New Speculations on the Origins of Robert WHEATON: Part One
Many years ago I wrote an article TItled Conjectures on the Origins of Robert WHEATON. At that time all of the indications were that he was descended from the Wheatons of Devon. This turned out to be 5 different DNA WHEATON/WHEADON/WHIDDEN lines in Devon, England: Wheaton of Sidmouth; Wheadon of Axminster; Whidden of Buckfastleigh; Wheaton of Exeter; and Wheaton of Winkleigh and Brixham. After lots of DNA testing in England with not a single DNA match, I highly suspect Robert WHEATON, who settled first in Salem, Massachusetts in 1636, did NOT come from Devon.
In April of 2015 I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Den and Jean Wheaton and spend 3 days visiting parishes in Devon and Somerset where WHEATONs were known to have lived in the 16th century and into the 17th century. On this trip Den and Jean WHEATON and I met up with David WHEATON of the Branscombe WHEATONs. So we represented 3 distinct WHEATON lines—none of them DNA related. We visited many churches from the southern Devon ie. Exter, Branscombe, Sidmouth, to mid Devon parishes like Tiverton, Honiton and Loxbeare. Each unique and beautiful in its own right. As we climbed higher and higher onto Exmoor I began to feel we were closer to the ancient Robert Wheaton homeland. When we went reached Wheddon Cross, Watchet and Stogursey I said, “this feels right.” Now of course a “feeling” can be meaningless but in this case it has led down some very circuitous gopher holes. In 2019 and continuing through Covid I have not let up in researching—although I have been remiss in not writing it up. So without further procrastination here goes.
I am not sure what it was I feeling or even what I was looking for— it just felt right. The topography had similarities to where Robert Wheaton settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The area of the original “Ring of Green” settlement of Rehoboth, where Robert spent most of his life, is actually located on the East side of the Seekonk River in what is today Rumford, Rhode Island [adjacent East Providence]. Robert owned a homelot on the Ring of Green as well as a farm/woodlot on present day Wheaton Ave. in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The Seekonk River adjoining Rumford feeds directly into the larger Providence River which in turn flows into Narragansett Bay which exits into the Atlantic Ocean. The area is a mix of woods and wetlands. Similarly, in North Somerset, the Avil and Washford Rivers empty into the swamp lands of Minehead and Watchet which border the Bristol Channel and out into the same Atlantic Ocean. Both areas show a marine influence and the North Wheddon Coast and Exmoor have more similarity to Rehoboth than the Midlands and South Coast of Devon, my earlier focus. This may mean nothing at all, but when clutching at straws that’s where we will begin.
Compare the two areas adjacent waterways and nearby major waterways leading both to the Atlantic Ocean.
A little while later we got a bit of a nudge in this same direction when 3 anonymous samples of YDNA from the Bristol, England area, matched a key mutation of our Robert Wheaton [R-FGC22501]. The only other person other than our Headless Warrior in York to be positive for this SNP. To be fair this could just be a coincidence, but for now it is all we have. When Robert first appears in Salem the spelling appears to be abbreviated Robt. Wheato and then Robert Wheadon and Robt. Wheaden. Note in the later two instances the name is written Wheadon. It would be a bit ironic if Robert was a Wheadon and not as he was later known Wheaton. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere the dialects in southwestern England make d’s and t’s nearly interchangeable. In two instances a Farm called Wheaton later becomes Wheddon Farm. In many early documents a name will be spelled multiple ways in the same document.
If we assume for the sake of conjecture that I am right about my suspicions about Robert WHEATON in Somerset, we need look to the first record in Somerset of a Wheaton/Wheddon etc. which is in the year 1201, when a Walterus of ‘Watesden‘ paid scutage on half a knight’s fee which is held of the honour of Dunster, the lands of William de Mohun. William de Mohun [also spelled Moion or Moyon] was a knight in the service of William the Conqueror who received as many as 68 manors in the west of England including 55 in Somerset. His home estate consisted of the ancient hundreds of Minehead, Cutcombe and Dunster. He built his castle upon an earlier fortified castle in Dunster [shown below] originally called Tore. He was engaged in breeding horses at Cutcombe and Nunney [near Frome]. [Planche, James Robinson The Conqueror and his companions London 1874]
William de Mohun held two manors in Cutcombe both mentioned in the Domesday Book:
- Cutcombe [Udecombe, Codecombe] William de Mohun and 3 men at arms from him. Mill, 36 brood mares, 250 sheep. 22 villagers. Later 11 smallholders. 6 slaves. 6 pigmen 1.5 lord’s lands. Meadow 8 acres. Pasture 2 1 leagues & 0.5 leagues 5 furlongs mixed measures. Woodland 1 0.5 leagues & 14 acres mixed measures. Cutcombe is Somerset’s highest parish in elevation. [Uda = wood; combe = deep valley] Manor Value in 1086 £7.8
- Oaktrow [Wochetreu] Durand from William de Mohun. Oaktrow Wood. (in Cutcombe parish) Manor later known as Cutcombe Mohun, half a virgate of land. 1 plough. In demesne is 1 ferling and half a plough, 2 villeins, half a plough, 1 ferling, 4 acres of wood(land). 6 beasts and 50 sheep, 20 she-goats and 8 swine. 4 s. [och = oak, treu or treow = wood]
A bit more on perhaps the first of Robert’s line.
