Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An Educational Pioneer

Rev. Ralph Wheelock is someone of importance that I imagine most people know very little about.  He was born in Dorrington, Shropshire England on 14 May 1600 and attended Cambridge and was a contemporary of John Milton.  He got a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1626 and a Master of Arts in 1631. Rev. Wheelock married Rebecca Clarke on 17 May 1630 in England.  Their first three children were born in England and they immigrated in 1637 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and set out like many others to build a new life.  (According to some there were about 20,000 immigrants in the Great Migration years from 1630-1640 – for more information check Puritan Migration to New England (1620-1640)

Rev. Wheelock and his wife settled in Watertown, MA and later joined in a plan to create a settlement further up the Charles River later to be called Dedham.  Rev Wheelock was involved with helping to found the town, involved in its early government and various other governmental functions.   In 1651, Rev. Wheelock and his family moved to the town of New Dedham, later called Medfield.  Rev. Wheelock is counted upon as one of its founders.  All of these duties and activities make Rev. Ralph Wheelock significant in the early years of these communities; however what I find to be truly significant is his role as an educator.

One of Rev. Wheelock’s early activities was raising money to help fund the new college at Harvard which was founded in 1636.  Rev. Wheelock was a minister by profession but he was an educator at heart.  According to some records, he was probably one of the first public school teachers in America.  In 1644, Dedham established the first free school in Massachusetts that was supported by taxes, and Rev. Ralph Wheelock was the first teacher at this school.  He was an enthusiastic teacher and supported of education in early Massachusetts.  Reverend Wheelock died in 1683 in Medfield, MA surviving his wife by three years (she died 1 Jan 1680) It must have been an important part of his family philosophy because his great grandson went on to become the founder of Dartmouth College.  If you are interested in more info on Rev. Wheelock check out the Biography of Reverend Ralph Wheelock on Rick Sullivan’s website.

My particular line to Rev. Ralph Wheelock is the following:
  • Rev. Ralph Wheelock m. Rebecca Clarke
  • Benjamin Wheelock, Sr. m. Elizabeth Bullen
  • Benjamin Wheelock m. Huldah Thayer
  • Jonathan Wheelock m. Martha Wight
  • Asa Wheelock m. Rachel Drury
  • Mary Wheelock m. Winslow Pope
  • Francis Pope m. Belinda Willey
  • Winslow Lonsdale Pope m. Nancy Ann Marie Lyons
  • Shirlie Louisa Pope m. Ulpian Grey Johnson
  • Frank Stewart Johnson m. Helen Marian Gage

Frank and Marian were my grandparents.  When most of us have early American history, most teacher gloss over these early years.  We are taught a bit about the Pilgrims and maybe a little about the foundation of the other colonies.  We don’t learn about some of these early pioneers to our country.  As a nation, we celebrate the pioneers in our heritage, but I bet the image that comes to mind are those brave souls who traveled with their wagons across the Oregon Trail.  These early immigrants to the New World left behind everything and while some were pursing financial opportunities, many of these early pioneers were pursing the freedom to practice their own faith the way they chose.  Some like Rev. Wheelock also took the opportunity to help start a free school so that all children would have an opportunity for an education.  I wish all of those students today who bemoan the fact that they have to go to school that it is a privilege to have the opportunity of an education and to take advantage of that opportunity instead of squandering it!