Rev Ralph Wheelock was born 14 May 1600 in Shropshire, England to John Wheelock (1563-1639) and Elizabeth Rodgers (c1565-1676) and died 11 January 1684 in Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts of unspecified causes. He married Rebecca Clarke (1610-1681) 17 May 1630 in Wramplingham, Norfolk, England.


Reverand Ralph Wheelock - 1637 Puritan Immigrant, founder of Medfield MA, and most famous as the first public school teacher in America.

Reverend Ralph Wheelock, Puritan, educator, and founder was born in Shropshire, England in 1600. The origins of his surname can be traced back to the tenth century in Wheelock Village, near Sandbach, in the County of Cheshire.


Ralph was educated at Cambridge University, Clare Hall. He matriculated in 1623, obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1626, and a Master of Arts in 1631.

1637 Puritan Migration

At that time, Cambridge was the center of the dissenting religious movement that gave rise to Puritanism. His contemporaries at Cambridge University included John Milton and John Eliot, whose liberal views he seemed to share. The persecution of those with Puritan beliefs ran high during this period, which undoubtedly motivated Rev. Wheelock to participate in "The Great Migration" which brought many new immigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By one account, 20,000 came to New England during the peak years of the migration between 1630 and 1640 .

Rev. Wheelock, his wife Rebecca, and at least three children sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, just 7 years after Boston was first settled, and during the peak of the "Great Migration" [3]. Some Wheelock historians have suggested that Rebecca gave birth to a daughter aboard ship, but no definitive proof is available.

1636 Dedham Compact

Dedham church

First Church of Dedham.

He was one of the signatories to the Dedham Compact, a key historical document for the creation of the new colonial town of Dedham, Massachusetts, located in Norfolk County, Massachusetts. The first 35 signatures were collected in August 1636 and another 90 more soon thereafter. This document provided for the common governance and defense of the community. Dedham is known for keeping excellent historical records of its early years.

Upon arrival, Rebecca and Ralph Wheelock settled in Watertown, Massachusetts. There Rev. Wheelock participated in a plan to create a new settlement further up the Charles River, to be called Contentment (later renamed Dedham, Massachusetts). In 1638 Rev. Wheelock became one of the earliest settlers and a founder of Dedham. He lived there with his wife for more than a decade, and played a leading role in the affairs of the town. The records at Dedham show that children Benjamin, Samuel, Record, and Experience were born into the family of Ralph and Rebecca while at Dedham.

In July 1637, Rev. Ralph Wheelock signed the 'Dedham Covenant' which was in effect the founding constitution of the settlers of Dedham. In 1639 he and seven others were chosen for "ye ordering of towne affayers according unto Courte Order in that behalf." The powers that these eight men had were probably similar to the town selectmen of modern times. He was also appointed to assist the surveyor ("measurer") in laying out the boundaries of the town.

On 13 Mar 1638/9, Rev. Wheelock was declared a freeman [5]. In those days, one had to be a "freeman" in order to exercise the full right of suffrage, or to hold public office. To become a freeman, it was necessary to be a member in good standing of a local church, and to appear before the General Court to take an oath whose essential elements swore to good citizenship and good religious character.

In 1642, Ralph Wheelock was appointed the General Court clerk of writs. The General Court was the central court of the Bay Colony, with powers granted by the British Crown to decide legal matters, to dispense lands, and to establish laws. At this point in time (1643), the population of the Bay Colony was about 18,000 [6].

In 1645 he was appointed one of the commissioners authorized to "solemnize" marriages, which at the time was a civil rather than religious duty.

Although Rev. Wheelock was an ordained minister, his greater inclinations were toward teaching, which he did with great fervor and in various capacities throughout his life. Though the records are sketchy, it is likely that Rev. Wheelock was the first public school teacher in America. On 1 Feb 1644 a Dedham town meeting voted for the first free school in Massachusetts, to be supported by town taxes. Rev. Ralph Wheelock was the first teacher at this school. Three years later, in 1647, the General Court decreed that every town with 50 families or more must build a school supported by public taxes. [9]

1651 Founding of Medfield

By the late 1640's Dedham was becoming quite populous, and it was decided to establish a new township further up the Charles River, out of a tract of land that was then part of Dedham. Rev. Wheelock was appointed leader of this effort, and in 1649 he and six others were given the duties of erecting and governing a new village, to be called New Dedham, later renamed Medfield.

