The Mystery of Robert Wheaton’s First Mention in America Solved!

Document Found

After years and years of attempts to locate the original record of the first mention of Robert WHEATON in America, it was finally resolved thanks to J. Webb who responded to a request I placed on Mastodon. Thank you to the kindness of strangers!!! My attempts included a trip to Salt Lake City in 2013 and subsequent letters to the Salem Town Clerk. You can read more about that here. What was missing, and what the Salem Clerk would not bother to check in the original records was the recording for 16th of the 11th month: 1636 [Which would in reality be January of 1637 because the new year began in March.] This record did not appear on the Salt Lake City microfilm copy which may have been spliced out [I had checked the whole reel]. Pages jumped from 11 to 15.

So most likely Robert would have arrived in the summer of 1636 or before. I previously have written here about this record and why “refused to be Inhabitant” did not mean what some others have speculated. In any event I am absolutely delighted to have an image of the original entry.

Salem Town Records 1636-1659 pg 13 Bold lettering about half way down 2nd section

The entry for Robert is in the darkest pen toward middle of second half. It simply reads “Robt Wheato refused to be Inhabitant.” On the same page Edw. Beachamp rd. [received] for an Inhabitant. and below him [just above Robt] is Deborah HOLMES refused Land being a maid….and would be bad president [precedent] to keep hous [house] alone. [Lest we women forget how it was back then.] Please note the relationship of Deborah to Obadiah HOLMES is unknown. She likely married as we do not find her again in Salem.

This is an image of the Volume from which this entry is taken:

Salem Town Record Book 1636-1659

Robert Wheaton in Salem

In doing a bit of background I always assumed that the famous Baptist martyr Obadiah HOLMES had come to Salem before Robert WHEATON. I was wrong. Robert WHEATON arrives before January of 1637. He most likely would arrive in between Spring and early Fall as travel across the seas was otherwise to be avoided. When and where he arrived are lost in the annals of time. Whether he arrived as a freeman or an indentured laborer is also subject to speculation and whether he may have landed first in Boston or elsewhere is unknown. Obadiah HOLMES is recorded as receiving lands in the Salem Town Records book 26th day of the 11th Month 1638 [January 1639] and then again in December 1639 and in 1642. Obadiah’s birth can be fixed in 16010 when he was baptized 18 March 1609/10 at Didsbury, Lancaster, England [near Manchester]. We do not have a birth or baptismal record for Robert WHEATON just the notation that he died in his 90th year. His widow presents the Inventory of his estate 11 Jan 1696 so he likely died in December 1696, placing his birth likely between 1605-1610 in England.

Whereas Robert WHEATON was refused as inhabitant in January 1637 in Salem and not granted lands until the 26th day of the 9th month 1638 [Nov 1638] which preceded Obadiah Holmes lands granted by 2 months. Robert’s record here:

Salem Town Record Robt Wheadon second from bottom

At a towne meeting the 26th day of the 9th month 1638—of the several proportions of land laid out at Marble Head: To Robt Wheadon 10 acres of Land.

Robert WHEATON does not appear in the records of the Salem church, although Obadiah HOLMES does, being noted in the Salem church 24 March 1639 where he and his wife Katherine are listed as excommunct and removed [respectively]. Obadiah and Katherine’s children are baptized in the church records: Martha 1640; Samuel 1642; and Obadiah Jr 1644. So we might venture that his relationship with the church there was tenuous. Robert’s relationship with the church as is Robert FULLERs is non-existent. None of Robert WHEATON’s children’s baptisms are recorded there, nor his presumed marriage in Salem to Elizabeth BOWEN. ELizabeth BOWEN’s approximate birthdate is estimated by William B Saxbe Jr to be about 1620. The marriage is estimated to be about 1640 and their first three children born in Salem estimated to be born between 1641-45. A dte of 1638-1640 seems reasonable since he would have his ten acres of land by then. Elizabeth BOWEN’s sister, Sarah BOWEN, also marries in Salem to Robert FULLER. He is not listed in the early Salem church records nor his wife. It is assumed that their father Richard BOWEN was there, although no record is extant. Robert FULLER was a bricklayer. Obadiah HOLMES was a glassman by trade and Robert WHEATON was a tanner. The estimated population in Salem in 1639 was approximately 950 individuals so it seems likely they may have been acquainted, especially since they were contemporaries and all practiced a trade, whereas many of the Salem residents were strictly farmers.

