him as one of its Revolutionary heroes as well, decorating his grave on patriotic occasions. In Acton, Father had been Oliver Wheeler, Jr.; in New Hampshire, that’s how they came to refer to me.

By 1802, when I married Hannah Ashby (of the Salem, Massachusetts, Ashbys), my older brother Eli (born in New Hampshire during the War) was already the designated heir for the family farm, and new households were no longer receiving easy land grants in Hillsborough. Six years later, with our first three children growing energetically, it was time for us to strike out on our own.

So, when Hannah’s brother George Ashby proposed that we take up residence in Salem, we were ready. George and his new wife Nancy owned a houselot in Salem’s “ Northlands,” where they were building their new home. We five moved in with them, and in February of 1808 (Hannah was five months pregnant with our Benjamin),
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