In May, 1651, the town of Medfield was granted the full powers of an independent town by the General Court of Massachusetts. In this year Rev. Ralph Wheelock and his family removed to Medfield, where he lived the remaining 32 years of his life. The records at Medfield show that Eleazar Wheelock was born to Ralph and Rebecca at Medfield. Eleazar's grandson would become the founder of Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire.

Though others participated in the establishment of the Town of Medfield, the Rev. Ralph Wheelock is considered to be it's primary founder. As leader of the previously mentioned committee of seven, it is almost certain [7] that Rev. Wheelock wrote the document called "The Agreement" which, for a time, every new settler of Medfield had to sign. "The Agreement" stated that the signatories were to abide by the town ordinances and laws, maintain orderly conduct, and resolve differences between themselves peaceably.

Rev. Ralph Wheelock was granted the first house lot in Medfield (12 acres), and served on the first Board of Selectmen (1651). He subsequently served on the Board of Selectmen in 1652-1654, and again in 1659. In 1653 he took up a collection for Harvard College, the first college in America. Fund raising for Harvard was probably a regular event, being a primary source of revenue for the fledgling institution.

Marriage & Family =

Genealogists have variously reported that Rev. Wheelock married Rebecca Barber, Rebecca Wilkinson, and Rebecca Clark. An article by Christopher Gleason Clark, in the January 1998 issue of "The New England Historical and Genealogical Register", vol 152, entitled "The English Ancestry of Joseph Clark (1613-1683) of Dedham and Medfield, Massachusetts" provides compelling evidence that Rev. Wheelock indeed married Rebecca Clarke.

On 6 May 1630, in England, Rev. Wheelock was ordained priest by Francis White, Bishop of the Norfolk Diocese. Shortly thereafter, on 17 May 1630, he married Rebecca Clarke. At least three children were born to the family in England (Mary Wheelock, baptised in Banham, County of Norfolk, 2 Sep 1631; Gershom Wheelock, baptised in the village of Eccles, County of Norfolk, 3 Jan 1632/33; and Rebecca Wheelock, baptised in the village of Eccles, County of Norfolk, 24 Aug 1634 [10]). There is strong evidence that Rev. Wheelock served clerical duties at the parish in Eccles, where Gershom and Rebecca were baptised. This is evidenced by his signature as "local curate" on the register pages that record his childrens baptism.

Some Wheelock historians have suggested that Rebecca gave birth to a daughter aboard ship in 1637, but no definitive proof is available. The records at Dedham show that children Benjamin, Samuel, Record, and Experience were born into the family of Ralph and Rebecca while at Dedham.

  1. Mary Wheelock (1631-1700) - born in England
  2. Gershom Wheelock (1633-1684) - born in England
  3. Rebecca Wheelock (1634-) - born in England
  4. Peregin Wheelock (1636-1671) - ??? Born at sea?
  5. Benjamin Wheelock (1640-1716) - born in Dedham MA
  6. Samuel Wheelock (1642-1698) - born in Dedham MA
  7. Record Wheelock (1644-1726) - born in Dedham MA
  8. Experience Wheelock (1648-1710) - born at Dedham MA
  9. Eleazer Wheelock (1654-1731) - born in Medfield MA


Offspring of Rev Ralph Wheelock and Rebecca Clarke (1610-1681)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Mary Wheelock (1631-1700)
Gershom Wheelock (1633-1684)
Rebecca Wheelock (1634-)
Peregin Wheelock (1636-1671)
Benjamin Wheelock (1640-1716) 8 January 1640 Dedham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States 13 September 1716 Mendon, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, United States Elizabeth Bullen (1646-1703)

Samuel Wheelock (1642-1698)
Record Wheelock (1644-1726) 15 December 1644 Dedham, Suffolk County, Massachusetts 26 July 1726 Marlborough, Middlesex County, Massachusetts Increase Ward (1644-1690)

Experience Wheelock (1648-1710) 3 September 1648 Dedham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts 27 February 1710 Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts Joseph Warren (1644-1718)

Eleazer Wheelock (1654-1731) 3 May 1654 Dedham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts 24 March 1731 Medfield, Norfolk County, Massachusetts Elizabeth Fuller (1645-1698)
Mary Cheney (1662-1732)




Footnotes (including sources)



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