Richard BOWEN, is first recorded in America at Weymouth, Massachusetts some 30 miles to the south where he is granted land about 1642-1644. It is of note that 2 acres, of the 16 granted him, are adjacent Samuel NEWMAN. This is important because Samuel NEWMAN, minister, is intimately involved in the formation of Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Many of the names we find among the founders of Rehoboth came originally from Weymouth, England to found Weymouth, Massachusetts and then to Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Here is the second grant of land to Robert WHEATON the first day of the 2nd month 1644 [April 1644] in Salem.

Salem Town Records

It reads Granted to Robert WHEADEN 20 acres of land neere to the amrsh at Mr. Bishop’s ffarme, to be laid out by the towne, conditionallie that if hee depte from the towne before hee improve it, it shall return to the towne. The Salem fathers may have had inklings that Robert WHEATON might not be sticking around. Note at this point Roberts WHEATON and FULLER are in Salem . Their father-in-law Richard Bowen is in Weymouth. Obadiah Holmes is also in Salem.

Robert Wheaton et al in Rehoboth, Massachusetts

The drawing of Rehoboth lots took place in Weymouth on January 1st 1644. Obadiah HOLMES drew Lot #26 while he lived in Salem some 60 miles from Rehoboth. This might suggest he was not happy in Salem and looking for an escape. He apparently forfeited the lot a year later for failure to fence it, or establish his family there according to James T Holmes [see below]. The Lot is listed in the Rehoboth Town Records as Lot #26 Originally Obadiah HOLMES now Robert WHEATON. This is on the very First Page of the Proprietors Record for Rehoboth. Robert FULLER is granted 20 acres at Jeffries Creek, Salem the 26th day of 12th month 1643 [February 1644] also draws lot #43 January 1st 1644 for Rehoboth. Richard BOWEN of Weymouth drew lot #58.

Samuel NEWMAN was a popular cleric in Weymouth and he was instrumental in the foundation of the congregation in Rehoboth. Among the families that followed Samuel NEWMAN from Weymouth to Rehoboth were John and Ralph ALLEN; Richard BOWEN; Samuel BUTTERWORTH; William CARPENTER; Thomas CLIFTON; John HOULBROOKE; Robert MARTIN; Matthew PRATT; John READ; William, Edward and Henry SMITH, and Robert TITUS and perhaps others. Some estimates say the number could be as high as 40 families migrated from Weymouth to Rehoboth. It is very interesting to note that the two sisters Alice and Sarah BOWEN end up living next to each other in Rehoboth’s “Ring of Green” as Robert WHEATON and Robert FULLER’s lots adjoin each other! Besides Robert WHEATON and Robert FULLER, it appears Obadiah HOLMES and Roger AMIDON came from Salem and from Higham: Joseph PECK and Stephen PAINE.

Rehoboth’s “RIng of Green” The numbers of each lot refer to acreage

Two facts establish the approximate settlement in Rehoboth. “At the meeting on the 18th day of the 12th month [Feb] 1647 at a meeting of the towne it was agreed to draw lots for the new meadow and to be divided according to person and estate, only those that were under Ł150 estate to be made up to 150. Robert WHEATON drew lot 25, Robert FULLER lot 7, and Obadiah HOLMES lot 21. Richard BOWEN is not included but is in divisions before and after so I conclude his estate was more then Ł150. The population at this point would not have exceeded 100 freeman and likely closer to 70. By this point all men would have been well acquainted in Rehoboth. In the center of the Ring pictured above would be the Meeting House which would be the church as well. We have the birth of Robert and Sarah (BOWEN) WHEATON’s first child, Obadiah, in Rehoboth recorded as 20 Jan 1647. Obadiah HOLMES may have sold their lands in Salem about the same time in 1645. Obadiah sold his holdings in Salem by 1645, removing himself and his family to Rehoboth the same year, and becoming a member of Reverend Samuel NEWMAN’s church. Although we do not have a date for Robert’s sale of his Salem property it is likely about the same time, quite possibly their two wives travelling there together.

Comment: I have often wondered if Obadiah WHEATON was named for Obadiah HOLMES. I just went through all the Vital record of Rehoboth and Obadiah WHEATON is the first of that given name recorded. Followed by Obadiah BOWEN 1 Sep 1651. Maybe just coincidence—but I suspect not.


The American family of Rev. Obadiah Holmes by Holmes, James T 19

Town records of Salem, Massachusetts by Howes, Martha O; Perley, Sidney, Essex Institute.

The records of the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts, 1629-1736 1976

Richard Bowen (1594-1675) of Rehoboth, Massachusetts and His Descendents Vol 1 William B Saxbe Jr 2011

Kelly Wheaton©2023 – All Rights reserved

7 Comments on “The Mystery of Robert Wheaton’s First Mention in America Solved!”

  1. Pingback: Friday’s Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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