“The early history of a small estate at Wheddon is obscure, It seems to have begun in 1201, when a Walter of ‘Watesden‘ paid scutage [Scutage: money paid by a vassal to his lord in lieu of military service] on half a knight’s fee [Knight’s fee: a unit measure of land deemed sufficient to support a knight approx. 1,000-5,000 acres] which is held of the honour [honour: Barony] of Dunster.”[Lands of William de Mohun]. “Walterus de Watesden reddit compotum de j. marca de feodo dimidii militis de honore de Dunstore de scutagio. In thesauro liberavit. Et quietus est.[original Latin]”Lyte, Sir H.C. Maxwell. Historical Notes on Some Manors formerly connected with the Honour of Dunster 1931 p .88
WHEATON WHEDDON WHAT’s in a NAME?
Our next mention of a Wheddon in the Somerset records is in the year 1243 where a lawsuit mentions Robert de Wotedon, a son William, a Richard Whadden and a tenement called Whetendene in Cutcombe. In 1253, ten years later, we see three spellings Whetedon, Whetden and Whedden all different from the earlier three. This is not at all unusual as early documents may have multiple spellings in the same document. Although these spellings may seem very different, the alleged meaning is similar. In Proto-indo-european (udén), wodor, and wodon means water. Variations include waden [to wade], wader, weden, wedene again all meaning wet, wade or water. With den or done meaning valley. So we have Walterus of water valley or the wet valley.
In the Inquisition of Sir John de Mohun from 1285: “Wadendene [alias Uhetnedene, Wetdene]. 1/2 knight’s fee held by Walter de Wadedene [alias Wetendene]. This seems an apt description given all the waterways and springs I have marked on the map below. This area is bordered on the West by the Quarme River and the North the Avil River and everywhere you look are water courses and freshwater springs. Also note a place called Watercombe adjacent Cutcombe. Essentially Watercombe and Wheddon are the same thing. Water + combe = water valley.
There are several other mentions of Wheddons in the 13th century but this one is of particular note. “In 1253, Alice of Wheddon, daughter of William of Wheddon laid claim to a third [of the] manor of Wheddon, whereof her father had been seised in demense when he set out for the Holy Land [Henry III Seventh Crusade 1248-1254]. Robert Wheddon, the tenant in actual possession hereupon vouched his overlord, Reynold de Mohun [Reginald de Mohun 1206-1258, 3rd great grandson of William de Mohun], to warrant his title, but soon afterwards recognised the plaintiff’s right, and agreed that she and her heirs should hold of him and his heirs at a rent of 12d. Which, it will be observed, was a third of the rent payable by him to the lord of Dunster. [Lyte, Sir H.C. Maxwell Documents and Extracts Illustrating the History of the Honour of Dunster Somerset Record Society Vol 33 1918 pg 89] This is the only mention I have found of an actual manor and it may be construed that this is probably the Oaktrow, later known as Cutcombe Mohun. It later seems to fade into oblivion.
Also noteworthy that Alice’s father was a “Knight on Crusade in the Holy Land.” This William Wheddon may be the son or grandson of Walter de Wheddon who was the first of that name recorded. As is the case with William de Mohun there are 4 generations of that same name. So too we find a Walter de Wheddon son of Walter de Wheddon. In the 13th century other forenames include for Wheddon’s include: William, Robert, Richard and Alice. It is likely that the Walter de Wheddon mentioned in 1333 and 1335 as “regarder” of the forest of Exmoor would be a descendant of the original Walter since the first mention is 132 years earlier. A regarder was an ancient officer of the forest, whose duty it was to take a view of the forest hunts, and to inquire concerning trespasses, offenses, etc. It may have been a duty that was passed from father to son over many generations. In 1348 we find a Walter de Wheddon as a witness to a deed in Kilton some 20 miles to the East. In 1376 there is a debtor Alexander Leygh alias Alexander Wheton of Tiverton, North Devon. Creditor John More, citizen and mercer of London. [National Archived C241/164/8]
Then the record is silent for nearly 185 years! There are mentions of the place name Wheddon but none of that name or similar in the area. Then the 23 November 1559, Agnes Littlejohn and William Whetton are married at St. Mary Bridgewater [about 30 Miles east of Cutcombe]. In 1571 is a deed of Thomas Luttrell Esq to and a Thomas Withey alias Wheddone. [In 1376 Lady Elizabeth Luttrell purchased Dunster Castle from Sir John Mohun and it remained in Luttrell family hands until 1976 when it become part of the National Trust]
To Close Part One I share with you some photo of Cutcombe. The church of St John was constructed in the 13th and 14th century probably built upon an earlier church from the early 12th century. It sits at a high elevation with lovely views of surrounding countryside.
And for comparison I offer this photo taken in 2021 of Robert WHEATOn’s land in Rehoboth. The trees follow “Clayey Brook” which will make an appearance later in our story.
Kelly Wheaton ©2023 – All RIghts Reserved